Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Letter To An Unknown Woman

I don't post as much these days as I once did -- like so many others, I have retreated into my family and teaching life a bit as the madness of the larger world is swept with destructive gale-force winds. But I am still writing my way through the distress and provocation of day to day life as ever nowadays, it's just that I've re-connected to some of my oldest and most trusted friends in longform letter-writing over the last year. It has been literally life-saving. Anyway, I'm deep in end-of-term teaching demands at the moment, little likely to craft a new post for a few days at any rate and this excerpt from a letter last weekend felt a bit like a blog post, so I have culled it of any tell-tale references, adapted it a tad, and pass it off as a blog-entry....
I enjoyed your optimistic appraisal of the Trump investigation -- I assume Europeans are eager for ANY sign of a resumption of "regular " order here in America. I'm afraid it looks less like that here. For me the Mueller investigation is a bit chilling right now -- because it really does look like demonstrable wrongdoing has occurred (I wasn't sure even the Trump bunch was THAT clueless and venal). Unfortunately, that does NOT mean that impeachment is any more likely than it was a year ago (which was nill), it is a political not a legal process in a very significant way. That very probably means Republicans will soon violate yet another set of governing norms to maintain their hold on power even as this destroys the viability of the Republic over which they hold that power.

I personally believe Trump will serve his full term. He may quit at that point (before that it is possible, but the chances are very slim in my opinion), because he seems miserable, but I strongly suspect he will run again because his ego needs the affirmation. I believe he has exactly the same path to re-election as he had for election in the first place. He might lose, he is unprecedentedly unpopular, but if the GOP activates its bigot base and promises to punish the ones they hate and fear it may well work again to the ruin of us all. How can we deny this? IT HAS HAPPENED ALREADY.

Perhaps Republican dysfunction will screw up their efforts to demolish the tax base on which our devastated at best never more than notionally sustainable social democracy depends. (We'll know three weeks from now, tops, just how bad it's going to be -- I am steeling myself for the absolute worst, vast wealth transfer upward, fatal sabotage of health care, abortion rollback, guns everywhere, the "tax" bill is becoming a fascist christmas tree in a room nobody gets to see.) But perhaps they'll screw it up, the negotiations are delicate even if it is all unfolding recklessly in darkness too fast for accountability. Perhaps paralysis and fear will undermine next year's efforts to re-enact all these efforts yet again, when battered and exhausted from this years struggles, we begin them yet again (thank the Goddess the Virginia off-year election has been read by both sides as a referendum on Trump that he miserably failed), and then perhaps a blue wave could overcomes gerrymandering and disenfranchisement enough to give Democrats control of one or both chambers of Congress (odds are against this, I fear, but it is probably a necessary result if we are going to make it through this emergency intact any time soon, I also truly fear) and gum up Trumpmerican efforts still more. Democrats would have to tread carefully then, minimizing Trump damage while trying to ensure the country blames Trump and not them for the next two years of inevitable frustration leading to the next Presidential election. Such a strategy will likely antagonize the progressive base in ways that will make the next primary as contentious as the last one -- and with exactly the same result, division, demoralization, self-sabotage.

If Democrats managed to control all the layers of government in 2020 somehow in spite of all the reasons everything is likely to go wrong instead, America can get roughly to about where we were in 2010 by 2022. Who knows what kinds of economic, environmental, or military catastrophes could happen between now and then to derange all these fragile calculations? Signs of another dot.bomb and bursting debt bubbles are everywhere, tyrants with arsenals (not just our own) are barking at one another, planetary alliances are shifting disturbingly (American exceptionalism is over, come what may, which is a plus for the world). Who knows if I'll even still be alive in 2022?
And even if we manage to pull off those miracles, at what point does greater progress happen? America should be like a continent-scaled Sweden already if the world is to turn back and save itself from eco-tastrophe. And, never forget: eco-tastrophe also means world war and world depression and social violence and existential threat. It would take a quarter century of vast effort to get where we need to be already. Instead, if Democrats save the country again (among other things, from themselves) it is most likely that we will have set the stage for yet another inevitable bigot backlash that smashes everything to pieces again by 2024, 2028 at the latest. I mean, demographic tipping points will presumably get us off this see-saw eventually -- but in time?

