Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Ceaseless Importation of Third World Foreigners With No Taste for Liberty (Part 2)

“The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle." Michael Anton, AKA "Decius," The Flight 93 Election.
HuffPo:
A 22-year-old undocumented immigrant arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday after speaking to the media about her family’s detention, is set to be deported without a court hearing, her attorney said on Thursday.

Daniela Vargas, who came to the U.S. from Argentina when she was 7 years old, previously had a work permit and deportation reprieve under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Her DACA status expired last November, and because she was saving money for the renewal — which cost $495 — her new application wasn’t received until Feb. 10.
If Trumpista worries about immigration were truly about liberty and "culture" you'd think that something could be done about the so called "Dreamers" — adult immigrants brought here as children — short of deportation. After all, these are a group of people largely raised as Americans;  they have spent lives immersed in our country and its traditions, and they do have the taste for and experience of American variety of liberty. With rare exception, they are assimilated.

So why is it so important to deport them? Why the resistance to any legal framework that lets them become citizens?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

When Donald Trump Quotes the Bible, I Get a Little Crazy

Yeah, I find it jarring every time he affects to quote the Bible. We know already he's possibly — probably? — the least Biblically literate president ever, with a personal theology (to the extent he has one) is alien to almost any recognizable form of Christianity. So if you're a believer (I'm agnostic, but with strong feelings about the church communities I grew up in) that means he' pimping out the God of the Universe in the service of whatever self-aggrandizing message he's sending at the time.

That's arguably true of most presidents who quote the Bible. It's just so obviously true of this president that I wish he'd quit rubbing our noses in it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Trumpistas: Trump = America

The folks over at the Trumpista website American Greatness have a new piece up defining their brand of conservatism as, well, "Americanism."
The party of Obama and Hillary is the Anti-American Party. They want to put the American experiment behind us, to complete the Progressives’ 100-year project of progressively overthrowing the Constitution. 
Donald Trump has called himself “a common sense conservative.” What, we may ask, is common sense conservatism? One thing is certain: it means loving America. Trump wants to save America by rallying the American people around the effort to save the republic.
To which the proper response is — well, unprintable.

America is more than a limited government view of the Constitution — and that I have to tell my Trumpist friends this astounds me, makes me sorry for the narrowly legalistic view of what America is, has been, and should be that they think the spirit of this country can and should be contained in a particular modern interpretation of words written more than 200 years ago.

The folks at American Greatness — I've spent some time with them before they launched their effort to put a shiny gloss of respectability on Trump's narcissism — strongly believe that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are not really separate documents, but that the Constitution flows, spiritually, from the words of the Declaration. The writers of both documents were not demigods, but they were men — flawed, often hypocritical men.

But they gave us this very important sentence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 

That's an idea so broad that even the old white slaveholding men couldn't contain it.

Let's be clear: Trumpism holds that not all people are created equal. Today's AmGreatness piece includes this criticism of Democrats: "They are determined to flood our country with people from third world countries who are not interested in the American idea and Muslims who reject the American idea outright." It echoes the "Flight 93" sentence I quoted earlier today: “The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle."

What you'll notice is that there is never any effort to recognize any folks from beyond our country's borders as individuals with varied ideas and tastes and beliefs. Instead, all brown people — let's be honest about who they mean here — are lumped together as secret tyrants who would mercilessly expose right-thinking Americans to the oppression of sharia, OSHA, and occasionally having to hear Spanish spoken in public.

This smearing of entire peoples, that's un-American.

The only way that the AmGreatness idea of "Americanism" makes sense is if "American" means, more or less, white and Christian.

Understand, though, that this will increasingly be the project of both Trump and his intellectual avatars. This isn't even the first time this week they've tried to define Trumpism as Americanism. They are wrong. They don't get to claim America for their ideas and their ideas only. And thank God. What an ugly, mean, selfish country this would be if they won.

We're Experiencing a Wave of Anti-Semitic Terrorism


Let's call the wave of anti-Semitic threats and grave desecrations what they are: Terrorism.

No, nobody's been hurt. Doesn't matter. Terrorism uses violence to achieve political aims. In this case, the violence is threatened and implied, but the aim is clear: To intimidate American Jews and their allies.

