A Very American Tradition

Perhaps the oldest and most time-honored American political tradition is the laying on of propaganda, a very catholic (spreading truth, as it were) endeavor (Harper) for a democratic republic with a “wall”. The term “propaganda”  was not employed to describe the practices of 18th century America, which saw the broad use (or more appropriately, abuse) of the  pamphlet and the newspaper (Parkinson), which between them likely moved more manure than any hundred colonial farmers.

While it is seen as “good fun” on the “Left” to ridicule the “Right”‘s delusional love affair with a past that never existed (from Washington’s fledgling theocratic state to the libertarian utopia captured by Norman Rockwell), those doing the fiercest poking seem also to hearken back to an halcyon era of gentle discourse, where rational discussion charted the future of a free people. But, such daydreams are as fatuous as the revisionist histories of America’s culture warriors.

Our very own “Declaration” of independence is little more than a propagandistic screed (Hansen; Armitage; Jefferson) while the great art of “Common Sense” (Paine) is the rhetoric that so skillfully manipulates the reader.  The truth is that nothing was too low for the political strategists of our past. At the turn of the 18th century dueling over reputation was still to be seen (though largely illegal) while, based on the perceived reception of English common law, truth was no defense in suit for libel or slander (Kluft). Tar the man and kill the policy was the order of the day. Weinberg, in reviewing Burns’ “Infamous Scribblers”, gives us pause to ponder the fact that modern media warfare is not far removed from the rough and tumble of our brutal beginnings.

The U.S. has always been the very embodiment of the Hobbesian dilemma: affluence and stability come with moderation of individual freedoms. Yet our media has been telling us we can have our cake and eat it too for so long that the very idea has percolated into our poor excuse for beer: “Tastes great, less filling” (Miller). The predominant science of the 20th century is not physics, medicine, chemistry, or economics; it’s social psychology, the key to effective “advertising”, advertising being the methods by which attitudes of any population can be manipulated.

Our most staid organic political repartee, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, were composed anonymously. But this was not your kid’s Anonymous. By employing the allusion that was inherent in the use of a pseudonym (taken, itself, from an almost universal educational canon) the propounding pops  placed the discourse about our second attempt at sovereignty in a larger context (Richard 39), offering a sense of gravitas, or not (Klarman).

It may have been this sense of erudition that eventually gave rise to the extension of the Jeffersonian educational ideal to the unwashed (Notes on the State of Virginia 268-275); train the hoi polloi in “the canon”, and they too could be responsible participants in the republic! Et voilá, the great divide between those capable of ruling and those in need of rule is closed.

Many, like myself, are still enamored of the prospects of “education”. Even the kid with his finger in the dyke made some contribution, after all. But it is a losing battle where, the lower the socio-economic class the greater the spawning, and teachers (nominally, let alone good teachers) can’t compete with family and media when it comes to drama, comedy, time allotted, impact, etc. Indeed, we have moved rather aggressively to the point where the academy has been purchased by ideologues (Mayer 172).

The other two great divides are: a) the epistemological application of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (there is either truth or process), and, b) the Gordian Knot of Sophism (Rhetoric and Dialectic deconstructed). The first, shorthand for the grand battle of the absolute versus the relative, Plato versus Aristotle, is what plays out all over our country between the religious right and everyone else (once the “truth” is grasped, very little persuasion is necessary). The latter is the essence of the interactions between the “inner chimp” and the Homo sapiens forebrain and likely should have been the real focus of this essay.

It belongs to Rhetoric to discover the real and apparent means of persuasion, just as it belongs to Dialectic to discover the real and apparent syllogism. For what makes the sophist is not the faculty but the moral purpose. But there is a difference: in Rhetoric, one who acts in accordance with sound argument, and one who acts in accordance with moral purpose, are both called rhetoricians; but in Dialectic it is the moral purpose that makes the sophist, the dialectician being one whose arguments rest, not on moral purpose but on the faculty (Aristotle). Your English teacher would have started off this essay with Aristotle’s remarks, but then, you didn’t listen to your English teacher back then either, did you?

Of course, any time one begins considering social upheaval (as in an attempted change in social structure via the rise of a lower caste or class) historically it is cotemporal with mob violence. Whether you wish to talk about Spartacus or Luther, the attack on authority results in general conflagration. We have moved, in an era of truthiness (Colbert) and alternative facts (Todd), to a place where all authority is “equal”, so all versions of “reality” are legitimate.  We no longer have a common frame of reference, nor a common sense of what is authoritative.

We are, in a  real sense, faced with the thr”E” alternatives to the Existing Quandary Underlying Angst Tortured Existentialists: Education (Where do you want to go today), Exclusion (Just Us), or Exhortation (MadAve).  We have seen that Education is not up to the challenge…   Exclusion (the tribal primal directive) works just fine until all the oligarchs become bombastic bullies (it’s what happens when the elite defining “philosopher kings” are disparu, as can be seen in the current Administration).  What we are left with, and what many on “the left” are now arguing, is the adoption of the sound bite magical libertarian mystery show; time to sell the “progressive” brand using the same kind of MadAve tools that the Scaifs and Kochs successfully used in the past, and were employed most recently to make the Maroon Tide believe that Donald Trump is Their Savior.

