Category Archives: Uncategorized

Garbage Time

I have thought a time or two, recently, of the “first they ignore you…” bit, and how failing systems of authority may experience it in reverse. First people respect and feel part of the system, then people bump up against unworkable features of the system, then people laugh at its continued pretense of authority, then people just ignore it.

This is as close as I can get to a theme for what’s going on now.

Steady rot, maddening slowness of even attempts at constructive response, and more opting out.

Of the steady rot, well, good grief. This post’s featured image is of a protester in February 2017, and I suspect her sign could actually be more true now, not less. I wrote this post almost 29 months ago, and could just about repeat every word of it today. The big picture is dismal, and while one may find bright spots in the darkness here and there, from a perch next to Cleveland, Ohio, it’s just awful.

Yet leaders and institutions mostly seem, perhaps inevitably, deeply attached to accepting the system’s limits no matter how ridiculous they become. Pick an example. Congress is almost too obvious, yet it’s perhaps worth pointing out that it should be obviously unthinkable that about 50% of a legislature with vast responsibilities is permanently committed to blockade any and everything, even policies which are genuinely very good as well as wildly popular with the public. Yet this is just normalized. Working around the bad sectors and “out-organizing” them, accepting that impossibly bad rules and what they are, aw just try harder, is broadly accepted by leaders and institutions.

Liberal democracy, certainly in America, just seems to have no idea whatsoever what to do about an organized enemy which is inter-weaved with a traditional political party. It is just not done, apparently, for liberalism to actually fight to shut down a political party no matter how toxic it becomes. Instead liberal leaders and institutions just endlessly monitor the bad behavior and point at it, waiting for some other authority to take responsibility. The courts, which are too slow at best, or the voters, who pour votes into systems which just throw them out because those systems are already corrupted. Liberalism is forever determined to win the argument; even if it conclusively wins the argument and systems don’t respond, the answer is always to try winning it even more.

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Spider-Clone Halloween 25 years later

The 1990s Spider-Man “Clone Saga” went on, and on. Too long by many estimates, and I won’t disagree. I enjoyed it (I admit here publicly) but I certainly didn’t buy/read all of it. That would have been quite a lot by any estimate, given that the “Clone Saga” (de facto more than by intent) ultimately encompassed nearly every Spider-Man comic book published for years. Which was five or more per month at the time.

It’s a little odd, then, that—while one can point to this or that as an extension or coda or suchlike—the Spider-Man Clone Saga eventually had one endpoint which stood out from the whole mess very clearly as when it ended. Naturally, this was still a crossover with multiple comic books and one or two tie-ins.

Yet Halloween 1996 was when The Spider-Man Clone Saga ended, and 25 years later it still feels like an Event to me, as far as fictional developments go.

I don’t remember every detail. But there’s a vividness and intensity to the memory of that Autumn Wednesday, my freshman year in college, which has only a small number of comparisons in all my years reading comic books.

It was an interesting time for me, and for comic book fandom.

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Redistricting Minority Reports

I had an idea this week, which I’m sketching out just for whatever. Please note, this is not a recommendation, just a thought-experiment. The best approach for redistricting, short of reconsidering the whole concept of geography-based democracy, is probably still very independent commissions kept as far away from politicians as possible.

But, what if the backstop for legislative district maps supported by only the party in power was a kind of “official minority report” along these lines:

In Ohio, for example, current redistricting rules call for maps to be supported by at least half of the second-largest party in government (i.e. Democrats), but allow the party in power (i.e. Republicans) to enact four-year maps on a party-line basis, subject to antigerrymandering rules. In practice, Ohio Republicans are just ramming more gerrymandering right through the rules, and it seems to me like any real solution must involve taking the map-drawing pen away from the gerrymanderers at some point.

So how about, instead, if (when) Ohio Republicans ram through gerrymandered districts on a party-line vote, Ohio Democrats get to re-draw part of the map, say 40%.

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The Republican Party is pro-COVID

I have been thinking about the substantial and, apparently, still growing pro-COVID energy among Republicans.

For one thing, I don’t think any other term is really adequate. When Republicans are simultaneously “antilockdown,” “antimask,” “antivaccine,” “antimandates,” etc., etc., the big picture is effectively pro-COVID. Republicans are pandemic accelerationists.