This is not a problem that can be mitigated with promises that "I'm the least anti-Semitic person you've ever met." It requires leadership.

The Ceaseless Importation of Third World Foreigners With No Taste for Liberty

“The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle." Decius, The Flight 93 Election.

Here's one of those Third Worlders with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty:
"One night last fall, when the Fire Department was battling a two-alarm blaze, Mr. Hernandez suddenly appeared with meals for the firefighters. How he hosted a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the restaurant last summer as police officers were facing criticism around the country. How he took part in just about every community committee or charity effort — the Rotary Club, cancer fund-raisers, cleanup days, even scholarships for the Redbirds, the high school sports teams, which are the pride of this city."
Mr. Hernandez is being deported. Thank Jesus he'll no longer be able to make his community less American.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wanted: Better Journalism About Football and CTE

A letter I just wrote to a McClatchy journalist:

Sir:

I just read your Cedric Benson story on the KC Star website, which concludes with this:

While Benson suffered from a variety of lower-body injuries in the NFL, there are no records of him ever suffering a concussion.
 
Perhaps your story was edited to exclude additional information. If not, let me suggest the line — as it stands — omits so much information that it's possibly misleading.

Simply put: One needn't experience concussions to experience head trauma as a football player. Here's what the CTE Center says about the issue:
How do you get CTE? Can I get CTE from one concussion/hit to the head?We believe CTE is caused by repetitive brain trauma. This trauma includes both concussions that cause symptoms and subconcussive hits to the head that cause no symptoms. At this time the number or type of hits to the head needed to trigger degenerative changes of the brain is unknown. 


I'd wager that Mr. Benson received a fair number of non-concussive hits to his head during his career, wouldn't you?

Additionally, it's well-known that NFL teams haven't always been attentive to concussions, or the reporting of them, until relatively recently. Just last month, McClatchy's Charlotte Observer reported on evidence that suggests concussions remain underreported in today's league. 
I do not know if Mr. Benson is truly impaired or if, as you suggest, he is "trying to use the sport as an excuse." I do know that there's reason to believe NFL players self-medicate with alcohol to dampen the effects of CTE in their lives. Your story, as published, seems not to consider these possibilities. That's too bad.

Thanks for hearing me out,
Joel Mathis

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Music From High School


Why Does Mexico Have to Pay for the Wall?

One question I've not really seen asked or answered:Why is it so important that Mexico pay for our wall? We're the ones who want it — I say "we" loosely here — and will build it. If I build a fence on my property, I don't make my neighbor pay. I don't even ask! So why is that so important, except as a means of demonstrating that "making America great" means forcing neighbors to do our will?

What ever happened to those racist white folks from those old photos?

See here.

For people of my generation, there was a narrative - not entirely spoken - that racism ended somewhere around 1968. That narrative, in turn, provided a foundation to the idea that attempts to correct for the effects of hundreds of years of racism were themselves racist — and, ironically, was allowed to suggest that problems that had their roots in racism were actually the results of the lesserness of other "cultures." The "end of racism" helped racism survive in dressed-up, yuppified form.

One ironic blessing of the Trump Era: Lots of folks don't feel the need to dress it up anymore. It's as out there as it's been in my lifetime.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Angels With Dirty Faces": My Sad Tale



So about a year ago, I started thinking about the movie ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES. I'd seen it as a kid — back when you could see old 1930s movies playing on local TV on Saturday afternoons — and the ending, with Jimmy Cagney pleading for his criminal life, made a big impression on me. Maybe my son would find it interesting too.

Only...

In this era of streaming video, this classic movie is ... completely unavailable for streaming. It's not available, for purchase anyway, on Amazon or iTunes, and it's not on the Hulu or Netflix libraries. It's what made me decide to buy a DVD player after years of being a streaming-only consumer.

So.

Today, I go to my local video store — Lawrence has one, still! — find the movie in the classics section, rent it and bring it home.

Tonight, my wife and I sit down to watch it. Get about a half-hour in — to a critical, can't-skip scene where Cagney's character meets the Dead-End Kids, and it freezes, utterly.

So. The movie still isn't available to stream. New DVDs of it cost more than $30 on Amazon, which feels a bit steep. I'm starting to think I'll never get to see the whole movie again.