To put that in blunter terms, the question is put, “Shall we murder to stem the flow of murderers?” Perhaps the first and maybe least fortunate response to such a poser would be that in as much as 997 of any 1000 people likely would not be worth saving one way or the other,  if you are not going to put them down at birth, don’t waste the money to feed them. But let’s delicately back away from that moment of honesty and search for an historical example of a successful upstart taking on hegemony without becoming same. Stickier and stickier…

Nor is, “They will seize what’s yours”, a real barn-burner because the truth is, nothing I have is really mine. Yeah, we do a great deal of pretending about PROPERTY in this country, but is there really anyone who does not realize that it is largely a delusion (well, THEY are included in that 997). Thank you, for thinking of US, but no thanks. Yes, let the Maroon Tide dissolve my bones on the wretched strand, but playing the Devil’s fiddle, as Faust well knew, comes at a price I am not interested in paying.

No, without a common frame of reference, the task is to simply make noise, as no real communication will take place…  The message, as it were, is the rumble… and rumble we must for a better world, because until the fundie right decamps their separate universe, or education turns a corner it has yet to even espy, the best we can do is let people know we are alive and well.


Armitage, David. “The Declaration of Independence and International Law.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 1, 2002, pp. 39–64. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/3491637.

Burns, Eric. Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism. PublicAffairs, 2007.

Colbert, Stephen. The Word – Truthiness. 2005. www.cc.com, http://www.cc.com/video-clips/63ite2/the-colbert-report-the-word—truthiness.

Hansen, Ali. “The Declaration as Propaganda.” Digication, 12 Mar. 2017, https://bu.digication.com/ahansen/The_Declaration_as_Propaganda.

Harper, Douglas. “Propaganda.” Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=propaganda. Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. University of Virginia Library, Virgo, 710304, http://search.lib.virginia.edu/catalog/uva-lib:710304. Accessed 18 Apr. 2017.

—. The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America. 1776.

Klarman, Michael J. The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Kluft, David. “The Death Of Alexander Hamilton And The Birth Of The American Free Press.” Trademark and Copyright Law, 1 July 2016, http://www.trademarkandcopyrightlawblog.com/2016/07/the-death-of-alexander-hamilton-and-the-birth-of-the-american-free-press/.

Mayer, Jane. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2017.

Miller, Carl. “Beer and Television: Perfectly Tuned In.” Beer History, 2002, http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/beer_commercials.shtml.

Nizkor. “Fallacy: Appeal to Authority.” Nizkor Project, 2012, http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html.

Paine, Thomas. “Common Sense.” Project Gutenberg, 14 Feb. 1776, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/147/147-h/147-h.htm.

Parkinson, Robert G. Print, the Press, and the American Revolution. Aug. 2015. americanhistory.oxfordre.com, http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-9.

Richard, Carl J. The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment. Harvard University Press, 1995.

Todd, Chuck. “Conway: Press Secretary Gave ‘Alternative Facts.’” Meet The Press, NBC News, 22 Jan. 2017, http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/conway-press-secretary-gave-alternative-facts-860142147643.

Weinberg, Steve. “Infamous Scribblers by Eric Burns.” Houston Chronicle, 19 Mar. 2006, http://www.chron.com/entertainment/books/article/Infamous-Scribblers-by-Eric-Burns-1870445.php.

 

Work: SERIOUS AND ABSURD PART TWO (NSFW)

Part one of this essay can be found at Chris O’Connell’s Intellectual Plane and Pardon me, but… .

As mentioned in my previous blog, the average person spends more time with work colleagues than they do with their friends and loved ones.

Furthermore we live in a society that is increasingly managerial and obsessed with abstract concepts of professionalism.

There’s a big difference between being professional and getting your work done to a high standard versus the appearance of being professional. Since the former is hard to do, most people tend to attach great importance to the latter.

It’s easy to appear professional. You wear the correct uniform. You keep workplace conversation revolving around banal topics and you pretend that what you are doing is serious business even if it amounts to pointless paper-pushing.

To show just how much you’ve sold out to corporate artifice, its best to talk about corporate brands.

True story.

I once walked into an office where the conversation concerned which store-bought frozen French fries were best: McCain brand or Green Giant.

My initial response was “Who gives a flying fuck?” Even if I did care about the quality of French fries I hardly consider it a subject worth discussing in a corporate environment! What does it matter? Furthermore, if you’re attempting to sound like a food connoisseur, why the flying fuck would you buy pre-made frozen fucking French fries?! If you’re serious about food quality, by goddamned bag of potatoes, cut them up and fry or bake the motherfuckers until they satisfy your palette.

But that might be too difficult for most “professional” people.

Regarding the workplace conversation in question, my attitude was deemed “unprofessional” as was my response to that rebuke. When I pointed out that while human characteristics like humour, joy, hard-work and efficiency were frowned upon in that particular workplace, jaws dropped open like marionettes. If we were so “professional” I argued, why were we not discussing the company’s future prospects? Why were we not formulating ways to improve our processes so that we could better achieve our goals as individuals and as a company? There, where humour was viewed with suspicion, why in such a supposedly serious work-place were my daily goals and targets being impacted by straight-faced discussions about irrelevance?

