If I haven’t written here as much lately, perhaps it’s because I feel constrained from public discussion of many of the topics which are currently preoccupying me.

  • There’s an election coming up, and I’ve got opinions, but I’m afraid to express them. Whoever wins, FOLC will have to work with them. It won’t help FOLC’s cause if the president (me) makes public pronouncements on one side or the other. Whoever gets elected can wield considerable influence for (or against) the greenway project. Therefore it seems most wise to keep my mouth shut.
  • Speaking of the greenway, we’ve been having some frustrations there as well. It’s related to the mess outlined by the American Zombie. FOLC has sent a letter to the administration and continues to try to get a meeting. There’s plenty more to say, but discretion seems advisable at this juncture.
  • On a more personal level, there’s been some unfortunate infighting amongst my co-workers. Not in my unit, happily, but close enough to impinge on me. It’s actually been fascinating, in a sad way, to see all this unfold, but I’ll be damned if I write about it. That could only serve to embarrass those persons involved, and possibly my employer. I resolved long ago not to embarrass my employer in my writings here. That’s in fact why I never mention my employer by name, and just refer to “the University.” I like my job too much to play it any other way.
  • By the same token, I’m not going to write about Xy’s discontent with her work environment, except to say it’s bad. Real bad. Leaving the interpersonal differences and administrative challenges aside, she’s sick of the hours. So am I. She’s tired of working a ten hour day and then having a couple hours of homework per night. She feels she’s missing out on her daughter growing up. So she may well be looking for another line of work come fall.

If no one read this blog, I could sound off on any topic with impunity. If I had a huge readership, I could perhaps wield some influence through my writings. As it stands, I’m in that broad middle zone where I get just enough attention to constrain but not enough to liberate.

And of course what’s going on in Haiti right now makes all this seem rather trivial, but I don’t have anything insightful to add about that either.

So I just don’t have anything to say right now. Sorry.

Using Flickr for Neighborhood Activism

Some of my neighbors have been bickering, er, I mean debating about Comiskey Park here in Mid-City. The basketball goals that used to be there were taken down when an television production company made plans to rebuild the park for a reality show. That didn’t pan out in the long run, and the park was left in a worse state than ever because of it.

But back to those basketball goals. Some neighbors don’t want them back up, and some do. Both factions have conducted informal polls and claimed results that support their positions. As the rhetoric ratcheted up, the legitimacy of these polls was called into question.

I don’t want to get caught up in the debate though. Rather I wanted to cite how one neighbor, Joseph Brock, has responded. He’s created a Flickr account specifically for this issue. He printed out signs stating the pro-basketball position. Then he went around and used his cameraphone to take pictures of various neighbors holding the signs, and posted those pictures directly to Flickr. Check out the photostream. It’s simple, powerful, effective and cheap.

I’m quite impressed.

Presidential Visitation

President Obama is visiting New Orleans today, so here’s a mix (warning: some dirty lyrics).

This is a silly thematic mix. The associations are simple and obvious and not necessarily germane to today’s visit. Some of the tracks are about Bush. And just to avoid any confusion (and, hopefully, any visits from the Secret Service) I do not advocate any acts of violence, despite a couple of those song titles.

I suppose presidential visits of this nature are largely symbolic affairs, but symbols have power too. Many New Orleanians are anxious over the brevity of Obama’s visit, as he will be here less than four hours. It’s his first visit here as president, and we feel we deserve more attention. Things are tough all over, and we know that, but New Orleans was the site of the biggest disaster in the history of our nation, and that story isn’t over by a long shot. We’ve still got a lot of recovery work ahead of us. And like it or not, some of our key recovery issues are inextricably federal in nature.

I wonder how this visit plays to the rest of the country. I wonder which symbolism is more important, the local or the national.

I wanted to go to this rally for “Category 5 Levees and Coastal Wetland Restoration” this morning. I contemplated taking Persephone with me. But for various reasons I decided not to deviate from our regular schedule, so I just took her to daycare and went to work as usual. Ah well.

