Monday, February 27, 2017

ABout The Most Controversial Bit at the 2017 Oscars



The more I think about it, the more I like the (rather uncomfortable) Jimmy Kimmel bit of bringing in a bus full of tourists to the Oscars ceremony. It was a bit of uncontrolled guerrilla theater--no way to game out how it would go--that made us ALL experience the awkwardness of 'celebrity' and 'fandom' for a few minutes. If the celebs looked uncomfortable, that was because WE we're getting a peek into a part of their work--i.e., being a magnificent animal on display, inside a guided cage, for others to gawk at--that surely is uncomfortable for them on a daily basis; and if the tourists looked uncomfortable, that was because WE were seeing the very image of our own selves, muted before the crowd by our own puzzlement and shyness that WE'RE not rich and famous. I didn't find the bit cruel: instead, it felt like a a telling moment of genuine interactive theater that revealed us to ourselves, by experientially illuminating a KEY social dynamic. The more I think about this bit, the more I love it.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Survey of Personal Principles


What makes me 'conservative?' I appreciate the stabilizing effect of custom, and the 'hard disciplines of solitude and community,' which make me anti-utopian and sometimes tough-minded about 'individual responsibility.' What makes me 'liberal?' I believe deeply in the Rule of Law, equal protection under the law, and in spreading the benefits of civilization to ALL citizens who are asked to live in it, so that health care, education, equal access to jobs, and dignified living conditions are CIVIL RIGHTS (not necessarily 'human' rights, but I need to review Locke and Hume to make that distinction). I also believe strongly that the separation of church and state--by which I mean the separation of state and any judgment about individual life styles that doesn't harm others--is crucial to making the American experiment work. I do not believe in violence as a tool for change (though I'm quite fine with loud expressions of outrage and civil disobedience!) I believe that national borders no longer guarantee 'security' so that I believe we must be active players in international politics, economics, societal exchange, and unavoidable military conflicts (i.e., I'm a globalist who now knows we need to fix the sins of globalism, which have contributed to outbreaks of ethnic nationalism/bigotry around the world, including in the USA.) I believe that although we can't always get what we want, if we're vigilant, we can get what we need.


(I recommend an occasional brief survey of one's principles. Do they make sense when written out? Do they cohere? Do they express room for growth or change? A little exercise to keep one honest.)

Friday, February 03, 2017

Former Love



BTW, I don't think I've ever fallen out of love with any former girlfriend (or wife) or friend by whom I've felt the privilege of being loved in return. I've parted ways, felt hurt, been angry, cut myself loose form bad decisions, been driven crazy by recriminations, held (still hold) grudges, but I don't think I ever stopped loving a single person to whom I've once felt close. It often leaves me unnerved, this internal well of love that won't diminish, won't drain off into seeps of run-off emotion, or condense away into converted indifference, or compensatory hatred. I can peer inward and get lost in the eyes blinking back at me that aren't my own. It's an eternally weird sensation, but, in moments in which I need to see some reflection of who I think I am, that's where I look, into that cold well of memory, regret, and oft-broken trust, where my former friends still are.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

No Place to Run


I struggle to read the newspapers. I think I feel as I did when bullied as a teenager, when I couldn't safely walk down the hallway during middle school or freshman year, and so asked my parents if I could go to prep school, starting as a sophomore. I had to get out of the Vermont public high school I was in and flee to a Connecticut boarding school because the combination of not being quite athletic enough, being a little too smart, and having parents who were Jewish and former New Yorkers, was getting me beat up. I was called "kike" on the play ground and accused of getting good scores on tests because my parents were rich. I didn't fight back well (my younger siblings were tougher) so I got out. Now, I read about the GOP admonishing the Dems not to be "obstructionist" and insisting on their right to fill a stolen Supreme Court seat, and the Trump/GOP insistence on scapegoating immigrants, and the dumbfounding stupidity of climate change denial, and the heavy drumbeat of racism and White Supremacist Will to Power out of the Trump/Bannon White House, and I don't see any 'boarding school' to which I can run, for a few years. I'm stuck here with the bullies. We all are. And I don't know if we're effectively going to defend ourselves. Today, the newspapers are whinging about Left Dems making the mistake of emulating the Tea Party by becoming 'obstructionist,' but I don't buy it. I think we're just being called "kike" on the playground. But we can't afford to run. Fight back. Fking fight back, Democrats. Don't worry too much about avoiding the next civil war. It's already begun, you just haven't accepted it, yet. There's no place to run.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Happy New Year!