No one could give me an answer. To be fair, looking back at that episode, it occurred to me that my colleagues might have been trying to make the best out of a shitty situation – but I doubt it. Lacking in imagination as most “professionals” are, my colleagues had mistaken process and etiquette for substance and productivity.

I don’t consider myself the smartest person in the world. Like everybody else I’ve done some pretty dumb shit in my time and chances are I’ll probably do more dumb shit throughout the course of my life. I’m also a goal-oriented person. I go to work so that I can achieve something banal so that I can earn money and have available time to spend with friends, loved ones, my many interests like writing – all of which are far more important to my life than wage slavery. My vision of the workplace is more humanist than professional and I think it makes me a better leader.

Yeah, you read that right. The guy mouthing off about motherfucking frozen French fries holds a position of authority at his job.

But bear with me for a moment. Which is better: actual achievement or the appearance of achievement?

Some might argue that true professionalism calls for a balance between the two but I simply call that common sense. On top of that most professionals in recent decades don’t really achieve anything concrete. Managers especially.

The late Peter Drucker in his seminal work Principles of Management argued that managers are key to the healthy functioning of a business. But he wrote that book back in the 1950’s when managers actually knew shit! In fact they knew a lot of shit because they did a lot of shit! Most CEOS in the 50’s and 60’s had engineering degrees. They could actually build things, unlike the dense motherfuckers with MBAs found in most boardrooms today.

The process of building something useful, especially when that construction involves contributions by other people forces the individual to learn about humanity- theirs and that of others. Management training courses treat human beings as abstracts and while I’ve met a lot of unimaginative, stupid and soulless people during my life, none of them were abstract! They had flesh and bones, hopes and dreams, prejudices and vices. The best people I ever worked with and for were first human and humane, and professional second. More importantly they got shit done and I never recall having conversations with them about frozen fucking French fries.

I don’t take myself all that seriously and I’m baffled by anyone who takes themselves seriously. Serious people are usually seriously fearful people. They seriously distrust those around them and in a workplace that leads to serious discord and unhappiness for everyone involved. Serious people claim to be realist but above all they are obsessed with abstract protocols that don’t matter for shit in the real world. In every job there are people who believe that the process of the company is more important than the company’s goals. They place a huge emphasis on numbers and methods, particularly when those methods suit their delusions of importance. There’s something pathetic about someone ascribing moral virtue to pointless protocol. I know I’m being harsh here, but if you are someone whose life revolves around basking in the reflected glory of abstract nonsense not of your own making, then you’re a fucking loser!

I’ve never formally studied how to be a leader because truth be told, I don’t care for authority. I accept that some authority must exist in the world, but I demand that said authority be wielded with kindness, generosity and vision as well as resolve and common sense. If that doesn’t occur, I’m inclined to tell said authority to fuck off.

Tyrants tend to be fearful people who distrust others. A practical dimension of management leadership is the ability to delegate. But how can you delegate effectively if you don’t trust the people you work with? In addition how can you ensure that the work you delegate will be done well, if you’re an asshole to your staff?

Call it laziness on my part, but I’d much rather work with people who want to work with me and who will own their responsibilities without bullshit, then work with people I have to micromanage. I’ve got better shit to be doing with my time!

Another important dimension to successful leadership is one’s acceptance that from time to time you’re going fuck things up. I make mistakes because I’m human and flawed. Consequently I’d rather have my staff feel that they can make their voices heard before letting me lead them down the road to Fuck-up-istan and its capital, Disaster-Town. As Master Splinter would say, the teacher must also learn from the student.

At the end of the day, we need to hold genuine respect for one another first as human beings and as employees second. I’ll never be a parental figure to any of my staff or liked by everyone, but I’m pretty confident that even those who dislike me understand that I try to be fair, even when I’m less than perfect.

Over the years I’ve been told by others that I need to moderate my work-place conduct and in some cases they were right. Overall, I aspire to an approach that would please both Peter Drucker and the cartoonist Scott Adams: I get my work done but I have fun doing it because when it comes to work, you have to get your life back any way you can.

Though I’m nowhere near as intense as the fictional character Malcolm Tucker from BBC’s The Thick of It I must confess that a small part of me views him as spirit animal. It’s not the psychotic anger or the bullying aspects of the character that appeal to me but the no-bullshit approach concerning etiquette combined with his cynical understanding of the shallowness of work and society resonates with me. Most of all, I find him hilarious.

A warning to anyone about to view the following link: There’s a lot of adult content so for the sake of nearby children and snowflakes, you might want to turn the sound down a bit.

Or not.

I don’t really care!

    The Best of Malcolm Tucker

Lachrymose Limericks – Melancholy in Five Lines and Two Rhymes

Prompted by my friend Mary’s limwrick’d thoughts on Siegfried’s fragility (like Achille’s heel, absurd in and of itself), I thought of Adam’s Marvin and Milne’s Eeyore sitting at the fire, under the stars, opining in verse lachrymose on their fate…  It is not a pretty sight, risible as it might be.

Lachrymose isn’t a sweet,
Nor does it come from a teat,
It comes of a blight,
Which results in a plight,
As can be seen in my life’s receipt.

Doomed said the witch to the pot,
Doomed said the king to the sot,
What’s in a name,
Is ever the same,
It’s why Abe, John and Martin got shot.