If I had a moment of the president’s time, I’d probably say something about the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act. And I’d definitely say something about the need for reforming the US Army Corps of Engineers.

One Day Later: Eugene Robinson is calling this visit the biggest disappointment of Obama’s presidency.

Short Notice

Just got this via e-mail. Here’s an opportunity for some New Orleanians to go to Washington DC in support of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act. Short notice but this is something I believe in. I wish I could go! But I can’t. Maybe you can? Please spread the word, because the bus leaves soon.


The Gulf Coast Civic Works Campaign is loading two buses with supporters for two days of high level meetings with Congress and the Administration. It is a perfect opportunity to let folks in Washington know what is happening in your community and presenting them with a human rights-based solution from residents and community leaders, the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, to create 100,000 jobs rebuilding and sustaining Gulf Coast communities. You all are the reason a policy like this could work, your innovative organizations, knowledge, ideas, and we need you to let Congress know your ready to rebuild if they can give you a mandate to support it!

Already we have meetings with five key Members of Congress with jurisdiction over HR 2269, leaders of federal agencies like Army Corps and EPA, key advisers at DHS, heads of Obama’s Faith and Neighborhood offices, the administration’s point on Gulf Coast recovery, a cabinet member and dozens of congressional staffers, with more to come. Also we have a big Congressional Briefing with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, jointly hosted by Rep. James Clyburn, the House Majority Whip and the Congressional Leadership’s point person on Gulf Coast recovery issues.

We have spots for 50 additional people. Please call Scott Myers Lipton ASAP at 1 510 508 5382 to participate. If you or any of your members or colleagues can come we’d love to have you. It will also be an opportunity to meet advocates from leading DC based human rights, faith-based and environmental organizations. We hope our supporters will attend if they can and participate in this momentous opportunity for promoting just Gulf Coast recovery.

Transportation, hotel, and most of your meals (were asking folks to bring food for while on the bus) will be covered. It is first come first serve while seats are available. If you can’t come, please think about making a call or two to colleagues and friends. We need numbers to make an impact, and it will be huge opportunity for advancing resident-led recovery priorities.

Here is an overview of the itinerary.

We will be picking folks up September 21st, 2009 at 3:30pm at:

Grace Episcopal Church

5700 Canal Street

New Orleans


Walmart Supercenter

3615 Sangani Blvd

Diberville, MS 39540-8770

Buses will arrive in Washington, DC the morning of September 22nd;

On September 22nd at noon, participants will attend our CBC/CHC/CAPAC briefing (see flyer) and have an opportunity to eat lunch and mingle with staff of key Congressional leaders, and learn more about HR 2269.

From 2-5:30P participants will break off into teams for meetings with Congressional and Administration officials, including an interagency meeting of HUD, DHS, HHS, Commerce, and White House Offices. Teams will each have an experienced volunteer who works in DC from one of our DC based supporting organizations.

The evening of September 22nd, participants will stay at the Quality Inn and Suites, Alexandra, VA 8849 Richmond Hwy , Alexandria, VA, US, 22309 | Phone: (703) 780-0300

September 23rd, the bus will depart in the morning from Alexandria to Washington DC, and participants will meet with congressional and Administration officials from 10am-5pm.

On September 23rd the bus will depart from DC arriving in Biloxi and New Orleans at about 1pm.

If you can go, please call Scott at 510-508-5382 or Jeffrey at 202-257-9048.

Creep Factor

Here’s a nasty tale of corporate intrigue.

First, check out this editorial from the Urban Conservancy about the Walgreens which is being built at Carrollton and Canal. I used to serve on the board of the Urban Conservancy, as well as Mid-City Neighborhood Organization; I was contacted for input on the editorial but can’t take credit for much.

Next, read this account of a follow-up meeting between the executive director of UC, the president of MCNO, and Walgreens’ legal counsel. Those two ladies are both people I admire, and I’m proud to call them friends. I’m outraged and disgusted that they were subject to such tactics.

