The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

The Morning Will Come When The World Is Mine

We are headed for trouble.

Minnesota Nice was originally written for a British site’s pre-election feature. That didn’t work out, despite lots of effort from some very capable people, including the only Republican with whom I’m still on speaking terms. I’m grateful for their work. That failure is one tiny illustration, I think, of why simply being nice isn’t going to solve our problem.

My editor warned me that his readers might know as much about Minnesota as I know about Shropshire. I know that there are lads in Shropshire — or there used to be at least one lad — but that’s about it. In the article, did my best to explain Minnesota, and editors did a lot of work to explain even more.

Resurgent racism and anti-Semitism — such as the Baraboo, Wisconsin prom boys pictured above — were central to the election of 2018. I wrote:

That age-old question of whether Jews and persons of colour are fully people has once again been placed on the American political agenda. At the University of Minnesota last March, posters asked “Why Are Jews After Our Guns?’ Pro-gun flyers were illustrated with caricatures of scheming, long-nosed Jews. One student at a St. Paul, MN university recently awoke to find “Nigger Go Home!” scrawled on his dormitory door. Presidential tweets and speeches frequently allude to immigrant-driven crime waves that do not, in fact, exist.

The editors felt, I expect, that this was too long and too elliptical. They preferred:

Even arguments that we thought long-settled are being fought again. One of America's great achievements in the 20th Century was establishing that religious and ethnic minorities were first-class citizens with the same rights and opportunities as the descendants of those who founded this country. Since Trump's rise, antisemitic flyers have appeared on university campuses across the country, and Presidential tweets and speeches frequently allude to immigrant-driven crime waves that do not, in fact, exist. Religious and ethnic minorities get the message: you are an “other”, you're not welcome here.

This does appear to be what reasonable American conservatives now believe. I have one word for it, and that word is: shameful.

The great achievement of 18th Century America was religious and ethnic tolerance, the resolution that all men were created equal. It’s not a 20th-century novelty in the United States (though it is in Britain, where Jewish emancipation waited for 1867 and was not complete until 1890). The American Right has forgotten who we are: unum e pluribus. From 1787, we have held that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Those “descendants of those who founded this country” include African-Americans — unless you are writing Crispus Attacks , Peter Salem and so many more out of our history. (That’s their plan.) Mordechai Sheftall was Jewish, and he was Deputy Commissary General for George Washington’s army. Richard Lushington’s “Jew Company,” recruited from Charleston SC, had a company cantor. If I recall correctly, the 8th Maryland Regiment, organized in 1776, spoke Deutsch.

The first successful revolt against colonial control in the future US was, of course, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Much of the Iroquois Confederacy supplied troops and supplies to the US Army.

The crazed Republican right holds that the US was founded as a white and christian nation, and that it generously welcomed minorities to share “the same rights and opportunities.” This is untrue, but even if it were historically defensible, it would be un-American. We have not always lived up to our ideals, but these have always been our ideals. None of us are other, and who are these preachers and pundits who choose to welcome us? We have always been here. The people trying to erase us are the people teaching little boys to salute their aryan nation before the prom, the people building concentration camps for toddlers.

The editor also wanted to clarify the underlying tensions of modern American politics, writing:

Democrats and Republicans once differed in degree but not so much in kind. Conservatives wanted less government intervention in the economy and in transforming our social relations while progressives wanted more.

This might be the view of progressives held by Ronald Reagan’s ghost, but it is completely unmoored from reality.

In the 1950s, nascent movement conservatism struggled to preserve segregation against a growing wave of revulsion. It argued that integration was unfair government interference with the South’s customs: if the South wanted lynchings and lunch counters, it said, that was up to them.

Movement conservatism struggled unceasingly against birth control and against women’s sexual autonomy. Since 2003, Republicans have railed against Lawrence v. Texas, the decision that decriminalized gay sex. Today, if you find a bathroom bill, it will be sponsored by Republicans. If you find a crazed wingnut eager to discriminate against gay couples, that wingnut will almost surely be Republican.

