Well, dang. He reports he has finally made up his mind after “months of…searching [his] own conscience,” which raises the question, how can it take months to search such a small space, with so little in it?
I just got a fundraising email from California Attorney General Kamala Harris, for whom I will almost certainly vote in the senate race this fall. She has jumped on the private prison issue with the following piece of complete nonsense:
It is morally wrong for corporations to profit off the mass incarceration of millions of people in this country.
As it happens, I think prison privatization as usually understood (contract with Wackenhut or some such outfit to just run prisons with private-sector financing, employees, etc.) was a bad idea from the get-go; many years ago Bob Leone and I wrote a chapter for the book MacDonald edited that tried to untangle the false binary choice into a structure that could support intelligent debate. Our basic take was that everything is privately produced (absent slavery) at the beginning of a production sequence, and the key question was where in a sequence of stages from there to finished product/consumer it was most useful to insert a contract (rather than employment relationships). Guess what: it turns out to be a complicated and interesting managerial analysis, generally studied under the heading of “make or buy”, and no, it isn’t settled just by comparing prices and taking low bids.
What Harris says implies that every potato on the inmates’ plates, and every brick in the building, and all the guards’ shoes, must be made by a government agency (or, I guess, donated by a nonprofit), or right there in the prison. Maybe it would not be morally wrong if all that stuff were just confiscated from farmers and manufacturers to be sure they don’t profit? Does she demand that the prison be built entirely by inmates and civil servant hardhats?
Come on, Kamala: there are plenty of reasons to demand that incarceration be a government function, not contracted out at the end stages of ‘production’, without pandering to people who think profit is an offense to the moral order. And there are plenty of morally appropriate opportunities for corporations to profit by making useful stuff and selling it to governments, including inputs to incarceration, like those bricks.
I don’t have a lot of experience with people who settle differences with their fists, but I grew up in New York with my eyes and ears open, and even had some amount of practical enlightenment. If you present yourself as a tough guy in that society, you are likely to have to back it up at some point, and maybe have your precise toughness index gauged experimentally. I was surprised to hear Trump going on about how hard he was going to hit Michael Bloomberg, and some other people, for two reasons. First, Bloomberg is a little guy, and Trump acknowledged it; everybody knows from movies and popular culture that real tough guys usually make a point of picking on someone their size. In fact, one way you recognize the heavy is that he beats on smaller people. Second, I am unaware of any occasion in which Trump has demonstrated any degree of physical courage; no football, no water polo, no skiing black diamonds, no fistfights; no military service, nothing. Not part of his known history; well, except for that little tiff with Ivana.
A day or two later he walked it back, saying of course he meant hit with words and his rapier wit. Master of metaphor, and the smirking walkback, our Donald. But I’m still a little surprised at the original threat. I realize he’s spent his life in private schools and safe places, and I recall how quickly he dove behind the Secret Service agent when a guy jumped on the stage at a rally. But does anyone know of anything that could dilute the ridicule entailed by this improvisation? He didn’t say, “I’m going to borrow a couple of my friend Vladimir’s goons and have them hit these people”, he made it clear he meant to clench up his little fists and do it himself.
I moved to California twenty-five years ago, and there is much to like and admire here. However, I have never made my peace with a particular feckless quality of much about our politics, a willingness to behave in a way that would be appropriate if the world were they way you wish it were, but profoundly dysfunctional in the world as it is. We crippled and stupefied our legislature with term limits to show them how pissed-off we were. After the historic Oakland Hills fire that killed 25 people and destroyed more than 3000 homes, the Berkeley city fathers realized that our adjacent hill area hadn’t burned since 1926 and had built up a significant fuel load. It was proposed to expand the firehouse in that neighborhood…and the neighbors whose houses were most at risk were up in arms protesting that it would be noisy.
Berkeley had, for years and years, a million square feet of vacant industrial buildings, because romantic social justice advocates successfully zoned the area for nothing but manufacturing and blue-collar jobs, even though no-one wanted to manufacture anything in Berkeley and never would. Not hi-tech, not artists’ live-work studios, not offices, not low-cost housing for our teachers who can’t afford Berkeley rents: manufacturing. All those blue-collar jobs existed, for decades, entirely in the deliberately ignorant, sentimental imagination of a bunch of people more interested in telling themselves how moral and decent they were than actually improving anything in the real world.
