"I mistrust words, but I say the Agricultural Revolution took thousands of years; the Industrial Revolution took hundreds of years; the Information Revolution is taking only decades. If we use it, and use the brains God gave us, we may be able to pull this world together before the weapons (which foolish scientists have made possible) put an end to the human race."
- Pete Seeger (more Seeger postcards here)
Happy New Year!
Death of a thief
Until this morning, I had never heard of Ronnie Biggs and knew almost nothing about the Great Train Robbery, in which a gang of seventeen thieves robbed a British mail train in 1963 of £2.6 million (over $50 million in current dollars). But then a news story on NPR reported on his death, at age 84, which lead me to this article at The Guardian along with a string of related pieces. Without at all glorifying his crime (the train's engineer ultimately died from his injuries), I'm marveling at what a fascinating life this man had: he was involved in the heist; was arrested, convicted and sentenced to thirty years in prison; broke out of prison; fled to South America and lived the good life there for thirty-six years; was abducted in 1981 by bounty hunters who took him to Barbados, which refused to extradite him; finally surrendered to British authorities in 2001 and imprisoned; and was released in 2009 due to poor health. Along the way he seems to have become some sort of folk hero, and even recorded a record with the Sex Pistols.
It seems to me that Biggs' life is the stuff of great fiction; in fact, if a crime novelist wrote something comparable, it might even be criticized as being too audacious and unreal. Still, I like to imagine writing a fugitive character like Biggs. The thought of him sitting in a bar, regaling paying listeners with his implausible story after his heist money finally ran out, is both intriguingly arrogant and poignant to me. I wouldn't write the story as explicitly about Biggs, but instead with him as inspiration. I'm filing that away in the Tenuous Concept corner of my brain.
Quote"Crimes can be redeemed, but nothing saves you from mediocrity."
- Juan Villoro
Goodbye, Google Reader
Today is the final day of Google Reader, which I've been using every day for the past seven years to read blogs and other rss-delivered content. Google didn't offer much of a reason for Reader's demise, though my guess is that Google never quite figured out how to make good money off of it, and so it had to go. It's hard to believe that I once bookmarked each favorite site individually, and loaded them one by one from the pulldown menu of Internet Explorer, which I did every day before becoming a Reader convert.
I'm migrating to Feedly, which has both pluses and minuses: I greatly prefer the thumb-swipe navigation between posts on my phone, instead of clicking Reader's tiny button, but Feedly isn't available for Explorer, which means I can no longer read my blogs while eating my lunch at my desk at work. I would guess my volume of blog-reading will decline significantly after this point. It seems like blogs have declined in popularity during the last few years, especially with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, etc., and I can't help thinking that the disappearance of Reader will accelerate the trend even further. Sad, but I'm not about to complain about the loss of a free product.
Rantoul Fisher, meet Onarga RobertsDriving down Interstate 57 from Chicago to Champaign-Urbana, the countryside is sparsely populated, and each exit sign shows the names of two towns. The towns are usually connected by whatever highway is at the exit, but are often so far away that they can't be seen from the interstate. This invisibility gives the towns an air of mystery that always appeals to me. Years ago, it also occurred to me that the paired town names could be interpreted as being the name of a single person. After realizing this, I pondered what each of these people did for a living. Here's what I came up with:
Bradley Bourbonnais: male stripper
Monee Manhattan: female stripper
Gilman Chatsworth: trust fund baby/playboy
Rantoul Fisher: environmentalist
Onarga Roberts: NFL nose tackle
Next time you're driving through farm country on an interstate, give this a try.
"If the intention was to further divide people, this attack failed because it has achieved the opposite."
The anonymous writer behind Spitalfields Life posts a report on the aftermath of the firebombing of London anarchist publisher The Freedom Press.
"It might be disheartening, if it were not for the flood of well-wishing and offers of help we have received from all over the world. Disparate groups in the radical hinterland have laid aside their differences and come together in solidarity."I certainly hope the perpetrators never invoke the right to freedom of speech or expression to justify any of their actions.
Happy New Year!
I hope your 2013 is as happy and pleasant as this fine couple. With libations, of course.
HangoverWhat it is: Merriam-Webster Word of the Day
What to do about it: "How To Ease That Hangover"
You're welcome. Happy New Year.