Masks make a difference. Republicans gleefully want to discourage them, with both policy and stigma. Vaccine mandates have been working really well! Republicans are busily working to thwart them, through preemption or riddling them with exemptions.

Above all, vaccines work, yet the Republican Party is letting crackpot antivaxxers pull it their way rather than making any attempt to celebrate vaccines as a triumph of the Trump administration.

None of this is shocking, it’s just of some interest, if only as a reference point within the stampede of daily events.

I recall, with some effort, a few fleeting days in July when Republican elites were supposedly attempting a new, pro-vaccination message; that went basically nowhere. Among other things, it’s quite obvious that neither Republicans’ voting base nor the party’s middle ranks support that message.

What strikes me is that the overall pro-COVID energy among Republicans seems like a boundary marker between rational sabotage, and irrational self-destruction.

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Getting a grip when nothing works

I was mentally drafting a post this morning about how nothing seems to work, then this afternoon the irrepressibly optimistic Amy Hanauer shared this Prospect article with a different perspective. Robert Kuttner makes enough good points, therein, that for now I feel like examining them instead.

In general, I consider “Get a Grip: There Will Be a Budget Resolution” a very sound response to two, related, current problems:

  1. I have refused to pay attention to regular updates from the budget standoff in Congress. I think the whole thing is not only a fiasco which was practically manufactured by Democratic leadership—as I wrote months ago, dumb schemes like the “two-track approach” always do the opposite of defusing brinkmanship—it’s also a perfect example of how I just can’t take all this shit literally. Kuttner writes a good explanation of why there’s no reason to make an exception here.
  2. Although I still go through the motions of sending messages to Congress and the White House, what do I even say? So many things are crisis-level all at once and I do not want to get swept up in “this is what’s heating up this week so direct your comments there.” Kuttner writes a shortlist which I think addresses the biggest big-picture issues with as few items as possible.

I’m not really convinced of various details, though, or of the conclusion that we have the enemies of democracy and justice on the ropes, so “Enough defeatism! We can do this.”

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Coups, procedure, & cultural senescence

Picking up from “Systems are living forms… They, too, are born and die,” I want to make a few notes related to the recent “reveal” that Trump sought to overturn the presidential election.

Where even to begin, though:

  • Uh, we know that Trump sought to overturn the presidential election; how many times can this be “BREAKING” news?
  • In any meaningful sense, Trump already did use arcane procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn the presidential election in 2016, when he lost by nearly 3 million votes.
  • George W. Bush used arcane procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn a presidential election even 16 years before that, and even if you’re determined to look for sinister scheming, that’s where to look, since after that point America just normalized using arcane procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn presidential elections.

Seriously this is just ridiculous that even “experts” in these matters won’t see past the obsession with Trump to recognize that everything alarming in the Pence/memo/coup story is long-established and accepted.

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“Dead Memory,” a prescient story

I must have acquired Dark Horse’s English translation of Marc-Antoine Mathieu’s 2000 graphic novel, Dead Memory, more than 15 years ago. I’ve pulled it off the shelf to read several times over the years, I’m sure. In general a somewhat quirky, interesting, slightly vague work of science fantasy very much in the European style.

Upon the most recent re-read, however, I was surprised by what feels very much like a graphic novel for our own time.

The early sequence in which a conversation is visually implied to be a traditional meeting, then after a page-turn revealed as basically a Zoom meeting, really got my attention. Videoconferencing was by no means a new idea even in 2000, but discovering its use by such humdrum pedestrian people as was the case here is—from the perspective of 2021—a little surprising.

Also, everyone in Dead Memory is inseparable from a smartphone every bit as creepy as our own have become. The “black box’s” UI differs a little in detail, but people’s relationship to it is functionally much like that of ourselves with the smartphone. The story even implies that going anywhere without your black box is literally against the law, and when a couple goons of the state stop the main character and demand ID, naturally his black box is what they mean.

All of this seems pretty impressive foresight for the year 2000, when smartphones didn’t even exist and even cellphones were still mostly a specialist item.

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Robert Cotton, and Eddie Campbell

I have owned Eddie Campbell’s The Fate of the Artist since well before I even began researching Cotton’s Library, I believe.