Sisyphus murdered his guests,
He saw them as no more than pests,
While Camus saw his fate,
As absurdly first rate,
No one came to the fellow’s inquest.

Sad though you think I may be,
I am sure that you don’t really see,
That your salty tears,
And implacable fears,
Are the thinnest reflection of me.

 

– so it begins –

John Henry Will Not Save Me

The premise I found most disturbing in reading Whitehead’s “John Henry Days” was the List, the super-secret roll of press junketeers who are called on to crank out media fill.  It still haunts me. And every time I read some crap by some little wet behind the ears twit I have to take a moment and breathe, and ponder how that kid came to that juncture in their life. I want to find fault, lots and lots of fault, in someone, anyone, for filling our bitstreams with arrant juvenile nonsense, but the entire enterprise sometimes appears as Kabuki, a media dance, richly stylized, engaged in for the purpose of exploring the cultural themes on which the dance is constructed. If only.
 
Perhaps we should not blame those who are giving the kids a chance, nor chastise them for leaving it to their consumers to differentiate content (which we consumers so often are wholly unable to do, which doesn’t not offer much in the way of counter-pressure, does it?) Maybe I am just suffering, as so many antique cranks do, from a surfeit of papers graded – I suppose it is possible that when you wield a red pen, all the world looks like a hackneyed essay.
 
And why blame the kids, when we have “senior correspondents” and “seasoned experts” who are incorrigible in their myopic provincialism, grotesque in their wild posturing, and intemperate in their broken prose.

Lessons You’d Have Thought We’d Learned By Now

“In work relating to the electoral behavior of geographical units… one needs to bring into the equation every scrap of evidence to be had.  V.O. Key, Jr.

The countdown to the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States is now measured in hours, and national polling shows that Donald L. Trump will take office with the lowest popularity rating of any president since Richard Nixon. The months of post-election of second guessing, blamestorming, desperately maneuvering to find some way to stop this inevitability now lie in ruins. Donald Trump, for good or ill, is about to be handed the reins of virtually absolute political power, sitting atop an ideological ziggurat supported by Republican control of both branches of Congress, and poised to soon seize ideological control over the US Supreme Court. Taken together, this is an absolute repudiation of liberal cultural and social values trending back to before the days of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. The depth and degree to which this political “revolution” will affect ordinary Americans is completely unknown, but early actions by the Republican Congress point to a potential rescission of virtually every social and economic justice measure enacted in the last forty or more years.

For those of us who are of a different persuasion than the president-elect, this is a defeat theoretically comparable to ancient Middle Eastern wars where the victors destroyed their defeated opponent’s arts and cultural icons -defacing, toppling, and desecrating sacred and cultural artifacts; actions like that of Taliban fanatics in Afghanistan where ancient Buddhist statues were reduced to rubble by artillery in a matter of minutes. Such analogous circumstances are now in the offing for every aspect of our national government; and it will be only a matter of days or weeks before regulations governing environmental protection, health care management, worker safety, minimum and prevailing wage laws, financial industry dealings, minority business opportunities, dispute and conflict resolution, and even weather monitoring and reporting will either disappear or be shifted into the corporatist realm of “privatization.” Congress, through the arcane practice of “budget reconciliation” has already entrained the extinction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), derisively called “Obamacare,” and in so doing threatens to put between eighteen and twenty million working Americans back to where they were eight years ago, in fear for their livelihoods and families, when they once again become uninsured and uninsurable.

Further, the president-elect has signaled his intentions by appointing billionaires as cabinet secretaries; “Old Guard” apparatchiki as gate keepers and defenders of privilege; family members as ferrets to root out scientists and government workers who propose social and governmental solutions based on science and logic, and not some ideological litmus test; and has installed a white supremacist as his chief policy strategist. Of course, as liberals and (D/d)emocrats we are all appropriately horrified, but the plain fact is that this day of populist reckoning has been long in the making.

In 1969, Republican strategist and academic Kevin P. Phillips published The Emerging Republican Majority, called by Newsweek magazine the “Political Bible of the Nixon Era,” in that it recognized and articulated the growing disaffection of Southern and Midwestern states with the direction and policies taken by the Democratic Party. The resulting “Southern Strategy” created new alliances between cultural groupings in the “Heartland” – the Midwest and Central US – and the newly converted Republican South.  During this same period, the Democratic Party came to focus more heavily on urban concentrations in the Northeast, parts of the “Upper Midwest” Great Lakes States, and the Pacific coast, essentially surrendering territory just as normative cultural values shifted permanently from “Yellow Dog” Democratic racism to an archly conservative Republican militarism.

Concurrent with Phillips’ book, other academics and cultural commentators weighed in on the implications of these shifts in cultural values. Theodore Lowi’s 1969 and 1979 (2nd ed.) polemic The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States described and challenged “interest group liberalism” as a factor undermining the United States’ historical patterns of capitalistic, self-interested governance, asserting that the shift gave give rise to a fractured society where collectivist special interests would be able to demand special treatment for real or alleged grievances. Lowi’s criticism included the rise of the “Imperial Executive Presidency,” and relegation of both Congress and the Court System to merely advisory roles, and the attendant disregard for formalistic and stabilizing judicial and juridical rules. The upshot, he argued, was that the shift to resolving issues for individual interest groups as opposed to ruling more disinterestedly and broadly would undermine citizen confidence in their government and result in an open distrust of the institutions.