I doubt such speculations are much help when it comes to your panic attacks! But you are like me -- you don't have the option of NOT thinking things through and so the only sane option is to think things through as clearly as you can and then seek the support of those you care about while supporting those you care about as best you can. This is my own strategy, I suppose. Please take care of yourself, too.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Hope This Circulates Widely


I need to remember this one.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Still struggling with a head cold, still taking it easy today, prepping lectures and watching the tee vee under a blanket. This means Eric and I will miss our Sunday brunch and long walk this week, which is a bit disappointing. As end of term approaches, student e-mails are already multiplying into their eventual torrent of heartfelt freakouts, pleas for extensions, unreasonable demands, and a general ratcheting up of the madness factor. All is conspiring to make me feel exhausted and old and ready to retire to watch hundreds of episodes of Suchet's Poirot on a continuous loop on the couch till I kick the bucket.

Speaking of kicking the bucket, according to Christopher Bates:
On Friday, George H. W. Bush became the longest-lived president in U.S. history, at 93 years, 166 days. He surpassed Gerald Ford on that day, having passed #3 Ronald Reagan (93 years, 120 days) about a month and a half ago. Close on Bush Sr.'s heels is Jimmy Carter, who trails him by 111 days, at 93 years, 56 days. That means, for those who are keeping track, that each of the four presidents who followed Richard Nixon lived to be at least 93 (and all four lived twice as long as shortest-lived president JFK, who was shot in year 46, on day 177). It will now be up to Bush Sr. and/or Carter to try to become the first ex-president to make it to 94. For those who are wondering, Donald Trump would reach George H. W. Bush's current age on November 28, 2039; George W. Bush would tie pops on December 19, 2039; Bill Clinton would catch up on February 2, 2040; while it would take Barack Obama until October 14, 2057.
  I myself arrive at the magic moment, if I am very lucky indeed and without any Presidential gravitas in tow, just a couple years after Obama does. At last! Something that doesn't make me feel superannuated this morning.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Looks like I'm staying in bed today with a cold. Friends from Seattle brought a cold with them, Eric suffered with it for a couple of days and now it looks to be my turn. Reading the fifth and last volume of Tariq Ali's "Islam Quintet," putting together notes for next week's lectures on Judith Butler and Sara Ahmed. Feeling a bit woozy and blue. Maybe I'll watch Valerian later today under a ridiculous faux-fur blanket.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Why would anybody go big when you can go home?

Made a feast of stir-fried crimini mushrooms, braised tofu, fresh spinach and udon noodles, then strawberries with nonpareils for dessert. Cannabis and "The Desolation of Smaug" on the tee vee. A lovely Thanksgiving with Eric, lots of laughs and then a long indica-induced night of sleep. This weekend I'm reading and preparing to teach Judith Butler's Performative Theory of Assembly for the last two weeks of the Fall semester. So far, not too bad for end of term...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tamir Rice, June 25, 2002 – November 23, 2014

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Holiday Traditions

Every Thanksgiving vacation Eric and I watch the Extended Editions of Peter Jackson's six Tolkien adaptations, tonight it's Return of the King. Last night, watching The Two Towers, we were reminded of this little ditty that tickled us years and years ago. Watching this high was a real delight: dance party!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Slippery Stairs R Us