How can Walgreens possibly condone this?

Gulf Coast Rally

I got a press release about an interesting event coming up on the fourth anniversary of Katrina. My comments follow.

Gulf Coast Rally to Demand Speaker Pelosi Take Action on 4th Anniversary of Katrina

This Friday supporters of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (HR 2269) will gather for a noon rally and press conference on the 4th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to demand passage of this federal bill.

The rally will include:

  • a theatrical performance of “President Obama” and “Speaker Pelosi” announcing an important new policy on the 4th Anniversary of Katrina;
  • reflections from survivors of Hurricane Katrina;
  • the reading of the names of the 1,836 people who died in Hurricane Katrina, and the planting of 1836 white flags with the names of each person and age on the flag;
  • the delivering of an open letter to Speaker Pelosi;
  • and the delivering of over 10,000 signed petitions in support of HR 2269.

Specifically, Speaker Pelosi will be asked to take two small, but powerful actions:

  1. To request that she asks the five committee chairs where the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act sits to report back to her office on HR 2269 before the Congressional winter recess;
  2. To sign on as a co-sponsor HR 2269.

The Gulf Coast Civic Works Act — which is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 30 Congress members and supported by more than 240 diverse regional and national student, faith, environmental and community organizations — would create a minimum of 100,000 prevailing wage jobs and training opportunities for local and displaced workers to rebuild Gulf Coast infrastructure and restore the coastal environment utilizing green building technologies.

Sounds great. Sign me up! Oh, wait, one last little detail. Where’s this rally taking place?

The rally and press conference will be held this Friday, 12 pm, in front of Speaker Pelosi’s office at the Phillip Burton Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue on the plaza in front of the flag poles.

That’s in San Francisco if you’re not aware.

I’m sure there are many fine events being planned here on the Gulf Coast. But I’m guessing we won’t have anything quite like this. That’s a shame. The Gulf Coast Civic Works Act is still the best proposal I’ve seen for rebuilding the Gulf Coast and revitalizing the economy. I’m frankly amazed that it’s even made it to Congress, since our system seems to filter good ideas away from the legislature. But this came up from the grassroots — in California. I’ve watched this idea percolate out in California for years, and slowly work its way up to Washington DC. I have to wonder why it doesn’t seem to garner more interest locally. I can’t recall ever hearing from local politicians about this bill.

It is a shame that, as a region, we can’t seem to come together in recognition of a good idea. It’s almost like we’ve given up. Nevertheless I appreciate the show of support from people on the other side of the country.

Dear General Zia

This is the second installment of three sample documents dredged up from my old Brother WP-500 disks. I think this letter more or less explains itself. I wrote a number of such letters, inspired by author Bruce West, and in fact that was my original motivation for purchasing the WP-500 in the first place. With its daisywheel printer, it produced documents that looked like they were typed the old-fashioned way. Thus, I think it has maximum impact when viewed in its original format. I’m embedding the document here; please use the “full screen” toggle button in the upper right corner to make it legible.

Continue reading “Dear General Zia”

Don’t Put My Name in It!

I wasn’t going to post anything about the current e-mail foofaraw down at City Hall, because I figured I didn’t have anything to say about it. I don’t aim to just regurgitate news from other sources here. I write about my life. Of course, the headlines that I read daily affect me and become a part of my life in a sense, and some of the recent headlines certainly do stoke the fires, but still, I didn’t think I had much to say.

There was a line in a recent Times-Picayune story that caught my eye:

White is black. Head is white.

That’s a complete paragraph from a front-page story on Wednesday. I’m sure Frank Donze and the editors must have had a chuckle over that one. It’s a reference to the race of Veronica White and Stacy Head. The only thing that could have made this better is if the council member’s name was Stacy Black. That would have summarized the topsy-turvy spirit of things perfectly.

