Friday, October 25, 2019


Miscellaneous material, comments and musings (in no particular order):
  • The Birth of Chicano Studies” by Sandy Banks for California State University Los Angeles Magazine
  • A review in MERIP of Julie Peteet, Space and Mobility in Palestine (Indiana University Press, 2017)
  • Left with nothing.” “On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb. Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go. All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill.”
Comment: That the various responsible (private and public) parties can do this with, so to speak, a “clean conscience,” or at best, rationalize such cruel behavior in legal terms, is further testament to the inherent structural dispositional properties of our “capitalist democracy.” The absence of humane intervention along the points of this abhorrent legal process is yet more glaring evidence of the peculiar vulnerabilities of the “non-rich” people in our society and the peculiar powers possessed by those who are, truly (i.e., without exaggeration), obscenely wealthy (as well as those ruthlessly aspiring to be same), often exploiting such disadvantages and vulnerabilities to accumulate yet more capital … and thus power. It is sickening, disgusting, appalling, inhumane (one seeks in vain proper adjectives to adequately describe such things). We owe it to those so exploited, to ourselves (to our understanding of human dignity, rights, and capabilities…), and to future generations, to do whatever we should and can do to fundamentally transform (involving destruction, dismantling, reconfiguring, and so forth) this socio-economic system. Expressions of sadness, indignation, anger, what have you, are insufficient if they do not lead to an unflagging determination (with the requisite courage) to change this contingent, historical, and abhorrent state of affairs.
Comment: In a world thoroughly saturated with a capitalist ethos and threatened by a corresponding diminution in the value of democratic ideals, processes, and methods, it is not surprising that a spiritual technique or method prominent in Buddhism (but found in other religious worldviews as well), is subject to misuse, ignorance, and commodification, not unlike yoga philosophy and spiritual praxis (which has been more or less reduced to gymnastics and exercise covered by a veneer or patina of New Age religious hodgepodge if not nonsense). From a Buddhist vantage point, this involves a failure to accord due attention to the other (no less indispensable, complementary and mutually reinforcing) two-thirds of the Eightfold Path. See too my earlier post, “The commodification of ‘mindfulness.’”
  • Andrew O’Hagan in The New York Review of Books on a new book about the life and work of Nelson Algren: “Singing the Back Streets.”
  • Verbal hints if not signs and symptoms of pathological narcissism: What follows is a fairly long list of verbal hints if not signs and symptoms of pathological narcissism (I trust you can identify the speaker; there are of course other such signs and symptoms by way of a more or less reliable diagnosis), or what cognitive psychologists term the “Dunning–Kruger effect,” “a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability.”
  • “Nobody knows this stuff better than me.”
  • “Nobody knows more about taxes … and income, than I do.”
  • “Nobody knows more about campaign finance than I do.”
  • “Nobody knows more about technology than I do.”
  • “Nobody knows more about construction than I do.”
  • “I know more about drones than anybody.”
  • “Nobody in the history of this country knows more about infrastructure than I do.”
  • “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.”
  • “I understand things, I comprehend very better than, I think, almost anybody.”
  • “I know more about courts than anyone else on earth.”
  • “Nobody knows more about banks than I do.”
  • “Nobody knows more about trade than I do.”
  • “I understand the system better than anybody.
  • “Nobody knows politicians better than me.”
  • “I understand money better than anybody.”
  • “I know more about nuclear weapons than he’ll ever know.”
  • “Who knows more about lawsuits than I do?”
  • “You don’t think I get enough promotion? I get more promotion than every human being that has ever lived. I don’t need promotion. It would have been the greatest G-7 ever.”
  • “Because President Obama — it was a mess. And I was told and you were told, and everybody told it would be years before you ever did what I did in about a month and a half after I started. I went over to Iraq, I met with our generals, and we figured out a plan, and it was done within a month and a half. I’m the one that did the capturing. I’m the one that knows more about it than you people or the — or the fake pundits.”
  • Viktor Orbán (Hungary), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Andrzej Duda (Poland), Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Kim Jong-un (North Korea), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel), Xi Jinping (China), Narendra Modi (India), Shinzō Abe (Japan), and Donald Trump (United States) (a representative thus not exhaustive list). Whatever their specific character and precise political differences, what do these men have in common?
  • Michael Hiltzik in The Los Angeles Times: “Trump proposes denying free school meals to half a million children
Musing: The space of reasons for and in a particular argument (legal, political, what have you, some forms of scientific argument perhaps the foremost exception here) is bounded, even if we cannot predict or spell out in advance the precise boundaries in any given instance. With regard to the arguments against impeachment and sundry other legal proceedings against Trump (I’m assuming familiarity with the specifics of a least some of these, a few of which have to do in the first place with Trump as a private citizen), we’ve seen over time several sets of similar or like-minded arguments from his Republican acolytes in Congress, the sets changing as their rationality, reasonableness, plausibility, or even credibility begins to diminish with fresh evidence or demonstrably better counter-arguments gaining a foothold in public fora of one kind or another especially, of course, in the mass media. 

