In Which I Am Not Commenting On Matters Of Official Concern

Twitter is my main source of short news updates. It’s good for breaking news and for connecting me to more in-depth coverage and analysis of interesting things. I try not to follow publications or people I find annoying unless they have something exceptional to offer. Among these I follow John Schindler, a former intelligence type who blogs and tweets about foreign affairs and national security. I generally hold foreign policy pundits in low esteem (more on that below), but I often find his observations about world politics worthy of attention. His commentary on domestic politics is of more uneven quality. Sure, his cat might make a viable Presidential candidate, but his observations about “SJWs” and “virtue signalling” make me queasy. Worse, they make me want to argue with him.

(You see the problem, right? I want to discuss foreign affairs and domestic politics AND I want to argue with someone more famous than me on the Internet. Not only does this go against my inclinations as an apparatchik, it offends my sense of good taste. Sigh.)

So Schindler wrote this thing about the Cold War and the New Left, and it made me mad. I will refrain from summarizing the bits about European politics lest I be accused of Commenting On Matters Of Official Concern, but the upshot seemed to be that leftism is back and it won the Cold War by giving up on economics in favor of consumer choice and sexual liberalism, biding its time until it could rise again in the form of identity politics. Instead of the dictatorship of the proletariat, his new left seeks the dictatorship of a different “fantasy class” defined by its outsider status relative to traditional elites.

I have a couple of problems with this.

First of all, US national elections have been a choice between liberal or conservative centrist options since the end of WWII. The American Left devoured itself infighting over whether to focus on domestic issues or “international solidarity” until it was effectively criminalized in the early years of the Cold War, while the Right went underground to escape the taint of fascism. The Right started to rally first, beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan. The Left stirred at the end of the 1990’s (which ironically may have been a factor in the 2000 defeat of Al Gore; the small but critical mass of left-leaning voters who gave their votes to third party candidates helped throw the election to George W. Bush by not supporting the mainstream liberal centrist candidate). They fell in line behind the liberal centrist candidate in 2008 and 2012, but they have by no means been content with the candidate they helped elect.

Schindler gets that the 2016 Presidential hopefuls reflect the divide between the mainstream conservative center (“corporate conservatives”) and the Right. Sometimes he seems to recognize a similar divide emerging between liberal centrists and the Left. He also seems to recognize the extent to which elites at the liberal center have abandoned the economic aims of the Left. But he does not credit the rising level of frustration in the liberal center’s “99%” with declining standards of living. He also forgets that the last time the Left privileged international solidarity over national questions of “identity politics,” insisting that the class struggle had to take priority over bourgeois self-expression among its minority domestic constituencies, the Left got wiped off the US political map for 60+ years.

The other thing is that I studied International Relations in the waning years of the Cold War. They taught us that the US-Soviet conflict (and by historical extension, Great Power conflict) was the only valid lens through which to consider world affairs. In my second year, a visiting instructor from NATO boldly prognosticated that East and West Germany would unite in the next 20 years. The Berlin Wall fell two weeks later. That was almost 24 years ago. In recognition of the persistence of bourgeois national self-expression, my alma mater has since created a comparative international cultural studies track in my old degree program. It’s not that the Cold War didn’t matter or that Great Powers don’t exert a certain gravitational pull – it’s just that people have a strange obsession with being accepted for who they present themselves to be. Most people lack a certain degree of self-awareness, but they still don’t present themselves as Napoleon or the Virgin Mary. Call it identity politics, or nationalism, or individualism, or geopolitical entropy. Recognizing it as a fact of life and creating space for it in public discourse doesn’t mean being blind to its dangers.

I have a hard time believing that Schindler really thinks the goal of the New Left is to install PC Principal from “South Park” as a dictator and draw obscene cartoons on the faces of the oppressor class in Sharpie. I think he knows damn well that Cartman won the Cold War. Now that I’ve gotten this out of my system, hopefully I’ll stop wanting to engage with him about it and get back to the usual program of irregular posting and failing to build a Personal Brand.

Internet Polemics

Please read these two articles:

1. Taibbi has a good nose for BS and the rot underlying received wisdom. If you feel uncomfortable with cop-blaming, focus on the parts of this article that cover the statistical flim-flammery that’s been inflicted on the police by city politicians and the legal trickery used to con people who are arrested out of their rights to redress. This stuff doesn’t help the police stay safe and do their jobs any more than it helps the communities they’re serving.

2. Taibbi’s coverage of financial market mayhem in 2009 was influential. And there’s the Kwak article. Which isn’t as satisfying but illustrates the lack of effort being made to punish Taibbi’s “vampire squids.”

