Sunday, April 20, 2014

How Many More Children Have To Die ...

... before we enact common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.  Even one is too many.  This one certainly was.  Cry a little.  And then, work like hell to avenge him.

Maybe, If They Start To Starve, They'll Turn Blue

I can't think of anything else that will do it.  In any case, it's clear that living in a red state equals hunger.  Take a look.

A Man-Bites-Dog Obamacare Story From Georgia

Is this a sign that Republicans are finally ready to buckle on Obamacare, or a sign that Georgia is getting ready to at least turn purple.  Who knows?  Maybe it's win-win.

Farewell To Two Men Progressive Should Call Heroes

One a Democrat, who held his party together at a critical time, the other a Republican who put partisanship aside for the good of the Republic.  Thanks, Ambassador Strauss and Judge Walsh.  Safe travels to the power lunch on the other side.

Even In The Reddest Of States ...

... they're catching on to sustainable energy.  Even though it's directly south of an oil boom, a wind farm is being built in South Dakota.  May it be the first of many to come.

Now THIS Is The Road To Affordable Housing!

If historic buildings can be recycled as hotels, why not recycle them as middle-class housing, with solar panels and other sustainable features to subsidize the cost?  Let's get cracking on this!

Everywhere But In The United States ...

... there is high-speed rail creating, as I noted earlier, a physical Internet linking people in reality almost as closely as they are linked in cyberspace.

But not here.  Shame on all of us, for not demanding more and better, every day.

The Ultimate Act Of Guilt?

This is perhaps the dark side of my earlier post on class treason.  Instead of coming forward to repent of their sins and undo the consequences, they choose the ultimate exit.

Sad.  May they find mercy on the other side--and may the rest of us work to undo their wrongs on this side.

The Corruption Of The Rich Knows No Boundaries

It can even lead them to treat the most defenseless human beings without a crumb of anything other than selfishness.  Take a look here, at an admittedly shameful chapter in my home town's past.

History Is Fed Up With Conservatives Standing Athwart It And Yelling "Halt!"

Especially when they weigh as much as the corrupt, corpulent Governor of New Jersey.  You may have stopped the electric car in New Jersey for now, Chris Christie, but we'll soon see what Federal prosecutors have to say about your bullying.

The Revolution May Not Be Televised, But It May Come With Fries

If it can happen at McDonald's, it can happen anywhere.  And everywhere.  Organize a picket of your local McDonald's.  If everyone just does that, we'll see how quickly things can change.

And Now, For A Note Of Encouragement

If you want to look at 10 reasons why you should never give up your dreams, take a look.

How Do You Recruit A Class Traitor?

That was the question brought to my mind by Jedediah Purdy today.  The headline is a little bit misleading, in that, while it contains a call for the rise of class treason by members of the investing class, it offers no prescription for one.  And that's at least honest, because there is none--not, at least, in the sense of a straightforward plan with identifiable, achievable steps toward making class treason happen.

It's an understandable call, when you consider American history in the mid-20th century.  The three Democratic Presidents that did the most to move progressive causes forward into reality--Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson--were class traitors, who understood how their class operated but also understood the need to betray its self-interest for the greater good of the country.  We are now into our third Democratic Presidency since Johnson, and none of those three successor names--Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama--will ever have the resonance of their predecessors among progressives.  (I'll make a slight exception for Obama, since his story is still being written, and he may ultimately be able to claim the ACA as a major achievement.  But, as even he might concede, a lot will depend on the outcome of 2014).

But I find Purdy's piece to be irritating, in that it seems like an exercise in the type of wishful thinking progressives start to engage in when the road to Nirvana starts to look hard and long, as it so often does.  "Maybe a class traitor will save us."  "Maybe another Roosevelt, Kennedy or Johnson will come along."  "Maybe the voters in red states will finally wake up."  Sometimes, I think that, if progressives had a chance to change our national motto, it would be changed to "Maybe, Maybe, Maybe."  Or if they had a chance to select a new national anthem, it would be John Lennon's "Imagine."

