Category Archives: Current Affairs

A March for Science

Science-00546

The March for Science was kind of our rational for going to LA, that, and seeing Michele’s Irish cousins. The March was fun and interesting and I always feel very moral when I’m doing something more than complaining about the world we are in.

However, to a non-scientist the march seemed pretty disorganized we – Michele, really, I was just along for the ride – couldn’t find the actual time of the March. She did find the program, however, which was that everybody would meet at Pershing Square for some warm-up speeches, march about seven blocks to City Hall, listen to more speeches, and wander back to Pershing Square for music and even more speeches. When we got to Pershing Square, it was almost empty and we were told the party had decamped for City Hall, so we started walking over to City Hall only to find ourselves swimming upstream against all the marchers who were returning to Pershing Square.

Science March C-00488

Just before we got to City Hall, we ran into a little group of protesters? counter-protestors? who were segregated from the marchers and surrounded by police.

Science March D-00496

When we got to City Hall, the speakers were still speaking and the marchers were milling about but the layout was such that we couldn’t see the speakers or hear them very well. After about a half hour, we joined the part of the crowd that was wandering back to Pershing Square which took us right by the Bradbury Building.

Science March E-00503 Science March F-00507 Science March G-00511

As an aside, if you know the Bradbury Building, the chances are it is from Blade Runner, if you lived in LA in the early 60s and were interested in architecture, the chances are you know it from the very acrimonious fight between the  entrenched powers of friendly Developers and City Planners that were bringing their version of the future to LA and the emerging preservationist movement that wanted to save at least the highlights from the past. The Bradbury Building was old – built-in 1893 – and, more importantly, very inefficient and the site would have made a great site for a new highrise building, something along the lines of Lever House, perhaps, but the building is also an architectural and engineering tour de force. The Bradbury Building was high-tech for its time and, somehow, resisted being torn down. That’s not to say it prospered; for years, the building lingered, slowly deteriorating, not protected as a Historical Monument but, somehow, escaping the wrecking ball. Finally, almost one hundred years after it was built, the Bradbury Building was bought by a sympathetic owner,  Sydney Irmas, and under the direction of Brenda Levin, was restored to its former glory.

Bradbury Building A-00532Bradbury Building-

End aside. Meanwhile, back at the March, Michele and I switched from trying to find the center of action to taking portraits of marchers with their signs.

 

Thinking out loud far from the actual Trump Presidency

President Trump and MelaniaI have been relatively sanguine about Trump, mostly because I think he is more of a Populist than a Conservative. For me, the worst case scenario would be for Trump to be impeached and Pence takeover. But, while Trump says “[we] are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people,” he keeps surrounding himself with the Conservative Establishment. That is very worrying.

I keep looking at Trump’s daughter and son-in-law who were formerly Democrats and part of the New York Liberal Elite and are now trusted advisors, and I think They sound so sane, they will keep him from going off the rails, and then I watch the first thing that comes out of the White House. The first Official press briefing wasn’t about building a wall or saving a factory or, even, canceling Obamacare, no, the first press briefing, the most important thing on the agenda, was about the size of the crowd during Trump’s speech. It was just a sad little man lying, trying to make us believe that this inaugural crowd was the largest in history.

This guy is out of control; the sane ones don’t tone him down. It is impossible to change Donald Trump because this is a family operation and President Donald John Trump is the family patriarch. He sets the tone. He is the boss. That is more than a little disquieting.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Dylann Roof

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In my opinion, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national treasure. I think his thoughts on Dylann are right on.

“Moreover, killing Roof does absolutely nothing to ameliorate the conditions that brought him into being in the first place. The hammer of criminal justice is the preferred tool of a society that has run out of ideas. In this sense, Roof is little more than a human sacrifice to The Gods of Doing Nothing. Leave aside actual substantive policy. In a country where unapologetic slaveholders and regressive white supremacists still, at this late date, adorn our state capitals and our highest institutions of learning, it is bizarre to kill a man who acted in their spirit. And killing Roof, like the business of the capital punishment itself, ensures that innocent people will be executed. The need to extract vengeance cannot always be exact. It is all but certain that a disproportionate number of those who pay for this lack of precision will not look like Dylann Roof.”

The Oligarchy Strikes Back

USA USA (1 of 1)What we are seeing this election season, with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, is two political outsiders trying to take political power away from the Oligarchy. I want to say this as neutrally as possible because I know that Oligarchy is a loaded word, almost always in the negative. In this case, however, I don’t mean it to be. I’m using Oligarchy in the strict definition of a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution, and that is not always bad (or good).