It's weird though. We're in an era where our entertainment options are plentiful. But finding a decent copy of this not-really-obscure movie is turning out to be a real chore. Turns out there is still scarcity, of a sorts, in our info-flooded world.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Netflix Queue: "The Lobster" and Our Authoritarian Age

Three thoughts about THE LOBSTER just as soon as I poke my eye out with a sharp stick. (Warning, some mild spoilers may be ahead.)



• The trailer of this movie doesn’t really capture the overall dystopian vibe — you might think you’re getting an eccentric romantic comedy, something like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, but this is more of a grim LOGAN’S RUN. The conceit: Instead of aging, it’s singlehood that society abhors. Singles of a certain age — whether they get there through spinsterhood, widowership or a good old-fashioned breakup — are brought to a hotel where they’re given 45 days to find a mate … or else they’ll be turned into the animal of their choosing. Colin Farrell, our protagonist, says he’ll choose to be a lobster. “That’s a good animal,” the hotel manager tells him. Everybody else, she says, wants to be a dog. That’s why there are so many dogs in the world.

• His choice of animal aside, there are other clues that Farrell doesn’t fit in. Asked to choose between homosexual or heterosexual, he asks for a third option — but that’s one recently removed from the list of choices. Even in footwear, he’s awkwardly placed: He asks for a 44-and-a-half, only to be told there are no half sizes. Meanwhile, he and every other resident of the hotel are indoctrinated in the good of couplehood, given objects lessons in the dangers of being alone, and even forced to spend a day with one hand handcuffed behind their back in order to demonstrate that pairs (hands) work better than ones. (Farrell’s character, it should be noted, even finds a way to make this work.)

If there’s a creepy authoritarian vibe to the hotel, though, it’s mirrored in the society forming outside in the woods. That’s where the Loners exist — single people who are, quite literally, hunted by the hotel residents and rounded up. But the Loners aren’t a live-and-let-live group: They enforce their singlehood through violence, warning against even mild flirtation and, in one terrifying scene, ordering Farrell’s character to dig his own grave and begin to cover himself with dirt. (I was reminded, for some reason of Khmer Rouge tactics, of the uses of mock executions to break down prisoners.) Ferrell doesn’t fit in here either, pairing off over time with a woman played by Rachel Weisz.

• Eventually, Farrell and Weisz leave the group and make their way to the city, where they’ll be expected, by law, to be paired. But they’ve learned the lessons of their disparate societies too well, and the movie concludes with Farrell’s character preparing to do something unspeakable in order to more perfectly match with Weisz. It’s horrifying.

Maybe it’s just the mood these days, but as much as this movie seems to be how society enforces its expectations of relations upon us all, it’s also a reminder that the opposite of authoritarianism isn’t necessarily freedom, but a different, opposite, even well-meaning idea that, enforced with efficiency and ruthless violence, becomes a mirror of the thing it hates. Finding a different path, even when our instincts guide us there, is so difficult that we’d quite literally mutilate ourselves rather than live and let each other live together with even the smallest differences.

THE LOBSTER is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

His Name Is Donald Trump. Keep Saying It.

I've seen this piece of "resistance" advice passed around in my precincts of the Internet, so I might as well address a problem I have with it.


I really hate item No. 1, and in fact I think it's wrong and pernicious.
There's two ways to view the de-naming effort, and I don't like either of them.

The first is that Trump has become Voldemort, and that we don't say his name because we fear him. Which, at this stage of things, is cowardly. He doesn't deserve that.

The second is that Trump's opponents, by trying to de-name him, are trying to de-person him. It's a technique that's more than a little authoritarian, and it suggests that those opposing Trump may end up becoming the thing they hate in opposing him. In which case, the resistance is no better than what it tries to replace.

Donald Trump is a lot of things. He's a fool and a boob, a vainglorious authoritarian who deserves to be mocked. He's also a person. It makes him a more convenient enemy if he's not, but that's a lie.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Yes, It's a Muslim Ban

The latest talking point from the White House and its allies is that President Trump’s Muslim ban isn’t a Muslim ban. There are lots of countries with Muslim populations that aren’t targeted by the ban, after all. So what’s the big deal.

So how do we know the Muslim ban is a Muslim ban? Because President Trump and his allies have told us so.