At the DNC convention tonight, the California Bernie delegates kept up a constant stream of booing and whining and dissing Hillary, telling interviewers they would vote Green, or not vote in November, even though Bernie, whom they said they trust implicitly and completely, had just told them to get the hell on the reality train and start working for Hillary and a Democratic congress, and against the real Republican nightmare slouching towards the real White House to be born. A bunch of Nader voters in the same mold gave us eight years of W, two wars, an economic meltdown, and a Supreme Court that gave our politics to plutocrats. People die from magical thinking when their parents deny them vaccinations, not to mention in stupid wars that those Nader voters could have prevented. I hope their purity of thought comforts them in the face of the misery they imposed on everyone else. Trump is called, with good reason, a narcissist; what about people like the dead-end Bernie solipsists?
I worry that some of those self-absorbed luftmenschen in the California delegation went to Cal, and worse, took my class. (Maybe they went to UCLA and Kleiman has to answer for them). If so, I will rend my garments and try to figure out how I failed so badly, and apologize to everyone who has to put up with this infantile behavior. But I hope they went to Stanford or USC, or maybe Santa Cruz. And I hope in any case that they get their exquisite personal moral excellence engraved on stone tablets…and drop them on their toes.
A failing I often have to highlight in student public policy papers is a confusion of ends and means. Often they mistake an admirable object of a policy, say, “increase arts education in public schools” for something someone could actually do to make it happen, and I have to ask that the next draft distinguish among funding after-school art classes, shifting some number of class hours away from math or English to art, hiring artists as provisional teachers, getting the English teachers to teach art, and so on. Actually accomplishing something frequently has this awkward need to fix on a series of actual steps a real entity can take within the law, and within constraints of stuff like gravity, conservation of matter, the second law of thermodynamics, and like that.
It has been so widely noted as to need no links that Donald Trump’s promises are process-free in the dreamy way of these student papers, couched in the skilled shtick of a practiced grifter: ‘I’m going to make you rich, and we’re going to do it by cheating that nasty fellow behind the tree’. What is the historically grounded, basis of such nonsense? I have found it in the reign of a real emperor, what the Donald aspires to become, and it goes like this:
[the citizens of Titipu have told the Emperor that Nanki-Poo was put to death per his instructions, but he turns up alive and well]
Ko-ko: When your Majesty says, ‘Let a thing be done,’ it’s as good as done – practically,
it is done – because your Majesty’s will is law. Your Majesty says, ‘Kill a gentleman,’ and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequently, that gentleman is as good as dead – practically, he is dead – and if he is dead, why not say so?
Mikado: I see. Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory!
Then let the throng
Our joy advance,
With laughing song
And merry dance,
With joyous shout and ringing cheer,
Inaugurate our new career!
I’ve known for years of the existence of the 1954 musical The Golden Apple, with music by Jerome Moross and book and lyrics by John Latouche, but not much more than that. You may know the standard “It’s a lazy afternoon” from the first act. John Latouche was a well-known lefty (he wrote the lyrics for Earl Robinson’s Ballad for Americans and would certainly have been blacklisted if he hadn’t died in 1956 at 41), so it was probably background consciousness from my red-diaper-baby early youth. The show opened off-Broadway and moved to Broadway to pyrotechnic reviews and a Drama Circle award, but failed commercially and has spent the last decades in the memory of a small group of devotees, with very rare revivals in this or that community theater.
My exchange of comments with James in Mark’s recent post, where I suggested that the classical character most like Trump was Paris, brought it to mind, and exploring the interwebs, I was able to hear it all the way through and have completely fallen in love with it. It’s as much opera as musical, through-composed (not songs plugged into a spoken script that carries the plot; think of The Most Happy Fella). The story is the Iliad and The Odyssey, placed in Washington State in 1900-1910; the book is erudite, witty, and both poignant and clever, and the music is endlessly inventive. It even references the Brecht/Weill opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, prizefight and all. I love Stoppardian theater like this, that treats the audience as though they know something, but doesn’t lecture, preach, or condescend.
I made in all, four wonderful discoveries. To wit:
- There is finally a complete recording, from an excellent 2015 production at the Irving, Texas Lyric Stage, on two CDs available at Amazon. Until now, there was only a one-LP original cast recording of some of the numbers.