I actually clipped that paragraph out of the paper. But my wry little observation didn’t seem substantive enough to share with the world. Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt, as Einstein or Twain or Lincoln or somebody once said.

However, I just realized there is a personal connection to my life after all. Over the past three years I have sent and received plenty of e-mails from members of the City Council and their staffers. That means that my name has been put in this mess. My communications are (presumably) amongst those which Sanitation Director Veronica White handed over to activist attorney Tracie Washington.

Now if you’re wondering what the Sanitation Director is doing handing over e-mails, you’re not alone. Mayor Nagin recently stonewalled a request for his e-mails, and the City Council has gotten a judge to command Washington not to publish the e-mails as she apparently planned to do, and this is all about those garbage contracts, and the whole thing is incredibly polarized and polarizing along racial lines.

Oh yes. It bears mentioning that White and Head had an ugly confrontation a few months back. Which brings us to the following flashback mashup: Hate Rock White-Head [MP3, 5.4 MB]. That’s just a little audio I mashed up back in December but never shared until now. Tip of the hat to HTRK for providing the perfect background music.

There’s far more to this story which continues to develop, but I don’t aim to provide coverage. If you want more substance check out We Could Be Famous or any number of other local blogs. If you find this all convoluted and confusing, don’t worry. Some people say this is all a distraction from the real scandal, which might be crime cameras, or housing issues, or who knows what. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say to the world, as many a student in Xy’s classroom might say:

Don’t put my name in it!

That’s all.

Tightly Bridled Optimism

It’s stunning for me to realize: Today is a great day in American history.

I can recall plenty of dark days. September 11th and Hurricane Katrina come immediately to mind. But I’ve been racking my mind to come up with a day on which I felt a sense of pride like today.

Can’t think of one.

Funny thing about pride. It seems to come in at least a couple of different flavors. There’s a belligerent kind of pride, a swaggering boastful emotion. But there’s also a quiet kind, which seems to carry with it an overwhelming sense of humility. That seems paradoxical to me. But anyway it’s that latter kind of pride I’m feeling today. It’s not about me, it’s nothing I’ve earned, but I feel grateful and happy to be a part of it all the same.

And I can’t remember the last time I felt this way.

I’m proud for my country, and that’s such a strange feeling for me. Also strange: I’m proud of my generation. I don’t think I’ve ever really had these feelings before, and they’re kind of taking me by surprise. I’m kind of getting choked up.

And I’m also feeling hopeful. But it’s a highly qualified sense of hope. There’s a reason for that.

Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Bush again. Those are the presidents I have known as an adult, and I really haven’t been happy with any of them. There was a time, from roughly the election of ’92 to Clinton’s inauguration, when I felt this sense of hope. Once Clinton actually got into office, however, I was quickly disappointed.

Having been fooled once, I’m more cautious now. I’m also sixteen years older and commensurately sadder — I won’t say wiser. My expectations have been sorely diminished. Even so, all these years of disappointment have taught me to keep my hopes under wrap.

I characterized my take on our prospects in New Orleans after Katrina as “tightly bridled optimism.” I’m sure I’m not the first person to coin that phrase, but you wouldn’t know it from searching Google. Maybe I should trademark it, because I’ve come to realize it’s my signature emotion.

And, for sure, it’s what I’m feeling today. Optimistic, yes, but not uncritically so. I can’t let loose, can’t let my guard down entirely, not even today. My skepticism and pessimism are too deeply held.

I am more hopeful for our future than at any time in my adult life, but that’s not saying much. Or maybe it is. I don’t even know anymore.

Still, a great day in American history. I’m profoundly glad to see this day.

Malik’s Money

We got our Malik Rahim campaign sign, and it is proudly on display in front of our house.

I chatted with Christian Roselund a bit when he dropped the sign off. He informed me that Malik’s candidacy has caught the attention of many Greens across the country. Some of them are, as one might expect, a little flaky, bless ’em. But the monetary support is pouring in, and the campaign is using that money for media buys.

