30 November 2016

Artifact: The New York Vigilance, "The Body of Society"

A second New York Vigilance broadside has been published. As before, I found the new one in an Albany coin-op laundry. Here's the latest from "Doormouse":

Somehow I don't think using the human body as a metaphor is the best strategy for someone arguing for diversity as an end unto itself. Sure, if all the organs or organelles of the body exist in a state of mutual fear and distrust the body itself will be in bad shape, but will it be much better off if each organelle does its own thing, as they must if this is to be a meaningful metaphor. All I'm saying is that body metaphors are better arguments for unity than diversity, and while Doormouse in his/her own fashion may be arguing for a form of unity, it's probably not the sort of unity of purpose and function that a living body requires. I also have to disagree with the Vigilance's exemption of religion from insult, if not also from "exploitation" or "violence." Religion isn't the same as ethnicity; it's a value system and as such is subject to criticism, even if the criticism proves "insulting" to those criticized. It would make as much sense to call it bigotry if people are criticized for their ideology -- though I suppose that's exactly what some of the Trumpophobes are doing. You can interpret that either way: that they're calling Trumpists bigots for criticizing the ideology of people like Doormouse, or that Doormouse is a bigot for equating Trumpism with bigotry. Trumpism is bad enough (in its blind faith in folksy billionaires, for instance) without jumping to that conclusion. Meanwhile, Doormouse has resolved to ruin next month's holiday gatherings with politics ("We shall challenge our relatives' ignorant views"). Vive la Resistance!

29 November 2016

The Burning Issue

Does the President-elect even know that what he proposed in a recent tweet -- that flag burners be prosecuted and possibly stripped of their citizenship -- is unconstitutional according to a Supreme Court majority that included arch-conservative Antonin Scalia? Is he aware that he would need to amend the Constitution to get his way -- if it's really his will and not just his feeling -- or else appoint justices committed to overturning the existing precedent? My answer to both questions is "probably not," but it's unclear whether those fretting over Trump's tweet realize either, or care, that the Constitution stands in his way. For them it's just further proof of Trump's "authoritarian" tendencies, his desire to crush dissent he deems unpatriotic. I saw some of the Morning Joe show this morning and saw the host argue passionately with one of his panelists that the tweet was no further cause for panic, precisely because the Constitution blocked any action against flag burners, while the panelist insisted just as passionately that Trump's mere desire to punish them proved that Americans had cause to fear his presidency. Of course, that fear is magnified by the assumption that millions share Trump's desire, and in this case liberals' assumptions about the attitudes of Trump voters are closer to the mark than usual. There is decreasing tolerance for perceived disrespect for the flag, whether it's professional athletes refusing to salute it or at least one college in Massachusetts refusing to raise it as a protest against Trump's election. There's an increasing divergence in attitudes embittering those for whom the flag represents the nation and all its people, living and dead, toward those for whom it represents their pet peeve of the moment, who think they can withhold a salute to protest that specific thing without being accused of disrespecting bigger things. Like it or not, in an age of insecurity most people are going to demand more positive and overt proof of loyalty to nation (and not just its constitution) than liberals typically feel necessary.  That's not an argument against civil liberties and the prerogatives of dissent, but consider it a warning that dissent may require more courage than many of us are accustomed to. Liberals don't like "with us or against us" arguments because they sound unconditional, if not also because they don't feel obliged to prove to other people, much less the stereotypical Trump voter, that they're good Americans. But to the extent that the United States is a democracy, mutual accountability means that all people have the right at least to ask where others stand, and draw conclusions from their answers. They have a right to wonder whether those who take liberties with national symbols because the nation isn't living up to their ideals can be counted on to defend or support the nation to the fullest extent. The only problem with making flag burning or flag rituals the focus of this concern is that those who pose real threats to the nation aren't likely to be dumb enough to draw attention to themselves with such overt displays of "disloyalty." It's more likely that flags are burnt or ignored by disappointed lovers of their country than by those who've never given a damn about it.

28 November 2016

Amoklauf at Ohio State?

Now that it seems that no students were killed or critically hurt during an apparent knifing rampage this morning at The Ohio State University, it seems time to investigate the possible radicalization of students at the University of Michigan following last Saturday's football game between the two schools. Following Michigan's overtime loss, their coach denounced the referees for effectively screwing his team out of the game and any chance of taking part in the playoffs to determine a national collegiate champion. Could today's attacker, who has been reported killed by the police, have been morbidly embittered by this dubious victory of Michigan's traditional Big Ten rival? Probably not; it will surprise no one if the attacker turns out to be some Muslim idiot. But why shouldn't it be a disgruntled football fan? After all, football is like a religion in that part of the country, and objectively speaking a football fan -- remember, fan is short for "fanatic" -- has as much reason to go out and slash students as a Muslim does.