Framing Republicans as wanting less government intervention in our social relations is coded but clear: in plain language, it is a call for a the government to return to open discrimination against Blacks, Asians, gay people, Jews, and unmarried couples. It is in an attempt to shore up what movement conservatives and their theocrat allies consider old-fashioned values. This is not “less government intervention in transforming social relations;” it is seeking a new Confederacy, the restoration of as much of the Jim Crow South as can be salvaged.

Multiple editors saw these changes, and thought them innocuous.

This is not normal.

There is not much room for compromise: a nation half Nazi should not long endure. A nation where all the little boys shout “Heil!” (except one who makes a white power sign and one who just stands there and smiles): that’s the nation “conservatives” want us to be.

Even their best, most thoughtful voices seem so bent on retaining power forever that they cannot see the ends to which that power is already being used. They dream of a new morning in America. We have heard that song before, and we know what comes next: The morning will come when the world is mine/The world belongs to me.

It’s an old song.

It’s an old tale from way back when.

It’s an old song.

And we’re gonna sing it again.

Nov 18 12 2018

Minnesota Nice

Minnesota Nice

This summer, on a porch in a small town in Minnesota, I was ringing another doorbell for the Congressional candidate for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party, Angie Craig. It seemed that no one was home and I was ready to give up, when a startled, elderly woman struggled up from the recliner in which she had been enjoying a late-afternoon nap.

I wasn't there to talk to her: my walk sheet told me to speak to her husband, and only to her husband. That meant, I knew, that she was a confirmed Republican, though the campaign considered her husband to be persuadable. My instructions were to ask for her husband and, barring that, to move on.

Having disturbed her rest, I couldn't just walk away, so I introduced myself and started my pitch about our candidate, centered on health care and the Trump administration’s gradual demolition of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. I expected the door to slam; instead, I received a stern lecture on the horrors of Trump’s healthcare regime and her enthusiastic support for the DFL candidate. Her husband — the man I’d been sent to canvass — had recently died, and his surviving wife was convinced his death had been hastened by insurance prevarications and delays that the Trump administration was worsening. Republican health care had killed her husband; not only was she supporting our candidate, she doubted she could ever return to the Republican party.

Minnesotans are famously nice: cheerful, sympathetic and kind. Minnesota is the home of Prairie Home Companion, the place where all children are above average. The big Midwestern state has strongly progressive roots — many of its early settlers were refugees from Scandinavian famine — but Minnesotans are often conservative by nature, inclined to cooperation and compromise and averse to conflict. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is, in part, an allegory of Midwestern politics: the very name of the DFL commemorates the old Progressive alliance between farmers (who only need a brain) and labour unions (staunch and good with axes but sometimes heartless).

Increasingly, however, the issues that divide Minnesota cannot be bargained, and this fact underlies the intensity of US politics today, a polarization that recalls the decade preceding the American Civil War. That war came because, in the end, no compromise was possible: either people could be property, or they could not. The elderly lady I canvassed was not amenable to compromise, either: her husband had died when he might have been saved, and after that there’s nothing much to left to say.

A significant portion of Republican voters believe that abortion is murder, that homosexuality is perverse, and that ready availability of birth control has led to widespread moral degeneracy. These beliefs do not admit compromise or delay. The recent appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, notwithstanding allegations of sexual assault and dishonest testimony, suggests that delay may soon end.

Opponents of this view, however, argue that the underlying question is whether women are fully human. Scientific progress has made is possible for women to control their bodies; shall they be forbidden to do so? If women are to enjoy their own sexuality, they must have access to birth control and, in case of failure, to abortion. The intensity of this controversy has led American Catholics into political alliance with evangelical Protestants, but their opposition rests on different and irreconcilable theological grounds — grounds which many other Americans bitterly dispute, and which American tradition considers unsuitable for discussion outside one’s intimate circle. Sizable protests for and against Planned Parenthood, a foundation that offers women’s health services including abortion, have been frequent in Minnesota’s capitol since the 2016 election.