I've turned into a bad blogger:  there was a time when I updated by blog and website regularly and with implausibly rich detail, but over the last few years I've posted less and less frequently. The main culprit is neither my boredom with posting nor lack of will to overshare: the culprit is Facebook. I post A LOT on Facebook, most of which belongs on a blog. I get longwinded in my FB posts, covering topics ranging from politics (of course) to armchair philosophizing to aesthetics to all things theater and film and acting and, and... you name it, I have difficulty stilling my typing fingers for long. The trouble is: I know where my regular readers are, and they're on Facebook.

Over the next couple of weeks, I may go through my fb posts and cull the ones of most enduring interest to me, and repost them here, editing them for readability and with an eye to deepening their argument. If you haven't found me yet on FB I do invite you to do so, if you're of a mind, but I'll try to be a better host here, too.

Happy New Year!


Monday, August 29, 2016

Trigger Warnings and Campus Free Speech

As a dedicated liberal, proponent of free speech, and one concerned with the emotional as well as the intellectual well being of young people, I support the U. of Chicago's recent letter to incoming freshman, informing them that the university does not officially support trigger warnings or limits on free speech on its campus. Limits on free speech on campus are a mistake. Ugly ideas don't last because they're spoken. They last because they go un debated. Limits on free speech are also a cover for ugly ideas (especially antisemitism, ever popular on both the left and right.)

I also do avidly support dedicating resources to empowering students through support groups and promoting social understanding, even if I don't support furthering the entrenchment of 'identity politics,' which Balkanizes both the academy and our culture at large. This means that I believe that 'safe spaces' and 'trigger warnings' have a real place--e.g., students who feel marginalized or vulnerable deserve to be seen and heard by those whom they trust, and to find respite from haters, in times and places set aside for those purposes--but not where they've been over-extended in ways that impinge on free speech in the classroom or public arena. As a teacher, I would use what people call 'trigger warnings,' but perhaps not in every instance in which some students would be offended, on principle, by their absence, and I'd pushback on a MANDATE to use them. Long before we called prefatory remarks on hard subjects 'trigger warnings' (a useful phrase) we made them, out of consideration for the inexperienced, or the young, or the vulnerable. Such consideration--formally called a 'trigger warning' or not--is indeed part of good teaching. My objection is that mandating and defining trigger warnings in the classroom does a disservice to students, leading them possibly to believe they may crumble into dust, if somehow a trigger warning has gone unspoken. I would NEVER show images of the Holocaust or present-day Syria, or discuss lynchings or rape, without extensive prefatory comment, but I would also never tolerate being indicted by classroom observers if reference to such things cropped up, without warning, in the course of discussion. I see real abuse in embracing formal requirements for 'trigger warnings.' Trigger warnings are NOT in themselves censorship (I agree with proponents on this) but MANDATED trigger warnings are a lever for it.


Finally, I do not believe that exercising one's unlimited right to free speech is always appropriate and is, in some private and social settings, exceedingly unkind. Does one have a right to it? Sure. But should the elderly lady on the metro have to listen to teenagers curse loudly between stops, as I recently witnessed? I'm fascinated that we seem not only to be debating free speech and (mandated) trigger warnings but also that we're apparently struggling to articulate what constitutes civil interpersonal behavior. Have we devolved into such an atomized social reality that we can't separate 'being polite' or 'respectful' from infringement on our own civil rights? And yet, are we so delicate that we fear that strong disagreement from others will dissolve our own selfhood? Should we insist on exercising the right to be the loudest voice in the room whenever we want, while also insisting that we're being unfairly hurt, if anyone else raises their voice? Do we not think still that sometimes it's as useful to listen as to speak?



Sunday, August 14, 2016

In My Wanderings...