Therefore I read with some interest Michelle Krupa’s article in this morning’s paper, about the Republican candidate’s fund-raising efforts. After detailing Anh Joseph Cao’s financial situation and comparing it to William Jefferson’s, toward the end there is a mention of Malik’s campaign.

Jefferson’s other two challengers do not appear to have had much success raising money. Rahim reported that he collected about $2,000 from individual and corporate donors during the six-week period starting Oct. 1, and had pumped another $3,000 of this own money into the campaign. Records show he spent $900 on T-shirts.

But that is substantially less than the numbers mentioned to me by Christian. Sure enough, Christian has since confirmed by e-mail that, according to the SEC, Malik’s campaign raised a total of $10,985. He even supplies a link. He adds that by this time the campaign has raised closer to $20,000.

It’s also worth noting that Stephanie Grace’s recent opinion column made no mention of any candidate other than Cao and Jefferson.

A Letter from Malik

I’m passing the mic to Malik Rahim who has sent out the following campaign letter. — B

November 19, 2008

Dear friends in the struggle,

As you may be aware, I am seeking election to the United States House of Representatives on December 6. I apologize in advance for the impersonal nature of this letter. I wish I would have had time to call my friends to discuss the details of this campaign. I’m sending this message because I need your help.

Four days after Hurricane Katrina and two days before founding Common Ground I made this decision to run for Congress. This decision was made due to the lack of government response to Katrina. My hope is that never again will any disaster turn into such a tragedy.

This is a winnable seat; a seat not just for residents of the New Orleans area but a peoples’ seat for all those who stand for environmental peace and justice. This goal can only be reached with your support.

I will provide concrete alternatives to the wars being waged against our communities at home and to the wars continuing abroad. Our communities deserve no less. I will continue to advocate for safe, affordable housing, the establishment of universal healthcare, and invest in a comprehensive storm protection system and wetland restoration. I would initiate repeal of the so-called Patriot Act , author legislation to remove FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security, demand an end to the costly and senseless incarceration of nonviolent offenders, and advocate for full funding for our schools. Running a viable campaign requires funding.

Now with less than three weeks away, the campaign has set a goal of raising an additional $20,000 by Friday November 28. With your help we can achieve that end. You can contribute on the campaign website at www.VoteMalik.com

I also urge you to get active with our campaign. Canvass your neighborhood and tell your friends and family. If you are out of town, we need additional volunteers on election day and the week leading up to the election. You can phone bank remotely from home or promote the campaign online.

In closing, I want to remind you that I will work tirelessly for the people of District 2. But even if you are not in my Congressional District, your cause is in my heart; you will have not only a committed advocate, but an office to work out of on the Hill.

In the struggle for environmental peace and justice,

Malik Rahim

Send your donation today. Individuals may contribute up to $2300. Use the attached donor form to make as generous a donation as you can. Then forward this email to your friends, co-workers and neighbors, and be sure to Vote Malik in the December 6 election.

Please donate online at www.VoteMalik.com or make your check or money order payable to “The Committee to Elect Malik Rahim” and send to:
The Committee to Elect Malik Rahim
331 Atlantic Ave. New Orleans LA 70119

The Federal Election Commission requires the following:

* Donors must provide their name, mailing address, occupation and name of employer.
* Contributions must be from U.S. citizens or legal residents.
* Contributions to the Committee to Elect Malik Rahim are not tax deductible.
By submitting this donation, I declare that I am a US citizen or permanent resident; this contribution is made from my own funds; this is not a corporation, labor organization or federal contractor.

Federal Election law requires that we ask you for all of this information.

FIRST NAME*___________________________________________________________

LAST NAME*___________________________________________________________



STATE*______________________________ ZIP CODE_________________________






AMOUNT $___________________ DATE___________________________


So William Jefferson won the Democratic Party primary Tuesday, beating out Helena Moreno. But we will have to go back to the polls to vote on this race a third time in December for the actual election.