This is what Trump called for during the campaign:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called Monday for barring all Muslims from entering the United States. 
"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on," a campaign press release said.
Rudy told us how the administration maneuvered to make the ban legal:
"He called me up, he said, ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’" 
Giuliani said he then put together a commission that included lawmakers and expert lawyers. "And what we did was we focused on, instead of religion, danger," Giuliani said. 
"The areas of the world that create danger for us, which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible."
Which sounds, frankly, like the kind of work lawyers do to offer an executive the “plausible deniability” he craves.

Still, there’s one more piece of evidence:
The national security adviser's son took to Twitter on Saturday to defend President Donald Trump's controversial refugee order, twice referring to it as a "Muslim ban" and calling it a "necessary" step. 
Michael Flynn Jr., who was released from the transition team after spreading a debunked conspiracy theory about a Washington pizza parlor, was formerly a top adviser to his father.
If we've learned anything from our time with Donald Trump, it's to take him literally and seriously. That this is an imperfect Muslim ban doesn't mean it's not a Muslim ban. As Vox.com notes: “The executive order is an evolution of Trump’s actual Muslim ban proposal.” It’s a rose by any other name. We know how that works out.

Trump Treats Jews and Christians Differently

Saturday:
The White House has defended its omission of Jews and antisemitism from a statement remembering the Holocaust by saying that Donald Trump’s administration “took into account all of those who suffered”. 
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, the White House made no mention of Jews, Judaism or the antisemitism that fueled Nazi Germany’s mass murder of six million Jews in the 1940s.

White House representatives did not answer queries about the statement until Saturday, when spokeswoman Hope Hicks forwarded to CNN a link to a Huffington Post article about the millions of people who were killed by Nazis for their ethnicities, sexual orientation, politics or religious beliefs.

“Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” Hicks told CNN.
Today:


Now. There's an "incredibly inclusive" group of people in Syria who have been made refugees by the war there, but President Trump has chosen to single one particular group this time.

It's a troubling, and notable, inconsistency.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

It's Not Just Muslims. We're Closing the Door to All Refugees.

Matt Welch points out a fact that's lost in most of the coverage I've seen:
The far-reaching order, which marks a sharp reversal of decades' worth of American policy, also slashed the annual target for the number of refugees accepted to 50,000, down from the original 110,000 for fiscal 2017 set by Barack Obama, and from the 85,000 refugees accepted in fiscal 2016. (The Obama administration consistently admitted around 75,000 refugees per year; only George W. Bush was stingier over the past 40 years.)
In other words: We're not just shutting down Muslim immigration. We're closing the door to people fleeing war, poverty, and oppression everywhere.

Last one out, turn out the lights at the Statue of Liberty.

Deep Thought

Kinda funny how those among us who talk toughest are the ones whose actions are most obviously motivated by fear.

FYI: Trump, Immigrants, and Crimes

NYT:

A central point of an executive order President Trump signed on Wednesday — and a mainstay of his campaign speeches — is the view that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to public safety. 
But several studies, over many years, have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. And experts say the available evidence does not support the idea that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crime. 
“There’s no way I can mess with the numbers to get a different conclusion,” said Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, which advocates more liberal immigration laws.

About Christians, Refugees, and Trump


If you call yourself Christian and you're OK with Trump working to save Syrian Christians while banning Syrians of other religions, then Christianity is not your faith, it is not your religion, and it's certainly not your relationship with Jesus.

It's just a tribe. Just a way of dividing us from them. Little could be more profane.

The Trump Era: Refugees

I've spent a decade offering my opinions in public forums, but I don't feel quite equal to this moment. Some of this is sheer flood of outrages — I'm just comprehending one when the next comes along. Which feels like my insights about the Trump Era are often limited to:

This is wrong.
This is wrong.
This is wrong.
This is wrong.

So let's be clear: It's not wrong to want to vet refugees, with a high degree of confidence but also within reason, to try to ensure they won't be a threat to their neighbors in the U.S. We have every right to expect the government will do so.

