Hancher vs Hilton & life beyond politics?

Lately it feels like my life has been subsumed by overtly political concerns and activity. I look down the front page of this blog, and posting has been a bit more sparse than usual, but more significantly almost everything in recent weeks has been tagged “politics.”

It’s a presidential election year, and I’m reading too much about that. I don’t know if things were different decades ago, or if it’s more my personal feelings changing, but US presidential contests seem like they have become not only all-consuming but invariably near-apocalyptic. Good news, we seem more and more to have real choices; bad news, the nature of those choices combined with the growing power of the office make it difficult for me to say “oh it’s just politics” and turn back to “real life.”

I would probably be getting more actively involved already, if not for having already just about maxed-out my personal energies for Lakewood Hospital. After weeks of dithering, our city council has confirmed the November general election as the date for our referendum on their vote to close our community hospital. So, just under 35 weeks to go. 😐 Then I can (maybe) have my life back! Certainly I could use more in my life than slow, tiring and usually dispiriting campaign hack work. As I’m not sure what else that is at this point, though, I’m doing a little stock-taking.

First, I have completed the manuscript for a third book, and at some point in the next year will present to the reading public Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents.

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Bill Curry on strategic voting

Bill Curry has touched on some themes I’ve been trying to express a time or two, and I am glad to see it.

We once left tactical thinking to politicians. Then issue advocates began hiring pollsters. Now voters are getting into the act. The effect is to turn the marketplace of ideas into a casino. It’s hard enough figuring out if a candidate represents your values without having to speculate about his appeal to others. You don’t go to a store to buy what you think someone else wants, yet primary voters do. One reason for all the tactical thinking is the paralysis of government; if you think nothing will get done, you focus less on policy. Polarization’s another; if you hate their party more than you love yours, what matters is picking a winner. The biggest culprit is the media.

Following politics on TV you learn nothing beyond the horse race. Pundits specialize in predicting the recent past.

The entire article is here.

Dynasty’s end*

I can’t suppose that I will give up prediction, or even political prediction, entirely. One has to act upon some kind of concept of the circumstances around us, and how they may change or not change in future. I should, though, at the least be more cautious.

To adapt a line from the master, “if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers… kindly whisper ‘JEB‘ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”

* Or is it? Hardly the moment for me to make such a sweeping prediction, is it?

Kathryn Kane reviews Cotton’s Library

Every now and then I search the web for any new comment about my books, and by chance, last night I found a new review of Cotton’s Library. Author Kathryn Kane recently posted an extensive comment on Cotton’s Library at her blog Regency Redingote. Just a couple of fragments:

The history of the Cotton Library is not a dull tale of piles of books and the scholars who cared for them. It is laced with bribery and intrigue, larceny and danger. It is also a story of the discovery of hidden treasure, for Sir Robert Cotton bound a number of smaller works in with others. As time passed, many of these works were forgotten, only to be rediscovered when the collection was cataloged. …

…Truth is often stranger than fiction, so, if you love books, libraries, the history of collecting, or the intrigues which are sometimes associated with same, treat yourself to Cotton’s Library: The Many Perils of Preserving History.

There’s even recognition for the maps, charts and other artwork that I’ve posted here for free use. I scarcely know what to say. It’s like all of this has been worthwhile.

So let’s just say thank you, and I’m very pleased that you enjoyed this book.

Other tribes’ lives matter

I have been fretting, lately, about which if any 2016 presidential candidate will speak up against America’s ongoing campaign of bombing and shooting up predominantly Muslim countries. Gradually, I have resigned myself to the fact that the answer is “no one on the official candidates list.”

This feels just a bit more disappointing, this year, given how much the official list has been gatecrashed. As Ben Norton opined recently, “both hegemonic parties in the U.S. love war,” and any difference is one of hawks vs. warmongers, rather than doves vs. hawks. Yet Bernie Sanders, who is now in a neck-and-neck chase for the Democratic Party’s nomination, is not even a Democrat! If ever there were a year for a breach in support for the military-surveillance complex, it seems like 2016 might be it.