We could save plenty of money and avoid a lot of hassle if we adopted Instant Runoff Voting or something similar. But I digress.

On the December ballot, I like the Green Party candidate Malik Rahim. It’s my belief that Greens, and any third party candidates, need to make their case at the state and local level. There are any number of barriers to third party success at the federal level, and especially in the presidential race.

But at the local level, we have an opportunity to distinguish ourselves. At the local level, the playing field is a little more level, and we can get our message out a little more easily. At the local level, the Democratic-Republican duopoly is a little less firmly entrenched.

Or is it?

The Times-Picayune ran a story this morning about Jefferson’s primary victory and the December election. Since the majority of voters in the 2nd Congressional district are registered Democrats, the T-P notes:

Jefferson is considered the prohibitive favorite in the Dec. 6 general election against four little-known opponents.

Little-know, eh? I can accept that Malik Rahim isn’t as well-known as Jefferson. After all, Jefferson has been in the spotlight for years as our Congressional representative. Lately he’s garnered even more attention than usual. When the FBI raids your house and finds $90K in your freezer it tends to have that effect.

But Malik has some fame in his own right. Granted, he’s nowhere near as famous as the incumbent. But around here, Malik Rahim is hardly an unknown. He especially shone after Katrina, when he helped found the Common Ground Medical Clinic and Common Ground Relief, organizations which are still active today.

Yet this article in the Times-Picayune goes on to focus on the Republican candidate, Anh Joseph Cao. Now this guy really is an unknown. I’m not disparaging him in the least, but the fact is that if you compare Malik Rahim and Anh Jospeh Cao, the little-known candidate is clearly Cao.

That, of course, is about to change, because Cao has the backing of (drumroll please) Republican power broker Jay Batt. He will be helping Cao raise money and get endorsements.

Cao gets mentioned by name twelve times in the article. Malik Rahim gets mentioned only once, in passing. And that’s a shame.

I was tangentially involved in Malik’s run for City Council back in 2002. Unfortunately that campaign was not well organized and never really caught fire. Running a good campaign is hard work. I’m less involved with the local Greens these days because of other life priorities, but it’s my sincere hope that this campaign is more effective.

Coverage like this doesn’t make it any easier.


I guess what amazes me the most is that Indiana went for Obama. Indiana, which in the 1920s had “the largest, most enthusiastic, and most politically powerful Klan in the country.” Indiana, where I went to high school in the 1980s with active robe-wearing Klansmen. Indiana, home of the Humanoid Artifact. Indiana, which hasn’t gone for a Democrat in my lifetime.

This just blows my mind.

As for Louisiana, it’s astonishing and a bit sickening that we went for McCain in such a big way. After the Katrina debacle, this state should have punished the Republicans harshly.

It’s a long way from now until the inauguration. I’m sure there are some crazy racists out there who would do anything to prevent the “darkening” of the Oval Office. I know many people are praying already for Obama’s safety. I can only hope the Secret Service is up to the task.

McCain’s concession was gracious. But I couldn’t help but notice the spin on what Obama’s victory means.

Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

Contrast this with Obama’s words:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Similar sentiments but a very different spin. For McCain, all these racial injustices are in the past, so we should shut up and quit whining about equality. This will be the refrain from the hard right in the days and months ahead.

Now pardon me while I celebrate with my co-workers. As you might imagine, today’s a happy day to be working at an historically black college.

I Did It

Well, I did it. I broke my promise. I crossed party lines and voted for Obama this morning.

Back in 1992 I voted for Clinton. (Not that my vote counted, because all of Indiana’s electors went to Bush the First.) I was so disappointed with him, I felt I’d been cheated and deceived. I vowed never to vote Democratic again, at least not for the office of president.

And, gosh darn it, I could have kept my promise too, if the Democrats had stuck to their strategy of nominating dull, unappealing and slightly slimy candidates.

If the Democrats had nominated Hilary Clinton or John Edwards, I wouldn’t have been tempted.