But to say "no" to refugees entirely — without any effort to separate the wheat from the chaff, but to assign a collective punishment to people already fleeing danger — is not the mark of a great nation. It is a cowardly act. Cowardly. I am ashamed of what my government is doing today. This is wrong. This is wrong. This is wrong. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Donald Trump Is Turning America Into a "Watchmen" Comic

NYT:
On Thursday, the group of scientists who orchestrate the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic instrument informing the public when the earth is facing imminent disaster, moved its minute hand to two and a half minutes before the final hour. 
It was the closest the clock had been to midnight since 1953, the year after the United States and the Soviet Union conducted competing tests of the hydrogen bomb.
Why? "In an op-ed for The New York Times, Mr. Titley and Mr. Krauss elaborated on their concerns, citing the increasing threats of nuclear weapons and climate change, as well as President Trump’s pledges to impede what they see as progress on both fronts, as reasons for moving the clock closer to midnight."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

But Voter ID Laws Aren't Racist.

Vox:
A study for the Black Youth Project, which analyzed 2012 voting data for people ages 18 to 29, found 72.9 percent of young black voters and 60.8 percent of young Hispanic voters were asked for IDs to vote, compared with 50.8 percent of young white voters.
FYI

About the Twitter Rebellion

So about the Twitter rebellion apparently being mounted by social media managers at various government agencies...

There's a theory within conservatism that America's "administrative state" — basically, your mid-level federal bureaucrats — has become an unaccountable tyrant, both by virtue of issue regulations independently of Congress and, through unionizing, becoming a political force that politicians must appease instead of their own constituents.

A lot of people who hold to that theory signed on to the Trump Bandwagon pretty early in the process, believing that he alone had the chance to smash the bureaucracy and return American government to its more accountable roots. And Congress' move this session to make it easy to punish individual federal workers is of a piece with that theory. So is Trump's hiring freeze for federal workers.

All of which is to say this: Enjoy the Twitter Rebellion while you can, if you're so inclined.  But the odds are it can't last — and, in fact, might provide the pretext the bureaucracy smashers want to really crack down on the federal workforce. Bureaucrats who are supposed to serve the executive — Trump — are ill-positioned to lead the resistance.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Slowing Down

I'm edging my way back into social media. But it's kind of like edging your way back into the path of a fire hydrant: You can't get just a little wet — you're going to get soaked on contact.

Anyway, here's the mantra I'm trying to live by right now:

You don't have to express your opinion about everything.
You don't have to express your opinion about everything.
You don't have to express your opinion about everything.

It's possible, in fact, that the more opinion I put into the world, the less valuable any one opinion might be. So. Trying to control myself.

(Pauses.)

If I were to have an opinion about shit that doesn't matter much, though, it would be this:

Gov. Pence shouted to his wife, Karen, his closest adviser, at the other end of the table.
"Mother, Mother, who prepared our meal this evening?"
The legislators looked at one another, speaking with their eyes: He just called his wife "Mother."
Maybe it was a joke, the legislator reasoned. But a few minutes later, Pence shouted again.
"Mother, Mother, whose china are we eating on?"
Mother Pence went on a long discourse about where the china was from. A little later, the legislators stumbled out, wondering what was weirder: Pence's inability to make conversation, or calling his wife "Mother" in the second decade of the 21stcentury.

Mike Pence has a lot of ideas I find objectionable. If he chooses to address his wife in the manner of a 1930s innkeeper featured in a Frank Capra movie, so be it. Move on.

Yoga

I've been making some life changes lately — trying to use the time I have, now that I'm back in Kansas, to improve my health and lifestyle. Among the changes: More exercise. 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some is more than none, and I know from experience that getting overambitious early leads to failure. So. Thirty minutes a day.

One other thing: Yoga, a couple of times a week. It's nothing huge — a 15-minute flexibility routine downloaded from an iPhone app. But I've noticed that I'm increasingly limber.

Tonight, friends, I noticed a piece of trash on the floor. I bent over at the waist and picked it up, and threw it away.

Then I wept. I literally could not remember the last time I'd tried to pick something off the floor without grunting and bracing myself. I just did it.

Small victories, people. Small victories.

Hey David Brooks, Here's Why a Diverse Media Should Matter

David Brooks this morning:
But now progressives seem intent on doubling down on exactly what has doomed them so often. Lilla pointed out that identity politics isolates progressives from the wider country: “The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”
There's a contradiction in the Lilla-via-Brooks complaint.

