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10th March 2009

2:48pm: Shutting Down #I
Friends, I will be shutting this Journal down within the next few weeks and deleting all my posts here. At that time i will be staring a new Livejournal account for personal observations, aimed at friends and a few sympathetic strangers.

I will also be starting a new blog for discussions of politics and sustainability, tied to my workplace. My hope is that this blog will achieve much greater visibility and readership.

If there is anything here you want to save -- my poems, for example -- now is the time to grab them, for they will soon vanish.

This is your third-to-last warning.

13th January 2009

9:36am: Responding to the murder of Oscar Grant by BART police

This post is a continuation of a discussion on a Facebook page of my friend, activist filmmaker Oriana J. Bolden. I am posting it here because it was too long for the Facebook limits.

The discussion concerned defending the Black community from police attacks, such as the recent murder of Oscar Grant, handcuffed, prone, and held down by two other officers, via a shot in the back.

Chris Bolden asked:

When do think or rather what event would you say should be grounds to do more than protest/ non violent resistance?

I reply:

There are two ways to approach this question, morally and pragmatically. A moral approach asks what choice is justified. A pragmatic approach asks which way will work. Though I have moral views, I am answering strictly from a pragmatic point of view.

In the U.S. and other functioning democracies, history reveals that violent responses against constituted authority are effective only when there is overwhelming popular support, usually in defense of people’s homes or jobs, and even then only when it is not disproportionate and the authorities attack first. I can think of no instance of a struggle against U.S. authorities being permanently won by lethal violence except in defense of a held position. Non-lethal violent responses against property or corporate abuse have been effective at times, especially when both sides are seen as violent.

Outside of democracies, violence is a stronger source of legitimization and less de-legitimating as a tactic. So it is much more often effective, and sometimes results in a successful change of regime. The American Revolution itself was such an instance – England was a democracy, but the U.S. had no vote.

Given this, I do not believe that violent struggle is “more” than non-violent struggle in this case, though it may be in situations with, e.g. revolutionary potential or overwhelming mass support. The strongest response is the most effective response, not the most extreme response. See, e.g., Gene Sharp’s “Politics of Nonviolent Action.” (His list of nonviolent tactics is a useful aid to strategizing: http://aeinstein.org/organizations/org/198_methods-1.pdfOther senses in which a non-violent response may be more than a violent response is if the nonviolent response educates the public, builds movement, creates new or more-engaged organizers, appeals to the conscience of opponents, or creates permanent laws or institutions to combat a problem.


Here are the most relevant parts of my posting on Oriana Bolden’s site:

I believe we should be demanding a civilian review board that ends the careers of bad cops. Nonviolent seizure of the Metropolitan Transit Authority's next meeting, refusing to allow the meeting to go forward until this demand is granted, seems entirely appropriate. And we need to demand that our local prosecutors try murderous police for murder -- and that the federal prosecutors do so under criminal civil rights statutes if the local ones will not.

The BART police are supervised by the BART Board. The next general meeting of the BART Board is on Thursday, January 22, at 9:00 AM. See http://www.bart.gov/about/bod/meetings/notices/01-09-09%20notice.pdf. The meeting will be held at the BART Board Room Kaiser Center 20th Street Mall – Third Floor, 344 20th Street, Oakland.

Spread the word.


Please note: if you are inclined to use this post to complain about the Black community, and are not yourself a member of that community, please do it somewhere else, as I will delete such comments posted here on my own Journal page.

5th August 2008

4:19am: Right-wing blogs, talk radio shows, launch massive attack on new climate justice report.
Last week the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative released the report, "A Climate of Change: African Americans, Global Warming, and a Just Climate Policy in the U.S." The report and related materials can be downloaded from http://www.ejcc.org/climateofchange/index.html. Although the report got only a modest amount of press, over the last week a wave of coordinated attacks on the report -- for more attacks than there was news coverage -- has been launched by conservative blogs and right-wing talk radio.

What does the report say that Right-wing bloggers find so threatening? Among other things, it finds:

  • The struggle for racial and economic justice is an unavoidable part of the fight to halt global warming.
  • Successfully adopting a sound global warming policy will do as much to strengthen the economies of low-income communities and communities of color as any other currently plausible stride toward economic justice.
  • Climate policies that best serve African Americans also best serve the U.S and its people as a whole.

The reason I say the attacks are coordinated is because they all repeat the same small group of messages. They all say:

  • It is absurd to say the weather discriminates on race.
  • The real motive of climate advocates is to promote socialism, not protect the environment.
  • The report pretends to talk about race, but is really is really addressing poverty.
  • The report is manipulative of Blacks and racist.
  • The real problem is blaming whites and encouraging a sense of Black victimization.

Except for a handful of specialized environmental blogs, the progressive blogosphere has essentially ignored the report. Why is the Right attacking this report so viciously, while the progressives have largely ignored it? The following is a personal view, and should not be attributed to any organization, including the one I work for.  (It has taken no position on these political speculations, which are not within the core of our sphere of competence as a policy think tank).

The biggest difference between the Right and Left in recent decades is that the Right has managed to keep its disagreements largely internal and present a united and coordinated front, while the Left has been increasingly fragmented into single-issue silos. This report presents a new take on climate policy that sees it as an effective instrument for distributional justice. It advocates a policy set very similar to an earlier report n a climate policy designed to support organized labor. As such, it presents an unusual opportunity for a broad-cross-issue coalition of key elements of the Democratic coalition, including Blacks, Latinos, and union members. Moreover, it unites these groups behind a policy which is pro-growth and good for every racial group and for all workers -- a unifying rather than a dividing strategy. It is founded on careful quantitative analysis, but also includes a nicely vicious set of villains – giant price gouging energy companies, polluters, OPEC -- required for a populist political campaign.