Sore Winner-elect

Donald Trump finally was provoked last weekend to take the position many of his supporters had taken since it became apparent that Trump would become President without winning the popular vote. It took a report that elements of Hillary Clinton's campaign organization would cooperate with Jill Stein's kamikaze attack on the presidential vote in Wisconsin. While I continue to uphold people's right to vote for the candidate they like best, regardless of whether or not the candidate has a realistic chance to win, Stein only has herself to blame for Trump winning Wisconsin. As the latest tally of the popular vote in that state shows, Stein, the Green party candidate, received more votes than the margin separating Clinton from Trump. For all I know, Stein might like to see Trump's lead grow through a recount to the point where she won't be blamed for the Republican winning. But I suspect that a Trump presidency so horrifies the leftist candidate that she'd like to see recounts in Wisconsin and elsewhere flip some of the close states from Republican to Democrat. But as below, so above; just as Trump supporters have been answering efforts to use the popular vote to question Trump's legitimacy by questioning the legitimacy of the popular vote, so now Trump himself is claiming that only millions of fraudulent votes kept him from winning the popular as well as the electoral vote. The fraud libel is the modern version of the old Republican tactic of "waving the bloody shirt." Just as Republicans a century ago and more loved to remind voters that the Democrats were the party of secession, so Republicans now assume that since the Democrats always have been the party of immigrants -- at least until each wave of immigrants turns "white" and frets over the next wave -- Democrats will always depend on fraudulent voting by unnaturalized immigrants to win elections. History provides at least some basis for such claims, but it gives no reason to think that Republicans don't also cheat. If anything, we're only returning to partisan normalcy after a long period where fraud wasn't that big an issue between the parties. Perhaps demographic polarization has something to do with this, but in any event the timing of Stein's challenge is terrible. It comes after the establishment, at least, had reconciled itself to a Trump presidency, and after the lumbering transition process had begun. It may prove the climax to the self-defeating hysteria over Trump's election -- so long as they blame it on white nationalism they'll never figure out how to beat him or Pence next time -- but I still fear that worse is to come, perhaps on Inauguration Day.

26 November 2016


Compared to his historical peers, Fidel Castro at least had a sense of his own limitations. He did not feel the need to rule or reign until his last breath, and in his brother he apparently had someone he could trust in a way few of his peers did. Nevertheless Castro's death is being celebrated in the streets of Miami and elsewhere as the demise of a tyrant, and that's understandable. His repression of civil liberties in Cuba was inexcusable and his tendency to see any dissident as an American agent was either dishonest or pathological. Yet it would be wrong to let the knee-jerk liberal judgment preempt further analysis of Castro's place in history. The civil-liberties standard is not the only one applicable to political leaders. Many people around the world still see Castro as a great man, not only as a revolutionary leader, but as someone through whom Cuba has improved life in other countries. This is the part when someone mentions literacy rates, public health, etc., and someone else asks what good literacy is if you can read only what Fidel allows, or what good longer life is if you have to spend it all under a dictator. I don't know if there's have an objective answer to that, but I suspect that we can be too quick to jump to conclusions about other people's quality of life. Nevertheless, I expect history to judge the Castro brothers harshly, not just because history is often written by liberals but also because most people assume now that Cuba would have been better off today had the 1959 revolution never taken place, no matter how much longer the prior dictatorship stayed in power, so long as a liberal regime followed it. History seems to show that Marxism-Leninism was the answer nowhere, except arguably in China where it served to clear out centuries of deadwood so a modern economy could be built on largely non-Marxist principles. China was a model often urged on Castro,  but one he never embraced. Whether he was right or wrong depends on your opinion of today's China, but his failure to make Cuba any kind of paradise certainly makes him less of an idol or icon today than his comrade Che Guevara. That only shows that it's easier to revolt than to rule, and if there's any tragedy to Castro's story it's that he will always be judged more harshly than Che because he chose the harder course.