"Plenty of photographs, but no record of the sound of his voice."In the NYT, Verlyn Klinkenborg writes a thoughtful piece on the scarcity of recorded voices, particularly those of our loved ones.
I remember the regret I felt after my mom died, years ago, that we had no recording of her voice on tape. And yet when my dad died in 2008 — same thing. Plenty of photographs, but no record of the sound of his voice. I’m glad to have the photos, but I miss the immediacy of those voices, the way that even a recorded voice captures the movement of time and the resonance of the body with extraordinary intimacy.One of my most cherished mementos is a cassette recording of my dad and I singing a karaoke duet of "New York, New York" at a family gathering during the 1990s. The singing is comical, of course, but what I love most is hearing his handful of spoken words and especially his laughter. Whenever I hear those words and laughter, I see his face, once again beaming and full of life.
Beginning of the endHerald News Office to Close as Sun-Times Targets 'Inefficiencies'
When it's no longer efficient to report local news from its source - the Joliet area - it no longer makes sense to keep the newspaper going as a discrete publication. Start saying your goodbyes to the Herald-News.
"We're not moving an inch. It's the world that's moved."I really enjoyed revisiting this fascinating 1994 article from the Chicago Reader on the House of David religious colony in Benton Harbor, Michigan, which I first read in print at its original publication. But not until I found the article in the paper's online archive did I realize the author was Adam Langer, a native Chicagoan who subsequently became a well-received novelist (Crossing California, The Washington Story, etc.). At the time of Langer's writing, the House of David and City of David colonies had only twenty-six members remaining, with the youngest being 47-year-old Ron Taylor.
"We at one time could have a moral code and tell unmarried people that we weren't going to rent to them. But as we approach the mid-90s, that's not only a lawsuit but that's a major problem because who do you rent to? There's so much of that going on that you have to rent to some of them in order to maintain a business. People come in, unmarried. Or maybe they are married. They'll tell you one thing. They'll tell you another thing. Sometimes one person moves in and then their boyfriend or girlfriend moves in with them. That instability isn't ours. It's the world's. We're the same people we started as. We still stand by the things we've started with. We're not moving an inch. It's the world that's moved."The "Israelites" (as colony members refer to themselves) not only practice celibacy, but also haven't actively recruited new members since the 1930s, so the colonies have steadily diminished over the decades as older members died and only a few new members joined. Based on this 2012 report, it looks like only five members remain today, including Taylor (who is now 65). Though my religious days are long past, I find it touching that Taylor, despite the Second Coming not happening in 2000 as it was originally prophesied, is still hoping it will happen soon.
"...a turgid chowder of Phi Beta Kappas, Delta Kappa Epsilons, and members of Skull and Bones..."As part of Melville House's Presidents series, my best buddy Ben Tanzer pens an excellent first-person narrative in the voice of George H.W. Bush, as the former president addresses the graduating class at Yale, his alma mater.
You have to care about others, and not just your family and neighbors, but the less fortunate too. You also have to recognize that when it comes to the less fortunate, Harvard grads for example, you have to care enough to let them help themselves.Bush the Elder goes on to muse, of course, about his three sons. But I'm surprised at how lenient Ben was with regards to Dubya - I guess that would have been too easy of a target. Fish in a tiny barrel.
Excellent work, Tribune
This graphic appears this morning on the front page of the Chicago Tribune website. Though I haven't scrutinized all of the nationwide election results from last night, I assume this means that Montana passed a referendum for annexing part of Canada.
Quote"Government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods."
- H.L. Mencken (with whom I share a birthday but not, thankfully, extreme cynicism).
(Via Tim Brown.)
The only election that matters.
Twain the CandidateIn honor of Election Day, the Library of America has republished Mark Twain's very funny piece, "Running for Governor", which details his fictional electoral travails at the hands of a merciless yellow-journalism press:
I got to picking up papers apprehensively - much as one would lift a desired blanket which he had some idea might have a rattlesnake under it.Just as funny as the piece itself is the idea that our now-toothless newspapers once regularly engaged in such controversy, enough so for Twain to convincingly lampoon the practice. LoA also provides a preface that provides helpful context.
