Archive for the ‘The Way We Live Now’ category

Unleashed Cops

July 29, 2017

While the Russian asset in the White House pushes cops to brutalize their suspects, we have plenty of cases studies on what happens when you license f**kery by the boys folks in blue.  Today’s example comes  from Baltimore:

Maryland prosecutors have tossed 34 criminal cases and are re-examining dozens more in the aftermath of recent revelations that a Baltimore police officer accidentally recorded himself planting drugs in a trash-strewn alley.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said that, in all, 123 cases are under review in the wake of a scandal in which one officer has been suspended and two others put on administrative duty. Body cam footage revealed nearly two weeks ago showed one of the officers planting drugs when he didn’t realize his body cam was recording. (via Ars Technica.)

Among the consequences of such behavior: folks do time, in this case, six or seven months for the crime of being an easy arrest for a dirty cop:

one of the recently dismissed Baltimore cases included the drug suspect who was the target of the plant in the body cam video. He had been jailed since January on a $50,000 bail he could not post.

Societies need cops. They don’t need cops who think a badge and a gun makes them lords of the street.  And any civilized society needs leaders who know that.

The good news, in Baltimore and in response to the Shitgibbon’s latest droppings?  The pushback–from Maryland prosecutors and from police forces around the country respectively.  Resistance isn’t just necessary; it’s useful.

Image: Caravaggio, The Taking of Jesus, c. 1602

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Lest We Forget (End of the American Century Update)

July 28, 2017

One thing’s for sure: whatever fresh hell the Trump White House offers up each day, one community in our great society has to be unbelievably grateful.  Scaramucci is just the latest gift to surpass understanding delivered w. a sMooch* by an administration whose signature accomplishment seems to be The Late Night Comedian Full Employment Act of 2017.

See, e.g., exhibit A, Stephen Colbert:


Here’s the thing, though.  For all our (my) attempts to remember what actual ordinary politics were like, it’s hard to keep up with the massive fail that lies behind so much wonderfully immolating wit.

The Mooch isn’t just a Master of the Universe about to discover that presidential-level politics is not the same as the rigged casino from which he came.  He is the communications director, ultimately the outward facing representative of executive power in the United States.  In Beijing news studios last night, some poor folks had to figure out how to express the essence of Scaramucci’s autofellatio image to a Chinese public trying to make sense of the state of affairs across the Pacific.  In Berlin, government officials are (I’ll bet) as I type attempting to figure out who remains in DC to talk to, when a one week administration veteran seeks to bring down the FBI on the President’s chief of staff.

All of which is to say that this is so far from normal you couldn’t see ordinary DC politics from where we now find ourselves with a fully functional James Webb Space Telescope.  Scaramucci’s hilarious, awful, unspeakably revealing rant is indeed funny as hell.  It’s also the mark of an American government that cannot represent American interests in the world.  We’ve traded actual engagement with the day to day business of running the most powerful country in the world for an extended Game of Thrones cosplay fantasy.

This is how empires fall:  a surface wave of bathos obscuring the deep, ongoing, and never normal tide of malice, incompetence and chaos.

On the upside, my son and I have tickets to see Colbert live next month.  That should be fun.

*See what I did there?

The Common Inheritance, The Common Defense

March 5, 2017

A bit of self promotion here, but I’ve got a piece in today’s Boston Globe that might be of interest to some here.

It’s a look at what the idea of the commons — not just the abstract, model commons of Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, but the historical commons as actually lived and used — can tell us about current problems.  The TL:DR is that commons are not inherently prone to tragedy, but that the preservation of communal goods requires…wait for it…communal action: regulation, self-regulation.

This is, of course, exactly what the Republican Party denies — more, loathes and condemns.  With Trump, they’re getting their way, but its vital to remember that the consequences that will flow from these decisions are not down to him, or simply so: the entire Republican power structure is eager to do this, and when we pay the price, we must remember who ran up the bill.

Anyway, here’s a taste from my piece.  Head on over to the Globe’s site if you want more.

The idea of the commons is deeply woven through the history of the English countryside. Shakespeare captured this idyllic approach to nature’s wealth in “As You Like It,” when the shepherd Corin explains to the cynic Touchstone the joys of his life. “I earn that I eat, get that I wear,” he says, adding that “the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck” — in the unowned, readily shared Forest of Arden.

There can be trouble in such an Eden, as Hardin pointed out in an influential 1968 paper. Hardin asked what would happen if access to a commons were truly unfettered — if Corin and every other villager ran as many sheep as they could there. In such cases, Hardin argued, the endgame is obvious: Too many animals would eat too much fodder, leaving the ground bare, unable to support any livestock at all.

The evolution of resistance to antibiotics fits that story perfectly. The first modern bacteria-killing drug, penicillin, came into widespread use in 1944, as American laboratories raced to produce millions of doses in time for D-Day. The next year, its discoverer, Alexander Fleming, used his Nobel Prize lecture to describe precisely how this wonder drug could lose its power, telling the sad tale of a man who came down with a strep infection. In his tale, Mr. X didn’t finish his course of penicillin, and his surviving microbes, now “educated” (Fleming’s term), infected his wife. When her course of penicillin failed to eradicate these now-resistant microbes, Mrs. X died — killed, Fleming said, by her husband’s carelessness. It took just one more year for this fable to turn into fact: In 1946, four American soldiers came down with drug-resistant gonorrhea, the first such resistance on record.