22 November 2016

Trump's Golden Rule

If the news media seemed excessively hostile toward Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, that certainly had something to do with his threat to "open up the libel laws" in a way inferred to threaten freedom of expression and dissent. Now that the election is over, and after some contentious negotiation, the President-elect called on The New York Times today and pretty much signaled that they and other media powers had nothing to worry about, at least on the libel front. His explanation was priceless: somebody told him, "You know, YOU might be sued a lot more." Trump: "You know, I hadn't thought of that." I suppose he might convince himself that the President can't be sued for libel, just as -- so he told the Times -- the President is incapable of conflicts of interests. But why take chances? Similar thinking may explain why he's walking back from his vow to prosecute Hillary Clinton. I've already heard evidence that Trump has angered some supporters by not sticking to what they considered a serious campaign promise. It'll be interesting to see whether he rethinks his new position. He may feel that going after Clinton will further divide the country when he wants to unite it, but people who voted for him probably feel that the country could not be more divided than it was this year, and the last thing they want to see so soon is President Trump on the other side of the divide from themselves.

Faithless electors

Now it's Democrats turn to condemn the Electoral College as undemocratic and thus illegitimate. Earlier this year Donald Trump's people worried that their man might win the popular vote yet be denied the White House by a "rigged" electoral vote. That only went to show that many Trumpists had no clue how the electoral vote usually works to the Republican candidate's advantage so long as the least populous states, each of which still gets a minimum of three electoral votes, remain "red." Since the electoral vote makes the presidential election effectively a vote of the states rather than a vote of the people en masse, Trump won a majority of states and won the election. That result reminded Democrats that they disliked the Electoral College a decade ago when it worked twice in George W. Bush's favor. Now that it has made Trump the next president and supposedly emboldened a cavalcade of hate, some Democrats are determined to subvert the Electoral College itself if not Trump's election. A number of Democratic electors, nominally committed to vote for Hillary Clinton on December 19, hope to entice a number of their Republican counterparts to join them in repudiating their respective candidates. They claim an entitlement to vote as a deliberative body, on their own discretion, instead of according to the instructions of their states' voters. But some also suggest that they want to spark a crisis in order to persuade Americans to abolish the Electoral College altogether, either literally by amending the Constitution or effectively by getting an electoral majority of states to sign on to the National Popular Vote pact. In other words, these faithless electors hope to start a discussion rather than a civil war, but if they even come close to denying Trump the presidency the latter is most likely what they'd get. It would be the most outrageously antidemocratic act in American history since the mass secession of southern states following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 -- and, as I probably can't emphasize enough, it would almost certainly get some Trump supporters shooting mad. It would also be illegal in many states, including two with electors who've already declared their faithless intentions. State governments still decide how presidential electors are chosen, and in 19 states they have standing instructions for electors to abide by each state's popular vote. The relevant states ought to act preemptively to replace the faithless electors who have declared themselves, even if those who have declared themselves won't take votes away from Trump.  I have no problem with people demonstrating to express their disapproval of Trump and his supporters, even if their fears have grown hysterical, but this electoral conspiracy is where we have to put our collective foot down. Our liberal democratic republic depends on the assumption that no President or Congress can destroy the country in two to eight years' time. If people think that can happen here and now with Trump and a Republican Congress in charge, than their real problem isn't only with the Republicans but with an electoral system that permits such apparent monsters to run for office and even win, even before the Electoral College plays its part. So where does the threat to liberal democracy in America actually come from now?

20 November 2016

Artifact: The New York Vigilance (November 2016)

There were a couple of copies of this little broadside in the coin-op laundry I patronize in Albany NY:

It's hard to take the fascist threat as seriously as the author intends when he can't even spell fascist correctly, but I suppose pointing that out makes me some kind of orthographic fascist. Beyond that, "Doormouse" is perhaps necessarily vague on the terms according to which various groups must come together or work together. The author rightly prioritizes resisting a "rigged" economic system, but while the Vigilance emphasizes that the middle class itself is threatened by neocon/neoliberal policies, it's unclear whether Doormouse has figured out how to build a resistance without alienating a "white male-dominated" middle class presumed jealous of its "overt dominance over social, economic, cultural and political aspects of daily life" -- whatever that means.  This large, still-decisive demographic can't be treated as victim and villain at the same time, but whether the left can stop itself from treating them exactly that way remains to be seen.

19 November 2016

Introducing Think 3 Video News

Slowly and surely the Think 3 Institute catches up with modern times by introducing its video news operation. Beginning this weekend I'll try to give you snippets of public events of potential interest in the Albany NY area, and possibly beyond, as I happen to come across them with my cheapo smartphone. Think 3's first original video is a walkthrough of an anti-Trump demonstration held at Townsend Park, a large pedestrian island between Central and Washington avenues in Albany that has long been a popular demonstration site despite the conspicuous monument to the U.S.'s "imperialist" conquests circa 1898. I would have liked to capture more of the show but today was a day of errands for me and I only had time to swing by as it was just getting underway. The video will probably get more attention at its YouTube home than it will here, so feel free to start or join the conversation there.