Why I am voting for Barack ObamaSo many reasons: because he inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and has guided the economy back to stability and modest growth. Because the Affordable Care Act, his signature legislation, is the first significant step toward universal health care and needs to be continued. Because Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are critical toward reining in the excesses of Wall Street and other dubious financial players that caused the recession, and need to be continued. Because he ended the war in Iraq and is committed to ending the war in Afghanistan, greatly weakened Al-Qaeda through the elimination of Osama bin Laden, and restored America's respect and reputation throughout the world. Because he proved his commitment to the middle class with the bailout of the U.S. auto industry, which has come roaring back and generated hundreds of thousands of jobs. Because he needs more time to work on his other major goals, including immigration reform, energy independence and fighting climate change, in the face of Congressional obstruction. And because America can't afford the reactionary, regressive and delusional policies of his opponent.
Yes, I realize that it wasn't actually Obama that accomplished all these things; instead, his subordinates and allies did the actual work. But he was the leader behind all of it, setting the tone, providing guidance and vision. Which is what leaders do. And he certainly is a leader. I am proud to support him, and look forward to our continued progress toward a more equitable, tolerant and forward-looking nation during his next four years as president.
QuoteAttributed (by Kurt Vonnegut) to Joseph Heller:
"I’ve got something he (a billionaire) can never have...The knowledge that I’ve got enough."I read this terrific quote from Robin Bates (at Better Living Through Beowulf), who muses on how, despite ever-worsening income inequality, the wealthy are dissatisfied and feel they're both unappreciated and already paying more than their fair share.
I wonder if those wealthy Americans who believe they are not properly appreciated feel a sense of guilt at being so much more privileged than the rest of America. Or maybe, because they have more, they are more worried about losing it. Or maybe they are restless and dissatisfied because they are discovering that money isn’t providing the fulfillment they thought it would.And well-chosen excerpts from The Grapes Of Wrath and Paul Krugman bolster Bates' argument even further. Vonnegut, Heller, Steinbeck, Krugman...heroes all.
"...it is not our blood that is being shed..."The late George McGovern, in 1970:
"Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land — young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us."Sadly, our so-called leaders remain endlessly eager to declare damnable wars and ship out young men (and women) as cannon fodder.
ShockingMitt Romney, from last night's presidential debate:
And — important topic and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the — the chance to pull together a Cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are — are all men?For me, what's shocking isn't the already-infamous "binders full of women" comment. Instead, he enthusiastically says that although all of the initial applicants were men - qualified candidates, but all men - he made a "concerted effort" to find qualified women candidates, many of whom he ended up hiring instead. In other words, the Republican nominee for president has now publicly bragged about practicing affirmative action.
They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women.
(This is normally the type of topical piece that I would put up on Facebook. But this also seemed to be more involved than a simple status update can handle. Plus, Facebook updates are just so ephemeral and fleeting, and blog posts seem more permanent.)
"The Literary Art of W. Mitt Romney"At Harper's, Kevin Baker reimagines several of Mitt Romney's dubious utterances as great literature.
Let us go then, you and I,But unforunately Baker mostly just leaves it at that. I'd love to see someone (Calvin Trillin, perhaps?) rewrite all of Prufrock with Romney allusions. Though maybe that writer should wait at least until tomorrow - today is Eliot's birthday, so for now that sort of poetic desecration might be particularly disrespectful.
While the clouds are stretched across the sky,
Like my campaign etherised upon a table.
David Simon"That Mitt Romney, with his too-clever-by-half 13 percent tax rate — and no, you can’t see his returns, but trust him, he never slipped to single digits — feels equipped to sneer en masse at the millions of fellow citizens who support his opponent as being entitled, greedy tax derelicts, that he believes the vote of every American has to necessarily be rooted in the crudest and most basic self-interest — well, this ugly moment reveals more about the man than we have thus far known."