Lowi offered a four count “indictment” of interest group liberalism:

  1. Interest group liberalism as public philosophy corrupts democratic government because it deranges and confuses expectations about democratic institutions.
  2. Interest group liberalism renders government impotent.
  3. Interest group liberalism demoralizes government, because liberal governments cannot achieve justice.
  4. Interest group liberalism corrupts democratic government in the degree to which it weakens the capacity of those governments to live by democratic formalisms. (Emphasis added.)

By the mid-1980s, Phillips’ Southern states forecast had become a reality as partisans shifted from historical segregationist and “Jim Crow” policies of the pre-Civil War and post-Reconstruction Democratic Party, to the “softer” racism of the GOP. In 1984 political scientist Alexander P. Lamis published The Two-Party South that examined critical shifts in political attitudes in the eleven states that made up the Confederate States of America; and while each reacted in subtly different ways to the changes brought about by passage of the Civil Rights Act and related laws, the underlying shift in values was uniform in rejecting the federal government’s attempt to create a level socio-economic and political playing field for disenfranchised African-Americans. Other changes to the political landscape – the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade (1973), the rise of Christian identity politics, America’s apparent loss of the Vietnam War, and Ronald Reagan’s truculent spending war with the Soviet Union – added emotional fuel to an already disaffected white society and enabled what would become, in 1994, the “Angry White Man” vote that swept the GOP to congressional power and ushered in the era of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.”

In 1986, another political scientist and avowed Democrat, Ralph M. Goldman, released Dilemma and Destiny: The Democratic Party in America, an insightful and critical analysis of the scattered and disorganized nature of the party as it sought to recast itself as a relevant social and economic justice entity. Goldman’s conclusion pointed to the need for the Democrats to reconcile their disputes or risk becoming a fragmented coalition of Lowi’s interest group liberals. He called for an aggressive party recruitment effort that recognized the disparate nature of emergent groups from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s – feminists, people of color, environmental activists, the LGBTQ communities, alternative religious and/or lifestyle groups, – and creation of mutually agreeable goals and objectives and making a clear statement of fundamental values. Goldman further recommended that platform and Democratic Party policies and programs should become an on-going grassroots effort, not just something done at two and/or four year intervals. He concluded his analysis with an almost prescient statement:

“Democrats will continue to fight like hell among themselves…. Factional battles will be marked, as usual, by inadequate information and ideological rigidity. The greater risk here is not the scars of the internecine fighting but rather the prospect that the factional winner will be unrepresentative of the Democratic electorate.”  (Emphasis added.)

In 1996, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking in defense of her husband on a nationally televised talk show, said that there was a “vast right wing conspiracy” to attack and discredit Bill Clinton’s presidency in the aftermath of the GOP’s efforts to impeach him. Subsequently, Clinton himself said that the same conspiracy, albeit in a “weakened” form, was trying to do to Barack Obama what had been done to him. That conspiracy, already understood by most political observers, has proven to be fiercely effective given their ongoing efforts at “disinformation,” false narratives, Russian state and independent criminal hacking of partisan electronic data, and unparalleled lies that became part of the everyday discourse of the 2015-2016 campaign season. Secretary Clinton’s conspirators are known to be a small handful of very rich individuals – the Koch Brothers, Sherman Adelson, Richard Mellon Scaife, Roger Ailes – and considering the anonymity guaranteed by the SCOTUS Citizens United decision granting “personhood” to faceless corporations, conceivably even some of the men and women the president-elect has chosen as his cabinet secretaries. In one sense, it is already too late to protest these hidden manipulators who have deployed their wealth and dispatched their minions to discredit liberal and progressive politicians, and even liberal ideas, and in so doing have built entire political machines from the faux news industry to “alt-right” movements grounded in extreme interpretations of biblical scripture and the Constitution of the United States. By stoking the fires of the last forty years of “Cultural Warfare,” these individuals have been able to sway entire regions of the country to their extreme social and ideological world views, and have built a remarkable list of political forces that includes control of thirty-three (33) governors’ chairs, thirty-one (31) state legislatures, and seven (7) with split Republican/Democratic control, compared to the Democrats’ seventeen (17) governors, and eleven (11) state legislatures.

Pointedly, given the mounting tide of hostile GOP legislators, lobbyists, and phony propaganda outlets, and in following Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s “triangulation” on corporatist issues in order to keep their presidencies meaningful, the Democratic Party bought into corporatism and neo-liberalism as an alternative to its post-World War II record of fighting for equality of opportunities for those less well off in society. That significant change resulted in campaign and financial standards and practices that tipped the scales against non-corporatist candidates, and denied them opportunities to fairly compete against establishment figures.  Those same practices eliminated new ideas and approaches to governance, and marginalized the Party’s historical constituencies – including a significant percentage of Democrats who voted for the president-elect.

