Playing from way behind

It is strange living in this moment, watching the capture and corruption of the most powerful institutions in our society, at the same time as day to day life mostly continues as though completely unconnected.

That’s an illusion. A few weeks ago a friend, who knows better, casually said something about how “well, life goes on, anyway.” I could have made a lot of responses. One which I didn’t make, but might have, is a comparison with The Lord of the Rings films. For all that “The Scouring of the Shire” is an important part of the novel, its absence from the films combined with Meriadoc’s warning about the possibility of such an outcome is haunting on its own. He was absolutely right that the safety of the Shire was in danger, and significantly, it was in danger from something that most of its people would never even notice until it was absolutely too late.

Had Sauron secured the One Ring, it would have meant the end of the Shire. Unstoppable armies would have burned it to the ground within months, or at most a year or two, inevitably. But that fate was being decided, with finality, while most of the persons at issue were carrying on normal life in total ignorance of the peril.

In a sense, Americans have had comparatively ample warning, yet most don’t really notice it, and “normal life” carries on. Even though what’s happening right now is locking in severe negative consequences.

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Book tour, radio, and living history

On Tuesday, I journeyed to Ames for a one-stop “book tour,” speaking at the Ames Library about Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents.

Apparently it went well. People seemed pleased with my presentation. Which is particularly validating, given that the audience included people who had been present six decades ago for more than one of the book’s colorful anecdotes.

We also added one anecdote, or quote at least, from President Hilton who reportedly once summed up his relationship with President Hancher by saying “every time he opened his mouth, I put my foot in it.” Which if self-effacing was certainly self-aware as well.

I also found myself reintroduced to my college adviser, whom I had not seen for 20 years.

Also, though this was my only stop for this “book tour,” it was in another sense just the prelude to a further exploration of Hancher vs. Hilton which begins next week. The KHOI “Community Bookshelf” program will air an interview with me, followed by Mark Slagell reading from the book over several shows.

You can listen online at archive.khoifm.org

Thanks so much to Mary, Mary, Mary, KHOI and the Ames Library.

Thank you, Lakewood renters

To the tens of thousands of other renters in our city of Lakewood, I would like to say: thank you.

Thank you, renters, for being literally the greater part of Lakewood. More than half of this community lives in rental housing, including me.

I have heard renters maligned, treated with suspicion, and referred to like we are a “foreign” presence here. Yet renters are actually the majority of the people around us, at the park or doing the grocery shopping, e.g.

Additionally, many of the absolute hands-down best people I have known during 11 years in Lakewood have rented their homes. People who improve this community as volunteers, leaders, activists, entrepreneurs. It would be a sadder and poorer city without these involved citizens here, demonstrating how much they care about their home: Lakewood.

So thank you Lakewood renters. Thank you for voting, paying taxes, raising families, supporting local businesses. Thank you for sharing and shaping the community we are all part of.

Thank you, renters, for being here.

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How Republicans divide & denigrate using identity

Today, Ohio state Representative Kyle Koehler decided to share a nonsubstantive meme mocking US Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. The thread which followed illustrates two very important lessons.

  • Over and over in his replies, Koehler refers to the “silly ideas” of Ocasio-Cortez. Yet he argued at length without citing a single one. Even after being explicitly called out on that. The word “ideas,” here, is just a fig leaf intended to disguise an ad hominem attack as a policy critique.
  • After pointing out that his nonsubstantive swipe targets a female person of color, rather than any of the other people who share her ideas—and that this is part of a pattern from the GOP—he protests that “you’re the one bringing up race and gender.”
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Senate, a long perspective

The Senate is a terrible institution, intrinsically, but that’s really no more or less than we ever should have expected, given its origins.

I could write at length about the problems with the United States Senate, with its origins, and with the very concept of a senate. But lately I have been musing on one, somewhat ironic, feature of this institution which seems likely to preside over the wrecking of America (with characteristic pomp and puffery).

A quick search online supports my sense that the framers of America’s Constitution had the Roman Republic very explicitly in mind, and that the existence of America’s senate is thus the product of conscious reference to Rome, and its.

From the perspective of history, I submit, the notable feature of the Roman Republic is its takeover from within by a series of tyrants, never reversed right up through the collapse of the Roman state—despite the continued existence of the Roman Senate throughout.