Thackeray in TampaLately I've been enjoying Robin Bates' blog, Better Living Through Beowulf, in which he interprets modern events through the prism of classic literature. In his most recent post, he examines the Republican Party's mythical belief that all business owners are entirely self-made, with no government help (the dishonest and already-tired "We Built It" mantra), with relevant passages from Thackeray's Vanity Fair, including this one:
To account for your own hard-heartedness and ingratitude in such a case, you are bound to prove the other party’s crime. It is not that you are selfish, brutal, and angry at the failure of a speculation—no, no—it is that your partner has led you into it by the basest treachery and with the most sinister motives. From a mere sense of consistency, a persecutor is bound to show that the fallen man is a villain—otherwise he, the persecutor, is a wretch himself.Although those passages leave me with absolutely zero interest in ever reading Vanity Fair, I still find Bates' discussion to be quite interesting.
Love this: an 87-year-old doctor in Rushville, Illinois, who works seven days a week, still does house calls and charges $5 per visit. If the medical profession was more like him, we wouldn't even need the Affordable Care Act.
"I never went into medicine to make money," he says. "I wanted to be a doctor, taking care of people."
He works seven days a week, opening his office for an hour before church on Sundays. He has never taken a vacation and rarely left Schulyer County, except for the occasional medical conference.
If someone gently suggests that he cut back, his answer is always the same.
"What if someone needs me?"
(Photo by Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune.)
This is one of the sharpest observations that I've ever encountered about American politics.
"Policy formation is the province of a bipartisan power elite of corporate rich [Rockefeller, Mellon] and their career hirelings [Nixon, McNamara] who work through an interlocking and overlapping maze of foundations, universities and institutes, discussion groups, associations and commissions...Political parties are only for finding interesting and genial people [usually ambitious middle-class lawyers] to ratify and implement these policies in such a way that the under classes feel themselves to be, somehow, a part of the governmental process. Politics is not exactly the heart of the action but it is nice work—if you can afford to campaign for it."
I've never read Vidal, and suspect that his novels are much too lengthy and densely-written for my taste. But I'm quite interested in his essays, particularly United States: Essays 1952-1992, which I could easily see myself working through at my leisure, as I've pleasureably been doing with nonfiction books lately.
"In the terraces of two-up two-downs, people could talk over the garden fence but in the towers they became strangers to each other."
At Spitalfields Life, there's a striking set of images (from 1962-82) by John Claridge which show the old slums of London's East End, and the tower blocks (high-rises) which slowly replaced them. These images are eerily similar to ones I've seen of Chicago's South Side in the fifties and sixties, where a similar effort at urban renewal turned out to be an utter failure. Today, few of the CHA high-rises remain, having been demolished over the past fifteen years and mostly replaced with low-rise townhouses. You might think that the failed American experiment in high-rise public housing would have been a cautionary tale for today's urban planners, but as Spitalfields Life indicates, new tower blocks are still being planned for London. Those who ignore history...
Time for more economic stimulus
Another bad jobs report today - only 69,000 jobs created in May. And investor money is pouring into the safe haven of U.S. Treasury bonds, driving the 10-year yield down to 1.45%. The government's response should be a simple one, as Felix Salmon notes:
The government can borrow at 1.45%: it should do so, in vast quantities, and invest that money back into the economy itself. Take a few hundred billion dollars and use it to fix our broken infrastructure, to re-hire all those laid-off teachers and firefighters, to provide some kind of safety net for the millions of Americans who have been out of work for more than a year.
The last stimulus plan, enacted by President Obama shortly after his election, stabilized the economy in the wake of the financial crisis and helped us avoid a depression. We need more stimulus - borrow cheap, spend, put people back to work and get money flowing to revive the sluggish economy. And never mind the Republican hysteria over the country going deeper into debt - their only economic plan is to cut taxes, a strategy which generated only meager growth during the Bush Administration and would now increase the national debt even more than Salmon's "few hundred billion dollars" of stimulus. Do it now, President Obama, regardless of election year concerns. Voters would surely look more favorably on doing something, anything, to boost the economy, instead of doing nothing. Do it now.
Echoes of Terkel
The London Docks were closed by shipowners who wanted to move to new container ports as a means to break the unions and introduce casual labour, and make short-term profits by selling off their warehouse spaces. Yet the final irony lies with Colin, because anyone who has travelled upon the Thames – the silent highway, as they once called it – recognises the absurdity of the empty river when it is the obvious conduit for transport of goods as the roads grow ever more overcrowded.
The oral narration aspect can't help but remind me of Studs Terkel, the great man I never met yet find myself missing all the time.