Similarly, the question of whether gay marriage is a blessing or a travesty is not suited to negotiation: either one loves whom one chooses, or yours may be a love that cannot (or should not) speak its name. Angie Craig, the Minnesota candidate for whom I was canvassing, has a wife and four sons. Her Republican opponent was a Republican talk-show host who once lamented it was no longer fashionable to describe certain women as “sluts.”

In Minnesota’s north, up against Lake Superior and the Canadian border, another bitter Congressional race was dominated by the issue of mining. Conventionally, Democrats favor conservation while Republicans promise jobs, and voters may choose one now and the other next year. Here, though, the issue was understood to involve a permanent choice between different jobs, between extensive mining of sulfide ores or the preservation of the Boundary Waters wilderness. Miners fear their jobs will vanish forever; foresters and wilderness outfitters fear the permanent loss of their livelihood. Once gone, either the mining infrastructure or the wilderness will be lost forever.In principle, questions of global warming and climate change might lend themselves to discussion, but Republican adherence to denial again takes compromise off the table.

That age-old question of whether Jews and persons of colour are fully people has once again been placed on the American political agenda. At the University of Minnesota last March, posters asked “Why Are Jews After Our Guns?” Pro-gun flyers were illustrated with caricatures of scheming, long-nosed Jews. One student at a St. Paul, MN university recently awoke to find “Nigger Go Home!” scrawled on his dormitory door. Presidential tweets and speeches frequently allude to immigrant-driven crime waves and that do not, in fact, exist.

The political divisions of a former generation were suited to compromise. One might favor higher taxes but be willing to try lowering them, just as one might favor pulling troops out of Afghanistan or Vietnam but be willing to contemplate one final effort. In the wake of the 1954 desegregation of public schools and the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act, a racially-segregated America could still dither for years over how much integration it wanted and how soon that integration was required. Americans today cannot find such intermediate points; they no longer exist.

When insiders urge greater understanding and civility, they mistake the situation. Just as America could not forever endure half-slave and half-free, those who believe that health care is a right will no longer abide deaths caused by unregulated insurers and uncaring bureaucracies. Those who kneel because Black Lives Matter cannot bargain away the memories of their lost children or the lives of children yet to fall to police bullets. The old ladies who knitted pussy hats for the first Women’s March were marching for their granddaughters’ right to love whom they would: they will not sacrifice their granddaughters for someone else’s religious sensibilities.

November’s midterms won’t end the fight, and calls for civility are pointless and pernicious. These differences cannot be adjusted by half measures, and the old vineyard where they grow the grapes of wrath is not far off.

Nov 18 7 2018

Tangletown, MN

There’s got to be a morning after.

We won what was winnable: the House. We did what we set out to do.

In Minnesota, we won MN-02 and MN-03 — both pickups from particularly invidious Republicans. We lost MN-08 up North. We still don't know about MN-01: this morning, Democrat Dan Feehan is down by 1400 votes but we’ll see. (I told our volunteers this might be the closest race in the country, and I was pretty close. That busload of volunteers on Saturday, many from UMN and Macalester and St. Olaf, looks pretty good right now.)

Trump remains strong. The forces of darkness retain terrible power. One of our two political parties is insane.

This is not the beginning of the end. Yet still…

- - -

Drainage matters in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul, so every suburban house is on its own little hill. That’s a lot of uphill driveways to walk.

It snows in Minnesota. Who knew? Rain, wind and snow make canvassing less fun.

It’s not much fun anyway.

They do breakfast well here. I had the “If You Must,” which has a thick slice of house-cured bacon from the restaurant’s own farm, eggs, cornbread — but can she make corn muffins?! — and really superb potatoes.

Democrats need to think about new media. We’ve left it to the Republicans. We took back a share this time because we had dollars and no broadcast slots to buy. I think it matters.

Democrats need to think about the human cost of our dependence on canvassing.

I did not see a Republican canvasser — not one — on any of my shifts. I did not see a Republican door-hanger — not one — on any of my doors. Yet we won MN-02 by 4% and lost MN-01 (though not by much — we think by less than 0.5%.)

Tangletown, MN
Nov 18 6 2018

Hastings, MN

The polls have closed in Minnesota.