The United States was founded as an Oligarchy with only property-owning white men being able to vote. That was not an oversight, it was done to limit the power of people. In terms of the form of our institutions, we have become more Democratic since then. First the property owning qualification was eliminated giving all white men the vote, then black men were also given the vote by the Fifteenth Amendment. Finally, 130 years after our founding, women were given the right to vote with the Nineteenth Amendment. Still, there has always been the subtext of limiting what seemed like the people’s power, with literacy tests, poll taxes, picture ID requirements, Citizen United, and in the Democratic Party, Superdelegates.

I don’t want to give the impression that I think the Oligarchy is monolithic, I don’t, however they do have common interests and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is a threat to those interests and the Oligarchy is fighting back.

 

Bernie Sanders, Jimmy Carter, and The Press

Carter (1 of 1)Summer is for dating, fall is for mating. Tamara Keith on NPR is a reference to Bernie Sanders not being a viable candidate.

What most pisses me off this primary season, even as the Bernie Sander’s crowds get bigger, is hearing a pundit say, Of course he can’t win, or, even, get the nomination.  And the bigger the crowds, the louder they seem to say it.

As people – politicians, movie actors, athletes, even The Kardashians – move into the collective conscience, a sort of collective shorthand takes over. The press, but it is more than just the press, decide on one simple story and all the complexities are washed away. Now it is the craziness of Donald Trump, or the vague sleaziness of Hillary Clinton, it used to be the naiveté of Jimmy Carter.

My first and lasting impression of Jimmy Carter was that he is far from  naive. I first heard him talk in January of 1975, about 21 months before the 1976 Presidential election. I was driving across Nevada on my way to Sun Valley, and just after Lovelock, it started to lightly snow. I turned on the radio, hoping to get a local station with a weather report, and what I got was what I thought was a random southerner talking about US foreign policy. I kept driving and the snow kept lightly falling – heavy enough so that the countryside became magically covered and light enough so the highway was kept clear by traffic – and I kept listening. The speaker, who had been schooled in the Navy’s nuclear submarine program, was brilliant, thoughtful and knowledgeable. As I cleared  Winnemucca, still heading east, I started to lose the signal, so I pulled over and listened to the final minutes by the side of the road, heater running, anxiously hoping it wouldn’t keep snowing.  It was so bizarre – sitting in the car by the side of the road, in a snowstorm, in the middle of Nevada, listening to a talk on how to change our foreign policy – that I still remember it.  At the end, I learned that the random southerner was Jimmy Carter, the governor of Georgia, and I was smitten with him. I still am.

Part of my smitteness is that I am a sucker for southern populists. I like Huey Long – Education and training for all children to be equal in opportunity in all schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions of training in the professions and vocations in life; to be regulated on the capacity of children to learn, and not on the ability of parents to pay the costs. Training for life’s work to be as much universal and thorough for all walks of life as has been the training in the arts of killing – even though I know a refined and educated person shouldn’t like somebody like Huey Long. I was and am a fan of Bear Bryant – If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you. And, as might be expected, before I turned on him for Vietnam, I liked Lyndon Johnson over the Kennedys.

But I also remember that speech by Jimmy Carter because it was the most coherent speech on foreign policy that I have ever heard. Carter had been an officer aboard a nuclear submarine and he had obviously thought about foreign policy and about nuclear war with the total carnage it would bring. It seemed to me that Carter was a peacenik who had actually thought about the problem.  By the time I got back to the office a week or so later, I was telling everybody I knew that that Jimmy Carter should be our next president.

The most common reaction I got was laughter but Carter ran a brilliant, if sometimes very rough, campaign making enough converts to become president. Starting as an almost unknown outsider, a born-again Christian outsider from the deep South, Carter surprised the establishment press and I don’t think they ever forgave him for that. Today, partially because of the presses’ simplified picture of him, Carter is considered a mediocre president at best and his decency, as a human, is regarded as Jimmy Carter’s main legacy. But much of what people didn’t like in 1976 is now starting to seem like prophecy.

Even when we know better, much of what we were told and believe about the Carter presidency comes from the press that simplified a complex man. His honest and his openness – he was the first, and maybe the last, president to be interviewed in Playboy (and the first to wear jeans in the White House) – were painted as weaknesses. We want our politicians transparent, yet we want them powerful as well, and power, even in the best of circumstances, means the management of information Nathan Heller pointed out in The New Yorker, and telling the truth is not managing the information.

We are given cartoons of complex people and complex situations and all nuance is lost. Now we are told that Bernie Sanders is unelectable and, really, un-nominatable. That may be true but it may not be true and the press’ insistent dismissal is hurting Sanders by making him seem like a summer fling. That is too bad, because Sanders is a serious candidate.