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Fighting Democrat

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot:
The Democratic Party is, to say the least, an imperfect instrument, but it is the only nationally viable available tool to fight Republicans in their now explicitly authoritarian formation... and even in more "normal" times it remains the best, if always inadequate, tool for progressive reform (pressed and made accountable from the left by activism not confined to partisan politics, of course, but still). As an anti-racist eco-feminist democratic socialist vegetarian secular-multicultural queer it is easy for me to sympathize with those who (presumably like you) find the glacially-paced inertially-incumbent continent-scaled politics of the Democratic Party coalition hopelessly inequitable and under-responsive as measured against my desired outcomes and critical positions. Oh, yes indeedy I do. But I am able to hold more than one thing in my head at the same time: And so, yes, partisan politics are inadequate but also necessary, and, yes, viable coalitions will always be much less radical in their politics than are the politics of the more radical and righteous members of their coalitions. But if you are fighting for prison abolition, universal income, environmental justice, sustainable accessible infrastructure, ending rape culture, and the queer subversion of patriarchy you will probably have to ally with Democrats for every substantial accomplishment and you will probably have to fight with many to most of those Democrats every inch of the way to make them see sense and conduct themselves with integrity. Just because Republicans are comic book villains now doesn't mean their opponents, the Democrats, are comic book heroes. Seeing the obvious differences between the parties hardly requires the pretense that Democrats are above suspicion or criticism. But at this point, false equivalency theses amount to fascist enablement. I don't think that sort of nonsense is the least bit intelligent, righteous, pragmatically useful, or provocative. So, yes, I will keep "harping" on the unqualified, bigoted, authoritarian incompetent asshole in the White House, thanks, and you can throw your bile darts at the first woman to be Speaker of the House, the most effective and one of the most progressive occupants of that position by any objective standard (which is hardly to pretend she is some paragon or to endorse her many incorrect and compromised positions), Nancy Pelosi, instead, and tell yourself that makes you the REAL sooper-revolutionary all the livelong day if you like. Thanks for the comment -- it is nice to see I still care enough about this sort of thing that you could actually get a rise out of me these days.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ugh, Franken

This roundup of tweets more or less captures my immediate and obvious reaction to the news of sexual harassment by Senator Al Franken...
Yes, Franken's statement and call for an investigation were the "right" thing to do after the wrong thing to do was done. Yes, his response is better to the wrong thing he did than Republican responses have been. Yes, Franken has been a useful Senator in a state that might eventually replace him with a Republican -- though the governor is a Democrat and the state has elected an outspoken progressive Democrat in Franken twice and hence Franken's replacement is likely to be a reliable Democrat, perhaps one less likely to abuse any women ever. Yes, the President is a documented and admitted serial sexual predator and harasser and should be held accountable along with Franken but likely won't be and this is utterly enraging. But Franken abused his power and should face consequences for that and making him face consequences helps build a world in which men who abuse and harass women are all more likely to face consequences for their immoral conduct and eventually that is a world in which people like Trump also face such consequences and hence a world in which life is more liveable for more women more of the time. That is what we want.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Paris, D'Accord?

Christopher Bates:
The United Nations climate conference is taking place in Bonn, Germany, right now. It has been the occasion of much anti-Trump rhetoric... It has also seen a fair bit of bargaining, such as the forging of an agreement among Mexico, Canada, and the Pacific "blue wall" (California, Oregon, and Washington) to cooperate on carbon reduction. The big news on the deal-making front, however, is that Syria... has signed the Paris Accord. That means that the American cheese now stands alone -- it is the stated position of 195 governments that global warming is real and must be confronted, and the stated position of one government that it is not and should be ignored. As a practical matter, however, the U.S. is still a part of the Paris Accord. The withdrawal that Donald Trump triggered cannot be completed until November 2020... the occasion of the next presidential election. The next time a Democrat is sent to the White House, there is zero question that person will rejoin the pact. And whether it is two months after the U.S. officially "withdraws," or four years and two months, or eight years and two months, there is zero question that the other nations of the world will be happy to welcome the Americans back on board. So, like Obamacare, the Paris Accord is a dragon that Sir Donald is going to have real trouble slaying.
Of course, the Paris accord is inadequate even if implemented and it's not like the planet has time to waste on more years of Republican obstruction even if they have a limit -- and even the optimism here about such a limit seems to draw on the analogy of a failure to repeal the ACA just as we find the Senate endorsing yet another stealth repeal of the ACA (its enabling mandate) as part of the corporate plutocratic money-grab of the GOP tax plan.