The Framers’ big model for thinking about how a republic could work, in other words, fell to autocrats who found a senate to be no obstacle, and in some ways even a very willing partner to autocracy.

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Halfway to 2040

It occurs to me this evening that I have now traveled through half of the four-plus decades which separated 1998, when I was in college watching Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, from the year 2040.

I suppose that beyond this I’m just belaboring the obvious, but it was 42 years away.

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Hardware farewells Feb. 2019

A few long-serving tech items have gone into retirement, in the past week or so.

My trusty Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS finally bit the dust after nearly eight years. It might very well have matched or surpassed the service record of the Canon Pixma IP5000 inkjet printer, which lasted more than 10 years, except I dropped the camera fairly hard a while back. Function deteriorated thereafter, and finally it just stopped working.

I have replaced it with essentially a near-new modern version of the same thing, purchased for for about 2/3 the cost of the SD1200, because really a decent point-and-shoot digital camera is entirely adequate for my purposes.

Very possibly a smartphone camera would be adequate, except that many of them seem to take photos which are big but hopelessly smeary. Including the one which I now own because

I replaced my Samsung SCH-u340 fliphone after more than 11 years. This was my first and until now only mobile phone. Despite the fact that it was getting the same kind of looks as the Blackbird 520c Powerbook I once toted around, long after it had gone out of date, this phone is still in good working order and I would still be using it. Except I have decided to change mobile carriers and there is no wireless company which would support this phone, other than the one which inherited it years ago as a legacy. (SIM card? What SIM card?)

So now I have this black rectangle from Motorola, which is probably far more powerful than e.g. my first desktop Mac, but frankly seems pretty utilitarian and boring. (The main point of interest I can find in it is that Motorola has now sneaked back into my hardware line-up for the first time since Steve Jobs ditched them for Intel.)

Also, NASA officially gave up on the Opportunity Rover. Realistically, “Oppy” went offline several months ago. But mission control finally ended Opportunity operations last week, triggering many looks back at what was frankly an astounding working “life.”

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Human progress as economic bubble

During recent attempts at some deep thinking about politics, civilization and history, I have pondered the long term and how present dysfunction might be little more than “reversion to the mean.”

An expectation of general progress, or of a fair society which lasts, seems hard to square with the long arc of history. My own impression is that after developing basic civilization thousands of years ago, humanity did not really “advance” much until the past 300 or 400 years.

The advances since then have included some spectacular transformations, at least for lots of people. Long lifespans, food to eat, medicine which works, flourishing science and arts.

Yet the systems powering industrial civilization are ecologically unsustainable—that’s just a plain fact—and while its product is an anomaly within human history, to date, resource burnout is not. Jared Diamond’s book Collapse explored a pattern of civilizations building prosperity upon unsustainable foundations.

What if all industrial civilization—powered by toxic fossil fuel combustion and internally resistant to alternatives despite many decades’ notice of the need—is just one more unsustainable bubble?

Yesterday, Slate reported on some similar speculation by David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth.

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Authoritarianism for dummies

So this week, the president of the United States formally declared a “national emergency” on an indisputably bullshit basis, with no real pretense that it is anything except an attempt to do an end-run around Congress’s very clear refusal to pay for a ridiculous campaign prop (which the president has continually insisted will be paid for by Mexico).

To the extent that constitutionality is an objective standard, this seems to be unconstitutional. The fact that the president did so anyway has at last brought a plain statement from one authority that “this is a constitutional crisis.”

This is certainly serious. Among other things, I feel like if ever national political drama demands notice even in this occasional personal chronicle, it’s this week. I have of course already called members of congress. (Have been doing so for some weeks, in fact, as this fake “emergency” has been toyed with openly since last year.)

This is also absurdly stupid.

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The anarchist elite

I will just give this its own post, here. Thanks for sharing this keen observation, Brooke Harrington.

…though the global network of offshore tax havens is a relatively recent tool for billionaires to advance their interests, the impulse driving the sponsors of populist movements is not. The novelist GK Chesterton had their number over a century ago, when he wrote: “The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea on his yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.”

‘Aristocrats are anarchists’: why the wealthy back Trump and Brexit
Brooke Harrington