More Cowbell


There has been a lot of hand wringing, panty bunching, and knicker twisting about Clinton’s loss in 2016 (as well as the failure of several Democratic candidates to win statewide races, mainly Senate races, in swing states).

First, let me say that serious ‘post-mortems’ are absolutely necessary after elections (win or lose) and, as Democrats, we need to do the same. And we need to make some changes, no doubt.

But if there’s one thing we learned, it’s the so-called ‘foundational’ models were the most accurate in predicting the outcome (though the national polls were ultimately, correct, if we allow a reasonable MOE, regarding popular vote totals). Nonetheless, Clinton came within a comparative handful of votes in three states in particular (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan) of winning it all.

So what if we allow ourselves to say, we just needed more cowbell in some key regions. That doesn’t mean criticisms are wrong. For example, that cowbell could have taken the form of additional Clinton appearances in those states. Maybe a tweaking of emphasis in the message. A lot of possibilities. But maybe we can chill a little, eh? Doesn’t mean we don’t need to follow the base and the energy which opposition to Trump (who, as president, now owns the GOP) has generated. Doesn’t mean we don’t need new blood. But these are commonsensical. We shouldn’t be freaking out about the future of our party right now.

We just need to make sure we have more cowbell next time.

On a side note, I have seen the Blue Oyster Cult in concert four times and I love that freaking song.

https://vimeo.com/55624839

On A Recent Sunday


On a recent Sunday, I visited the Holocaust Museum with some friends. It was only my second visit and just as sad and moving as the first time; it’s hard not to feel tears welling up at various junctures.

The Holocaust, as a historical event, is sui generis. It is not there to be our metaphor. It is too singular.

But good God, it is simply impossible to visit that museum and see the history and artifacts leading up to the Holocaust being possible and not think about the terrible act, the bigoted act, the ignorant act, the base act, the racist act undertaken by our president.

And he is our president. He is my president. Whatever good I may do in my life, I will also always be, in some part, complicit in whatever evil my country does, especially when it takes place during my lifetime.

In another tragedy, an acquaintance of my mine is a student, studying here on a student visa. The terms of her visa require her to leave the United States every so often (every six months is a common condition of many visas), but she is from one of Trump’s designated countries. She doesn’t know whether to hurry away now and return by judicial stays can be overturned or to wait and hope that things get better. I don’t know either and all my advice to her tastes likes ashes because I am complicit.

 

Schadenfreude


I’m fighting it. I’m fighting it as hard as I can.

I don’t actually want family and friends who voted for Trump to lose their healthcare. There are many people I care about who, through some kind of willful denial, refuse to acknowledge that they are able get to insurance (and through the insurance, healthcare) through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

I don’t want them to lose their insurance when (if? maybe) the ACA is repealed (without, I can guarantee, a replacement that will cover them).

But, I can’t fight the fact that I’m more concerned about the people who didn’t vote for Trump who will lose it and that I will shed more tears for them.

Holiday Reading…


…has so far been weighted more towards trashy than classy.

Trashy has included Deryni Rising, by Katherine Kurtz, who is a name I’ve seen a lot, as a fan of fantasy, but have never read. It’s high fantasy in western medieval setting. A first novel (though written and published before I was born) and it shows. Characters are thinly sketched, but the potential is there. The entire novel takes place in a small geographic area and at least half of it takes place over thirty-six hours or so, which I as good sign – an attempt to do something a little different, as well as something focused on internal politics. That said, still needed some ‘seasoning.’ Also, there were characters known merely as ‘Moors’ who all work for bad guys and get exactly zero additional characterization, which I would suggest is borderline racist, if it weren’t so obviously fully racist.

Michael Moorcock has earned some literary cred, but he also wrote a lot of trash. Fun trash, but trash. Of his interlocking, slightly revisionist, high fantasy novels, the original Elric stories are, without doubt, the best. And the novels of Dorian Hawkmoon are, beyond a doubt, among the worst. Which makes the number of times I have read those novels inexplicable. And makes reading the original tetralogy again, during my holiday, incomprehensible. Hawkmoon, as a character, is boring (though on his companions, Huillam D’Averc, is, if thinly drawn, at least interesting and fun), the post-apocalyptic world of science and sorcery is not nearly as clever nor as relevant as Moorcock clearly believes.


But, at least I read the latest edition of Foreign Affairs. Too bad it was about how Trump is going to blow up the liberal order of progress and justice-based structures. So, um… yay! I read something worthwhile!

When The World Spoke French


9781590173756This book is a collection of miniature biographies, focused on (mostly, though confusingly, not exclusively) non-French figures of the eighteenth century who were deeply influenced by eighteenth century French culture, most especially, the intellectual milieu of the French Enlightenment. The biographies themselves, naturally, focus on these figures’ intersections with French Enlightenment culture.

The book is deeply interesting and provides some lovely insight into well known figures (Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia) and less well known persons (Abbe Galliani).