Without Sarah

My mood, captured in a snippet from private correspondence: The passage of time is very strange. It happened Wednesday and yet here it is Wednesday again. Has this week happened, really? What happened this week? Sarah died this week, that is what happened. A stone week, a week without sun to warm the stone.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


A new Quinnipiac poll finds President Trump’s approval rate at 35% to 58%, near his record low. Also interesting: Just 40% of voters say Trump is fit to serve as president, while 57% say he is not fit. By a 51% to 38% margin, Americans would like to see Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in 2018. By a 52% to 39% margin, they would like to see Democrats win control of the Senate.

Winds Blowing

Andrew Tanenbaum:
Hurricane Maria came close to sinking Puerto Rico, and may also come close to sinking the Republican Party in Florida. Since the hurricane, 140,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island, and 130,000 of them have settled in the mother of all swing states: Florida. All Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Puerto Rico has no electoral votes, but as soon as a Puerto Rican moves to the mainland, he or she can register to vote. Furthermore, most Puerto Ricans are Democrats and after the way Donald Trump rushed to help Texas after it was hit by Hurricane Harvey but basically ignored Puerto Rico after it was hit by Maria, the few remaining Puerto Rican Republicans probably are going to switch parties... Trump won Florida by 120,000 votes. Consequently if a large fraction of the 130,000 new Florida residents register and vote in 2018 and 2020, it could mean a lot of trouble for the Republicans. By itself it probably wouldn't have changed the result, but it would have made the race a lot closer and will also matter for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) in 2018 as well as for many House races next year.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

One Month to the Alabama Special Senate Election -- And It's Real

Friday, November 10, 2017

Sarah, 2001-2017

Our beloved cat Sarah died yesterday in my lap, her little face cradled in my hand. She was never a large cat, even when she fluffed out for the winter months, and she seemed especially tiny at the end. We used to call her babykins, adorababy, permakitten. She was quite talkative, and would chirp and bleep at us incessantly, to get our attention or whenever one of us made eye contact. Strands of her gray fur coat every surface, every corner, every item of clothing, but she is gone, gone. The apartment feels like it's been replaced by a stage set of itself, and we're rattling around wondering what our lines are supposed to be. We also called her our little nurse: she had an unerring knack for sensing when either of us was the least bit distressed for whatever reason and coming up and chirping and cozying up to us and purring into our bodies until we felt better. Friends, guests, apartment managers, anybody sent her into hiding under the bed, she had no trust and no time for anybody but us. There is nobody on earth who can ever know how special she was but us. Her claws were slightly too long and extended a little past her paw pads so that she ticked around the wood floors of the apartment, we called her tick tick baby as she made her restless circuit of the place at night. Her tail was foreshortened and bent, perhaps the result of a tussle as a kitten -- we got her from the SFSPCA sixteen years ago, they had found her in a feral cat colony in Golden Gate Park, she had a gouge in her neck when we got her and appeared to have had a narrow escape from some kind of predatory bird there. She played like a kitten right up to last months of her life -- one of her favorite games was to lie on her back with her legs crazily splayed as Eric would tap her on the left side and then on the right, and she would swipe crazily and belatedly in the direction of the tap, toppling from side to side, missing his hand time and time again, she could literally continue gyrating like that until Eric was too tired to keep at it. We called her caper kitty when she played her wiggle game. She had terrible eyesight and a thousand mile blank stare out the windows as she enjoyed the afternoon breezes roughling the fuzz on her face and whiskers. When she glazed out through the windows, we called that "Sarah watching her stories." Sarah was gray with a fluffy white belly and little white booties. She had an asymmetrical mustache and a tiny bald spot just beneath one of her big flappy bat ears. She was simply perfect. There has scarcely been a day in the last sixteen years when she has not spent hours and hours at a stretch nuzzled up against me, in my lap, rubbing noses with me, sleeping with her chin over my arm as I tapped away at the keyboard, sleeping between Eric's legs all night long (I toss and turn too much), eating from a saucer in my hand as we watched some silly baking competition marathon on tee vee... How I love her. How desolate everything seems without her.   

