Sunday, January 22, 2017


If you are like me, you are probably in a state of depression.  

Buck up.  My friend Anne, who lives in Brussels, sent me the link to the New York Times photos of anti-Trump demonstrations around the world.  They are amazing.  Here’s the link.  Check it out.  You will feel better.  We are not alone.  <>.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Anarchists, Nihilists, and Libertarians

During the anti-Trump demonstrations on Friday, a number of people dressed in black and wielding hammers broke store windows and behaved violently.  For all I know, these were “agent provocateurs” paid for by Trump minions to shed a bad light on the protests, but that’s another issue.  

In some accounts the violent people were identified as “anarchists.” That term should be clarified.  Anarchism is an old and respected political tradition; in the early Thirties almost one/third of the Spanish parliament represented Anarchist parties.  Anarchism is a belief that communities can make their own rules and live their own lives with no outside direction or a central government.  Anarchism often springs up in isolated mining communities or lumber camps.  It emphasizes the need for tight relationships and mutual trust.  

With three prerequisites it could actually work.  You need a simple economy, shared values, and a fairly small population.  Although they would never call themselves anarchists, the Amish or the Hutterites in North Dakota could qualify.  The central government or state government could disappear, and it might be weeks before the Amish would even notice.

Are anarchists libertarians?  No.  Libertarians, while rejecting central government, also reject the idea of tight communities.  A typical libertarian thinks he or she can live independently of all others.  Home schoolers are often libertarians, and most libertarians keep to themselves.  Libertarians usually have more money than anarchists.

People who run around smashing store windows are probably best described as nihilists.  Nihilists believe all moral standards are arbitrarily imposed and meaningless.  Life itself has no meaning, and you can break any rules.  Existentialists also think life has no purpose, but they also believe you can impose a purpose  You do the right thing not for an ultimate reward, but because it is the right thing.

I hope this has been helpful.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

I thought maybe you’d like to read what an Inaugural Address should sound like.  Here are portions of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.  Lincoln addresses the cause and results of the Civil War, still the bloodiest war in American history. 

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lessons from the Lesbian Avengers

The most recent issue of Harper’s Magazine ran articles by various authors on how to deal with the next four years.  An article by Sarah Schulman noted that in when Ronald Reagan was president, he never used the term AIDS.  

As a result of organizing, demonstrations, and agitation, we all learned about AIDS, saw improved medical treatment, and witnessed government move from ignoring the disease to playing an active role in its alleviation.

Ms. Schulman received her training as an activist in ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and the Lesbian Avengers, both organizations that emphasized action.

She said that one of ACT UP’s most important principles was “simultaneity of action.”  That is, ACT UP never worked by consensus, never asked for full agreement by its members.  If you wanted to get arrested in an action, go ahead.  If you only wanted to write letters to Congress members, go ahead.

The Lesbian Avengers also had rules.  One was “If you have an idea, you have to carry it out.”  There was no one saying “Someone should....”  Secondly, if you disagreed with someone’s idea, you had to come up with a better one.  Criticism alone is not helpful and paralyzes the group.

The last advice Ms. Schulman had was “be creative.”  Remember those students who sat in at the lunch counter.  That was creative.  Remember that no single strategy works every time.

To Ms. Schulman’s advice, I would add what President Obama said in his Farewell Address:  “Show up.  Dive in.  Stay at it.”  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

In this together?

After I posted last night, Linda pointed out that one time Americans unite as a nation is when we watch the Superbowl.  Later I thought that we also unite in the the aftermath of tragedies.  In Carbon County an organization of conservatives actually calls itself the “9/12 Project” to reflect the unity Americans felt the day after the World Trade Center was bombed.

Then I realized that even events like that don’t draw us together anymore.  A fairly large group of Americans actually thinks that the 9/11 attack was staged by the Bush Administration.  A fairly large group of NRA types has claimed that the Newtown massacre was “faked.”  Imagine if you were a parent whose child was killed and how that would make you feel.

We seem unable to agree on the most basic facts.  Obama born in Kenya?  Hillary Clinton part of a child sex ring?  Global warming a hoax?

Not only don’t we watch the same shows or listen to the same music or read the same news, we don’t even agree on basic facts.  We are coming apart.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A nation of tribes

Before radio and television, few people shared the same entertainment.  There simply wasn't the opportunity for thousands, let alone millions, of people to listen to or watch the same entertainers.  Along came radio, and movies, and television, and suddenly everyone knew Glenn Miller tunes or “The Wizard of Oz” or the Milton Berle’s “Show of Shows.”

That didn’t last very long, in historical terms.  In the Sixties, there were basically three networks–NBC, CBS, ABC.  Each of those presented reasonably objective news.  Radio had top ten hits; everyone knew “Love Me Tender” or “Yesterday.”  One-third of the population tuned into “All in the Family” on television.

According to Farhood Manjoo’s essay “What’s on Netflix?” (Times, Jan 12, 2017, p. B1, 5), only about 12 percent of TVs were turned to “NCIS” or “The Big Bang Theory.”  Those were the most popular shows in 2015-16.  Given those numbers, in 2000 those shows would not have been in the top ten.

Nobody listens to the same tunes any more.  Quick, name the top hit that everyone is singing.  As for movies, very few are “must see” with audiences standing in line in the cold, like I did in the 60s in State College when the new James Bond movie came out.  As for news, we have conservative news outlets and liberal news outlets.

The nation is fragmented.  We have little in common.  We are descending into tribalism.  Meryl Streep makes fun of TV wrestling fans, and wrestling fans wonder who the heck is Meryl Streep.  Some areas of the country are big fans of “Duck Dynasty” while other sections watch “Modern Family.”  Personally, I have never seen “Game of Thrones” or “Empire” because I can’t even get them on my TV.

We no longer share very much.  This is not a good thing.  It is reflected in our politics, where in a few days a large group of my fellow citizens will be celebrating Trump’s inaugural, and I will be drinking myself into a stupor.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Obama reads

A front page article in today’s Times discussed some of the books President Obama has read while in the White House.  Among the books mentioned were The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.  He reads Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz.  He has had lunches with Mr. Diaz, Dave Eggers, Colson Whitehead, Zadie Smith, and Barbara Kingsolver.

And I’m thinking,OMG, I like all of those people.  (Well, maybe not Colson Whitehead.)  I am so going to miss President Obama.

Incidentally, I remember reading that an author who spent a long period of time with Donald Trump in preparation for a book about him said that he had never seen Mr.Trump reading a book.

I am so going to miss President Obama.