But Obama was just too appealing to resist. Not that my vote will count, because all of Louisiana’s electors will likely go to McCain. Nevertheless it was cool to see the massive turnout at our polling place this morning. I was particularly impressed to see so many young people voting.

Despite the big turnout things were moving along. It only took me thirteen minutes to vote, from the moment I got in line until I cast my ballot.

I was a little disturbed that the poll worker seemed to be having trouble getting the booth ready for me. She was punching all sorts of buttons but they didn’t seem to be working as she expected. It made me wonder if the person before me was properly processed, or if her vote just vanished into the ether. Who knows? I find the whole electronic voting procedure highly suspect. We should get a paper receipt.

But then again we should do a lot of things. We should make like Maine and Nebraska and use the Congressional District Method for allocating electors. (Or better yet, a simple proportional allocation.) We should use Instant Runoff Voting so we don’t have go back to the polls in December to elect our Congressional Representative.

Obama’s promised to bring “the change we need.” And I do believe we need deep and fundamental change. I don’t believe the oldest and most powerful party in the world is capable of bringing that change. I still believe only an insurgent third party can do that. Our current system favors two powerful parties, so an insurgent third party would likely displace one of the two dominant parties.

That doesn’t appear to be happening in this election cycle. So here’s hoping the G.O.P. goes down in flames and thoroughly self-destructs. Here’s hoping the political landscape is completely reconfigured. I’m not holding my breath, but it’s a nice thought.

P.S.: The weather is beautiful, and it feels like a holiday.

And Yet…

I’ve articulated some of my thoughts on the election, yet I see I have left some important stuff out.

For one thing, although I’ve been mildly disgusted by this presidential campaign, I’m actually less disgusted by the two major candidates than in any race I can remember. Some friends have expressed dismay that they can support neither McCain nor Obama. I’m like, welcome to my world. That’s how I’ve felt my whole life. Yet I actually feel less like that on this go-round.

Another thing: Despite all my reservations and qualifications and hedges and misgivings, I really want to see Obama win. I think an Obama victory would be much better for the nation than a McCain victory. In fact, I’d love to see an Obama landslide. I think that would be great.

And it’s not just opposition to McCain. I genuinely want to see Obama in the White House. There are many reasons, but I’ll mention just a couple: the war, and race.

The war in Iraq is still a huge issue in my mind, despite being eclipsed by the economy. It’s amazing to me that we have a major candidate on the ballot who opposed the war. An Obama victory would symbolize a repudiation of Bush’s doctrine of preemptive aggression.

Then there’s the race issue. We’d like to pretend we’re living in a post-racial era, but race still matters. Race is intricately bound up with class. Take race and class together, and you’ve got an issue that not only matters, but matters hugely. If we’re such an egalitarian country, how come every president we’ve had has been white and male? Obviously we haven’t quite reached the high ideals to which we aspire.

I’m not so naïve as to suppose that an Obama victory would correct that in some magical fashion. In fact, I can envision the opposite. The talking point will go like this: “There’s a black man in the white house, so stop whining about inequality.” I don’t nourish any fantasies that a black president would make our racial problems disappear.

And yet I’m reminded of something E.J. said many months ago:

…there’s been a lot of talk about facing our race problem and “talking about it,” but I get the sense everyone’s waiting for their invitation to a nice roundtable summit, one afternoon at the Convention Center, where we can engage in a dialogue about our feelings. That ain’t gonna cut it.

E.J. was speaking about post-Katrina New Orleans in particular, but those words come back to me every time there’s a racial flare-up on the national scene, like the Don Imus debacle or whatever. We need to have dialog on these issues. But it never really happens. If Obama is elected, we’ll be having some dialog all right, and it will keep coming as long as he’s in office. It won’t always be pretty. It will get downright ugly sometimes, I’m sure. And I’m not sure where it will lead — there’s no guarantee of a positive outcome. I think it will be therapeutic, but therapy is not without risks.

So, yes, I hope Obama wins over McCain. No question.