I'm sore all over. I’m thoroughly chilled: who knew that it would snow in Minnesota? I have no idea what will happen next.

Here's the town hall near the staging location out of which I've been working.

Hastings, MN

A somewhat better campaign day, insofar as no cars from Texas have decided to use me for slalom practice.

Here’s one of the driveways I walked this morning. Some of the suburban parts of MN-02 are not especially urban. And there’s lots of soybeans and cornfields in the district, too.

A lot of Minnesotans do not want to talk about the election. I had one old lady whose address was so inscrutable that I asked a nice fellow tending his garden how to find it. He didn’t know, though his address was only a few numbers from hers! I mentioned that it was Mrs. D____ that I wanted to see, and he said, “Oh, of course. Just go down the dirt road, 4th house on the left.” So my problems were over — except I couldn't find the dirt road! I asked a nearby crew that was cutting down some trees where this dirt road might be — it had to be right there! They shrugged and said maybe it was on the other side of the tracks, and then they saw it not twenty yards from where they'd been working all morning.

Success! So Mrs. D____ opens the door, takes one look at the campaign card in my hand, looks at me with unabashed disgust and loathing, and slams the door.

Mrs. D______ is in the books as one of our supporters.

The email help desk, on the other hand, is a delight. Real questions that matter, and for which you can provide solutions — often in seconds. Good insights, too. I think this could scale into an institution of real value.

Cottage Grove Mississippi River, MN

Today featured another two shifts of canvassing, more email support, and a hit-and-run. The temperature stayed a few degrees above freezing, but rain was pretty much continuous. I pulled two shifts of low-information voters, Republicans, and incredibly rude Minnesotans, topped off by being hit by an out-of-state sports car than took off in great haste.

A smart fellow once told us to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This is getting to be a bit much.

  • Many of the Minnesotans I met today were astonishingly discourteous. I’m standing patiently in the freezing rain, asking them to vote in the most important election in our lifetimes. They’re stolid and silent: “Yes, I’ll probably vote. I haven’t decided who. I’ll look stuff up later — maybe Tuesday morning. Yah, Tuesday.”
  • OK: you're not into politics. I’ve travelled a long way. I’m standing in the cold and rain. You’re in your nice warm house. I’m asking for a minute of your time, sure, but I’m saying both our futures depend on it.
  • My hair is shorter today than on any day since 1968.
  • At least one had fallen for the Republican lie that Democrats want to end Medicare.
  • If canvassing is really the best tool in our toolbox, we need a new toolbox. This is very hard work for very scant gains.
  • Several (Republican) men younger than I made a point of keeping me from speaking to their 21-ish Democrat daughters. I need a second business card that says, “I don’t want to date her, I want her to vote.”
  • The hit and run wasn’t political (presumably): just a Texan in a sports car who cut an illegal left turn too tight and made tracks down the street before I could get my phone out of my pocket. Interesting to know a car can drive over your foot without too much damage. It got my leg, too, but a glancing blow.
  • I’d say, “I’ve had it with Minnesotans.” But then again, none of my friends and neighbors has troubled to take my motion to support immigrants off the Malden Democrats’ table in the last 18 months, or to come up with a better suggestion than the fatuous proclamation that we’re a welcoming city. That means we'll welcome immigrants while building dossiers to help our chief of police round them all up when Trump asks him to. We’ve made no formal response to Parkland, or to Tree of Life
  • I did have a great chat with Angie Craig, our candidate in MN-02. And as soon as she placed me, she lost not a minute to praise the wonderful Katherine Clark.
  • All the little girls at the Cottage Grove staging area (and there were lots of little girls!) knew all about the Elizabeth Warren’s pinky promise. They, at least, are politically aware.
Cottage Grove, MN

Just got hit and run by a car from Texas, in a pedestrian crosswalk. I’m fine, just surprised