Check out the photo that the Tribune chose to lead a story on some layoffs in its own newsroom. Based on the Jane Fonda-esque woman at the center in the short-shorts and white go-go boots, the photo appears to have been taken around 1967. Way to stay timely, Trib. They probably also tried contacting Irv Kupcinet at the rival Sun-Times for a quote, only to discover he's been dead since 2003.
Grammar Police descend on the NYT
Or at least this lone Grammar Policeman. I'm busting Jeff Zeleny for this sentence:
An aggressive push by Mr. Romney to try and capitalize on the divided conservative electorate failed to take hold, and he finished third in both states.
"Try and capitalize" is wrong. Instead, it should be "try to capitalize" or just "capitalize." The "and" implies that Romney is doing two things: trying and capitalizing. But "try" doesn't stand on its own; if you eliminate "and capitalize" the sentence makes absolutely no sense. Busted.
At MobyLives, Paul Oliver has written a nice piece on Ashtabula, Ohio and its local Occupy movement.
While Wall St. is certainly the fortress of everything the movement is fighting against, a city like Ashtabula is everything that the movement is or should be fighting for. The 99% is a wide-ranging demographic, but at its bottom is the forgotten mill and port towns. Places like Ashtabula, Ohio or York, Pennsylvania.
Though I've never been there, Ashtabula will always have a place in my heart, as it was the setting of my first published story, "Ectoplasm". (The inspiration for the story was the same Dylan lyric that Oliver mentions.) Clearly, the same economic conditions that drove my story continue today, and have even worsened. I'm not sure that my protagonist would have still had his teaching job in 2011.
Today I'm grateful for Julie and Maddie and the rest of my family, and Mud and Spike, and close friends, and still being gainfully employed with a solid roof over my head and working furnace and full refrigerator, and my reading and writing and everything else that keeps me engaged and sane. In other words, for everything it would be so easy to just take for granted.
“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”Visionary, world-changer
Regis McKenna...said Mr. Jobs' genius lay in his ability to simplify complex, highly engineered products, "to strip away the excess layers of business, design and innovation until only the simple, elegant reality remained."Jobs was 56. I'm 46. What will I accomplish in the next ten years?
About that U.S. Postal Service crisis...
As it turns out, one of the biggest factors that's driving the USPS into insolvency is not its obsolesence and inefficiency, but instead a 2006 federal law that requires retiree health benefits to be prefunded for the next 75 years over a very short ten-year timespan. That's right - the USPS is required to pay for the healthcare of employees it hasn't even hired yet, including those who haven't even been born yet. By Ralph Nader's calculation, without this ridiculously boneheaded law, the USPS would actually have a $1.5 billion surplus today.
I'm sure the law's original sponsors tried to justify this by claiming it was intended to keep the USPS viable, but in doing so they have ensured the service's imminent bankruptcy. The cynic in me can't help wondering whether the Republican-controlled Congress and Bush White House of 2006 pushed this through at the behest of FedEx and United Parcel Service.
So get to work, Congress: either ease the restrictions of this law right now, or abolish it entirely. If you have any common sense at all, that is, of which I'm far from certain.
Intolerance, Back of the Yards
During the past two weeks The Reader ran an excellent piece by Steve Bogira called "The Price of Intolerance" (part one, part two) about a senseless and yet not unexpected tragedy that occurred in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood in 1971, and has echoed through the decades ever since. And here's one difference between journalism and fiction - fiction would have put a much rosier gloss on Sam Navarro's feelings at the conclusion.
(Photo of Sam Navarro by Jeffrey Martini, for The Reader)
Ah, shit. Didn't work. And he messed up the bottom corners. Tries to remember what he did, to do it in reverse. Right, right, up. Left? No, right...It's like his life - you think you're planning things out, you think you've created order. But chaos creeps in, doesn't it. There's no keeping it at bay.
Cosmos, Rubik's Cube and a windowless transport. Not quite Saddam's rathole, though not much better.
"Corporations are people, my friend."
When politicans spew ludicrous comments like this, do they truly believe them? Or are they just pandering to their overlords?
Campaigning in Iowa on Thursday, Mitt Romney told a heckler, “Corporations are people, my friend”—words immediately seized upon by Democrats in what they termed as a possible defining statement by the presidential candidate.
