Monday, February 29, 2016

Bernie or Hillary?

Tomorrow, voters will go to the polls in ten states to settle the Super Tuesday contests. For the Democrats in Massachusetts, the question is Bernie or Hillary.

I’ve been debating it myself, with many more questions than answers. In the end, I couldn't think of a better way to think about them than by listing what I like, and maybe more importantly, what I don't like. As with everything I generate, it's pretty light fare but not untrue to my thinking, however superficial that may be.

Here they are, the both of them, to the best of my reckoning. Warts first.

His negatives ... He’s ridiculous. An unreconstructed Leftist from the 1970s, his language of class struggle and Democratic Socialism is laughable. His Vermont zip code doesn’t hide the Brooklyn in this guy. His policy proposals are unworkable and largely unwanted, way too costly in terms of dollars, and simply impossible in terms of politics. He’s every symptom this country has been trying to undo for the past 40 years. He’s also a scold and a curmudgeon. He wags his finger at his audience. And he’d be a terrible president.

But, and it’s not a small but, here are his positives …

He’s on to something. He’s an accurate barometer of the Left’s worry about what’s broken in America. The boldness of his claims is refreshing, and his questions are the right ones even if his answers miss the mark by a mile. The issues of the wealth divide have simply overwhelmed us, and the rules we agreed to to get us here have left us in a bad place indeed with no obvious road out. The conundrum has us by the tail, and an incremental policy approach to this non-incremental problem will yield no meaningful answers either in the short run or in the long run. There are whiffs of Robert Kennedy is his thesis. “Why not?” Kennedy famously asked, and we are the better for asking it too, now, in this context, in this challenging time.  

Her negatives ... What can you say against Hillary? Well, she’s a Clinton for one. That’s a small way of saying a big thing. 
Just take her Goldman speeches.  Honestly, the content of those speeches is a minor concern of little to no consequence. That the Clintons are closely tied to Wall Street is hardly news and hardly interesting.  Indeed, it was one of Bill’s great innovations as a Democrat (if anyone remembers as far back as 1991) that he could be less hostile to moneyed interests in this country.  It’s partly how he convinced the South to vote for him, and from it, how he won in 1992 and coasted to re-election in 1996 and then helped extend Democratic presidents in 16 of the last 24 years. It also bears remembering that a Democrat has won the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections, again, one of Bill’s gifts.

This issue about the speeches is that they are a lingering issue. Like everything with the Clintons, there’s always a lingering issue. 

In short, Hillary suffers from the disease that plagues her generation, an unmanageable narcissism, one to which Baby Boomers seem blind.

That is of course a very soft critique of a very qualified person running for a very important job. Nevertheless it weighs heavily on this voter. I have no appetite for the Hillary Show. Having lived through the Bill Show, I’m not buying a ticket.

But let’s also talk about her positives of which there are many. Eminently qualified and highly experienced at the highest levels of government - First Lady, US Senator, Secretary of State. She has grappled with the challenges of the US government both as an appointed and elected official.

As First Lady, she fought for health care reforms that ultimately failed in the Republican Revolution of 1994 and the first of the now continuous government shutdowns that Newt Gingrich ushered in.  She and her husband opted for a plan that was the precursor to the Massachusetts efforts to achieve universal coverage, a model that ultimately paved the way for Obamacare. It was based on the GOP proposals on how to deal with health care reform. In doing all of this, she elevated the role of the First Spouse in American politics, and before there was a credible female option for president, she made a woman an integral part of policy development in the executive branch.

Then, she ran and won the New York seat that RFK had held in the US Senate, much on the same principle that Bobby applied, that NY loves an outsider, both literal and figuratively.  She then was appointed to Secretary of State under Barack Obama, perhaps as a way of derailing the Clintons as outsiders. Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer. Regardless, she served well.

Smart, determined, capable, she has a lot to say for herself.  

But she’s not going to get my vote tomorrow. For all of Bernie’s negatives, he has that one positive that she does not. He is not a placeholder for continuity, nor does he proffer that the system that got us here will be able to get us out of here. He is absolutely right about that. He looks like a madman, but he’s the only one speaking a language that mimics sanity in a political system and structure careening wildly to the extremes. That he could even have a place on the stage at this point in the proceedings convinces me that we’re in deeper than we know. 

I fully expect Hillary Clinton to be the Democrats’ nominee for November’s contest, and she will have my vote then. But the opportunity to shout my discontentment in the tiny way that votes shout cannot be passed up, discontentment about her, discontentment about our choices on the Democratic side, discontentment about the challenges in front of us, and discontentment over the language used to understand them and how to deal with them. 

