Saturday, February 18, 2017

So It Goes

As virtuous men float mildly away
so do our minutes hasten toward the rain,
some speckled, some merely numinous,
and so it goes. The Traveler and his Shadow
find much to concur on. The wreckage of the sky
serves to confirm us in delicious error.
Congratulations on your life

John Ashbery

Friday, February 17, 2017

Defining the Darkness.15

After reporting results of a survey that showed that 25% of Americans surveyed said that Homegrown Hitler should be able to overturn the decisions of judges, but  fully 51% of his supporters agreed...

The Guardian:

"As the PPP’s survey reveals, Trump is appealing to a remarkably receptive audience in his attempts to rule by decree – and many are no longer attached to the rule of law and/or democracy. Other studies confirm these findings."

Another study showed a different division among Americans, between pre-Boomers and Millennials:

"When asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how “essential” it is for them “to live in a democracy,” 72% of Americans born before World War II check “10,” the highest value. But, the millennial generation (those born since 1980) “has grown much more indifferent.” Less than 1 in 3 hold a similar belief about the importance of democracy."

The decline is a steady downward curve, with those born in the 1940s above 60%, born in the 50s about 57% and born in the 60s at 50%.  Generation X is just above 40%.

I'm generally skeptical of social science surveys, and this one is dubious (why is only a 10 on the 1-10 scale considered supporting democracy? Why not a 9?) And the usual problem with s.s. surveys--who are these people?  But the PPP survey is more specific, more troubling and more immediately consequential.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day Without Immigrants

Washington Post today:

"Immigrants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America’s economy, and many businesses closed in solidarity, in a nationwide protest called A Day Without Immigrants."

"Expensive restaurants and fast-food joints alike closed, some perhaps because they had no choice, others because of what they said was sympathy for their immigrant employees. Sushi bars, Brazilian steakhouses, Mexican eateries and Thai and Italian restaurants all turned away lunchtime customers."

"There were no immediate estimates of how many students stayed home in many cities. Many student absences may not be excused, and some people who skipped work will lose a day’s pay or perhaps even their jobs. But organizers and participants argued the cause was worth it.  A school board official said that more than 1,100 students went on strike at Dallas Independent School District schools."

NY Times yesterday:

"In a city where expense account meals are a central part of power players’ lives, some of Washington’s best-known restaurants will close their doors on Thursday in solidarity with a national campaign to draw attention to the power and plight of immigrants."

"Activists and groups in cities across the country have picked up the call, reposting fliers found online, and in some cases organizing demonstrations to coincide with the event. Several activists said that they did not know how the campaign began or how many people would heed it, and that as far as they knew, there was no national organization behind it."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Washington Essential

There is so much turmoil in Washington right now that it seems necessary to get down to essentials.

The most essential for holders of federal office is the U.S. Constitution that they have all sworn to uphold, to "support and defend."  Some offences committed by the current regime are in the Constitution itself.  Others are violations of law that flesh out Constitutional mandates.  Moreover, they are laws passed as prescribed in the Constitution.  That's what makes them lawful.

The Constitution sets forth responsibilities.  The Justice Department has responsibilities to uphold the law regardless of whether transgressors are in high office and in the same party, including the guy who hired you.  The FBI has investigative responsibilities, and answers to both the Executive and Legislative branches.

Members of Congress swear that oath to the Constitution.  Notably they have to sign it as well as say it.  They have the ultimate responsibility to uphold the Constitution when the Executive violates it.

Unfortunately most of them won't do so unless they perceive that the political zeitgeist forces them to.  So the media furor, the polls and the heat members of Congress get at "town hall meetings" in their districts and states, etc. all play a part.

The essential crime is violating the Constitution.  The essential remedy is following the Constitution, regardless of party or politics.

So ladies and gentlemen, do your fucking jobs.  Until that happens it's all just a sordid circus.

And ultimately, if you don't do your jobs, darkness falls all the faster.

Monday, February 13, 2017


“I sustain myself on the puppet drug of personal technology. Every touch of a button brings the neural rush of finding something I never knew and never needed to know until it appears at my anxious fingertips, where it remains for a shaky second before disappearing forever.”

a character in Zero K
by Don DeLillo

Do our machines (and our abstractions) measure what we become,
or do we become what our machines measure?

"An English speaker who describes a friend as aggressive will be reluctant to describe the same person as kind for that would imply that the friend possessed inconsistent traits.  Mandarin speakers do not detect an inconsistency when they say that a person teases her friends but lends them money because they do not use the abstract terms aggressive and kind."

Jerome Kagan
On Being Human: Why Mind Matters

Sunday, February 12, 2017

But It's There

"The whole task [of poetry, the arts] is to reveal the inner world that does exist, that isn't acknowledged socially, or even acknowledged personally sometimes, because it is so buried, so latent--but it's there!"

Allen Ginsberg
collage by Jean/Hans Arp

Denying the inner world is tantamount to denying the individual.  And both are routinely denied in public affairs but also--paradoxically, as we used to say--by the reductionism of contemporary psychology, self-styled neuroscience popularizers and the big thinkers of the digital future, who see computers and social media as the slots that individual humans have to fit into.  The difference between now and say the 1950s or the Reagan 80s is that reductionist conformity just comes in more flavors.

Jane Jacobs News

I kind of faded out on Jane Jacobs' Dark Ages Ahead, now that we don't have to wait for one anymore.  Maybe I'll get back to it.  But there's a nice piece on Jane in the Nation from earlier this month by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow.  It's a nice primer on her life, work and importance as the author of "Life of Great American Cities (1961), one of the seminal books of the 20th century."

Such insights as: Jacobs’s unconventional politics grew out of her temperament. She was allergic to dogma; she followed not an ideology but a methodology. She did not assume, or imagine, or take things on faith; she observed. But she didn’t stop there: She accumulated observations and distilled them into general principles. For her, empiricism and theory were not opposites but complements.

This piece marks the occasion of a new collection of Jacobs' shorter essays and speeches, Vital Little Plans, and a new biography, Eyes on the Street.

Tuhus-Dubrow also notes that some of the characterizations and criticism of Jacobs comes from people who simply did not read her books very carefully--what they say she didn't critique, she certainly did, in detail.  An unfortunate but not in my experience rare tendency among the professional opinionati.

Towards the end of this piece, a Jacobs' essay or speech is quoted about the virtue of little plans rather than big ones in city planning.  It's quoted from a speech she gave in Germany but I vividly remember these sentences from a speech she gave on another occasion that was published in the American Scholar.  That speech, and a TV documentary on the city, were my introductions to her.  She became essential to my work on The Malling of America.

As for Dark Age Ahead, her last book, here's the only video of her talking about it at length, at a bookstore in Oregon.  This also preserves her priceless defense of anecdotal evidence and the most trenchant summary of the limitations of science that omits it.  When thinking about the future, Jane Jacobs is one of the indispensables.