Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lurching Toward Anarchy

Lurching Toward Anarchy

We are the net beneficiaries of use-um or lose-um dining points accrued by a friend, resident in a senior assisted living facility. Sunday’s brunch guests included our hostess, her daughter and son-in-law, another widow, and a widower. This group has dined before and  the only difference this time was that the widower could get more specific ( he has the failed ACA rollout to carp about) in his disdain for all things; liberal, so called progressive, and very specifically President Obama. He uses that wonderful smartest guy in the room tone when after asserting a string of Fox newsisms, he couches his remarks in the umbrella phrase, “but maybe I heard wrong.” People who only have experience with the now Will cannot conceive of the diplomatic Will, who could be and was strategic in his rhetoric, polite in his decorum, and tolerant of divergence in debate. ( I was a member of the Nixon transition team) No more. The evolved Will has no tolerance for racism or classism, or the shredding of the social contract that has the privileged waging war against the poor. The push back started slowly when hearing how most of the new beneficiaries of affordable health care were going to get it for nothing, and those who wanted to keep their existing policies couldn’t and we were going to have to pay for them.  I am not going to argue for this act, I support single payer expansion of Medicare for all, but the insidious classism expressed by the widower crossed the line. No one is going to change any minds in these rooms. That is not the point. The point for me is to stand up to the self interested for whom government is no more than an instrument to secure and further their net worth.  “ What is your alternative? Would you have them die on the street?”  He joins the debate. And now the interesting part, there is the signal from observers to shush. “We have agreed not to talk politics or religion here.” or the attempt to change the subject. 

The widower is smart. He can now chide the son-in-law, accusing him of being a socialist. He gets away with it. There is no self defense. In fact the conversation takes that turn I find so common amongst liberals, academics, and apologists. Where is civility?, they ask. “I can’t speak from the extreme another is heard to say.” They defer to the aged as if they don’t know what they are saying or are entitled to some grace, given they are members of “The Greatest Generation.” The widower actually says that his generation is the one that made America great and the benefits the poor receive are the consequence of his hard work. “What made the country, says I, was earned on the back of slaves, who worked for free.”
That tears it. I look straight at the son-in-law and put it that we have an obligation to stop these race baiters, or red baiters. He can’t, he admits. 

Who gets the bye?  We now have embedded premises that embolden the big lie. “Equal time, fair and balanced, they are entitled to their opinion” and it can become part of the curriculum.  So we give equal weight to flat earthers, climate change deniers, homophobes, misogynists, anti-semites, and racists. I speak directly to the concept of civility and suggest that it is highly abused idea: I have seen blacks exploited and abused by persons who insist, in the most civil terms, to be treated with respect, and the abused should hold their collective tongues. The young are universally repressed from speaking and acting out, all in the name of civility. The authority can utilize the most un-civil means necessary to suppress the populace and the so called informed sit silent, unable to speak to abuses.  The Greatest generation gave us the world wars, and their last vestiges continue to give us perpetual war. The rich get richer and accuse anyone who questions the ways and means of their enrichment of perpetuating class war. All of the above have been adequately spoken to. You have heard all of this before. The issue is the inability of any but the most disenfranchised to yell out.  

“We must find the middle ground. We have lost our ability to compromise”. Nah, you can have that load. It’s about time that the ugliest specters of the human beast are being given voice and the collective inability to do anything about it becomes evident. So the bullies are now filmed in the process. They are called out and nothing changes. The protectors of inequality and exploitation are now running rabid on the land and we can’t chain the beast. Every pro business supreme court decision is greeted with a kind of shock by the offended liberals and yet they genuflect before the token liberals on the court that perpetuate the myth of compromise. Every offensive police brutality that is today’s news becomes tomorrow’s relief that it wasn’t me or mine that was victimized. Or, as the widower so eloquently put it when asked to justify the wage disparity in corporate America, accurately stated the obvious that “as long as the stock price advance no one cares”. 