Go on — check it out.  You want to hear about the great Charnwood Forest rabbit riot.  You know you do…

Image: Jacopo da Ponte, Sheep and Lambc. 1650.

What’s All That Wet Stuff In My Eyes?

February 13, 2017

I just watched this, and I can’t quite explain why my vision went all damp and blurry for a moment there:

This one rings across so many of the changes being played right now.  I won’t rabbit on about them; I think the film speaks for itself far better than any commentary could.

But I will say that it made me feel moved, sad, redeemed, and reminded of what’s worth fighting for in the here and now.

And with that…over to y’all.

We’re Too Big To Cry…And This Is Just Funny Enough To Make Us Laugh

January 25, 2017

Have I got an international laughing stock for you:

h/t my on-the-Zeitgeist son.

There really is nothing funny about what’s happening now, though the shoots of resistance are encouraging as we look towards the hope of spring.  But I give our Dutch friends credit.  The above made me laugh out loud.

Moral Action in Trump’s America

December 7, 2016

I’m way deep in a big project, and rather significantly behind on it too, so my blogging for the next few months is going to be quick-hit stuff rather than anything thought through.  I’ll try to make up for that by making it as regular a practice as I can to toss good reads your way.

Todays comes from Masha Gessen, someone y’all know I greatly admire.  About a week ago she posted a piece on The New York Review of Books site.  In it, she asks if the realist stance in politics can function in the context of Trump.  To find out, she looks to her own family history — including choices she made — to answer no.  She takes no prisoners:

In Bialystok ghetto, my great-grandfather’s responsibility in the Judenrat was to ensure that the ghetto was supplied with food. He ran the trucks that brought food in and took garbage out, he ran the canteen and supervised the community gardens that a group of young socialists planted. He also discouraged the young socialists from trying to organize a resistance movement: it would be of no use and would only jeopardize the ghetto’s inhabitants. It took him almost two years to change his mind about the resistance efforts, as he slowly lost hope that the Judenrat, by generally following the rules and keeping the ghetto inhabitants in line, would be able to save at least some of them.

As in other ghettos, the Judenrat was ultimately given the task of compiling the lists of Jews to be “liquidated.” The Bialystok Judenrat accepted the job, and there is every indication that my great-grandfather took part in the process. The arguments in defense of producing the list, in Bialystok and elsewhere, were pragmatic: the killing was going to occur anyway; by cooperating, the Judenrat could try to reduce the number of people the Nazis were planning to kill (in Bialystok, this worked, though in the end the ghetto, like all other ghettos, was “liquidated”); by compiling the lists, the Judenrat could prevent random killing, instead choosing to sacrifice those who were already near death from disease or starvation. These were strong arguments. There is always a strong argument.

But what if the Jews had refused to cooperate?

640px-le_brun_charles_-_horatius_cocles_defending_the_bridge_-_google_art_project

Was Arendt right that fewer people might have died? Was Trunk right that Judenrat activities had no effect on the final outcome? Or would mass murder of Jews have occurred earlier if Jews had refused to manage their own existence in the ghetto? We cannot know for certain, any more than we can know now whether a scorched-earth strategy or the strategy of compromise would more effectively mitigate Trumpism. But that does not mean that a choice—the right choice—is impossible. It only means that we are asking the wrong question.

The right question…or better, the right stance, the right scale on which to weigh any choice of action?

We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge….

Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices. As Trump torpedoes into the presidency, we need to shift from realist to moral reasoning. That would mean, at minimum, thinking about the right thing to do, now and in the imaginable future. It is also a good idea to have a trusted friend capable of reminding you when you are about to lose your sense of right and wrong.

I’m convinced Gessen is correct.  More, I believe her demand that we make the moral choice first, and then pursue whatever particular tactic seems most likely to embody that choice while advancing (or at least defending) the cause will be the most effective, as well as the right thing to do.  A Democratic response to Trump that says we can make this work a little better enshrines Trumpism, and all the vicious GOP assumptions as the ground on which such matters get decided.  One that says “No. This is wrong.  Democrats will oppose, not mitigate…” is the one that creates a real choice going forward on the ground on which we want to fight.

Read the whole thing.

Image: Charles Le Brun, Horatius Cocles Defending the Bridgec. 1642/3 (I know it’s not dead on point, but it’s close, and I always loved the story, so there.)

Lou Knew

November 29, 2016

Contemplating the pain Trump’s going to lay on the most vulnerable among us (and yeah, some of them voted for him, but hurt is hurt), I found this song, imagined as being addressed directly to the Shitgibbon, a perfect expression of my mood:

Buried deep in the lyrics Reed talks of the Trumps being ordained.  But the real tell is when he sings “They say the President’s dead/But no one can find his head.” That last line is truer than he ever knew.  Man was a prophet.