Romney, speaking to a crowd of hundreds at the Iowa State Fair, was being pressed about raising taxes to help cover entitlement spending. When one mentioned raising corporate tax rates, Romney responded by saying corporations were no different than people. The line earned him a sustained round of applause from the crowd.
No mention there of whether or not it was a crowd of CEOs. Just for the record, Mitt: people are people, but corporations are nothing more than artificial legal constructs. What a frigging tool this guy is.
The really mind-boggling thing about the budget mess is that the debate could be this acrimonious without any of the final proposals including even a tiny increase in taxes. Can you imagine if the Dems had really pushed for more taxes to reduce the deficit or - heaven forbid that we have an equitable tax code - a reapportionment of tax revenues that requires the upper class and corporations to finally pay their fair share? Washington might have physically imploded from GOP fury, leaving nothing but a smoking crater.
(If this sounds like an offhanded comment more appropriate to a Facebook status update, that's exactly what it is. But Facebook won't take a status update that's as long as this, so I posted it here instead.)
Life's been good to him so far...his kids, not so much.
Gee, thanks for all the sermons on fiscal responsibility, Congressman.
Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh sued for $100,000 in child support
Freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a tax-bashing Tea Party champion who sharply lectures President Barack Obama and other Democrats on fiscal responsibility, owes more than $100,000 in child support to his ex-wife and three children, according to documents his ex-wife filed in their divorce case in December.
"I won’t place one more dollar of debt upon the backs of my kids and grandkids unless we structurally reform the way this town spends money!" Walsh says directly into the camera in his viral video lecturing Obama on the need to get the nation’s finances in order.
And apparently he won't place one more dollar into his kids' pockets, either.
Farewell, Elliott Handler
An icon of my childhood has passed away, albeit an icon whose name I didn't know until today: Elliott Handler, co-founder of Mattel, and - even more important to me - inventor of Hot Wheels. I don't know what my childhood would have been like without Hot Wheels. I hope he thoroughly enjoyed speeding down the bright orange track of life.
This obituary makes me very _____ (adjective)
Leonard Stern, co-creator of Mad Libs and source of many hours of amusing diversion during my childhood, has passed away, at age 88. As if being a writer for Get Smart and The Honeymooners wasn't already great enough. Farewell, good sir.
"Handicapping the Handicapped"Just came across this gem: Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger's irreverent primer on the dubious crop of GOP presidential candidates. Here's their take on Herman Cain:
What's his problem?Just in case you somehow needed a reason not to vote for any of these yahoos, read this. And laugh.
He insists that as a black Republican, he's "Obama's worst nightmare." He's one of those annoying "run America like a business" douches who insists you can apply lessons learned from running a crappy pizza chain to being commander in chief of the armed forces. He's widely regarded as the best speaker in the field, though it's unclear if Republicans just say that because they're shocked a black guy can form complete sentences on conservative subjects.
Breaching the levee, then and now
Given the big international news events of the past week (Osama bin Laden, the royal wedding), the story of the demolition of a Mississippi River levee in Missouri to ease severe flooding has gotten remarkably high exposure. At the University of Illinois Press blog, historian Jarod Roll (Spirit of Rebellion: Labor and Religion in the New Cotton South) writes an excellent piece on the last time that the Bird's Point-New Madrid Spillway was intentionally breached, in 1937. Back then, the action spurred not only the creation of federal public housing for the displaced, but also government-provided health care.
Although impossible to predict, the effects of the 2011 flood will probably not be as dramatic as those that followed the inundation of 1937. It would be difficult to imagine renewed protests for federal housing projects, especially in a section of Missouri that once routinely voted Democratic, but is now a Republican stronghold. It is perhaps even more difficult to imagine protestors using the flood to not only call for but actually receive a government health service.
Times have definitely changed, and not necessarily for the better.
Abbottabad, the poem
For the same reason that I once avidly watched such cringeworthy TV fare as The A-Team, The Tim Conway Show and Quincy, I can't help but appreciate the sheer awfulness of the poem "Abbottabad". Stephen Moss at The Guardian has background on the "poet" (an overly generous term, to be sure), General Sir James Abbott. Abbott makes "Bullwinkle's Corner" sound lyrical and profound in comparison.