Nov 18 3 2018

Canvassing

Canvassing
  • A very long day, canvassing in cold and rainy Rochester, Minnesota. Rochester is in MN-01, where Dan Feehan is running against the invidious Jim Hagedorn for an open seat. It may well be the closest tossup race in the country.
  • We had a Swing Left bus from Minneapolis-St. Paul via Northfield (home of St. Olaf and Carleton). Getting the bus was a real struggle: I was told repeatedly that busses were for New York and LA.
  • We made 1375 voter contacts. That’s nearly the 2016 margin in the entire district.
  • Nationwide, Swing Left knocked on 1,000,000 doors today.
  • Waiting for people to answer the doors, I’d glance down at their name and age in Minivan and tell myself, “give them time: they’re old folks.” Then I realized that they were scarcely older than I. Thanks, Time!
  • I was paired with a really good canvasser, South Carolina Lydia. A number of the door knockers had expressly Christian symbols; when I saw those, I found myself letting Lydia take the lead. Thanks, Gamergate!
  • A number of people told us that they didn't know who they would vote for, and didn't want any information and didn't want to talk. They’d decide Tuesday morning. My sense is that some of these people just don't want their opinions to be known because they'd be embarrassed to defend them — but, remember, these were all likely Democratic voters.
  • I did talk to a number of people whose background seemed to be Baltic (or Eastern European at any rate) who, I thought, might not want their opinions to be known because they're thinking ahead to Trump’s secret police — and they've got more experience of this than we do. 

A very long day, canvassing in cold and rainy Rochester, Minnesota. Rochester is in MN-01, where Dan Feehan is running against the invidious Jim Hagedorn for an open seat. It may well be the closest tossup race in the country.

  • We had a Swing Left bus from Minneapolis-St. Paul via Northfield (home of St. Olaf and Carleton). Getting the bus was a real struggle: I was told repeatedly that busses were for New York and LA.
  • We made 1375 voter contacts. That’s nearly the 2016 margin in the entire district.
  • Nationwide, Swing Left knocked on 1,000,000 doors today.
  • An interesting fact about MN-01 is that, although the district is not remote or obscure, it’s not the closest swing district to almost anyone who doesn't live there. If you're in the Twin Cities, MN-02 and MN-03 are closer. If you’re to the west, MN-07 (which we treated as a swing district) is closer. If you're to the east, you're probably closer to either MN-02 or WI-01. To the south, there’s IA-01 and IA-03. If you're to the north, you’re Canadian.
  • Waiting for people to answer the doors, I’d glance down at their name and age in Minivan and tell myself, “give them time: they’re old folks.” Then I realized that they were scarcely older than I. Thanks, Time!
  • I was paired with a really good canvasser, South Carolina Lydia. A number of the door knockers had expressly Christian symbols; when I saw those, I found myself letting Lydia take the lead. Thanks, Gamergate!
  • A number of people told me that they didn't know who they would vote for, and didn't want any information and didn't want to talk about it: they’d decide Tuesday morning. My sense is that some of these people just don't want their opinions to be known because they'd be embarrassed to defend them — but, remember, these were all likely Democratic voters, and I’m from Swing Left..
  • I did talk to a number of people whose background seemed to be Baltic (or Eastern European at any rate) who, I thought, might not want their opinions to be known because they're thinking ahead to Trump’s secret police — and they've got more experience of this than we do.
Rochester, MN
Nov 18 2 2018

Burnsville, MN

First shift is in the books. Great training at the big Burnsville office (plenty of parking!), amidst much moving of desks as the office doubles in size overnight.

Minnesota street numbers do not always appear in strict numerical sequence.

Afterward, a huge onslaught of help desk email, filled with people confirming shifts for tomorrow or Tuesday or both. I mean, we’ve got seven or eight people hammering away, and we're barely keeping up. Yikes.

I really need a beer.

Burnsville, MN

Off to Minnesota, 23 seats to flip, a nation to save.

Ive been relieved of my new corkscrew, carried in my drop kit inside the small bag I’m carrying on to save money. great security theater.

Minnesota

by David Hackett Fischer

The American Revolution nearly failed. At the end of 1776, the President sent New Year’s wishes to General Washington, hoping that the new year would be nothing like the horrible year they had just endured.

All that was about to change. In fact, it had already changed with Washington’s daring Christmas expedition across the Delaware. In the following weeks, Washington’s winter campaign in New Jersey invigorated the sagging spirits of liberty, dismayed the British and Hessian professionals, and changed the world.