The point of this essay should be apparent to any of us who still hold to the “old” liberal traditions. We saw this coming (or should have given the painfully obvious maneuverings and body of electoral data) and frittered away our chance to counter these trends, preferring to operate, as Lowi condescendingly calls us, as interest group liberals, picking and choosing the causes we favored and becoming marginalized “Five Percent” voters, narrowly applying our own litmus tests, and opposing competent politicians unless they were one hundred percent behind our narrower goals and objectives, and who, when not satisfied with a solution to an issue, stayed home on election day.

In the days following the 2016 election, much was made of the “populist” uprising that brought Donald Trump into power, with pundits and pollsters alike being “surprised” at the angry backlash of millions of Americans who shouted out their anger, frustration, and open distrust of their government. Subsequent thoughtful discussion from the political left and center has called for a better understanding of that angry multitude, and the forces that gave rise to their hostility. While a better appreciation for this casus belli is certainly necessary, in the months since the election it has become increasingly clear that while many Democratic legislators will stand in opposition to the new president’s dangerous agenda, the Democrat Party establishment has not and will not engage in that kind of introspection, preferring instead to seek ways to “work with” the incoming regime; and this is where the party will ultimately fail.

The reactionary anger of Trump voters’ has been inculcated, deliberately cultivated over several decades, and is made the more dangerous because that political class lacks the education and political sophistication to understand the ramifications of its actions, and because the groups have shown a genuine willingness to tear down the current, flawed system so that it can be replaced with “simpler” nationalistic solutions; and it is here that the Democratic Party must recognize the damage done because of their disengagement from their rank and file, and renew efforts to make direct, meaningful contact with those who now feel disenfranchised once again by the “Angry White Men’s vote.”  Failure to move quickly and effectively to counter that challenge will either result in the demise of the party itself, or the far greater disappointment if becomes a mere satellite of antigovernment corporatism or its more terrifying big brother, fascism.

At this point in history I’m not convinced that the Democratic Party in America can change sufficiently to save itself. Broadly written, the Party is a day late and a dollar short, and in temporizing over issues arising from the GOP’s lopsided control of all branches of the national government, it will only become weaker and more irrelevant. If it cannot refocus on building grassroots organizations from its historic constituencies in the next two years, to absolutely dominate the mid-term elections and take back voter apportionment control, it will leave the field wide open for other interests to build competing organizations that will likely be little more than Lowi’s “interest group liberals,” and Goldman’s factionalized internecine warriors.

There may be an alternative, however, for others to build what Goldman suggested in the 1980s – a genuinely transnational political party. Such a multinational/regional partisan organization, willing and able to work across national boundaries by sharing common agendas dealing with global climate change, natural resources management and environmental protection, international human rights, guest worker and immigrant inter- and intra-national trade, e-commerce and information sharing, public health and pandemic disease management, and other such circumstances might serve to rebalance the scales for resident workers, the socially and politically disenfranchised, and refugees fleeing economic and environmental disasters.

And for the scoffers out there, it’s useful to reflect that the pending Trades in Services Agreement (TiSA) and its companions, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaties are corporatist versions of what Goldman originally proposed. Some international and trans-border agreements already exist, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that opened US boundaries to the transshipment of oil, grain, imported steel, and a host of other products manufactured in low-wage countries, and others of a far more beneficial nature (i.e., NATO, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the European Space Agency (ESA), etc.) that already provide the impetus to organize workers, small businesses, technology experts, and even academics into a partisan force capable of advocating in its own interest and not subject to the string pulling of corporatists and an increasingly dysfunctional federal government. Who knows, perhaps a North American Transnational Party might serve to rebalance the scales for worker and citizen equity and justice?

Above all, whatever form the new political party takes, it will have as its first priorities confronting entrenched racism, classism, and the deliberate “dumbing down” of American voters. The task is daunting, but it is critically important if we are to relight the lamp of American freedom and justice – for all.

Postscript January 22, 2017

The overwhelming success of the Women’s Marches in Washington, DC , nationwide, and globally, point to the greatest possible means of reversing the threat of the “Novus Ordo Profanum,” if the women return to their communities energized and prepared to take action on a community, regional, and statewide basis.  Rebuilding the Democratic Party or building a new political organization that aims at taking back state legislatures, governors’ offices, and control of the apportionment processes by 2018 means that following the 2020 census, new lines can be drawn that are just and equitable and enfranchise all voters.  What is central to regaining responsible control of our society must be a hardcore pragmatism that requires discipline, compromise, and an end to what Merwyn Ambrose (Mark Grober) calls “Litmus Liberalism.”

Has The Old Man of the Forest Gone FEEble

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 8.42.28 PMWell, maybe I have, and I should probably explore this further in a blog post, but for now I will share a few thoughts. A recent HuffPo piece (I know; why does anyone read that horrid crap) by some sniveling snot (Matthew Fray who whines at length on his own blog) suggests that his wife left him not because she was irrational over his insistence on leaving his glass on the counter, but because his insistence revealed that he had no respect for his beloved.  Really. This old fart’s response?

