In a recent NYT opinion piece, James Baker III recommends that the US government and power brokers suspend moral qualms and take the middle or balanced path about Saudi Arabia. Neither hard-line realism—embodied by Trump, Kushner, or oil circles that Baker has served for so long—nor hard-line idealism—à la Zola or Péguy in the Dreyfus affair—. Let ethically-coated material interests trump the defense of human life, be it that of Yemenites or Khashoggi. What is needed is to keep a steady balance between geo-political interests and the “promotion of America’s values.” According to Baker, the major issues for which there is this purported need to keep to a steady middle course are “Stabilizing global oil markets, combating terrorism and countering Iranian regional adventurism.” These three issues, however, if considered historically, are one single large issue: the protection of economic interests of a war-bound kingdom and its protector, interests which have long been those of US energy companies and that of an over-militarized government. Stabilizing global oil markets means continuing to impose a military-backed distribution of infrastructure and profits via dollar-based contracts rather than payments in a basket of world currencies. No Iranian pipelines to the Indian ocean or to northern India. Enormous wealth and world peace are at stake. Combating terrorism is pushing back against radical religious organizations like the Muslim Brothers whose goals include a redistribution of wealth in their countries and striking a difficult, dangerous path towards social justice. Countering Iranian regional adventurism is code for a policy of military containment of the whole area that was inherited from the UK in the fifties. It was made worse by the elimination of Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq. The policies defended or tolerated by Baker and others have made things awful for everyone. Appeals to a purportedly shared reasonableness fall on deaf ears today when they come from quarters that helped give shape to the present situation.
The US government’s inclination, under present proto-fascists or earlier, more reasonable leadership, is to continue the customary use of overwhelming force in all areas of life by resuming the development of tactical nuclear weapons and freeing them from any oversight. Alarms were recently sounded by Mikhail Gorbatchev or George Schultz. They beg the US government not to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Will it?
Thinking about these issues and trying to reach something of a “balance” in daily life becomes more and more difficult as I realize how explosive our hopes for justice and dignity can be. Is it possible to live in peace when so many injustices, however distant and repressed, seem to shape one’s being? Peace is often seen as a natural state and an inherited routine. It can become debased as a claim to be left alone. What we need to do, however, is to begin to make peace and seek justice, a costly, difficult, daily task.
The choice of a supreme court justice is proceeding to its foregone conclusion, The senate is about evenly divided on the issue but has a slim majority for Kavanaugh. I regret that the opponents of this particular judge have used a single social issue—sexual violence and his responses to the accusation—to oppose him rather than the broader reason, which is his documented, very conservative partisanship in politics, including the politics of gender and reproduction, and on bread and butter issues. Opposing him on his economic and political views of society would not have carried the day either. On the contrary, more votes, including those of some conservative democrats, would have gone his way. But the needed political reflection and debate on the fundamental issues of economic and social justice would have had at least a chance to continue and unite all citizens of good will instead of being temporarily derailed as secondary.
The confirmation of a hard-right Supreme Court justice didn’t go as well as the eleven male Republican senators of the Judiciary Committee thought it would. The nominee’s impeccable record—from an elite’s point of view—was ruined by a woman’s story about her being abused and nearly raped by him, drunk, thirty-six years ago during a party at someone’s house. The nominee angrily denied all accusations: rape, violence, or heavy drinking. His teary, partisan denunciation was not enough to shake the deep impression made on everyone by the woman, Ms Blakey Ford, a psychology professor now. The nominee would be one of five conservative judges on the highest court in the land. He would be one of two judges under suspicion of having abused women. At stake is not only the sexual abuse of power by men over women, but what it implies more generally, that is, the hypocrisy of a conservatism that claims to defend moral values, when in reality all it wants is to twist and destroy the rule of law and the power of rational government regarding bank regulations, social expenditures, health system, labor rights, response to climate change, regulations on a large number of industries, and replace it with greed…. The accusation made against this nominee cannot be proved, even after the FBI, which has been asked to focus narrowly on this event this coming week, interviews some of the witnesses and provides a report that will not disturb the Republican plan to seat this conservative justice. But its revelatory power regarding the nature of modern politics and economics has been remarkable. It set in plain view the nature of modern capitalism: a greedy, grabbing, drunken, laughing affair that demeans human lives.
Morning Trumpian tweet-tweets about the enormous cost and cancellation of a putative military parade this November. The choice of date, Saturday November 10 rather than Sunday November 11, the day when the WW I armistice was actually signed, parades a lack of respect for history or veterans. Our TV reality star missed a chance to harden his inchoate fascism by responding to the concerns about the expense (90 million dollars?) with a special one-time tax on the rich, get snubbed, and turn to his base for a popular, nationalistic response. Diabolical machinations don’t seem to be a necessary ingredient for the gestation of this new form of fascism. Where are the episode writers? The show is becoming more disjointed by the minute. From Trump to the self-pitying Musk who is running into financial trouble (or his car company, actually, not he, I presume), who knew capitalism could be so given to le spectacle, so far from its dark-frocked, Calvinist, rational, austere origins?
Trump and Putin had their meeting in Helsinki, followed by a circus-like press conference. They looked and sounded like tiny excretive, enduring parts of Stalin’s enormous body, the huge towering figure that hanged a while over global labor and clouds as grasped by Vadim, the alter ego of Leonov in the latter’s last novel The pyramid (1994). Vadim has a glimpse of a meeting held by the providers of “forced happiness:”
[He] was able to peer, despite the egregious difference in height, into a railwaylike building, where a staff meeting was taking place, and the speaker appeared to be lopping off truths with his hand each time a new one arose. (Slezkine, The house of government: a saga of the Russian revolution, 950)
The pyramidal house of socialism has been abandoned. Now Dymkov the circus magician and Shatanitzky the behind-the-scene operator can work together while tossing soccer balls to each other. The House of Government can soon reclaim its old name, the Swamp, a place where you can romp, plan more towers and pipe gas to your kishkes’ content.