Apparently, not. Norton wrote that within a two-party universe, “Sanders is almost as anti-war as it gets.” But that isn’t very anti-war, it seems.

This quote from an interview has finally confirmed what I’ve suspected for some time, which is that Sanders would basically continue the Obama administration approach. If only by default, this seems to be the overwhelming verdict of the Democratic Party at present: as long as you don’t put enough “boots on the ground” anywhere that people start using the word “war,” the Pentagon, CIA, etc., can pretty much kill whom they want. Over at Slate, Joshua Keating recently made a great point that in the 21st century this is not really a relevant determiner of “at war” vs “not at war.” We should be at least as concerned with drones in the air and bombs on the ground as we are with “boots on the ground.”

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America goes bonkers, contd.

Recently I wrote up a post about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and the Overton window, but I have since decided to throw it all out. In a way, further reflection has convinced me that the whole Overton window concept may not even be useful any longer, as my earlier post was in fact implying, even if I hadn’t realized it. At this point I think a single “window” of what’s possible in American politics, at the national level, is not even accurate as a simplified model. It feels like a relevant update would now involve something out of a nightmarish video game, with multiple holes opening, closing, changing size, etc., simultaneously without any reference to one another.

Obviously Republican America has ceased giving any heed to any universal idea of what’s practical, or of anything else. I mean, what is there to say? The latest word from those pundits still attempting to make meaningful observations is that the GOP establishment is, now, preparing to embrace Donald Trump for president because they find him less offensively deranged than his leading rival. I’m not even sure what part of that sentence it would make sense to emphasize; it’s all surreal.

In the meantime, some kind of much more modest but still dumbfounding suspension of reason seems to be creeping through Democratic America. I’m certainly not unbiased, but here’s what I’m seeing. A growing number of putative liberal voices are

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Rugged defeatism

Browsing through Andrei Codrescu’s wonderful New Orleans, Mon Amour last night, I was reminded of some comments about Crescent City politics. New Orleans, Codrescu observed, features a

…peculiar mix of backwardness and upside-down priorities… matched only by an even more peculiar mix of bravado and hype. The highly vocal locals imagine that they can weather anything if only nobody bothers them to take part in the political process. Years of corruption and neglect have made cynics of them all. And lord knows that voodoo isn’t going to save us.

Yet, what we might call “rugged defeatism” seems, appropriately for voodoo country, to have a zombie-like inertia. Minus the literal voodoo, meanwhile, the same attitude seems to run equally deep in northeast Ohio.

Hearing the negativity in Lakewood about prospects for thwarting liquidation of the city’s hospital, I’ve begun to recognize a new, darker side to the seemingly defiant point of view summed up in this minor local icon:

"CLEVELAND: You've Got to be Tough!!"

Seen on t-shirts, etc.

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2016 Democratic presidential strategy note

I wrote this post months ago, but it’s now actually 2016—the 2016 presidential election is only 10 months away—so I’ll finally give up my conscientious objection to obsessing over presidential politics for this cycle.

I’m also going to address “strategic voting,” another object of distaste. Specifically, I want to address other prospective Democratic Party primary voters, many of whom will be voting before I do.

For those who actually want to see Hillary Clinton president, there may not be much I can say. If you really want, in the words of Conor Friedersdorf, “a Patriot Act-supporting, mass-surveillance-enabling hawk who opposed gay marriage throughout the years when it mattered most, still favors the death penalty, and would re-enter the White House having cozied up particularly close to Big Finance,” then we may just be too far apart for meaningful discussion.

Perhaps I’ll try anyway, later, but for now I want to address those who are less eager for such a candidacy, but worry about “electability.” Particularly when it comes to the leading alternative, Bernie Sanders. I know from anecdotal experience as well as independent reports that a number of fellow Democrats worry, in spite of their personal preferences, that he would be too “fringe” for the general electorate and that it would be better to settle for the “safe choice” of Hillary Clinton. For these persons, a couple of reminders.

n.b. I happen to favor Mr. Sanders’s campaign, myself, so I’m not simply speculating on “the political strategy machinations” or concern-trolling.