How diverse is the press? Not very.  It's pretty white. So. Diversifying the press is one way of producing people more aware of the conditions of "Americans in every walk of life." I'd hanker to say the same thing is true in the education arena, too.

Somehow, though, I don't think that's what Brooks or Douthat mean.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Quote of the Day: Philip Roth

New Yorker
“I was born in 1933,” he continued, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Social media break....

I'm two days into a break from Twitter and Facebook. I'm not doing anything so foolish as to say I'm "quitting" this time — I know myself too well, so I only intend to be gone a week. (Basically, this seems like a good time to slow my roll a bit.) There's been a little bit of withdrawal: The Trump Administration's penchant for "alternative facts" seems to require a response.

But it's getting one without me. Probably telling.

Other than that, it's been a fantastic weekend for reading and thinking without the need to spread word of my thoughts immediately. Some highlights:

• The New Yorker's article about El Salvadorans who've been deported back to their home country is infuriating, increasingly so at every new revelation along the way. Basically: Young people who are Americans for all intents and purposes — having come here too young to remember their home country — are deported back, where they end up serving as the cheap workforce for a company that handles phone-based customer service for American companies. It gets worse.

• It's interesting to read the New Yorker's article about the effectiveness of primary care physicians in combination with today's NYT piece about "The Conversation Placebo."

NYer:
Yet, somehow, having a primary-care clinician as your main source of care is better for you. 
Asaf tried to explain. “It’s no one thing we do. It’s all of it,” he said. I found this unsatisfying. I pushed everyone I met at the clinic. How could seeing one of them for my—insert problem here—be better than going straight to a specialist? Invariably, the clinicians would circle around to the same conclusion. 
“It’s the relationship,” they’d say. I began to understand only after I noticed that the doctors, the nurses, and the front-desk staff knew by name almost every patient who came through the door. Often, they had known the patient for years and would know him for years to come. In a single, isolated moment of care for, say, a man who came in with abdominal pain, Asaf looked like nothing special. But once I took in the fact that patient and doctor really knew each other—that the man had visited three months earlier, for back pain, and six months before that, for a flu—I started to realize the significance of their familiarity.
NYT:
This is a finding that should give all medical professionals pause: Communication alone was more effective than treatment alone. The patients who got electrical stimulation from engaged physical therapists were the clear winners, with a 77 percent reduction in pain. 
This type of study provides hard evidence for what shamans, witch doctors and assorted mystics have known for millenniums: A substantial portion of “healing” comes from the communication and connection with the patient.
This kind of confirms an instinct I had in coming back to Lawrence. I was treated by some of the best doctors in the world in Philadelphia. With one exception, though, my communication with them was shitty. That was unavoidable: They see so many patients that you end up on a conveyor belt. Lawrence may not have the best doctors in the world, but the ones I've seen so far take time to listen and communicate. I know that's better for me.

• Also, please read this piece from WaPo about "Americans have been lying to themselves about the economy for way too long."
A new study out of Harvard shows how Alger’s legacy continues to steer our perceptions of the economy. Unlike Europeans, Americans vastly overestimate the likelihood of moving up the economic ladder, according to economists Alberto Alesina, Stefanie Stantcheva and Edoardo Teso.

“We find that this idea of the American Dream, going from rags to riches, is really salient in people’s minds,” Stantcheva said. “In the U.S., people are too optimistic about intergenerational mobility, particularly about the chances of making it from the very bottom to the very top.” Such perceptions — or misperceptions, as the case may be — are important because they may influence how we think about government programs such as the social safety net or public education.
It's especially important to know this if you're reading David French's essay at National Review about the moral inferiority of the poor. It's behind a paywall, but in essence, it comes down to: "If only the poor made better choices — like getting married — they wouldn't be poor! If only they would make choices for long-term gain instead of short-term satisfaction!"

