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Posts Tagged ‘politics

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures”*…

 

stranger_than_nonfiction_1050x700

 

Helen Hunt Jackson is best remembered for her novel Ramona, originally published in 1884. The story of a half Irish, half Native American orphan and her lover, Ramona was a blockbuster success. The book remains in print. At least five movie versions have been made. There have been staged Ramona plays in the Ramonabowl in Hemet, California, since 1923, with hundreds of costumed volunteers. Many credit the novel with giving birth to California tourism.

Jackson called Ramona the “sugar-coating of the pill” of her polemical mission to get Americans to reconsider their treatment of Native Americans. Jackson’s goal was policy reform. She wanted to expose genocide and land theft, the outrages that made the modern West. She wanted Ramona to have a sociopolitical effect like Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The pill wasn’t swallowed. “Californians preferred the sugar coating, the vibrant costumes of a multiethnic past,” writes the literary scholar Lisa Mullenneaux in Ploughshares, not the actual colonial past with all its culpable horror…

Jackson [had been] a crusading investigative reporter. In 1881, she published a damning indictment of the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans. A Century of Dishonor was the first work published under her name. She sent copies to every member of Congress. It was, as Mullenneaux describes it, “the first serious study of U.S. federal Indian policy.”

Turner calls it “the first pro-Indian book to make a significant impact on the American reading public.” It did cause a stir, but a stir was not nearly enough for Jackson. She said of her newfound social purpose to help the Indians that “a fire has been kindled within me which will never go out.”

She had few allies in this crusade. The 1871 Indian Appropriations Act had made all Native Americans wards of the state. Removals and reservations made way for white settlers and their descendants who were neither introspective nor retrospective. One journalist described Jackson as being without a “genuine sympathizer” among whites in the entire state of Colorado. Teddy Roosevelt included her among the “hysterical sentimentalists.”

What if she tried a more propagandistic approach? Ramona was the result of that tactic, a novel detailing injustice and romance, full of local color and sentiment, as well as the tragic history of the erasure of California’s native populations. The result was a smash hit—but it failed in its mission even as it became a runaway cultural phenomenon. Instead, Ramona birthed a fantasy of Ye Olde Alta California. This was costume drama instead of history. A Century of Dishonor, meanwhile, was long out of print (though not so anymore). As Mullenneaux writes, it continues to inspire those trying to right historic wrongs…

Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona Did What Her Nonfiction Couldn’t“– and vice versa.

See also: “The Story of the Great Japanese-American Novel,” No-No Boy.

* Jessamyn West

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As we muse on methods, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 that the Liberty Party was announced.  The first anti-slavery political party, it was born from the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) to advocate the view that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document.  William Lloyd Garrison, leader of the AASS, held the contrary view that the Constitution should be condemned as an evil pro-slavery document.

The party, which ran its first slate the following year, included abolitionists who were willing to work within electoral politics.  (By contrast, the radical Garrison opposed voting and working within the system.)  Many Liberty Party members joined the anti-slavery (but not abolitionist) Free Soil Party in 1848 and eventually helped establish the Republican Party in the 1850s.

liberty Party source

 

“Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes”*…

 

McDonalds

 

One of Northern Europe’s arguably most distinctive exports is “slow TV”: real-time recordings of train journeys, ferry crossings or the migration of reindeer, which regularly draw record audiences.

Among perhaps the most successful — and least exciting — examples of that genre is the live stream of a McDonald’s cheeseburger with fries. At its peak, it drew 2 million viewers a month. The only element on the screen that moves, however, is the time display.

The burger looks the same way, hour after hour.

As of this week, it has looked like that for 10 years.

Purchased hours before the corporation pulled out of the country in 2009, in the wake of Iceland’s devastating financial crisis, the last surviving McDonald’s burger has become much more than a burger. To some, it stands for the greed and excessive capitalism that “created an economic collapse that was so bad that even McDonald’s had to close down,” said Hjörtur Smárason, 43, who purchased the fateful burger in 2009. To others, the eerily fresh look of the 10-year-old meal has served as a warning against the excessive consumption of fast food…

A symbol for our times: “The cautionary political tale of Iceland’s last McDonald’s burger that simply won’t rot, even after 10 years.”

* Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

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As we muse of the messages in our meals, we might send gloriously-written birthday greetings to today’s epigramist, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.; he was born on this date in 1922.  In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death. He is probably best known for his darkly-satirical, best-selling 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

Vonnegut called George Orwell his favorite writer, and admitted that he tried to emulate Orwell– “I like his concern for the poor, I like his socialism, I like his simplicity”– though early in his career Vonnegut decided to model his style after Henry David Thoreau, who wrote as if from the perspective of a child.  And of course, Vonnegut’s life and work are resonant with Mark Twain and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

Author Josip Novakovich marveled that “The ease with which he writes is sheerly masterly, Mozartian.”  The Los Angeles Times suggested that Vonnegut will “rightly be remembered as a darkly humorous social critic and the premier novelist of the counterculture“; The New York Times agreed, calling Vonnegut the “counterculture’s novelist.”

220px-Kurt_Vonnegut_1972 source

 

 

 

 

Written by LW

November 11, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Infrastructure is much more important than architecture”*…

 

The wind driven Kincade fire burns near the town of Healdsburg, California

 

A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books.

In software development, engineers have long noted that taking the easy way out of coding problems builds up what they call “technical debt,” as the tech journalist Quinn Norton has written.

Like other kinds of debt, this debt compounds if you don’t deal with it, and it can distort the true cost of decisions. If you ignore it, the status quo looks cheaper than it is. At least until the off-the-books debt comes to light…

All told, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will cost $3.6 trillion to get Americans back to an acceptable level of technical debt in our infrastructure.

Of course, it’s been saying that for many years. The number is so big as to be almost laughable. It’s 2.4 times the amount Donald Trump’s tax cuts are to add to the American budget deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Washington Examiner

Climate change will soon expose a crippling problem embedded in the nation’s infrastructure.  In fire-ravaged California, it already has: “The Toxic Bubble of Technical Debt Threatening America.”

[TotH to AR]

* Rem Koolhaas

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As we aspire to be good ancestors, we might recall that it was on this date in 1906, at the first International Radiotelegraph Convention in Berlin, that the Morse Code signal “SOS”– “. . . _ _ _ . . .”– became the global standard radio distress signal.  While it was officially replaced in 1999 by the Global Maritime Distress Safety System, SOS is still recognized as a visual distress signal.

SOS has traditionally be “translated” (expanded) to mean “save our ship,” “save our souls,” “send out succor,” or other such pleas.  But while these may be helpful mnemonics, SOS is not an abbreviation or acronym.  Rather, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the letters were chosen simply because they are easily transmitted in Morse code.

220px-Thesos source

 

 

Written by LW

November 3, 2019 at 1:01 am

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens”*…

 

Wonder Bread

 

Because of its central role in human nutrition, bread has appeared in countless cultural and religious keystones: the epic of Gilgamesh; the description of Egypt as the land of bread-eaters; Jewish oppression and the feast of Passover (bread of the afflicted); the Roman cry of “bread and circuses”; bread as a symbol in the poetry of Omar Khayyam; bread that signifies the body of Christ in the Eucharist. In short, made with simple, wholesome ingredients, bread is the staff of life. German bread continues to exemplify this tradition, one that Jews were supposedly destroying with processed white bread.

In contrast to the German disdain for white bread, in the United States it had become a symbol of successful industrialization, of a promising modern future. In the early twentieth century, Americans had developed a new anxiety about the potential contamination of their food supply. Eugene Christian and Mollie Griswold Christian exemplify the dramatic phobias surrounding both home-baked and bakery-bought bread in their 1904 book Uncooked Foods and How to Use Them: A Treatise on How to Get the Highest Form of Animal Energy from Food, with Recipes for Preparation, Healthful Combinations and Menus. They write, “Bread rises when infected with the yeast germ, because millions of these little worms have been born and have died, and from their dead and decaying bodies there rises a gas just as it does from the dead body of a hog.” Yum! Mass-produced bread seemed somehow safer, more sterile, in the public eye…

Food, politics, and culture– the dark and white flours of ideology: “Breaking Bread.”