Get a grip! This poor whipped kid thinks that he should do what his wife wanted because she wanted it, instead of doing what he wanted. Forget the umpteen thousand other things he did for her. Sorry – I am not going to wash my glass because I drank out of it, and it will sit by the sink where I set it. Maybe, just maybe, his obsessive (ex-)wife should have loosened up just a bit, instead of following him around and turning lights off…. It’s a two way street, and if you want to spend your interpersonal “currency” on where the dishes go, then you have real problems…. this joker is well off shot of his ex. Now let the claims of misogyny roll in

I don’t have to kowtow to someone because they obsess about something. It is always a two way street, and maybe, just maybe, she should understand that “he’s fighting for acknowledgment, respect, validation, and his love” as well, and it’s not about leaving the glass on the counter?

While The Gift of the Magi is in fact one of my favorite O’Henry stories, the practical result of the piece is that the family screwed itself for “love” because they could not effectively communicate. A relationship needs communication more than it needs silent sacrifice.

There! <shudder>I did a Skwire, lol!</shudder> Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, yes, but let’s face it, the possessions sacrificed, as well as the gifts purchased in the story clearly had value, and the couple clearly had very little beyond that.  It is all very good for the 1% to to romanticize about love, but the couple flushed virtually everything they had down the old toilet. Yes, yes, their love is far more precious than feeble trinkets, but that is not the question here. The question here is whether effective interpersonal communication could have brought them to the same juncture without the sacrifice of the family fortune (while unfortunately depriving us of a fine piece of literature).

main-qimg-168b99b211b02e4e925ec05f2284a2f2

Lisbeth Zwerger’s illustrations for “Gift of the Magi”

I understand that the woo crowd are going to scream, “You have missed the whole point you hormonal moron!” But I think not.  I get maudlin over the story just like I am sure Mr. Fray might.  But the lesson is NOT just that love is more valuable than trinkets. The lesson (though clearly NOT the lesson the master was intending to serve up) is that the couple were so self-involved in their obsessions that they failed to communicate at all, causing what amounts to a tragedy (as well as the joyful discovery the author celebrates). Money is certainly not everything, but one does not get on without it. Fairy tales celebrating poverty are just what FEE peddles, so I think you should lay that accusation at someone else’s door.

OK, if you want to think I have gone over to the dark side, you are entitled to your thoughts, but for me, being self-involved over you want, and being self-involved in Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 9.02.27 AMwhat you think another wants, are two sides of the same bad penny.  You are never going to work things out with “knowing glances”, no matter what Cosmo tells you.

Frankly, Father Oleska (Oleska still teaches a State required cross-cultural education class that promotes deferent communications styles and the inherent value of non-verbal-ness) and the entire non-verbal feminine communication crowd can go chat with themselves in their taciturn stillness for all I care. I am for Horton, who meant what he said and  said what he meant (even if his creator, Theodor Geisel, was attacked for being a misogynist).  The rest of you can go suffer in silence.

Down and Dirty

Your attention please!  The private social club we in Alaska know as “The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center” is holding a soiree apparently prepping the State for the coming attempt to drown us in the “authentic North”!  Yes, the Mausoleum is welcoming drama queen Kleeman to town, in an “Homage to Soil for Scoresbysund”, which apparently involves the artist rolling about in, wait for it, soil.

Kleeman at MuseumIf you need a better gander at the hype for the elite packaging of the artistic rendition of possessive Narcissism’s “me, mine, and more”, click on the link and you will be taken to another window offering the web page for the event, where you can be regaled with the specifics of what you will get in return for your pounds of silver.

I think what you won’t see when you click there is something that I think some might think of as, well, art.  Apparently some, over the years, have argued that doing rather silly things with a serious face while fools intone how impressed they all are somehow magically renders the erstwhile focus, “art”.  Et, voila!  Lino_mandara

Art? Here is a vessel created by Maestro Lino Tagliapetra. Art.  A woman in bra and panties rolling in dirt? Used to be free at Chilkoot’s when I first arrived in Anchorage.

Yes, I am trying to suggest that there is more to art than sun-tanning around the word “Native” (thank you Erika Lord for assuring me of that).  And while I may plead Potter Stewart’s classic argument,  sigh at others’ attempts to lasso up a definition, and snort at the ongoing debate over art vs craft, there are, for me, bridges too far.

And yes, I think art should reflect intention, mastery of material,  an emotional connection, and a further list of notions that are the nostrums of every art student’s training. I am humbled by the efforts of the countless striving to dance with the universe as a way of expressing themselves. And then there are the shuckers and jivers, the wallowers, the deceivers.

577512_10150943434104365_1605701165_n Has “art”, as suggested by some sages, become as meaningless a term as “liberal”, “conservative”, or “belief”? Have we become so gullible that we are willing to finally actually see the Emperor’s New Clothes? Can we explain why the Anchorage elite are happy to celebrate a roll in the dirt as art, but not the likes of the 24″ glass vessel to the left?
Julie Decker makes a fine CEO;  I am sure she will carry on the fine tradition of the Rasmussen Mausoleum – the weirdest social club of the “authentic North”.

Anyone who wants to watch me beat dandelions to death in a jock strap are welcome to attend my new performance piece, “Old Yeller” There will be a no host bar and tickets at the door are $50…

An Open Invitation to the Anchorage Museum

I recently went on a tear about the Anchorage Museum refusing to publish the images of the work submitted but rejected by the selected juror. The question was quite rightly put to me, “Why should the Museum make those images available publicly?” Below are my initial thoughts on the matter.