To this I say, God bless the person in the street. I don’t care if they are a gun toting Tea Party looney, a Muslin Brother, a Pink Lady, a transvestite, A Viet Vet on a bike, or a WTO street punk wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. It really is time to disturb the perpetrators of the status-quo and the uglier and meaner that activity gets the better. I’m dusting off the shit kickers and expect to be in the street somewhere, sometime soon. Enough of listening to the apologists. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer Reading

Summer reading has been especially stimulating so far this year. The discovery of Rebecca West,   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_West  and plowing through most of her output was a source of constant amazement. This author is said to be the best "female" writer in western civ.  William Buckley referred to her in an interview as the best writer, period. For fifty years Ms West struggled with the tension of individual responsibility in community. Her work, be it novel, travel journal, essay, or reportage veers to the moral quandary of what am I to do, in the face of the Holocaust, the oppressive parent, the tradition of the tribe, the expectations of my culture. In her final, unfinished book of essays, "Survivors of Mexico", she revisits the indigenous peoples suffering at the swords of the conquistadors, and moves through the centuries of Mexican history culminating in the attempts of the muralists, in league with leftists, to dignify and edify their history.

And then I read, Things as they are, or The adventures of Caleb Williams, by William Godwin. This book is the first mystery novel in western lit {1794}and is available on line through Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11323. I read the novel without knowing much of Godwin and was so blown away by the book, {no spoilers here},  that I went on to read in his philosophy. He is an early Anarchist and a Utilitarian http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/godwin/ and to the extent that I can understand what he is about, concluded that his hope for mankind was that a people rid of government could reach a high order of civilization, if, and here is the leaven, they attain high levels of education. 

Colum McCann's newest novel, "Transatlantic", fictionalizes stories of historical characters who made the crossing from and to Ireland.  In 1845 Fredric Douglas, still a slave, made the crossing to lecture across the island. Upon arrival he is witness to the early stages of the famine, and poverty so severe that he is humbled by the degradation. What an irony. Standing before large crowds demanding suffrage, bread, and freedom,  he is caught in the dilemma of joining with the forces stirring to overcome their suppression while maintaining his personal objective of advancing the cause of emancipation of black slaves. He cops to his cause, raising the funds needed to advance abolition.  

Douglas was caught in the same bind we find ourselves in today. Are we members of an interest group, a position we take because we belong in a special minority membership,  say a feminist is, because she is a woman, or, am I committed to an issue, like gun control? Most organizers believe and act as if any alignment is dilutive and argue against forming alliances with groups with which you might have an affinity. In so doing they deny us the possibility of coalition building that is going to be required to rid of us the oppressors who, without having to announce their affiliations, act as a "community of like interests". The banker who is going to finance the corporation who builds the next intelligent drone doesn't need to announce his pro-war position. It is understood. It is not so easily understood that the Gay Rights lobby has an interest in the Voting Rights Amendment. Liberals don't act as if we are in coalition. There is no rainbow nor big tent that embraces us. We are not in a community of interests. What liberal organizers have failed to appreciate is that we have the potential to get beyond issue and make ethical judgements that transcend our narrow interests. 

I could make the case by example: Some may hate the Justice Department for its pursuit against medical marijuana, its failure to indict Wall Street criminals, the persecution of Edward Snowden, or the suppression of free speech. Many of these very same people are asking the Justice Department to pursue hate crime indictments against George Zimmerman? If they indict him do we forgive and forget the ongoing cluster of behaviors that we despise? These positions represent issues to which we may or may not agree. The narrowness of these positions obfuscate the larger issue of government over-reach. Anyone on the wrong side of a gas attack from militarized "police" doesn't need to be organized in opposition to government suppression. What he or she may need to be reminded of is that I support you in your cause today, for tomorrow it will be my turn.

A more glaring example may be our reaction to a court system that conspicuously denies All of us, justice. We love the Supreme Court reversal of DOMA while we hate their gutting of the Voting Rights Act?  It appears the pr machine that works for the court is aware of the increasing disaffection of the masses and is now trotting out members that appeal to special interests. So Justice Souter suddenly appears on talk shows discussing the process. He is our liberal go to guy. He still loses 5/4 or votes "wrong" when we least expect it. And why not? He is them. What we are learning is we can't pick and choose. We applaud Obama's retreat from the active theaters of war, but we hate his use of drones. We want the economy to expand, to create jobs and "opportunity". We can't live with the downstream consequences of pollution and global warming. 