It's standard conservative boilerplate. But even leaving the WaPo study behind, it's infuriating. Why? Because studies show that it's so exhausting to be poor in the first place that making good decisions, or decisions with an eye on the long-term is actually more difficult for poor people. French's essay reduces poverty to a morality play, and certainly some people are able to  make good choices that enable them to climb out of poverty. But any piece that focuses totally on the choices of poor people without dealing with the relevant scientific literature isn't worth taking seriously. It's just posturing.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Remembering Obama's Inauguration Day: Philadelphia 2009

It was my good fortune that, after a lifetime in Kansas, I found myself living in Philadelphia during the summer of 2008 — as it happens, working in an office one floor down from Barack Obama's campaign headquarters in the city. And one day late in the election, I rode the press bus as it joined the then-Senator on a whirlwind four-stop campaign swing through the city — culminating with a final rally in fabled West Philadelphia.

Obama himself wasn't too memorable. He gave the same speech, told the same jokes at every stop, the message modified slightly for each audience. ("Don't let them give you the okey doke," he warned the largely black audiences.)

What I remember about the West Philadelphia stop: It was the most black people I'd ever seen in one place at one time — probably the most I'll ever see again. And the mood, it bordered on religious. Not that these folks worshipped Obama, no. It's just at this point in the campaign, so much hope was vested in him — the maybe, through him, they were finally being welcomed into full citizenship in America.

I'm so lucky to have been there, to have seen it with my own eyes.

On Election Night, I walked home through Center City Philadelphia with the sounds of celebration emanating from every location on my path.

And on Inauguration Day, I went to work as usual. One of my coworkers went down to Independence Hall to watch the inauguration the big screen. You can see her in this video made by friend Jim MacMillan. She'd been through Jim Crow, lived it, told me about it as she discussed her happiness at Obama's election. So the joy you see on her face this moment — it's real. It's one of the most real things I've ever known.


I don't know what's coming. I'm scared. But this is a good memory. It is history. And it was my privilege to witness it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

On Being Humane in Inhumane Times

At noon Friday, Donald Trump becomes the president of the United States.

It’s a prospect that I can barely wrap my head around. At times, it enrages me. Many of my liberal friends have spent the last couple of months giving voice to that rage, breaking off relationships with Trump-voting family and friends. I’ve sought to resist that path, which at times has seemed to incur further rage from my liberal friends. But I understand the temptation to offer a hearty “fuck you” to some people that, in all other cases, I have cared dearly about for years or even decades.

So far, I’ve been able to resist the temptation. I’ve had to remind myself of a truth that I’ve discovered as I’ve gotten older: Almost everybody I’ve ever thought of as my “enemy” – and there have been exceptions — has, over time, also showed me grace I never expected from them. The people I disagree with are not devils. They have their own sets of fears and hopes. They are human, with all the complexity that involves.

This may even be true of Donald Trump.

So. How to be humane in seemingly inhumane times?

To answer the question, let me first express what the goal isn’t: I’m not interested in political surrender, or in coddling people who have “deplorable” beliefs and motives. Justice must be the foundation and object of everything we do. But I do want to leave open the door to reconciliation with people who don’t conform to my sense of justice.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Center has “Six Steps of Nonviolent Social Change” on its website. Here’s Step Six:
“Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons. Through reasoned compromise, both sides resolve the injustice with a plan of action. Each act of reconciliation is one step close to the 'Beloved Community.’”
And this is part of Step Four: “Do not seek to humiliate the opponent but to call forth the good in the opponent. “

Reconciliation isn’t the opposite of justice, in other words. It’s an essential component of arriving at justice. I’m pretty sure most of my friends —most of whom laud MLK — don’t have much interest or belief in “calling forth the good” in our opponents. (This assumes there is some good to be called forth; I think that’s generally the case — the real Hitlers in our society are few and far between, I’m convinced. But perhaps this is wishful thinking.)

So. How to be humane in seemingly inhumane times?

These are the answers I have today. I hope that this list will evolve over time. For now….

RESTRICT MY SOCIAL MEDIA ACCESS: I’ve written before how Facebook saved me from total despair and loneliness while I was in the hospital. I don’t believe social media is totally a bad thing. But when attended to obsessively — and here I plead guilty — it shortens my attention span and puts me in the mind of responding to news and opinions glibly, quickly, and with a minimum of actual contemplation. Right now, I’m going to try to limit my Twitter access to 20 minutes a day. That should be more than enough to dip my toes in the currents, right? It helps that I’ve got browser settings that limit my online access to the site; my phone is programmed to deny me access entirely.