This is a comment on today’s NYTarticle on expression of thanks. In a study of language-based expressions of social reciprocity in eight languages, researchers discovered that requests for help were most often granted but thanks were rarely offered for the help received. I say “language-based,” as there are many ways, immediate or long delayed, to express something that the lexeme “Thanks!” is far from being alone in attempting to denote. I’m most interested in this something, which I follow tradition in calling “grace.”
One day in my childhood in Brittany—I may have been twelve or thirteen?—we were working on piling sheaves of wheat or barley on a cart, I needed a fork (two-tined!), asked my father for it, and said thank you when he passed it along. He stopped for a moment and told me thanking someone you were working with for passing a tool along was not done. I was surprised to discover that his hidden network of values and their expressions conflicted with what I was being taught at school, as I was on vacation from a Catholic boarding seminary. I was even shocked because I knew that my parents were extremely conscious of what they “owed” to their neighbors and extended family. In fact, it took me many years to realize how infinitely complex the sense of reciprocal duties was in the farming community we were in, and how it lived a hidden life, across time boundaries, below the world of social graces you encountered when you put on your Sunday finery or met, awkwardly, the powers that be: teachers, priests, banking officials, your landowner, etc…. It would take many pages to give a proper idea of this world of quietly enforced reciprocity, social status determination, and expectation of grace. This was a community of Breton speakers, with French fast becoming the main language. Breton has a “thank you” as I discovered later when I studied its “modern” form, but it was never used among my kins or neighbors. There was something at work that was more complex, it seems, than say, a surgeon not having to say thank you for every piece of equipment slapped into her expecting hand. More complex or far-ranging also than not expressing verbal thanks to your immediate family and siblings for the expected sharing of common goods or tools (or clothing!).
The presence and advertising of thank yous in US media is at the other extreme of the magic of giving or granting recognition. For each section of interview it makes, for instance, NPR makes sure I can hear the “thank you for coming on my show” and “thank you for having me,” instead of “my pleasure” or “you are welcome,” or clipping those extraneous remarks entirely. It usually cheapens the exchange as its material, economic components (recognition) are at odds with the expression of grace and sound fake and slightly repulsive, especially when the issues discussed are of the essence. BBC on the contrary doesn’t practice this tit for tat that I explain to myself as an intrusion of capitalist rationality in the shrinking world of grace.
Quick bike ride early this morning to the entrance of UCSC to show support for the strike. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) represents 522 employees at UCSC, about 25,000 employees across the UC system: patient care workers, custodians, dining hall employees, building maintenance workers, loop bus drivers, and more. Some of the issues on which UCOP (UC Office of the President) has refused to budge for a year now are: fair wages, decent retirement, health benefits, staffing levels. Please go to Meranze’s and Newfield’s web page (Remaking the University) for detailed information and messages from the unions. UPTE-CWA (University Professional & Technical Employees-Communication Workers of America) and CNA (California Nurses Association) are organizing sympathy strikes for Tuesday and Wednesday 8-9 May. The strike continues tomorrow, starting at 4am. See you there.
Students who go to UCSC desperately need more housing. Ballooning education costs, low salaries in the region, transportation problems, and stratospheric rents have put many students in a bind. In response to demographic and financial pressures, UCOP (central administration of UC system) and local campuses have decided to go with private developers and move as rapidly as possible. Decisions have been taken since 2017 with little or no input from students, faculty, staff, or architects. For instance, the administration and the private partner it has contracted with (Capstone Development Partners) have decided to move Family Student Housing, now on west campus, to the southern end of east meadow, between Hagar and Coolidge drives. It makes sense for a private company to lower its investment costs by choosing a site near existing infrastructure. It doesn’t make sense for the campus to build in the east meadow and ruin a protected environment when other possibilities exist.
I urge you to go to the website set up by the East Meadow Action Committee, and sign the petition. The website gives a brief history by Paul Schoellhamer of this calamitous, rushed decision by UCSC, under pressure from UCOP and private developers, to throw out responsible development and site part of the critically needed new student housing in the wrong place, the southern part of the East Meadow.
Large gathering and uplifting addresses this morning downtown Santa Cruz, in memory, celebration, and continuation of MLK’s spirit. Police officers didn’t wear weapons. “The time is now,” as David Anthony repeated and the crowd chanted. Let’s not wait for tomorrow’s managed messianisms.
The words “evangelical” and “conservative” are waiting to be reclaimed by many more people than those who pretend to be so. Let the latter lose their disguises and power over imaginations and souls. The first word means “good news” and can be adopted broadly since the story, without the necessity of church of any kind, including our modern mega versions, is about the real costs of fostering life and the recognition of everyone in need as self. The second one means “to save.” It has long been clear that so-called conservatives are all but people who save, in any broad financial or bodily sense, except for their own narrow designs. They are on a radical, destructive reactionary mission and movement the “forwardness” of which alone—completely backward looking—justifies itself. I’m struck by the imaginary and literary aspect of the political question. So much money is invested in using words in a proprietary way. I think part of the present work of resistance demands a renewed, stubborn claim on our vocabulary and thinking. They are our most public goods. Words like “god,” “moral,” “Christian,” and many more need to be acid-cleaned. Let’s get to it.