I did get very irritated around the half way point as the author started dropping the name Grimm. I assumed that it wasn’t one of the famed Brothers Grimm, but it would have been really cool to at least include a first name. At around the three quarter mark, we finally get a bio of Friedrich Melchior Grimm, editor of a famed journal of the Enlightenment, but only after I’ve been made to feel ignorant for not knowing ‘Grimm’ since birth. Similarly, a reference to the Enlightenment loving crowned heads included a list, among whom was Stanislaw. Stanislaw who, you ask? Well, the very last bio is of Stanislaw Augustus II of Poland.

But I shouldn’t gripe. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s a lovely, winding journey through drawing rooms and salons, highlighted by excerpts from letters, of a wonderfully fecund time in European intellectual history.

Offices


The finish to Cicero’s Offices (or On Duties or De Oficiis) was both apropos and unsettling. The book is a missive to his son and most of it is ethical philosophy as light reading. Not to denigrate it! Part of the reason it is light reading, is that Cicero is known as an excellent Latin stylist and while my translation is little old fashioned, it keeps the clearness. But also because Cicero is not Kant and this is not a technical treatise. Yes, he talks about stoicism and he mentions his own school (the sceptics or Academicians) and notes that his son has chosen to study under a peripatetic (which is to say, an Aristotlean) philosopher. But this is a practical guidebook.

Or, at least, that’s how it begins… and actually, that’s how most of it goes.

But his bitterness over his fall (precipitated by his opposition to Julius Caesar’s power grabs; Cicero was not a democratic soul, but believed deeply in the Roman Republic and its institutions) takes over and it’s hard not to read the last twenty pages or so as a pointed attack on the people and institutions he sees as having failed the Republic and contributed to its decline and downfall.

Which might seem appropriate for the times, right? Like most Americans, I voted against Trump, and have, even before he has taken office, been found right in my opposition as he rather publicly dismantles our democratic norms (en route to dismantling our democratic institutions?). But Lord knows that I need a break. I didn’t pick up a two thousand year old book for insight into the current predicament affecting my country. I wanted a bit o’ ancient wisdom and a good read.

I’m Back, I’m Not Back


I’ve been away, first thinking only about the election and then contemplating the aftermath.

It’s not a happy aftermath. My wife is an immigrant and a person of color. I have low income family members who depend on Obamacare. All reasons to fear for the well being of people I love.

So, in what do we take solace?

I’ve been reading Cicero’s De Officiis in a lovely little miniature hardback edition. I love those books, on a tactile level, like the original Modern Library editions from the teens, twenties and thirties. This isn’t one of those, but the same principle. Also, just reading a literate account of how to be decent person in society. While some is specific to the society of the late Republican/early Imperial Rome, most is not. And in a post-Trump world, it seems both relevant and terribly sad. But perhaps Cicero, who wrote this after being forced into a sort of exile for his support for the norms of the Republic would relate. Though I still don’t see this as the end of democracy in America. A touch of class, too, in Cicero. Not that kind of class (though he’s very classy), but socio-economic class. And jealousy. On my part. Cicero can retire to his villa, send his son to study abroad (he’s learning from a Greek philosopher in Athens), and spend his days writing awesome things like De Officiis.

I was in my study the other day. Actually, if I’m being honest, I was video chatting my way through a Dungeons & Dragons game (thankfully, we’re meeting in person next week; sometimes, technology is a hindrance to play, a statement that you should take several ways). While waiting for technology to right itself or else during lulls in the action, I found my eyes wandering around to all my books. Honestly, I’ve got some pretty awesome books.

Among them, James Lasdun’s The Horned Man, I book that I read many years and deeply enjoyed and I felt compelled to reread upon seeing it on my shelf. Like Cicero, maybe I’m looking for parallels. In this case, an unreliable narrator who quickly constructs a strange and inexplicable conspiracy. So how does this relate? Trump, the unreliable narrator spinning his improbable narratives? Me, trapped in a world created by people who see conspiracies in the quotidià of modern life? Or am I the narrator, feeling a strange noose tighten for reasons I can’t understand (bear to understand?)?

Wordworth’s The Prelude which is one of the highlights of western civilization, but which, thankfully, has nothing to with Trump. Or does it? I just called it one of the highlights of western civilization and doesn’t that relate to Trump making his closest presidential adviser a man tied to a racist, separatist, apartheidist, ethno-european nationalist movement? That doesn’t make Wordsworth particularly racist (though I’m sure he was, being a man of his erea), but am I merely taking a more highbrow kind of comfort in the same white mythologies as Trump’s supporters?

I picked up Kenneth Rexroth and Ikoko Atsumi’s translated text, Women Poets of Japan and found myself less enthralled than I remember. While waiting in line to vote, I was reading The Book Genji and the titular Prince Genji and the beau monde in which moved frequently communicated via poems, but a quick, returning glance at that once favored collection of Japanese poetry left me itchy for something else. If that something else was a white, male poet (Wordsworth), does it make my reaction more fraught?