* Robert Browning

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As we loaf, we might recall that it was on this date in 1826 that Noah Cushing, of Quebec, who two years earlier had received Canada’s first patent for his mechanical washing machine, patented a threshing and winnowing machine… which was briskly overtaken by Cyrus McCormick’s better-performing reaping machine, patented in 1834.  Threshing and winnowing capacities were added to the reaper to create the now-standard “combine” that’s used to harvest grain.

450px-Plaque_du_Premier_brevet_d_invention

Plaque commemorating Cushing’s (first) patent

source

 

Written by LW

October 31, 2019 at 1:01 am

“All that is solid melts into air”*…

 

misinfo

 

Ideas replaced with feelings. A radical relativism that implies truth is unknowable. Politicians who revel in lying openly, shamelessly, as if being caught out is the point of politics. The notion of the people and the many redefined ceaselessly, words unmoored from meaning, ideas of the future dissolving into nasty nostalgias with enemies everywhere, conspiracy replacing ideology, facts equated to fibs, discussion collapsing into mutual accusations, where every argument is just another smear campaign, all information warfare … and the sense that everything under one’s feet is constantly moving, inherently unstable, liquid …

Almost a decade ago I left Russia because I was exhausted by living in a system where, to quote myself invoking Hannah Arendt, “nothing is true and everything is possible.” Those were still relatively vegetarian days in Moscow — before the invasion of Ukraine — but it was already a world where terms like liberal or democracy were used to mean their opposite, where paranoia was increasingly replacing reasoned argument, and where spectacle had pushed out sense. You were left with only gut feelings to lead your way through the fog of disinformation. I returned to the thing once known as “the West,” living in London and often working in the United States, because, in the words of my naïve self, I wanted to live in a world where “words have meaning,” where facts were not dismissed as “just information war.” Russia seemed a country unable to come to terms with the loss of the Cold War, or with any of the traumas of the 20th century. It was ultimately, I thought, a sideshow, a curio pickled in its own agonies. Russians stressed this themselves: in Western Europe, America, things are “normalno” they would tell me. If you have the chance, that is where you send your wives, children, money … to “normalnost.”

Back in the West, however, I soon noticed things that reminded me of Moscow…

Peter Pomerantsev in an essay from his new book, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality: “Normalnost.”

Pair with his essay “The Info War of All Against All” and this review of his book.

[image above: source]

* Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto

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As we get down with Diogenes, we might expect little or no help from today’s birthday boy, Henri-Louis Bergson; he was born on this date in 1859.  A philosopher especially influential in the first half of the 20th Century, Bergson convinced many of the primacy of immediate experience and intuition over rationalism and science for the understanding reality…. many, but not the likes of Wittgenstein, Russell, Moore, and Santayana, who thought that he willfully misunderstood the scientific method in order to justify his “projection of subjectivity onto the physical world.”  Still, in 1927 Bergson won the Nobel Prize (in Literature); and in 1930, received France’s highest honor, the Grand-Croix de la Legion d’honneur.

Bergson’s influence waned mightily later in the century.  To the extent that there’s been a bit of a resurgence of interest, it’s largely the result, in philosophical circles, of Gilles Deleuze’s appropriation of Bergson’s concept of “mulitplicity” and his treatment of duration, which Deleuze used in his critique of Hegel’s dialectic, and in the religious and spiritualist studies communities, of Bergson’s seeming embrace of the concept of an overriding/underlying consciousness in which humans participate.