...I have hitchhiked through the West Bank without incident. When I lived on a sailboat in the Out Islands of the Bahamas, another sailer gave me his spare oil pump (for free) when mine failed. Bicycling in Nova Scotia, I knocked on the door of an unfinished house that was not yet opened as a B&B and spent the evening eating and drinking brandy with the owners. On Eleuthera, in the Bahamas, I walked into a town and knocked on the door of a house in front of which a handmade sign that read "chicken." I sat in the kitchen while the older woman defrosted a chicken and fried it. After a day wandering noisy and dusty Cairo, I walked into a lovely building on the Nile (that looked public) only to discover it was a private club. They let me stay and served me coffee and pastry. I have sailed, walked, bicycled, hitchhiked, motorcycled, and driven just barely enough to know the world is not a bad place.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

WARNING: Politics Ahead....

WARNING: POLITICAL POST (in which I may confuse minds looking for tweet-friendly nuggets)

I break with the left on four issues: international trade, GMOs, Israel, and the military and political role of the USA in the world, in which we must actively engage as both partner and leader. International trade hurts some industries while seeming to help the economy as a whole, and must be pursued with an eye to protecting and/or retraining workers as needed. GMOs may have risks but I find arguments for them to be unempirical and overblown (I do remain open to the debate, though). Israel has a right to exist and I find arguments against Zionism to be straight-up antisemitic (no other national movement in the world is decried by the American left); that Israel's Prime Minister, Netanyahu, may destroy international and US support for Israel through his arrogant and criminal disregard for the co-equal right of the Palestinians to their own state, breaks my heart and enrages me, but the left too often doesn't appear able to hold two thoughts--rage at Israel's government and acceptance of Israel as a state--at once. Our mistakes as military and political leader are real and deadly, and the most recent Republican administration did its best to erase our moral, legal, and political legitimacy in world affairs--for which George Bush, Jr. will go down in history as maybe the worst US President ever--but the world is a dangerous place and it looks to the US for partnership and, at times, leadership.

In every other way I can think of, I'm pretty damned left. I agree with Bernie Sanders' principles on just about every domestic economic and social issue. I'm what some evidently would call a "left libertarian," with a still-healthy respect for the role of government in furthering the American project, which requires furthering the civil and human rights and economic prospects of all its citizens. I may go further than Bernie on the subject of racial injustice in America: I believe that American blacks have a right to policies that may be called "reparations" for the history of slavery and institutionalized racism (e.g., in redlining and access to education). I also believe that we need aggressive policies--e.g., a well-funded infrastructure rebuilding program, free access to higher education, affordable health care--for all citizens.

Where do you stand?

(Please share your views. If you attack me in the thread, your comment will be deleted. If you say anything vitriolic or overly rhetorical, your comment will be deleted. Please feel free to state your principles in broad--but not overly broad--terms. I want to be able to see the chain of reason you might pursue if going further in depth.) Also please feel free to utterly ignore this post!

Democracy is a contact sport, but let's not make it a blood sport.

Monday, August 01, 2016

The Hitler Card

I must admit Trump is challenging me: he is so outside of acceptable moral, ethical, and political norms, that I think a vote for him is a stunning admission of moral and intellectual muddle-headedness, at best, and outright, sociopathic contempt for humanity, at worst. I won't say that Trump is comparable to the Hitler we know from WWII, but he is almost comparable to the Hiter of the Weimar and Brown Shirts: he says things that are not only outlandish, but also intensely violent, and he tells us he is going to do things that are intensely violent and illegal, e.g., round up Muslims, torture FAMILIES of SUSPECTED terrorists, revive military use of torture, threaten the press (e.g., WAPO) etc. (AND probably support Putin's expansionist aims in eastern Europe), and we have absolutely no reason to believe he WON'T do these things. People thought Hitler would moderate when he became Chancellor. That didn't happen. Trump is uniquely dangerous.


[That Trump appeals mostly to uneducated poor and working class voters DOES and SHOULD make us mindful of the extent to which American politics and American Finance has failed poor and working families, and we must respect the cry of frustration and pain that is articulated in a bumper sticker or vote for Trump. We must correct our politics and financial structures so those people are not left behind; but, the plight of the poor and working class is an explanation, not an excuse. Trump is worse that the disease--and to most people, I hope and believe, this is obvious. I do believe that Hillary Clinton will win this election in a landslide; that she'll probably take nearly every state in the union. But, if I'm wrong, we're going to have some explaining to do, to our children.]

(I don't often pull out the Hitler card.)