Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Nation/Republic: Brief Comments on Immigration Debate, Russian Meddling in US Elections — and Words

The US Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag pretty much conflates the USA as "one Nation" and "the Republic." They're different.

If you believe the US is primarily "a (White) Christian nation" — with "White," when said or thought, possibly limited to "Aryan" and "Christian" traditionally referring to a set of Protestants — then a major potential or actual threat to the US is substantial immigration, since large-scale immigration would undermine and "impurify" our "one Nation."

If the US is primarily the Republic, foreign meddling in an election is an attack on a crucial democratic part of our republicanism and a crisis-level threat.

WORDS MEAN, and a crucial part of politics is our conscious, semiconscious, and unconscious disputes over what we mean by key terms.

My oath was to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States" and the Republic in which it is embodied. And I wouldn't be a member of a Christian America and perhaps not a White one. Others have strong loyalty to America as a culture and identity, a loyalty I understand and in some ways share. Still others have a loyalty to Americanism rooted in soil and confirmed in at least two senses by blood: they can be enemies of the Republic.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

"Everybody," "Nobody," and Other Absolutes in The Age of Ads and Trump (repeat post)

CAUTION: Repeat rant from recovering English Teacher trying to get people to cut back the BS of everyday semi-communication.

What's on my mind is the click-invitation Link title (different from the article title) in the e-mail to me from THE NATION for current stories: "All Eyes Are Now on Robert Mueller [...]" / [by] GEORGE ZORNICK

Uh, no; "All Eyes" are not. Not even all human eyes among American adults. This is part of the "EVERYBODY/NOBODY" problem where we habitually forget to mention the population of which EVERYBODY is or is not doing something (etc.) and how the hell we might be able to know.

This is not a good thing, and how not-good has become especially clear the last couple of years.

* Politically-involved people tend to think *everybody* is politically involved. That's patently untrue: check out the large number of Americans who don't even bother to vote.

* Politically-involved people of Leftish persuasion can come to think that *everybody* is ready to impeach Donald Trump or struggle to retain the Affordable Care Act, or whatever. Unfortunately, "whatever" can include such delusions as some activists in the late 1960s thinking the USA in a pre-revolutionary state. We were not, as the 1972 Presidential election convincingly demonstrated.

*Everybody* they knew was ready to "take it to the streets": (1) probably not, even among those they knew; (2) they didn't know enough people, or a statistically useful sample.

* Donald J. Trump is on an extreme of the continuum, but there is a continuum of everyday, hyperbolic bullshit that American speakers of English (and probably others) clearly tolerate way too much. Your kids tell you "But *everybody* in my class is getting tattooed," and you know to tell them, "Name two." Try similar challenges when adults (with less excuse than kids) hit you with AdSpeak, CoachSpeak, CampaignSpeak, AcademicSpeak — all those "disruptive interventions" by just a journal article — CorpSpeak, and similar fonts of hyperbole and other usually misused figures of speech. The road to Trump was paved with sloppy use of language (superlatives anyone?) and bullshit clich├ęs like, "Since the beginning of time" — Really? Is that since the Big Bang or the rise of human consciousness (for highly local, subjective time), or even the last odd 6K years for a popular Mythic Time? "We want 110%?" — Uh, huh: You're saying you want a blank check on my time, right? "The worst/best _______ ever." (1) Again, probably not. (2) Something doesn't have to be THE WORST EVER!!! to be very, very bad. The pizza you're selling doesn't have to be the best in this arm of the galaxy to be a good buy: In a big city, as MAD Magazine pointed out long ago, best on the block is probably good enough.

People who (figuratively) bend over backwards not to offend their auditors on identity grounds should take at least a bit of care not to offend their auditors' intelligence.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Donald J. Trump and Military Science 101

In Military Science 101 at the U of Illinois in 1961, we were "discussing" — getting Socratically quizzed on — military preparedness. Our instructor, the Professor of Military Science and Tactics and head of the Army ROTC unit, asked what sort of preparedness the US should pursue.
First guy he called on (and we were all guys) said the US should be able to defend ourselves "against any conceivable attack." The PMS&T asked/challenged — "Invasion from Mars?" And the student answered back, "I said 'conceivable' ... Sir." "H. G. Wells conceived of it, and it's been a popular literary theme ever since. Should we prepare for invasion from Mars?"
The instructor kept pressing the point, which I enjoyed (although I came to understand better why the Athenians poisoned Socrates) until he finally got a class consensus that we should fund the military to where we could defend the US against attack from any country or any group of countries including every other country. 
The PMS&T then paused and said something like, "Well, aside from any ethical qualms you might have fighting for a country that couldn't find a single ally on the planet — thank you, gentlemen: in your little frenzy of patriotic zeal you've just bankrupted the Republic. (beat) It was a trick question; you had to have read the assignment, or thought. It's a political question and a diplomatic one: What more precisely does the President and the Department of Defense want to *do* with the military, and what allies can we get — and what will they go along with."
Colonel Ramrod (my very private name for him) thought 18-year-olds should be able to figure out on our own that the US needs allies, or read, already, our goddamn assignments in the US Army history of the US Army and see that that was the assumption by US military folk pretty much since the US got in the Great Powers business.
I think Cadet Trump missed that class.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Defending US Gun Policies