I NEED TO KEEP BREAKING OUT OF MY BUBBLE: My relationships with non-liberal friends have grown brittle in recent months. I don’t think that’s entirely my fault, but: I need to keep listening to them. Moreover, I need to stay in touch with outlooks that are going to make me scream in anger regularly. Sites like The Federalist, National Review and others can drive me batty sometimes, making me long for the soft warm bath of like-mindedness. But that bubble isn’t real — or, at least, isn’t the whole picture. Frustrating as it may be, I think being humane includes not allowing myself the convenience of caricaturing those I disagree with, or dismissing them out of hand. Even though I really, really want to sometimes. 

ART, ART, ART: “Beautiful, or subversive.” A wise suggestion from a friend. The most amazing moment I had at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — and I had more than a few — was during a visit where I found works by Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks, and Aaron Douglas placed together. All black men, all Kansans who had fled the state for the Harlem Renaissance. I don’t know if the curator placed those works together with that connection in mind; seeing them together made me weep. At its best, art puts us in touch with our most humane selves. 

TRY TO LISTEN MORE INSTEAD OF WINNING ARGUMENTS: Winning arguments is easy, or at least convincing yourself that you’ve won the argument is easy. It’s not necessarily a path to truth, justice, or reconciliation. As Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote, in a quote that has been memeified in the years since: “If your chief goal, as a thinking person, is to find a path to making yourself right, you may never amount to much of a thinking person, but you can never be disappointed." I need to try to win arguments less often. 

VOLUNTEER:
I’ve not done a good job contributing to my community in ways that stretch me beyond the office or church. That needs to change. I’ll update you on my efforts soon, I hope. 

AGAIN, ALWAYS, AIM FOR HUMILITY: The trick is being firm and confident in one’s beliefs while balancing that with A) acknowledging that there’s a possibility you’re wrong and B) being open to changing our minds when the evidence calls for it. Humans aren’t really good at this; I’ll not claim to be any better. And yet: It’s a hedge against the kind of self-righteousness that leads to the kind of inhumanity I want to avoid. What’s more: There really is a possibility of being wrong.

Your mileage may vary on these ideas. You may even think the aim is incorrect — that resistance, resistance, resistance should be the name of the game now. And it should be! But that resistance should be in the service of ideas that are truer, better, and more humane. That means the practice of being humane is needed, by me at least, more than ever.

Lord, Hear My Prayer

A few months ago, in the face of one of 2016's many disasters, I posted a prayer to Facebook and Twitter — seeking to be quiet, to listen, and to understand rather than spout off about why the disaster proved me right on some political point or another.

The nice folks at the Kansas Leadership Council spotted it and asked A) to publish it and B) for me to write about it. I did. An excerpt.

The Prayer of St. Francis – “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace” – provided a good but incomplete starting point. I wanted to remind myself that other people deserved to be heard, despite their different fears and different solutions. I wanted to remind myself that people, even when they are at odds with you, usually have the best intentions. I wanted to remind myself that listening is more of a virtue than talking. 
Sometimes, though, the best thing to do is shut up. At least for a little while.

Let me confess: I'm inconsistent about living up to my own advice here. If you want to call me a hypocrite, I have no defense. But I still think the advice, and prayer, are essentially correct. I just need to try harder.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Movie Queue: "Singin' In The Rain"

Three thoughts about "Singin' in the Rain" just as soon as I dry off....


1. I've seen this movie countless times over the years — for awhile, when he was a toddler, it was my son's favorite — but today was the first time I'd ever seen it on the big screen. Even in this era of gigantic home entertainment systems, there's STILL nothing like seeing a movie on the big screen.

2. A lot of the songs in this movie were used previously in the 1928 Best Picture-winning "Broadway Melody" which ... doesn't hold up well. A lot of the jokes about the rise of the the "talkie" era of movies probably came from the earlier production, I'm guessing — Arthur Freed was involved in both flicks.

3. Gene Kelly stomping through the water is as pure an expression of joy as has ever been put on film.

I don't know how to deal with the paradoxes of Donald Trump. (Part 1)

I believe that ever-hardening polarization between the parties in America helped Donald Trump ascend to the presidency, yet his ascension to the presidency seems to mean that now is precisely the wrong moment to try to make nice.