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2015 Year in Review

One year ago, I expected that “keep doing my thing and try to make ends meet” would predominate in 2015, and that forecast wasn’t wrong. In day-to-day existence, that definitely characterized most of this year. But there were exceptions, and in looking back on the whole year… those exceptions loom remarkably large.

Unlike 2014, it feels like the “events” of 2015 are such as to support a “top stories” list. Probably something like this:

Save Lakewood Hospital. After 36 years without any real involvement in local politics, anywhere I’ve lived, I dove straight into the deep end and have spent almost 12 months, now, involved in an impossible soap opera controversy that is still a long way from ending. For much of the year, a logo that I designed over a weekend was on signs on just about every street in Lakewood. Last month I got up and spoke to city council; strangers have stopped me in public to thank me and ask my opinion. Just about every day of “Christmas vacation” I replied to at least some correspondence about this campaign. Etc., etc., etc. The experience as a whole has been fascinating, energizing, demoralizing, rewarding, and maddening.

Japan! I spent a week in Tokyo. It was actually a bit like my experience with Save Lakewood Hospital—fascinating, energizing, demoralizing, rewarding, and maddening—but more compressed, more expensive, less worrying and way more fun. (Aside from flying across the Pacific. Blecch.)

Authorship continued, and actually turned a profit! In 2015, I attended another author fair, spoke at Lakewood Library, mostly finished my research on a third book and got an early draft nearly complete, and craziest of all I showed a modest profit for the year. I’m still a long way from an all-time profit, thanks to spending a bunch on publishing Brilliant Deduction, but if that’s viewed as a sunk cost I made a real profit for the first time, this year.

I went to Baltimore, for three hours. Related to the aforementioned research, I made a round-trip visit to Johns Hopkins University in right around 16.5 hours. (From Lakewood, Ohio.) This wasn’t actually… awesome, aside from verging on awesomely stupid, but 1) it makes for a story, 2) I did find material to justify the trip, thankfully, and 3) it’s nice to know that I can still pull off a stunt like that.

Politically, despair was mixed with multiple instances of hope, and even near euphoria. There was bad in 2015, oh my yes. From the dismal election outcome here in Lakewood all the way up to not-so-grand geopolitics. Yet… who can forget those incredible days in June, when the Supreme Court gave marriage equality the green light and basically pulled the plug on “undo Obamacare” hopes. Who can forget “PURE APPLESAUCE!,” ever? Then there have been the ongoing follies of the Republican party, from March’s fiasco in Indiana to what one pundit seriously predicted would be “the best field in a generation” of presidential candidates… bwa ha hah. Just weeks ago, even as Lakewood city council was disgracing itself, real leaders met in Paris to negotiate the future of the entire biosphere and actually didn’t produce a complete disgrace, for once.

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First 15 Lives of Harry August

It has been another interesting year, and broader notes about that are coming.

Among the many interesting experiences in 2015, though, I feel like recalling one remarkable book in particular: The First 15 Lives of Harry August, by Claire North aka Catherine Webb.

This was excellent on multiple levels. First, I found it a simple compelling page-turner. It’s also very cinematic; I can picture vividly the lead-in scene as the first few seconds of a movie trailer. “I almost missed you, Dr. August. I need to send a message back to the past…”

Beyond this, the conceit is one of those things that comes close to being something new under the sun. North basically asks “what if a small number of people all experienced something like Groundhog Day, except for their entire lives rather than 24 hours?” The consequences are challenging; you basically have to imagine a series of timelines in sequence, which mostly follow the same course except that certain individuals always begin their lives remembering all that they experienced in each previous timeline. It pretty much works, though. The resultant world and its more detailed, human consequences are fascinating.

What impresses me most of all, though, is how these have stayed with me now for many weeks since I finished the book. Themes and ideas have kept coming back to me, and I have gradually concluded that—by explicit intent or not—The First 15 Lives of Harry August is an insightful metaphor for life itself.

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