"The claim that gun massacres are mysterious or 
difficult or bewildering or resistant to legislation is a lie." 
The New Yorker 15 Feb. 2018

"In our time, political speech and writing are largely 
the defense of the indefensible. 
Things like the continuance of British rule in India, 
the Russian purges and deportations, 
the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, 
can indeed be defended, but only by arguments 
which are too brutal for most people to face, 
and which do not square with 
the professed aims of the political parties."
— George Orwell, 

Allowing gun massacres can be defended — e.g., if one argues as allowed by the New Yorker essay that the economic and cultural advantages of widespread ownership of a variety of guns justifies the loss of life. Alternatively, people have argued that the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of Rights undergirds all our other rights by helping guarantee The Right of Revolution, the final bastion against tyranny and oppression by the Federal government (and State and local governments as well). Thomas Jefferson said "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure" (1787), to which, in this argument, we would add the blood of a few thousand innocent Americans a year.

So of course the NRA should be defending sale of Kevlar-piercing bullets: the police and military personnel defending the State might well be wearing Kevlar armor. And of course US citizens should have semi-automatic weapons — and some access to kits to make them full(y) automatic — with large magazines: to counter those of the SWAT teams and military. Etc. Q.E.D.

Like, if you want a coherent and rational argument, go to the greed-heads of the weapons biz (or the crazies arming for the coming race war or apocalypse) or those who fear the black helicopters coming in from the Deep State. They'll be bringing AR-15s to a drone fight: the State always outguns the People. The turning point of revolutions is when the troops turn their guns away from the People and toward an oppressive government.

On the other hand, "Post-Truth is pre-Fascist," and in a Post-Truth USA, there is much to be said for recalling the Right of (Mostly NonViolent) Revolution.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Voter Turn-Out / Voting Age (and Fighting Arrested Development)

In the US we need a consistent and meaningful "age of majority," reinforced with ritual. 

We've got the 26th Amendment so let's stick with 18 for that "age of majority": legal adulthood. The privacy issues will be difficult, but at 18 every American should be issued The Card: passport, voter registration, registration for any conscription we still have (e.g., jury duty), I.D. for buying legal recreational drugs such as ethyl alcohol, and with one chip to be activated with licensing to drive and another to purchase fire arms — under whatever regulations are in place. And for each monthly cohort we can have a little ceremony with the oath or affirmation "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States" and a proclamation of this group as now adult citizens of the United States with all the rights, privileges, and obligations pertaining thereto — and then a party.

Some people are fully mature at 15; some people never grow up. And all sorts of stuff is happening in terms of neurological development that energetic lawyers and PR-savvy scientists have been talking about the last decade or so and will continue to talk about. Screw that. "Old enough to decide whether or not to obey an order to kill people, then old enough to perform any other adult function" (as a matter of policy; as mentioned "Individuals will vary, including individually, in different situations"). Wise societies depend on self-fulfilling prophecies, the psychological efficacy of ritual, and the social pressures of expectations. 

Also we need classes for teens in civics and sex Ed (including sex-related ethics) and in using and not abusing drugs. 

Monday, May 21, 2018


What a piece of work is a man! 
How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! 
In form and moving how express and admirable! 
In action how like an angel, 
in apprehension how like a god! 
The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. 
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? 

In the kids' game of Twenty Questions, the first identifier is "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral," and the classification for human beings is "Animal." In a system out of the work of Carl Woese et al. of the U of IL — for more grownup games of taxonomy — living things with cells are Archaea, Bacteria, or Eukarya, with the Eukarya made up of Fungi, Plants, and Animals. If you're multicellular, with a pretty large and complex structure, don't do photosynthesis, and live on Earth, you're an animal.

In the old system of The Great Chain of Being, we're what Hamlet called "the paragon of animals" and the highest of animals, but still animal. Also, "a little lower than the gods," or "than the angels" in more recent usage: at the nodal point on the Great Chain between mere animals and divine beings. Homo duplex: flesh and spirit, perhaps a soul. Life-breath plus small "e" earth in one version of us in Genesis, or, again from Hamlet, "this quintessence of dust."

Deal with it.

Really ancient archaea and their bacterial relations have been around a whole lot longer than fancier species, and they may heft more biomass than we do today. There is a good chance they will succeed us as well and are the true dominant creatures in the history of Earth and its inheritors.

Animals we colloquial call "animals" — our mammalian or anyway vertebrate cousins — are what people often mean when they refer to other people as "brutes" or refer to with "brutal" — and maybe after that go down that ol' Great Chain and label other people "cockroaches" and such.