- Th Lyric Stage recording is also on Spotify.
- The complete libretto is available here.
- And best of all, it’s coming to the New York City Center next May! Tickets go on sale Sept. 26; mark your calendars. See you there!
I realized this morning that a single key word has been missing, or at least greatly underused, in reporting Donald Trump’s discourse. Kevin Drum did too, about when I did, and used it correctly in his hed. Perhaps some quantum entanglement at work?
Whining: petulant, ineffectual, resentful, self-absorbed pleas for sympathy. What weak, annoying, people do to get attention when they can’t actually do anything deserving of attention. China’s taking our jobs! The judge in the Trump U. case is unfair! The press is sleazy! Imagine my surprise to find that the Donald himself hipped us to this perfect word for his style almost a year ago, and quite explicitly!
Whiney, whining, whine. Perfect; the word we’ve all been groping for. Let’s use it a lot.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopened last week after a couple of years expanding the building, to what is now the largest modern art museum in North America. SFMOMA has been decades behind the big money and cultural insecurity that built top-rank arts institutions in Los Angeles, and further behind the establishment and collecting of the major east coast museums. Though its photography collection is grade A, it seemed impossible to stock up with a world-class all-media collection until recently, especially in the face of the current bubble in art prices and one-percenters socking so much of it away for speculation. Happily, after a complicated dance with the Fisher family to acquire their collection on a 100-yr loan (whatever that really means in practice) and a $600m fundraising binge, it has come out not only with an excellent physical plant, but also a collection that at least covers the last 30 years with international scope and depth.
The question now is, what will they make of all that in terms of human engagement with art? Getting a lot more on the walls, and more people in the door, is good, but what happens when people are actually standing in front of the objects? My strong view is that there’s a lot more to proper stewardship of the plastic arts patrimony than display by the usual museum conventions, and here the prospects are promising but mixed. On the up side, the building has all sorts of spaces for events and innovative kinds of presentation. It even has an wonderfully titled Assistant Curator for Public Dialogue, whom I know to be all about exactly that, pushing back boundaries of habit, enlivening art engagement, and making actual artists integral to the enterprise. They were nice enough to put on a preview event for higher education faculty and seem to be genuinely anxious to make the museum a resource, in more ways than one, for us chalk-dusted wretches and our students. And it’s easily accessible by public transportation, right downtown in the middle of a very large daytime population. Continue Reading…
have it too easy, as every generation has realized as it gets near senior status. I, for example, commuted fourteen miles to high school each way. Carrying all my content in heavy physical books! And a slide rule with an unlighted display and no keyboard; I had to personally keep track of the decimal point myself! OK, not in the snow uphill both ways in flipflops, actually on the Woodlawn IRT train, against rush hour, doing my homework. But still…
Well, that whole routine is now retired forever.
One of the nice things about living in a country of immigration is, well, living among people from all sorts of interesting places with different ideas and habits. And their children. A nice reminder of this gift is all the foreign names we encounter.
What’s “foreign” to an American is of course a very fuzzy category. Our largest ethnic-source populations are German and British, in that order, and the pronunciation of those names is for the most part readily inferred using English spelling rules (Cholmondeley, Worcester, St. John, St. Clair not so much, OK). But lots of other names come from places where spelling and phonetics associate differently. (A few have sounds that are unknown in English, which is a different problem. I am especially aware of this because my own name is really hard for speakers of Latin languages, partly because of the -ayer dipthong and partly because of the sounded h. If I say my name on the phone to an Italian, he can no more spell it than he could spell a sneeze. Combining an accent, strictly rendered, with orthography, can have a hilarious result.)
For some reason, a lot of immigrants, enabled by the rest of us, act as though their legal name, as first written in the Roman alphabet (at home, or the transliteration assigned upon immigrating), is their ‘real’ name, and get into the situation encountered by this second generation UK immigrant. As language is a spoken medium, recorded usefully by writing, I propose that your real name is how it was pronounced in the old country, or as nearly as possible, and if you have a choice, you should render it by local rules. If you don’t want to do that, insist that people pronounce it properly, or close. Ms. Chalabi’s parents would have done better just to name her Muna or Moona and as her family name is in any case a transliteration, Shalabi (if my Iraqi consultant guesses right about her case) would have been better than the ambiguous Chalabi. Continue Reading…