3. I understand that a “Wire” reference is obligatory in any commentary about Baltimore and policing, but somehow it also wound up in the Kwak article.

4. Speaking of which, reading Terrell Starr reminds me to point out that “The Wire” was not a documentary. Matt Taibbi is a good reporter but he’s not telling the story from the inside either. Not that he has to be, but it would be nice if major media outlets were hiring more people who could.

The Public Sphere

One of my Howard County blogpals went home Monday night to find an anonymous nasty-gram full of unpleasant personal remarks and parenting commentary waiting for her. I don’t know what to say except how sorry I am for her and her family. That kind of personal intrusion is creepy and inappropriate and frightening.

It’s hard to keep the personal and public separate in blogging about public matters and their impact on personal life (or personal matters and their impact on one’s views on the public issues of the day). In my case that’s mostly meant trying to strike a balance between my desire for self-expression and the desire of those I care about not to be quoted or characterized for blog-matic effect or blog-medic relief. I also have to be mindful of commenting on matters of official interest for professional purposes. This means I self-censor a fair amount, and it kind of dampens my blogging zeal.

Homegirl’s blog is much newsier than mine ever was and has a higher profile than mine; she posts every day and comments on issues in the public sphere, plus she ran for local office a couple of years ago. I admire her bravery and her commitment to public engagement for putting herself and her opinions out there. I wish I had her courage. I hope this anonymous letter crap does not dissuade her from continuing to do her thing. It’s bad enough to leave anonymous blog comments or troll someone on social media, but that’s at least a public reaction in a public forum. Scoping out a woman’s family and sending an anonymous letter to their home as a reaction to what she writes is invasive and, to put it mildly, disproportionate; dude (or dudette), she doesn’t owe you anything, what the hell?

Nails On A Chalkboard

My poor oldest son: the first victim of every parenting theory I carried into motherhood, the primary beneficiary of my blindness to my own quirks and how just how weird my own youth actually was! He told me middle school was bad; I didn’t believe him until his brother went to middle school. He needed my active involvement in his schooling; I didn’t see it because I was so certain that I was teaching him self-reliance by not checking his homework. He needed social help as a kid; I didn’t understand until his siblings started developing friendships.

He’s a senior in high school now. He has always hated Blackboard. I assumed he just hated school. Then I resumed my studies after a 24-year hiatus.

Oh my Lord. Blackboard! The all-in-one IT “solution” for classroom communications and institutional information sharing. It’s the worst whatever-it-is that I have seen! It makes me nostalgic for custom-developed federal government software. I can’t believe this thing has established such a stranglehold on public schools and colleges in the U.S. It’s hard to tell what I hate most. Is it the way that it insists you create a new, institution-specific e-mail account to interface with it? The database set-up that logs you out after 10 minutes? The multiple levels you have to click through to find an assignment? I will grant you that I like the whole concept of being able to apply for admission, register for classes, and pay my tuition without having to spend five hours in a line with thousands of other people. I like the idea that I can submit assignments remotely and communicate with my instructor and fellow students without them actually having my real personal contact information. But I can’t imagine how the kids in school now – who have spent their whole lives surrounded by user-friendly information technology – don’t simply riot. The only possible reason I can think of is that they don’t really use e-mail or blogs these days, so they don’t realize that long-form electronic communication doesn’t have to suck.

The other thing about the modern academy that I hate, at least so far, is the fact that the “homework” for my classroom-based class is a quiz posted to Blackboard that I have to complete and submit to my instructor in hard-copy on a Scantron form. Specifically, a Scantron form that I have to purchase. It was one thing to have to take exams in Blue Books back in the day, but I was on campus all the time, and I only had to use them once or twice per semester. But having to pay for a special, magic piece of paper in order to submit homework seems unfair – especially since the student book store closes at 7 PM and isn’t open on weekends. Oh, and they don’t sell the Scantron sheets online, either. I can buy them in packages of 500 online from the Scantron store for $60, or I can try my luck with the allegedly “Scantron-compatible” sheets sold on Amazon. You’d think, since this is the future and all, that there might a .pdf of the damned things out there for me to download, but no.

My instructor seems well-intentioned and knowledgeable. His English is sophisticated and he obviously knows the language well. My only beef is that he talks faster than he can fully articulate the words he’s trying to pronounce. It’s not that he has a bad accent, he just needs to slow down. Because “chemical attraction” and “Kim Kardashian” are sounding a lot more alike than I think he means them too. This isn’t as bad as the engineer I met at a meeting who used to mean “floorplan” and say “foreplay,” though.