It's like us civilized folk calling low-tech people barbarians or savages or "barbarous savages."

Uh, huh.

Tigers have never practiced crucifixion, and savages didn't invent cluster munitions or nerve gas. Some ants are into analogies to slavery and genocide, but otherwise our brutal fellow critters are relatively well-behaved, relative to us, humans, who have been guilty of such necessarily civilized human behavior — acts by urbanized, literate high-tech folk — as fire-bombing cities.

Some of my favorite animals are people, and all my relatives; but we really must stop flattering ourselves. Hamlet's praise of our species — "in apprehension how like a god!" — should be pronounced only in the course of that bloody satiric tragedy, Hamlet, or sung amid the scattered bodies on another stage, for the climax of Hair.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Liberals: Many Good Causes (Some Bad Attitude)

Among some "Facebook Friends" and some real-world former colleagues at Miami University (Ohio), there was a robust bit of debate about a New York Times opinion piece on by Gerard Alexander, identified as "a professor of political science at the University of Virginia," with the piece given the provocative title, "Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think" (12 May 2018).

It's about Liberal hegemony in the entertainment and education fields, and Liberal condescension. And, of course, about zealotry in suppressing "microaggressions" and the occasional Right-wing to fascistic speaker on college campuses, and bad-mouthing opponents, e.g. supporters of Donald Trump. And it's worth reading and definitely important for Liberals (and Democrats) to think about moving into the major off-year elections of 2018.

I spent forty years as an academic, and I've been retired for a dozen; so I have a kind of liminal view from the edge, an important section of my "jagged orbit." From there, it looks like the most interesting analysis of Liberal snark might stem from a suggestion in Colin Woodard's American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011): many American academic Liberals are the spiritual descendants of traditional improving, reforming, good-government American Yankees and can be usefully thought of as Puritans without God.

This is an honorable tradition, at its most noble in its centrality to the American Abolition (of slavery) movement, and engaged in the crucial human purpose of tikkun olam, the healing, repair, and/or perfecting of the world. With or without God, such active citizens are necessary and useful, but often annoying. (And when armed, as in the 17th century, downright dangerous; but that lately hasn't been much of an issue.)

My more idiosyncratic complaint is with people on the academic Left who don't apply the sort of rigor they'd use in their fields — or even just rules of courteous debate — when it comes to politics.

Consider this example from recent (continuing, contentious) debate, as we American return to our intertwined hobbies of refighting our Civil War and judging one another and our/their ancestors. 

The US Civil War centered on slavery: that's clear from the documented record on secession. The motivation of individual soldiers, however — that can get complicated. Still, one can argue that whatever the motivation, the upshot of fighting for the Confederacy was waging war against the United States (hence, treason) and objective support of slavery, which had helped engender and preserve racism and in turn was supported by racism. So Confederate fighters of whatever motivation objectively supported Evil, while Union fighters supported the Good.

Now let's apply that sort of analysis to more recent American warfare. 

At least in its middle and end portions, US warfare in Vietnam and other places in Southeast Asia was primarily to prevent loss of face by the US and particularly Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, who didn't want to be the first US president to lose a war. That the US lost and is still here and doing okay, and arguably would be doing better if we'd never fought (even if the Philippines and Indonesia were now Communist) — this shows that by definition no literally vital interests of the US were involved. And a war fought just for "The Great Game" is evil. Hence, those who fought the war on the US side, however pure their motivations, objectively supported Evil. Those who opposed the war did well, and those who avoided or evaded service at least didn't provide significant objective support to Evil. So we are to prefer Donald J. Trump and Dick Cheney in this for avoiding (or with DJT's bone spurs even evading) service, over, say, John Kerry's initial service fighting the US war in Vietnam. 

Objectively, applying the same sort of analysis that allows blanket condemnation of Confederates in the US Civil War.

That conclusion on Vietnam "would gag a maggot," even as would a comparably glib argument from the Right branding all anti-War activists as traitors, having given aid and comfort to the Communist Vietnamese enemy. For the Civil War debate, though, we on the Left can listen patiently to fellow citizens (e.g. James Webb) if they argue their Confederate ancestors hadn't much seen slaves let alone owning one and hated the slave-owning planter class. But they disliked and feared the Federal government more and really disliked Union troops on their territory. So rebels, yes, traitors technically, but not necessarily more racist than their Union military counterparts.

And so forth — including refraining already from bigoted badmouthing of "White Trash" and, on the positive side, taking care to differentiate between and among "racism" (an ideology), "bigotry" (more of a gut feeling), "prejudice" (prejudging on the basis of bias, not facts or experience), and "systemic injustices" (which are difficult to perceive if we're profiting from them). And we can at least pause before we accuse someone of what may be the oxymoron of "unconscious racism."

So: Keep up the good work, Liberal elite, godless Puritan Reformers! But on the way, lose the superior tone; it's not winning converts to the Cause.