"Revenge of the Obama Coalition"?

Michelle Goldberg is saying things I want to hear (so take her optimism with a grain of salt), certainly I agree with her concluding recommendations: 
For the past year, the Democratic Party has been engaged in an angry internal debate over identity politics, which are often framed in opposition to a purely class-based appeal. At times, it feels like progressives are doomed to re-litigate the 2016 Democratic primary forever, tearing each other apart while Trump tears down the republic. But if you squint at Tuesday’s results, you can sort of see a synthesis emerging between Obama and Hillary Clinton’s theory of the emerging Democratic electorate -- in which Democrats win by appealing to a coalition of white professionals and minorities -- and Bernie Sanders’s focus on grass-roots organizing and economic populism.
In some ways the election was the revenge of the Obama coalition. Educated white liberals joined people of color to elect an amazingly diverse group of candidates. A Latina single mother, Michelle De La Isla, was elected mayor of Topeka, Kan. Wilmot Collins, a refugee from Liberia, won the mayoral race in Helena, Mont. Seattle elected its first lesbian mayor, Jenny Durkan. After a year in which liberals have been bludgeoned by demands that they abandon identity politics and empathize with resentful Trump voters, the election was a reminder that white men needn’t be the center of the political universe.

Yet class politics and identity politics aren’t really a binary, even if they’re sometimes presented that way. Murillo, for example, the first person in her family to graduate from either high school or college, told me that affordable housing was a central issue in her campaign. Overall, Tuesday was a great night for economic populists. Before this week, the Democratic Socialists of America had 20 elected officials among its membership. On Tuesday, 15 more won local office, including 30-year-old Marine veteran Lee Carter, who unseated the Republican majority whip in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

Ultimately, the main lessons from Tuesday are probably more strategic than ideological. Democrats need to contest every seat they can, no matter how red. (In the wake of the Washington Post’s revelations about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s past sexual relationships with teenagers, it’s a good thing there’s already a strong Democrat in the race.) They should also recognize that young people are crucial to their fortunes, and make it easy for them to run. One person who played a key role in Democratic victories on Tuesday was Amanda Litman, a 27-year-old veteran of the Hillary Clinton campaign who co-founded Run For Something, which trains and supports progressive millennials seeking political office. (Her group backed both Bennett and Roem.) More millennial candidates, Litman told me, “means more millennial voters,” and millennials are largely left-leaning.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017


A new CNN poll finds just 36% say they approve of the way President Trump is handling his job, worse by one percentage point than his previous low of 37%, reached in October. Disapproval has also reached a new high at 58%, with 48% saying they strongly disapprove of the way he is handling his job. Also interesting: 59% say they think Trump himself knew that his campaign had contact with suspected Russian operatives.

And We Are The Damned

Every Trump tweet is damning.

MundiMuster! V O T E

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Re-Litigation All The Way Down

Here's hoping all the nice folks pointlessly re-litigating the Democratic primary yet again hours before an enormously important eminently winnable Virginia state election aren't re-litigating an enormously important eminently winnable lost Virginia state election a week from now. I should have known when the W-enabling Naderites all lost their minds just a few years later again over Bernie's birdie that even Trumpmerican authoritarianism isn't enough to unite progressives in support of the Democratic Party, that never adequate instrument which remains our last, best hope to save us from ourselves.


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

MundiMuster! Stop Trump's ACA Sabotage, Encourage Enrollment!