Of course I’d love to see a victory by someone who more closely approximates my values. But here’s an interesting little factoid from Electoral-vote.com:

The Green Party candidate, former representative Cynthia McKinney, has raised $177,000 so far this year, a sum Barack Obama raises every hour.

Kind of puts things in an interesting perspective.

Then there’s the question of voting. But that’s another thing entirely.

Truncated Scale

A friend recently commented on how our country is politically polarized. Yes, I feel that — but I also feel that many of us are apathetic and alienated from the political process.

How could these both be true? It seems contradictory, paradoxical.

Perhaps the answer, or part of it, has to do with our narrowly circumscribed political dialog. I’ve been puzzling over how to better express the idea.

Say you’re looking at two marks on a wall. If you’re standing very close, with your nose practically touching the plaster, you will see the two marks as rather far apart. But if you stand back and look at the whole wall, you might say that that the marks are quite close together.

Or take a bar graph. It’s a well-known fact that if you chop off the bottom of a bar graph you can exaggerate differences and make them seem bigger. There’s a whole chapter on this in How to Lie with Statistics.

Or say you listened to nothing but grandpa’s record collection. You might think dixieland and bebop represented the absolute opposite ends of the musical spectrum. And you’d be right, insofar as 1940s jazz was concerned.

All of these seem like variations on the same phenomenon. This has surely been observed and documented by those who study human cognition. What’s vexing me is I can’t think of the name for it. The only term I’ve encountered that seems to make sense is “truncated scale,” but that’s hardly ubiquitous.

Anyway, my theory is that some of us are “zoomed in” on two marks on the wall.

Tightly Circumscribed

From this close view, the differences are vast and passions run high. There is a sense of polarization between these two diametrically opposed points.
Continue reading “Truncated Scale”


“All two-valued systems are false.” — Gene Wolfe

Consider the left-right continuum of political thought. It often strikes me as tired and played-out. Yet at other times it seems quite relevant. It certainly is one-dimensional, by definition, and thus it can’t begin to reflect the rich variation and nuances of political philosophy. For example, Nazis and Bolsheviks would be at opposite ends of this spectrum, but don’t they have a lot in common? Something important is missing.

At some point during my undergraduate years, a professor introduced me to a dual-axis model of politics. It doesn’t abandon the well-known left-right continuum. It simply adds another dimension, call it an up-down continuum. Up represents a more authoritarian tendency; down represents the opposite inclination, which might be called libertarian. (Note the small “l” to avoid confusion with the Libertarian Party.) I’m not sure, but I think this model may have first been articulated by the famous psychologist Hans Eysenck.

The result looks something like this:

Political Chart

This clears up some things. Hitler and Stalin would both be at the top of the chart, but in opposite corners.

Of course you could get even more complex. You could add an urban-rural axis or a pacifist-militant axis, to name just a couple. But that quickly gets cumbersome. This dual-axis model seems to work pretty well for me. I’ve carried this mental construct around for the last twenty years, and I find it helpful. I just wish more people knew about it.

Well, turns out there’s a website that allows you to take a short quiz and plot yourself on this model. No, I’m not talking about The World’s Smallest Political Quiz. I’m referring to The Political Compass.

If you haven’t already done so, hie thee to their website and take the test. See where they map you. Does it correspond with where you’d have plotted yourself?
Continue reading “Biaxial”

Old Men Just Start the Wars

This Beetle Bailey strip ran a couple weeks ago and caught my eye for a couple reasons.

A Young Man's Game

1) Beetle and Plato appear to be under fire. This strip never depicts war situations. The characters are in perpetual training, and never actually ship off to real combat. Presumably this is another drill at Camp Swampy — but you wouldn’t know that from these two panels.

2) That punch line is a killer. This strip has more of a punch, more of an edge, than I’m accustomed to seeing in Walker’s work, or indeed much of anything on the funnies page.

Afterthought: Could this be a cryptic anti-McCain reference?