Four years ago I considered the implications of the "Double Bind" http://mypinksalmon.blogspot.com/2009/06/double-bind.html and hinted at a life strategy that might help us negotiate it.  The thinking then was that I was able to go my own way in a world too big to care about the implications of persons who chose to opt out, form clusters of like minded souls and create practical communities of interest. It won't do. What's changed? Where do you want to start?  No-one cared about a bunch of drug toking hippies living in domes in New Mexico. Governments do care about millions of underemployed, indebted, connected youth who are starting to get the fact that there is no hope for their aspirations. They are a potential force, and policy and practice is to surveil them, thwart them, imprison them, and prepare to violently oppose them. The appropriate response to their repression is to throw the buggers out. We can't be conned by the fear of what might follow. The past is not prologue. We have the ways and means to construct effective alternatives to tyranny. Most importantly we begin by accepting the responsibility of being in this together. Your fight is my fight. I'll be Trayvon Martin, you be my labor union member. I'll be your gay partner, you be my social security advocate. I'll be the parent of Malala, you be my public school advocate.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

An Appreciation of Saint Patrick

I adore this time of year; the clock springs forward, croci pop the earth's crust, and supermarkets compete for the lowest price on corned beef. If this is really the end of days, and beef is going to become a rare commodity, rather than migrate to the vegan option, I am going out with a smear of fat on the lip, and an extra pound on the hip. 

This behavior of mine concedes that we are locked into a pattern of self destruction.  As The Donald and his ilk fire up their private jets, single handedly offsetting whatever strides I, and thousands of others might make to conserve, it finally comes down to; I am not going to sacrifice mine so that that prick can fly off to Palm Beach without a care for the world. 

I am not content with the traditional New England boiled dinner. For me the prospect of $1.69 a pound point cut corned beef is an opportunity to reach for the divine. There is probably a shrine somewhere high in the Balkans; "Patrick passed here, on his way to Ireland from his Greek retreat". On that journey he must have experienced the bliss of the truly magnificent contribution that is attributed to Romanians, the pastrami. Clearly he lost the recipe on route.

I have discovered it, and the process of rolling my own. A pastrami is a corned (cured) beef, that is, boiled, subjected to the seasoning of a particular spice rub, smoked, steamed when re-heating, sliced thick, and piled on slabs of twice baked rye bread. It is literally to die.

A word on smoking. There is no way to convert that proud outdoor grill of yours to a smoker. Despite hundreds of instructions from so-called experts, it doesn't work. Smoking requires a low, slow, moist heat. You can build intricate smokers. For my money, you can't beat the simplicity of a Brinkmann Smoker

It comes in pieces. The base holds a good pile of brickets, started in a charcoal chimney. You add to the fire a handful of oak, apple, or wood of choice, sticks that have been soaked in water. You then place the body of the smoker on the base and place inside the water pan, filled with water. Place the first rack just above the water on the clips that will receive it. Place the meat, I get three roasts on a rack, around staying close to the edges for maximum "bark" crusty bits. Then the next rack, the rest of the beef, then put the cover on and leave alone for an hour. At that point you want to throw on some more brickets and sticks, (through the door on the side) and turn the beef around to maximize contact with the smoke. Two hours will do it. 

Now back to the basics. When shopping for corned beef you are going to have several choices. There is pink, treated with nitrites in the cure, grey untreated, and because of the fact that less is more, it costs three times what pink corned beef sells for. Then you will have a choice of flat cut, or point cut. Flat cuts are leaner and cost twice what point cuts cost. I choose point cuts BECAUSE they are fatter and can stand up to the long slow process of cooking and moistening the final product. At this time of year you are going to find stacks of 
roasts in the meat case. They are not all the same. I might examine ten before I pick the one I want. I am looking for a pointed cut with a streak of fat appearing to split the roast in two. It does. If I am going to the effort to make pastrami, I make a batch that fits the smoker. Seven roasts, about twenty pounds works for me. 

I begin by getting out the lobster pot, you can do this in stages or go in tandem with a pal, and before I slow simmer the corned beef, I score them with slashes about an  inch apart, 1/8 in deep, across the fat, the entire length of the roast. It keeps them from tightening into weird shapes. I simmer them for 2 hours (they don't need seasoning). Remove from the pot and let them cool. 

Now create a rub of 1/4 cup K salt, 1/4 cup paprika, 3 tbl crushed coriander seed, 3 tbl brown sugar, 3 tbl black pepper, 2 tbl crushed mustard seed, a scattering of crushed red pepper flakes, and either flaked garlic, or powder, or crushed cloves, say 8 cloves or 3 tbls of ersatz. Buzz in a blender or processor. Rub the cool roasts all over and let sit while you prepare the smoker. 