However, as even Obama is fond of pointing out, it takes more than imagination and hope to make change happen.  It takes hard work, sacrifice and compromise--the latter being the ugly reality that you don't always get to move the needle as far as you would like.  You have to be content with moving it as far as you can.  But the bottom line is that you've moved it, and given the next generation a chance to move it some more.  History is a relay race, with the goal being to take the baton and do the best possible job you can of handing it off.  You don't get all the credit.  You're not meant to do so.  It's a team effort, always, and it appalls me that progressives, of all people, need to be reminded of that fact.

I tend to agree that class traitors are helpful.  They have knowledge and resources, and both are badly needed.  But the only way to "recruit" them, if at all, is by being out on the barricades every day, not being afraid of confrontation, and not letting short-term fatigue get in the way of a better society in the long run.  It's the only way to make it happen.  But it does happen, if you simply keep on showing up and not giving in.  That's how you end up getting people like this.  And this.  And it is so worth it.  Something to keep remembering, on the days when the barricades start to look like mountains that can never be climbed.

Because we can climb them.  Together.  By moving forward, this election year and every day of every year thereafter.  If we do that, the class traitors will come.  I suspect that many of them are just waiting to see if anyone will welcome them.  Let's show them that we're here for them, and we're not going away.

Does FiveThirtyEight Serve Its Master Of The Moment?

Like a lot of progressives, I became a regular follower of Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.com site in the run-up to the presidential election of 2008.  It offered the most detailed statistical analysis of an election that I had ever seen--and, of course, one that presaged a great Democratic victory.  But this was back when Nate was operating on his own, without a corporate master to please.  Since then, he's had two corporate masters--not surprising, since we live in an age where money follows short-term success, no matter the nature of the source or its success.  But they are corporate masters with very different orientations, and no one, no matter their professed objectivity, is completely immune to the whims of the people in charge.

So it is more than fair to compare Silver's subsequent work for each of his masters, and look for signs of those whims among the numbers.  And there is no better point of comparison that Silver's various takes on the burning domestic political question of the day:  which party will control the Senate after the 2014 elections?

Let's start with Silver's answer to this question back in his New York Times era, which you can find here, and read for yourself.  It includes a race-by-race analysis of each contest, with ratings of the statistical probability of each race's outcome, and an overall assessment that hedges its bets not only about the likelihood about its accuracy, but the impact of the actual outcome on the subsequent election cycle.  It strives, in short, to be as cautious in the interests of fair-mindedness as it can possibly be.  This speaks well of not only Silver, but the Times as well.

It's a much different story now that Silver's working with ESPN--and not alone, but with a host of minions that apparently took months to put together, judging from the help-wanted ads that appeared on Silver's old site for months.  Silver now apparently wants to put statistical analysis in the service of everyone, not just politics.  All well and good.  But his political analysis has apparently taken a sharp leap to the right, in that he is now predicting a Republican Senate gain of between six to 10 seats--and doing so despite the fact that other polls show the election moving in a much different direction.

I can hear you muttering now, "Yes, but the new assessment is a year closer to the election than the Times piece, so of course it's going to be different--and more accurate."  Uh-uh.  In the Internet age, a month is an eternity.  Just ask Barack Obama, who looked deader than a doornail after his first debate with Romney, but won the election going away less than a month later.  An election assessment seven months out is no more likely to be accurate than an assessment made a year earlier.  The Nate Silver who wrote for the Times clearly knew that.  The Nate Silver that now works for ESPN has one of his minions defend the incredible accuracy of early polling.

I suspect that Nate had more of a truly free hand at the Times, which, its reputation among conservatives to the contrary, truly is what Fox claims to be:  fair and balanced.  Their Op-Ed pages have featured, on a regular basis, the likes of David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and even Bill Kristol (whose hiring must have been in a moment of real weakness; he didn't last long).*  ESPN, however, is a different story.  As a sports network, its customer base has a more conservative slant, and needs to find ways to feed that base as much red meat as possible.  Don't forget:  this is a network that once thought it was a great idea to hire Rush Limbaugh as a color commentator for its NFL coverage.  And we all know how well that worked out.