I’m leaving soon for Minnesota, where Swing Left has four tossup races.

Speaking of Getting Out The Vote, here’s GOTV 1896, from Vachel Lindsay’s “Bryan! Bryan! Bryan!”

When Bryan came to Springfield , and Altgeld gave him greeting,

Rochester was deserted, Divernon was deserted,

Mechanicsburg, Riverton, Chickenbristle, Cotton Hill,

Empty: for all Sangamon drove to the meeting-

In silver-decked racing cart,

Buggy, buckboard, carryall,

Carriage, phaeton, whatever would haul,

And silver-decked farm wagons gritted, banged and rolled,

With the new tale of Bryan by the iron tires told.

The State House loomed afar,

A speck, a hive, a football, a captive balloon!

And the town was all one spreading wing of bunting, plumes, and sunshine,

Every rag and flag and Bryan picture sold,

When the rigs in many a dusty line

Jammed our streets at noon,

And joined the wild parade against the power of gold.

We roamed, we boys from High School,

With mankind, while Springfield gleamed, silk-lined.

Oh, Tom Dines, and Art Fitzgerald,

And the gangs that they could get!

I can hear them yelling yet.

Helping the incantation,

Defying aristocracy,

With every bridle gone,

Ridding the world of the low down mean,

Bidding the eagles of the West fly on,

Bidding the eagles of the West fly on,

We were bully, wild and woolly,

Never yet curried below the knees.

We saw flowers in the air,

Fair as the Pleiades, bright as Orion,

-Hopes of all mankind,

Made rare, resistless, thrice refined.

Oh, we bucks from every Springfield ward!

Colts of democracy-

Yet time-winds out of Chaos from the star-fields of the Lord.

The long parade rolled on. I stood by my best girl.

She was a cool young citizen, with wise and laughing eyes.

With my necktie by my ear, I was stepping on my dear,

But she kept like a pattern without a shaken curl.

She wore in her hair a brave prairie rose.

Her gold chums cut her, for that was not the pose.

No Gibson Girl would wear it in that fresh way.

But we were fairy Democrats, and this was our day.

Minnesota, Here I Come

by Kate Quinn

In 1947, Charlotte St. Clair, a well-heeled American college student, is heading to Switzerland with her mother in order to take care of a little problem. She ditches her mother in Southampton in order to pursue a clue to the whereabouts of her wonderful French cousin Rose, who disappeared in the war. The clue leads her to the dilapidated house of an alcoholic WWI British spymistress who threatens to shoot her. The game is soon afoot.

Based on an actual WWI spy network, the story alternates in time and point of view between the first war and the aftermath of the second. Charlie is a good character in a good predicament, and she gets the story off to a good start. Later, the situation takes over and things become too easy; contrast Simon Mawer’s haunting Trapeze.

by Mackenzie Lee

A swashbuckler, reminiscent of The Count Of Monte Cristo, with a difference: our rakish 18th-century hero is accompanied on his journey toward virtue by his best friend, who is black, and by his sister, who is a feminist and who is secretly studying medicine. A rollicking frolic is had by all.

by Jeremy Dauber

Through much of the twentieth century, American comedy — standup, skit, theatrical, cinematic or on television — was chiefly Jewish comedy. Jeremy Dauber surveys this scene and ties it to ancient writings and medieval tradition. A thorough and fascinating study.

Oct 18 11 2018

After Kavanaugh

The Kavanaugh confirmation fight will be remembered as the moment when everything changed.

In 1856, a congressman from South Carolina clubbed a senator from Massachusetts into bloody unconsciousness on the floor of the Senate. This will be like that.