Innocent until proven guilty
Compare and contrast this passage from Nelson Algren's Nonconformity...
For so deeply now do we presume the accused to be guilty by the act of having been accused, that it seems to us no more than an act of atonement to turn the knife on himself. The accused who stubbornly declines this form of confession is now advised that either the answers he would have given would have incriminated him or else he would not have declined. Refusal to reply thus becomes an automatic confession of guilt. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Leaving us with the implication that the men who devised the Fifth Amendment had in mind not the protection of the innocent, but of the guilty. How sick can you get?
...with this recent item from Boing Boing:
CNN has discovered that the TSA considers "complaining about TSA procedures" to be a profiling marker for potential terrorists. They explain that one terrorist (the "twentieth hijacker") complained a lot about TSA screening, and so that means "getting angry about TSA screening procedures" goes in the "signs of terrorist intent" bucket.
So much for being innocent until proven guilty - just complaining about inappropriate treatment from the TSA will get you tagged as a potential terrorist. Although Algren was writing in direct reference to the McCarthy anti-Communist witchhunts of the 1950s, he clearly would not have been surprised at the absurdity of the War on Terror, over fifty years later. Algren also quotes the following from Judge Learned Hand:
Risk for risk, for myself I had rather take my chance that some traitors will escape detection than spread a spirit of general suspicion and distrust.
I'm guessing Hand wouldn't have been a big fan of our current paranoia either.
"In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten."
- Wisconsin State Senator Mark Miller
Let this be a wakeup call to Wisconsin and the rest of the country: despite its claims, the Republican Party is not populist and cares little about the needs of everyday people. Instead they serve very narrow interests, primarily corporations and the very wealthy. Whether you're union or not, if the actions of Republicans in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Midwest infuriate you, then don't let that anger go to waste. Channel that emotion into pushing for recall elections wherever possible, or else mobilizing people into voting the GOP out of office during the next elections. Make it happen.
McEwan's Bully Pulpit
In accepting the Jerusalem Prize, Ian McEwan endured plenty of criticism from pro-Palestine advocates who claimed that in doing so he was legitimizing Israel's suppression of Palestinians. As it turns out, McEwan used the ceremony as a means of giving both sides the tongue-lashing they so deserve, and thus exercised the freedom for which the prize stands. Had he boycotted, he would have missed out on the bully pulpit that allowed him to tell the adversaries what they needed to hear. Well done.
No to Illinois SB 136
The Illinois State Senate is currently considering legislation (SB 136) which would require registration of private school and homeschooled students. My wife Julie homeschools our ten-year-old daughter, Maddie, who has progressed rapidly (she's already studying at the high school level) and has enjoyed a far better education than she ever could have gotten from our local public schools. Maddie is an amazingly enthusiastic student with a real hunger to learn, and most of that is due to the close attention and guidance that Julie is able to provide. It's also worth noting that we support our public schools financially via our hefty property taxes, yet do not burden the system by having Maddie enrolled in it and thus diverting resources from other students.
SB 136's sponsor claims that the bill is merely about registering students. But I can't help suspecting that this is actually the first step towards full-scale regulation of homeschoolers, including the eventual imposition of a state-mandated curriculum and standardized testing. As parents, Julie and I have chosen to educate Maddie on our own, and the results (as well as those of other homeschoolers, who consistently outperform public school students) speak for themselves. We should remain free of registration or any other regulation that the state wants to impose.
If you agree with me, please contact your Illinois state senator and express your opposition. Even if your own kids are in public schools, this should matter to you. Because it doesn't matter where - in public schools, private schools or at home - our children are educated. What matters is that they're getting the best education they can get. Burdening homeschoolers with registration or any other regulation does nothing to improve the quality of education our kids receive. And taking away parents' right of choice on how their kids are educated is simply wrong.
Stop SB 136 now!
If it walks like a dictator, talks like a dictator...
You see, Vice President Biden, this is how a dictator responds to public protests. Yes, Mubarak is a dictator. How disappointing that you refused to acknowledge this until the situation in Egypt revealed you were standing on the wrong side, and that you hide behind semantics just as egregiously as your White House predecessors.