The sets themselves can be viewed as assuming points along a spectrum, with one end occupied by the most sound, persuasive, reasonable or rational arguments, the other end by those most implausible, patently irrational or unreasonable, perhaps even “arguments” we might readily conclude symptomatic of denial, wishful thinking, phantasy, and the like, and thus not even worthy of or amenable to counter-argument in the conventional sense (although we might feel compelled to speak to them when they are raised in mass media settings). Of late, we’ve seen such “arguments” come to the fore among Trump’s perfervid supporters and enablers, hence we learn that “abuse of power” is perfectly acceptable and not in the realm of impeachment; or that Trump can shoot someone and not be indicted (a legal inference, by the way, thought to follow from the OLC memos which, broadly and simply, argue that ‘indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions’); or, as Lindsey  Graham said, in agreement with Trump about the impeachment efforts to date: “This is a lynching, in every sense.” I short, we should expect more “arguments” of this kind until the President has left or been removed from office. In other words, the space of plausible, rational and reasonable arguments has been occupied and exhausted, the other end of the spectrum, not so much (in one sense, it could be said to be ‘inexhaustible’).

Alas, frustration with arguments of any sort to achieve one’s ends can lead to behavior in which one abandons altogether the spectrum of  arguments and space of reasons that should be and often have been the life and blood of elected representatives in constitutional democracies, which by their nature and obligatory delegation arguments fundamentally depend on rhetorical arguments (of legal and political provenance), deliberative and otherwise, hence “Republican lawmakers led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Wednesday stormed into the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in the House of Representatives to disrupt the closed-door impeachment inquiry hearings taking place.”
  • From the blog of the London Review of Books, important, probing and succinct reflections from Chris Bertram about the lifeless bodies of 39 people found in a parked lorry container in Essex.
  • Norman J. Ornstein in the LA Times: “Trump’s emoluments transgressions don’t stop with the Doral fiasco
  • Last year the Brazilian fascist president, Jair Bolsonaro, “warned about the danger posed by refugees from Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East, calling them ’the scum of humanity’ and even argued that the army should take care of them.” He is notorious for routinely making racist and misogynistic public statements. Indeed, “a self-confessed ‘admirer’ of Hitler, he and two of his sons … openly support eugenics.” Such patently demagogic rhetoric with fascist pedigree was repeated in Trump’s characterization the other day of “Never Trumper Republicans” as “human scum” (hence they are in ‘certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats’). Now White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham has defended Trump’s dehumanizing slur: “Asked during an appearance on ‘Fox & Friends’ whether Trump regrets using that phrase, Grisham enthusiastically said no.” “’He shouldn’t,’ she told host Brian Kilmeade. ‘The people who are against him and have been against him and working against him since the day they took office are just that. ... They deserve strong language like that.’”


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