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Written by LW

October 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”*…

 

NYC_IRS_office_by_Matthew_Bisanz

 

Nine years ago, Republican lawmakers gutted the IRS’s budget, but didn’t relax its requirement to conduct random audits: in response, the IRS has shifted its focus from auditing rich people (who can afford fancy accountants to use dirty tricks to avoid paying taxes) to auditing poor people (who can’t afford professional help and might make minor mistakes filling in the highly technical and complex tax forms), until today, an IRS audit is just as likely to target low-income earner whose meager pay entitles them to a tax credit is as it is to target a filer from the top one percent of US earners.

Propublica pointed this out in an excellent tax-season report last April, and Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] took up the issue with the IRS. Now, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig has provided a report to Senator Wyden admitting that his agency targets poor people because they can’t afford to appeal the audits, making them cost-effective notches on the IRS’s bedpost.

Rettig’s report admits that auditing rich people would turn up more fraud and bring in more money for the US government, but says that he can’t afford to do so unless Congress restores the IRS’s funding. There’s bipartisan support for such a measure, but with Sen. Mitch McConnell blocking any Senate action, there may not be any more appropriations bills in 2019…

The sad story in full at “IRS admits it audits poor people because auditing rich people is too expensive.”

Pair with “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You.”

* Leona Helmsley

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As we shake our heads, we might recall that it was on this date in 2011, a Saturday, that Weezer’s ex-bassist Mikey Welsh passed away.  Two weeks earlier, on September 26th, he had tweeted “Dreamt I died in Chicago next weekend (heart attack in my sleep). Need to write my will today,” followed by “Correction – the weekend after next”.  He died from a heart attack in his sleep.  In a hotel room.  In Chicago.

1234619-mikey-welsh-617-409 source

 

Written by LW

October 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“God has no religion”*…

 

Ghostly figure leaving the interior of Sanahin Monastery, Debed Canyon, Armenia

 

The idea of American exceptionalism has become so dubious that much of its modern usage is merely sarcastic. But when it comes to religion, Americans really are exceptional. No rich country prays nearly as much as the U.S, and no country that prays as much as the U.S. is nearly as rich.

America’s unique synthesis of wealth and worship has puzzled international observers and foiled their grandest theories of a global secular takeover. In the late 19th century, an array of celebrity philosophers—the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud—proclaimed the death of God, and predicted that atheism would follow scientific discovery and modernity in the West, sure as smoke follows fire.

Stubbornly pious Americans threw a wrench in the secularization thesis. Deep into the 20th century, more than nine in 10 Americans said they believed in God and belonged to an organized religion, with the great majority of them calling themselves Christian. That number held steady—through the sexual-revolution ’60s, through the rootless and anxious ’70s, and through the “greed is good” ’80s.

But in the early 1990s, the historical tether between American identity and faith snapped. Religious non-affiliation in the U.S. started to rise—and rise, and rise. By the early 2000s, the share of Americans who said they didn’t associate with any established religion (also known as “nones”) had doubled. By the 2010s, this grab bag of atheists, agnostics, and spiritual dabblers had tripled in size.

chart

History does not often give the satisfaction of a sudden and lasting turning point. History tends to unfold in messy cycles—actions and reactions, revolutions and counterrevolutions—and even semipermanent changes are subtle and glacial. But the rise of religious non-affiliation in America looks like one of those rare historical moments that is neither slow, nor subtle, nor cyclical. You might call it exceptional.

The obvious question for anybody who spends at least two seconds looking at the graph above is: What the hell happened around 1990?

One theory, compellingly explained, at “Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?

* Mahatma Gandhi

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As we contemplate creeds, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 (one year to the day after the debut of The Huckleberry Hound Show) that The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS.  An anthology series created (and hosted and frequently written) by the remarkable Rod Serling, it features near the top of the “best series” lists of TV Guide, Rolling Stone, and others, and was ranked (in 2013) by the Writers’ Guild as the third best-written show ever.

250px-Thetwilightzone-logo.svgsource

Written by LW

October 2, 2019 at 1:01 am

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