Polarize Vortex

It’s cold and that means I will never, ever get to work on time again. I appreciate the desire of the Alexandria City Public Schools to safeguard my kids and their teachers and all, but I’m not sure that pre-emptive surrender to the elements with a third day of two-hour delayed start is necessary. I guess we’ll find out whether they were right tomorrow. That reminds me to open up the kitchen hot water tap a smidge before I go to bed so that my dishwasher and washing machine don’t refuse to operate in the morning.

I value my right to snark as much as the next Francophile, really I do, and I don’t condone terrorists killing French satirists one bit. But I’m bent out of shape that I have heard so little about the attempted bombing of the NAACP office in Denver. In additon to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, things that were important than a likely domestic terror incident on WTOP tonight included the polar vortex and, I don’t remember, some beauty tips or something. I’m not saying it had to lead the news, but some coverage would have been in order.

On a completely different set of notes, it appears that the cat has once again peed on an upholstered chair in my living room. DAMN IT, KITTY. There’s no tell-tale liquid spots, just that awful smell stuck in my nose. Aaaand for some reason Northern Virginia Community College’s extended payment plan accepts every credit card except Visa. What the hey, NoVA? I’m signing up for Biology 101 so I can see if my dreams of becoming a doctor or physician’s assistant in retirement match up with my actual academic skill set. It has been 24 years or so since I last took a college science class or, come to think of it, any college type class at all.

Slumber Party

Dino Spouse is staying over at Babushka’s place tonight. This would normally be an occasion for either a preteen sleepover or heroic (by which I mean intense, messy, and/or stinky) domestic labors,  both of which are best accomplished in the absence of my husband. But Mouse and I have both been poorly this week, so we are apathetically loafing about the Dino Nest. Podrostok is brooding in his room, being as he is grounded.  Tweenbot is ostensibly cheery in the company of his BFF, but I sniffed out some adolescent malfeasance on his part earlier this evening, and he knows it.  It’s kind of a disagreeable  evening. On the Ms. Pac-Man scale of personal dysfunction, where 0 = optimal behavior and 10 = playing Ms. Pac-Man until 2 AM, I predict that tonight will be about a 7, offset by the high likelihood that I will go to bed before any of my kids.

(Sound of brain grinding to a halt while trying to link title and first para to observations on recent public discourse regarding the concept of privilege. Is it possible that more white people are  recognizing that  white privilege exists? Or more men recognizing that gender discrimination still exists? Or have I just moved so far to the Left that I now consider “Salon” a mainstream media outlet?  Hmm, Ms. Pac-Man.)

 

 

The Fire Next Time

Part of my mission civilisatrice with the young Dinos is teaching them about privilege. White privilege, male privilege, class privilege, ableist privilege – they has it. We have it, minus the male part for Mouse and me, and it is our bounden duty to name it honestly and not treat it as the natural order of things or a reflection of any merit on our parts.

I try to fill the holes in my knowledge of history, philosophy, religion, and literature so I’m working from a more complete perspective than the canon I grew up with gave me. Most of my reading to this end winds up being whatever the “new books” section of the Alexandria City Library yields in the way of books about the history of social and economic policies in the US and books on African-American history, culture, and literary traditions. Luckily the library has been celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Alexandria Library Sit-In, so it’s been Black History Month all year and the pickings are rich. A few weeks ago, I found Negroes and The Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms and Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement. My haul from Thursday night included The Other Blacklist: The African-American Cultural Left of the 1950’s by Mary Helen Washington.

(Long-time paleontologists will know that I have been moving steadily toward the left of the political spectrum over the last couple of decades.  I started out as a mainstream liberal with some libertarian/populist tendencies, so I was already left of center to begin with. I do not discuss my political party affiliation online, but I do feel comfortable saying that I consider the two major political parties in the US interchangeable and almost equally conservative in their platforms. Anything with “cultural left” in the title is like catnip for me.)

Reader, The Other Blacklist has an academic feel to it, with lots of citations and thesis statements. It is not a speedy read. But it made my brain explode. Until Professor Washington explicitly linked Cold War anti-communist political philosophy (self-reliance, salvation by individual works, and refusal to recognize systemic bias or systems of oppression as anything other than individual psychological aberrations) with the FBI’s well-known surveillance and harassment of civil rights activists,* it never dawned on me that our current political landscape is dominated by that same philosophy. I was reminded of an Alternet article about how the self-help industry thrives in a cultural climate where individuals have ever fewer guarantees of their rights while corporations are treated as persons.

Remember the 1990’s when we talked about how Yugoslavia exploded into civil war because their strong central government and relative consumer freedoms weren’t accompanied by actual self-determination or free speech? I feel kind of sick now.