I don't think that Nate is a bad or dishonest person.  Ultimately, like the rest of us, he's just someone making a living as best he can.  But I think he's made a very bad business judgment by throwing in his lot with ESPN, and he may already be regretting it.  Do not be shocked if this latest corporate marriage does not last long--and Silver finds himself, once again, looking for someone with numbers to help pay for his numbers.

*FULL DISCLOSURE:  The Times has published several Letters to the Editor from me on the subjection of preservation for historic theaters.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Do The Oberlins Of The World Still Matter?

I am a graduate of Oberlin College.  I say that with a great deal of pride, because of Oberlin's place in the perceived hierarchy of institutions of higher learning.  I say that with much gratitude, because Oberlin accepted me as a student despite the fact that my high-school grades were more checkered than they should have been.  But I say it with some degree of ambivalence, because of Oberlin's knee-jerk addiction to every single leftist fad on the planet.

It was this fad that pushed me, at an impressionable age, from a position of strong liberalism in politics toward the middle of the road--and even, in some cases to the right.  And it was not merely the stridency of the leftism that bothered me, but the unwillingness of those who advocated it to even engage in a dialogue about the pros and cons of their position versus the alternatives.  This created a climate that was exactly the opposite of what was supposed to characterize a liberal-arts college.

What is amazing about Oberlin is not only was this the case in the 1970s, liberalism's last real decade of political strength, but it is also the case today.  In an America transformed by Ronald Reagan and Wall Street into a banana republic, the campus is still an outpost not simply of leftism, but of the kind of leftism that would rather insist on its own answers than ponder anything that might question it.  There is no better example of this than the recent kerfuffle over "trigger warnings." 

If you're unfamiliar with this story, I'll let you get up to speed by clicking on the link and reading it.  If you are, I'll go ahead right now and say that the ridiculous nature of the policy proposed (and thankfully tabled, for now) should speak for itself.  How could any subject be taught with an uninhibited focus on learning if every instructor attempted to pad all of the subject's sharp corners to prevent every single student from being "triggered"?  Is it even possible to do this?  And, in any event, isn't it the mission of a college or university to explore and expand knowledge in any and all directions, no matter how uncomfortable those directions may be?

And yet, I would not be true to the spirit of those questions if I did not ask myself another one.  In a world that has found increasing comfort in mocking the hardships of others, are we not lucky to have places like Oberlin, where it is at least possible to openly acknowledge those hardships, and work toward ways to address them?  Isn't it fortunate to have schools where positions outside of the mainstream, and the mainstreams incessant need to compromise ("centrism," anyone?), can at least be explored fully, enabling all of us to discover not only their intellectual validity, but also their pedagogical and cultural functionality.  Isn't it amazing, in a society that has become paralyzed by the very thought of change, to have places like Oberlin where change can be more than a possibility?

Well, that's three more questions.  But they are interrelated and, as far as I am concerned, the answer is "Yes."  And this is why the Oberlins of the world still matter.  In fact, they may very well be our last, best hope for any kind of real change at all.  We do not need knee-jerk leftism, but, as a nation, we need the ability to ask questions, and to have faith in the possibility of coming up with answers.  Our political process has lost the ability to do either of those things.  We should be deeply grateful that schools like Oberlin at least make the attempt, however imperfectly at times, to do so.

I hope Oberlin is able to resolve the "trigger warning" debate, and I believe it will find a way to do so, at least for now.  But I hope and pray that its basic, iconoclastic nature never changes.  The 18-year-old version of me had a tough time wrestling with it.  The soon-to-be-58-year-old version of me thinks that we need it now more than ever.  Society as a whole should never be like Oberlin--but it should always have many Oberlins in its midst.