  • The underlying question before us is whether women are fully human. Scientific progress has made it possible for women to control their bodies; shall they?
  • Whenever Kavanaugh’s vote is decisive, we will remember that this stolen vote was cast by an intemperate partisan, a liar and a drunkard who, in his youth, attempted to rape an acquaintance.
  • This will not be forgotten, because it is impossible to forget.
  • If women are to enjoy their own sexuality, they must have access to birth control and, in case of failure, to abortion. We also require a social convention that permits women to prevent or to end an unwanted relationship even if they are physically or socially weaker.
  • The question does not readily admit to compromise. If preventing the conception of a potential child, or ending a pregnancy, is murder, then women are simply not as human as men.
  • This question has now been settled; people will love whom they choose. Nevertheless, the Republican Party now controls the Supreme Court and intends to restrict access to birth control, to abortion, and to the voting booth.
  • The damage to the Supreme Court will be swift, severe, and lasting. I doubt it will ever be repaired.
  • Everyone will be involved. After Roe falls, we’ll be arranging secret trips to abortion-friendly states. After Griswold falls, we’ll be smuggling contraceptives into restrictionist states. There will be roadblocks at the state line. Republicans will pass more stringent laws and impose Draconian enforcement. We will have an Underground Railroad and a fugitive abortionist act.
  • It’s still not going to be enough.
  • One Republican senator might have delayed or derailed the confirmation of a judge who is an intemperate partisan, a liar and a drunkard who, in his youth, attempted to rape an acquaintance. Not one had the courage.
  • A further consequence of this situation will likely be a formal schism of the Catholic Church. Many will blame Francis, but Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae leaves little room for maneuver. It might have been possible to temporize for another generation, but with everyone in the nation involved in the struggle, temporizing won’t work. Control of parochial schools is going to be a frightful mess.
  • American Protestants will rediscover sectarianism. Once, the dividing line was the empty cross in the nave; now, it will be the rainbow at the door.
  • Already, it’s very difficult to maintain amity across the divide. You can’t pal around with someone who thinks you or your friends are not quite human. I think I know three Republicans now. I’ve stayed friends with one (for some definition of “friend”) by cutting off all contact; for ten years we avoided religion and politics, and now we avoid everything. I didn’t know until today that the second held such opinions. The third is a professional political operative who is good at his job and can (so far) navigate these treacherous waters. Amateurs cannot.
  • In the background, we have America’s concentration camps for toddlers. We have police who murder black folk with impunity. We have a revived and invigorated anti-Semitism and white supremacism supported by a political party gone mad. We have a government that plunders our environment for the benefit of a few, a government in the service of foreign dictators.
  • Amity is nice, but decency is not optional. A judge who is an intemperate partisan, a liar and a drunkard is going to rule that women are not fully human; under the circumstances, many will choose to be decent, not amiable.
  • We will be lucky to live through the storm. Many will not.

Update: The state represented by Preston Brooks, who assailed Charles Sumner, was South Carolina, not Kentucky.

The Web Unbalanced

photo:Maranke Wieringa

What was I doing in Paris? I opened Web Studies 2.0, a fascinating meeting of (mostly) Euopean and North African web researchers, with a look at the World Wide Web we have built through our research.


How did we come to this pass?

New media were meant to augment our abilities and to liberate our understanding. We dreamt of fast access to unbounded libraries, of university-level courses delivered at minuscule cost to remote villages, of access to tools. We envisioned new literary forms and a new birth of freedom of expression unencumbered by the cost of chopped trees.

What we got was Facebook, Reddit and 4chan. We got Jimmy Wales and Milo Yiannopoulos and Candy Crush Saga. We got Gamergate and the GRU. We got Donald Trump.

All this is not entirely our fault, or only our fault. But it is our fault; our new media ecology is the world we have made, and it is far, far from the world of which we had dreamt. Our predicament arose, I believe, because the twentieth century discovered a set of beautiful, difficult, and powerful ideas — and we handed those ideas to knaves, fools, and villains. The same ideas were available as well to dedicated scholars, thoughtful policy-makers, and brilliant artists, but our world is not always a place of perfect symmetry and the systems we built seem often, in practice, to favor the abusive and to privilege the villain.

This asymmetry is arguably the defining property of our new media ecology.


The paper goes on to discuss some specific ways that today’s Web helps villains more than is helps the virtuous, and then look for some ways we could change that.

ACM Digital Library subscribers can read the paper here, and everyone can read it here.