In a place like Alaska art can light up he dark days of winter and and reflect the exhilaration of our summers and it does artist and art viewer immense emotional good to share that experience, and as many have argued (including the Alaska State Council on the Arts,  the Arts are good for the economy.

But sharing one’s work is just not that easy in Alaska. Dozens and dozens of Alaska artists are desperate to have the public see their work and have no outlet for showing it.  Even those who are lucky enough to have a gallery agree to carry their work re limited in their reach.

And that is not the worst part. The worst part is that despite the existence of ASCA, there is no place where Alaskan artists can publicly exhibit their work to a public that is hungry to see what Alaskans can do. This is especially the case if an artist does not produce “Native” art or “Alaskana”.

Yet in soliciting submissions for Alaskan in EFF and All-Alaska yearly, the Anchorage Museum receives hundreds of images of work being produced by Alaskans every year. Work for which the artists are only asking acknowledgement.

Every year I ask the Museum about making those images public, and every year the Museum comes up with another lame reason to refuse my request. Every artist understands the caprice inherent in a juried show (especially where there is only one juror) but when such shows are at such a premium because they are so few, it is simply inexcusable that the submitted work is not made available to the public for viewing.

This year the excuse is particularly lame;  the Museum doesn’t have the staff to accomplish this.  I immediately piped up that I wold be happy to take that on but was essentially ignored. Moreover, I am sure that others would be just as glad to volunteer to take on the burden that the Museum believes is so heavy. I think it might take all of a day (and that only because it is my guess that the Museum has yet to enter the 21st Century vis-a-vis their handling of the images, lol.)

No,  I am not advocating that the Museum manange the shows in any way differently than they have been, save that they make the images of the work that was rejected available for public review online. Whatever the argument for this kind of juried show, I am not disputing the Museums efforts to go forward with what it  wants to do, whether or not it has anything to do with art, the public or anything else. I am simply suggesting that if the Museum is going to encourage hundreds of Alaskan to submit their art, then the public should be entitled to see what is not selected. Whether that reflects somehow on what the Museum does or doesn’t do or impacts what the Museum might do in future is some other issue for some other person.

The Museum should not be promoting the skewed tastes of this or that juror; it should be celebrating the breadth and depth of Alaska’s creativity and productivity. If juried show accomplishes that, so much the better, but many artists have already given up submitting work to such exhibitions in that there is no rhyme nor reason in selection, as has been acknowledged with respect to juried shows across the nation.

It would be nice if Alaska for once was the exception in the arts, and promoted its artists, as opposed to discouraging them.


 

Thank You, Mr. President

This was written for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction as an historical exercise.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thank you, Mr. President

I stood looking down at Momma’s grave. At the end she’d said she’d seen a white light. “Providence come to take me to the Lord:”, she’d said. Then she smiled like a spring day and was gone. Seemed to me that every time Providence showed up, something terrible be a happening….. Looking up I seen Sheriff drive up and wave me over. Providence seemed to me to be most persistent this May of 1932.

As I walked over to the Sheriff’s car I thought about all the stories Momma told me. ‘Bout how we were mostly Cherokee from a place far to the East of Missouri and how we survived a death march. How we came to be slaves then freed. But the end of every story were the same; Providence had seen us through. She’d said my doubts bout Providence would lay her low one day.

“How old are you, boy?”, the Sheriff asked, driving t’ Smith’s. Momma and I sharecropped there, and worked his farm too.

“12 Sunday, sir.”

“Boy, Smith and the others are selling out. Money’s in the bank, none of you colored own the land yonder and you need to clear out. No trouble now. Get your things and move on.”

We’d only gone a few dozen yards but I knew there weren’t nothing to go back for.

“Stop the car Sheriff, I’m getting out.”

The Sheriff let me off in front of the Bank, and just as he drove off a rush of folk coming running through the doors of the Bank. The first one run right into me and knocked me clear over and I landed on my face in the dirt. I seen them tear down the street and the Sheriff round and tear after them, with most of the town after him. Getting to my feet I realized I’d fallen on a small canvas bag. Inside was full of green paper I’d never seen before. I got to my feet a bit dizzy and made my way back to the colored church.

The Pastor’s wife screamed, “Oh bloody terror!” and fainted away. Old Jake, the handyman, told me to sit myself down. He seen to the Pastor’s wife and run off to get the Pastor.

Jake and the Pastor got to cleaning me up and it was then they seen the bag. “What you got there, boy?”, Jake barked. I’d near forgot that I had it and the story come tumbling out. Jake told me to sit and rest awhile and he and Pastor Wright went to talking quiet like and left the room.

Pastor and Mrs. Wright drove Jake and me to Joplin that very day. Jake had worked the trains and had family in Chicago, and he would take me to them. We boarded the colored car, there was some shouting and with the Pastor and his wife waving good-bye, the train gave a lurch and we were on our way. I watched out the window as everything I’d ever known disappeared behind us.

And here I was. Jake snored next to me as old men do. He said the bag of 100 new 20s was a “windfall”, but Momma knew what it really was. I felt in my pocket for the one bill Jake let me hold on to, and looking around to see if any one was watching, I snuck another look. I read the name on the bill, ANDREW JACKSON. and smiled.

“Thank you, Momma. Thank you, Providence. And thank YOU, Mister President…..