It's Bernie on Tuesday for this voter. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A word of praise for Donald Trump

I will say this for Donald Trump, for all his mad, incendiary ranting and raving, at least he's offering Republican voters something different from what they'd be hearing if he weren't there: a pusillanimous bunch of candidates lamely genuflecting at the altar of Ronald Reagan while repeatedly hanging Barack Obama in effigy. So I suppose we can be grateful for that. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Only the strange remains

The desire to fit in is perfectly understandable given how hard life can be and how cruel people can be. 

But we humans actually revere the strange and dismiss the plain. Indeed, down through the ages, the plain stuff goes away. It is only the strange that remains. [cue The Doors music now]

As a testament to this phenomenon, I give you the William Butler Yeats poem "A Crazed Girl".

That crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,
Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling she knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, 'O sea-starved, hungry sea.'

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The problem with love

The problem with love is that too often it's like the steam coming out of my neighbor's dryer vent: a brief pattern of energy, white energy alive and dancing in the dry dust of winter's sun. Yet too quickly it dissipates, goes on its way. Where? I know not where.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The gift of giving and receiving

This morning I was trying to remember the words of Paul to the Corinthians. No particular reason, I just couldn’t remember. No worries, the internet usually solves that.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (I Cor 13:13)
Yesterday, I was thinking ...
"Give that you may receive" is always a good tenet to follow, but here’s something that subsequent life has also taught me, an even more challenging maxim: Forgive, and accept a forgiveness given. It can be hard to forgive, but it is often harder still to accept someone’s forgiveness. Receiving nourishes the receiver and gives a grace to the giver. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mapping Detroit in red and blue, in black and white

A mapmaker is a storyteller.

Eric Fischer makes maps and here's a story he tells about Detroit. Or maybe it's a story that Detroit tells about itself. Dots represent people, blue African-American, red Caucasian.

In part, we know the story already. It's a story about how we segregate along the lines of race and class.

But the map is striking for so many other reasons. Graphical beauty distracts from exceptionally efficient narration about a highly complex social phenomenon. The map starkly reveals how human behaviors have played out in physical space. Before we even get to what the implications might be, we get the clarity of where we are.

Now, we can begin to unpack the many things that will fill in the picture, the policies and practices that led us here, and all the associated issues like the employment, the physical infrastructure that played a part in creating this pattern.

The horizontal line where the blue dots end and the red dots begin is 8 Mile, the northern boundary of the city of Detroit and north of downtown, it represents a near complete barrier between white and black. That a road can so clearly demarcate a racial boundary is surprising only by its absoluteness.

Detroit in red and blue, or should I say in black and white?

[Each dot represents 25 people. Blue represents African-American; Red represents Caucasian. The data is from the 2010 US Census. For more information about Eric Fischer, a Google search is a good idea.]

Friday, February 5, 2016

Open secret: Developers make money in Cambridge, lots of it

While reviewing tax data in Cambridge, I came across this stunning realization: large landholders make money in Cambridge. Lots of it.

From 2010 to 2014, the top 10 tax payers in Cambridge, MA added $1.4 billion in assessed value to the city's tax rolls. That's a 31 percent increase in just four years, by any measure, a striking amount of wealth in a city as small as the 6.2 square miles of Cambridge.

Here are the numbers, from the city's data:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Art Detroit

She was a large woman. She’s spinning around like a turntable and I’m thinking this is genius. Front. Back. Roundandround. I'm so pleasantly surprised. The gold lame dress didn’t hurt either. 

I like the big stuff, the Yankee Stadiums, the Roman Coliseums. They're all in. Floor to ceiling. Eyeballs and toenails. No hesitation. When it comes to art, Detroit has some of it. Here's a Diego Rivera elsewhere in the city.

This, however, was intimate. Not small, but intimate. You could walk in and out of the room without even worrying about it. She was at the center of it all. 

The guitar she held played a couple of chords over and over again. Now that's gonna cut one of two ways. 

But it was good. She was good. 

The gold curtain was a part of the show too.

Three thousand years of placing women on pedestals never made so much sense.

And whoever put her there, he really nailed it. 

Old picture.

New frame.

Art, man, art.

Ragnar, you did a nice job. 

[A review of Woman in E, Ragnar Kjartansson's exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), now through April 10, 2016]

Woman in E
Ragnar Kjartansson
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD)
4454 Woodward Avenue, Detroit
January 15 through April 10, 2016