Yet it only struck me today how some of Campbell’s eccentric archivist habits are so reminiscent of Cotton:

“But they were more than just clippings to him.” It’s the wife’s turn again. “He was ordering the universe. Or that’s what he thought. Sometimes he’d cut pages out of one book and transfer them to another. We’ve got a three-volume illustrated medical encyclopedia. You’ll be looking up the common cold and suddenly there will be a hole in the page because there was an eighteenth-century skit on cowpox on the reverse. Or some perfectly useful information on diet during pregnancy will have been sacrificed to the priority of filing a reproduction of a French phrenological lithograph where it will make more sense only to Campbell.

“He’d cut them to fit, because he was a neatness fanatic, but you’d think a true neatness nut would want the pages in the book they came in.

By Campbell’s time there were things like photocopiers, scanners, and printers, so cutting up books seems rather less necessary to indulge this obsession. Though, on the other hand, because of printing I presume that all of the volumes involved were mass produced printed books, rather than the unique manuscripts which Cotton often carved up.

Inverse Secession

America is experiencing a kind of inverse secession.

Republicans have, over 30+ years, mentally expelled the rest of us from the citizenry of “their” country, which is a white patriarchy. We’re still here, physically, but it should not be surprising that Republicans are constantly enraged about alien people in America, and totally intolerant of all non-Republican authority. Anything besides Republican control is, for this enclave, the equivalent of “foreign rule.”

This is or should be important because it means so much of our conceptual infrastructure is obsolete and needs to be replaced, if the rest of us are to organize any kind of effective response, or even to understand what’s going on.

When baffled liberals explode at news of a school district banning a Rosa Parks children’s book, there is actually an explanation for this and so much of what constantly prompts ineffective online-outrage. Rosa Parks is an entirely reasonable hero for a multicultural liberal democracy. But Rosa Parks is not any kind of hero for a white patriarchy. For such a nation, lionizing Rosa Parks amounts to foreign propaganda undermining fundamental pillars of the culture. Of course such a nation’s patriots want to ban a book promoting Rosa Parks—to children no less—especially at a time when statues of that nation’s own heroes are being removed after generations.

This perspective also helps explain not only the Republican assault on democracy, but the aggression and brazen lawlessness which would sometimes seem excessive from any kind of purely “political” perspective. Even if one considers Republicans entirely rotten, it seems needlessly bloody-minded that they insisted this week on muscling through Ohio legislative districts which 1) have been consistently condemned by the public, 2) even they have trouble asserting with conviction are compatible with the state constitution, and 3) will only last two election cycles even if permitted by the state supreme court. All this seems needlessly bloody-minded given that this is Ohio and even the Democrats’ idea of fair maps would leave Republicans secure in state house and senate majorities.

But if you are at war against a foreign enemy, for control of your own land, you tend not to accept compromise. In the First World War, e.g., the French sacrificed lives attacking the German invaders’ positions, and defending their own lines, even when their own strategic interest was obviously better served by other choices. Accepting the alien occupying even a square inch of their country was simply intolerable. (As an aside, I have come to think of gerrymandering and secession as varieties of one thing: both are ultimately about redrawing borders to reject the whole possibility of an Other having authority over your kind of people.)

The concept of inverse secession also has implications which desperately need to be appreciated.

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Ups, downs, hypernormalization

Within little more than 36 hours I was wrenched between highs and lows, this week.

Tuesday morning, I got up, grabbed a campaign sign, and walked up the street to the neighborhood polling place to fly the flag for City Councilperson Tristan Rader‘s reelection. I was already anxious, and as the day wore on, I began sinking toward downright despondence. Mostly because I have just been traumatized by too many crushing election results over the past several years. I know that this pessimism is a bias on my part, but I also know that it isn’t so much of a bias that I can just dismiss it.

So, it was a great relief when the Board of Elections posted early-vote totals with Tristan leading all others in an eight-candidate primary. Even better, election-day numbers later boosted my neighbor Laura Rodriguez-Carbone to third place. The top six candidates will all appear on November’s ballot, but the top three in that election will be elected to city council at-large; astonishingly the exact three candidates I voted for are now presumptive favorites.

That was exciting. Not every Tuesday result was great, but a number of interest to me were positive. I was e.g. rather relieved that the “knife-edge” warnings were completely off and California’s recall election came nowhere near deposing the state’s Democratic governor, even if he is personally mediocre at best.

By Wednesday evening, however, I was back to dread, and I unplugged rather than follow the showdown on Ohio’s Redistricting Commission from which poor results seemed likely and which I would be entirely unable to influence at that point. In this case, I was correct.

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