When the smoking is complete the shrinkage will reveal the horizontal cut, there will be a streak of fat you will follow.  You are going to make, a flat roast, and a pointy one off the top. The flat roast is ready to carve. Critical is to see the grain, it is obvious, and cut across it. This is your sandwich pastrami. 

The top cut can be chilled and used for hash the next day. When you slice the pointy cut you are going to see the chunks of fat that can easily be trimmed off and then the lean can be chopped for your hash: Home fries with lots of onion, mixed in equal proportions to the pastrami, pressed in a pan, heated, topped with a poached egg. I am now poaching eggs in my nuker. I 3/4 fill a custard cup with water, crack an egg in the water, top the cup with plastic wrap, prick hole in the top, nuke for 1 minute 5 seconds at max. Remove egg with slotted spoon. Perfect. 

I have read of yet new attempts to get rich providing meals ready to eat to civilians. The arguments goes that despite numerous hours clocked watching food channels, and morbid obsession with food, the modern has neither the time or interest to cook. So obviously the above takes time. But really, most of the time is spent waiting, and occasionally watching. During which time you can be doing all kinds of things like reading, or talking face to face with the people you are going to share this with. Or making cole slaw or apple brown betty for dessert. My triple bottom line is that for me and mine, cooking and eating is The pastime, the preferred activity and I want to hear what others run against it. "Oh, I am so busy at work, I haven't the time." Or, "When I get home I am too exhausted to contemplate cooking." That's what weekends are for. And the above beats anything you can buy eating out.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Bill McKibben is heard to say that he is thrilled to see the "kids" on campuses all over the country taking on the divestiture challenge.

Here is the local press reporting on Sterling College divesting as a way to avert global warming. 
Following up on my last post I want to note what isn't being said to the students who are pushing for divestiture on their respective campuses.
Let's start with the most basic understanding of what a divestment entails. You sell the stock of company X out of your portfolio to another buyer. The net number of shares, or capital position of the underlying company doesn't change. So you haven't done a thing to halt global warming. You have done the least you can do, a symbolic gesture that may feel good, but as I have contended, actually saps the energy and responsibility away from actions that might actually make a difference. 

The professional journal The Chronicle dealt with the issue from the perspective that divestment will not have a negative impact on its member institutions' portfolio performance. 
A letter from a faculty member (music department) in response speaks to the morality of divestment regardless of portfolio performance. 
This august organ says nothing about the underlying issue; what to do about the reduction of our carbon footprint?

As I set forth in the previous blog, production is a by-product of demand. Want to do something about the burning of fossil fuels? Stop consuming them. If one were truly interested in a mass movement that might have an impact, rather than divest (a meaningless gesture) from a consumption group, say auto manufacturers, an organizer would move to reduce sales of the vehicles of consumption. But then that organizer would run headlong into all the vested interests arguing that the economy was saved by the bailout of the auto industry. We are up against the double bind again. 
It gets worse. The colleges that have signed on to divestiture are small and remote and totally dependent on autos and trucks, burning fossil fuels, to get their students hither and yon. If their faculties were alert to the implications of divestment a grand discussion could be joined that would make visible this hypocrisy and the greater problematic (classist and racist) issues of stopping "development" in other places. Maybe some sensitivity could be stimulated for those persons who live in other remote areas of this country, or who are desperately trying to enter the 21st century as developing countries. 

Organizers of divestment movements like to point out the success of actions against South Africa in the attempt to undo apartheid. There was a commonly held agreement that apartheid was an evil practice and by withholding economic activity one could sway the government to alter its behavior. There is no parallel in selling one's stock in a fossil fuel producing firm. 

What is required, and what is feasible, is the changing of the basic patterns of consumption, of these students in particular. When I arrived in Maine to try to develop a model of how a university might create incentives for students to get out of their cars, I was informed that car pooling just wasn't part of the culture of Mainers. We couldn't even get bike sharing started without a fight. When we were students car sharing was normal. Ride to/from boards were posted in student unions all over the country to assist moving students home for the holidays or weekends. No more. On a larger scale students could and should be organized to demand the alternatives be developed. But, they should be schooled in what is practical and affordable. They should be schooled in the real costs of burning fossil fuels (throughputs) so that they can make rationale judgements about what they are willing to spend to secure their energy future. And they should never ask others to do without something they are unwilling to sacrifice for themselves.