So I think the Right sees this as a developing a long-term threat to their ideological hegemony. It has therefore responded with a series of attacks that are all out of proportion to the release of a single scientific report. Up to this time, progressives have responded in the usual fashion -- focusing on issues confined within their respective silos, and not paying much attention to initiatives that cross movement boundaries.

Can this progressive indifference to Right-wing attacks on the seed of an emerging progressive coalition campaign be changed? Is there anything you, dear reader, can do to help change it?  Are you, or do you know, an activist, a journalist, a blogger, a scholar, or a policy-maker who should be aware of this report and the attacks on it?

Here are a few examples of the many attacks by conservative blogs::


29th July 2008

11:07am: Splitting my journal
Folks, I want to split my journal in two, with the personal stuff in one place and the political stuff someplace else. Is there a way to mass-move selected entries from one journal to another? Or to copy everything to a second journal, where i could delete one type of post or the other? I think i want to separate out my love and personal life from my activism, without hiding either one.

27th July 2008

12:45pm: A Climate of Change: African-Americans, Global Warming, and a Just Climate Policy for the U.S.

L to R: Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA; Nia Robinson, EJCC; Andrew Hoerner, Redefining Progress; Vivian Buckingham, RP Board
L to R: Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA; Nia Robinson, EJCC; Andrew Hoerner, Redefining Progress; Vivian Buckingham, RP Board

Last Thursday the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Health and the Environment, and the Congressional Black Caucus co-released my new report, (co-authored with Nia Robinson, Director of the Environmental Justice and climate Change Initiative), A Climate Of Change: African-Americans, Global Warming, and a Just Climate Policy for the U.S.

The report can be downloaded from here:  http://www.ejcc.org/climateofchange.pdf


Here is my speech from the event. It came after a much more powerful "big picture" speech by Nia that I unfortunately do not have the text of.

Thanks, Vivian. And let me thank all of you for coming out today.

I’m Andrew Hoerner. I’m director of the Sustainable Economic program at RP, and I am here to present our economic findings. I’m just going to jump right in, (because economists are like that).

We found, FIRST, that a Clean Energy Future Creates Far More Jobs for African Americans and for everyone.

·        WE FIND renewables create more jobs for African Americans and for everyone --- 3 to five times as many as traditional polluting energy sources.

·        IN ADDITION The percentage of African Americans in Coal mining and Oil & Gas wells is a half to a tenth that of average manufacturing.

·        SO Switching to renewables for 21 percent of electricity would create about 60 to 80K new jobs for African Americans and about 650,000 new jobs overall.

·        WE FIND energy efficiency both reduces pollution and saves consumers money. Retrofitting existing homes creates jobs in our local communities that need them most, and provide especially large environmental and economic benefits to communities of color and low-income communities. Such jobs can not be offshored. They are inherently local.

·        WE FIND that, because sprawl is driven largely by racism and white flight from our cities, it will be necessary to take racism on directly to achieve sustainable land use planning and transportation systems. We can not solve the global warming problem without doing this.

·        WE FIND that the biggest increase in employment comes from re-spending money saved by EE. These are genuine green jobs, new jobs directly caused by efficiency policies. I call them “invisible green jobs” because they look just like jobs in the rest of the economy. There are at least twice as many of these jobs as there are direct green jobs.

·        In our modeling, the best combination of policies cuts energy share in GDP enough to recession-proof the economy. This is especially important to African Americans because they tend to do worse in economic downturns, with employment losses about twice that of non-Hispanic whites.

·        In total, our best policy package creates 430K new net jobs for African Americans, enough to cut our forecast of the average unemployment rate for African Americans by near a quarter, and about 1.6 million jobs overall.


Second, we found that how we achieve reductions matters a lot to African-Americans. What are the key choices? We found four main principles for a climate policy good for African Americans.

First:  Use a Polluter pays approaches that returns the revenue to the people of the United States provide the greatest benefit. We looked at several scenarios

·        Give away right to pollute – costs average African American family almost 5% of income

·        Charge polluters, return revenue to all households evenly.  Benefit to average African American family of about 2% of income, half that for non-Hispanic whites.

·        Best outcome was from what we call the Climate Asset Plan – charge polluters, finance energy efficiency & new clean energy tech, programs for low-income families and affected communities, and other policies. This plan increases average income for African American families by 5% of income & non-H whites by half that.

The difference between the best and worst plan is ten percent of income for African Americans, seven percent for non-Hispanic whites, and 16% for low-income households.

Second:  Need targeted policies for low-income families and communities hard hit by pollution.

Low-income households lack the assets to make necessary investments in energy efficiency without assistance. Such investments are necessary to get the full economic and environmental benefits of climate policy.

Third:  Save money and create jobs by investing in energy efficiency and new clean technologies.

As I discussed previously, these policies are critical to African American jobs. The combination of returning the revenue from a PP charge and investing in new clean tech is critical to get an overall positive effect on economy.

And fourth:  Level the playing field for trade energy intensive industries.

If we shut down energy-intensive production in the US and import those goods instead, we export both jobs and pollution, and both of these exports hurt African Americans. To prevent this, polluter-pays charges must be designed to level the playing field between domestic and foreign producers by treating emissions as if the move with imported or exported goods.

Overall, our results tend toward a single conclusion: The policies that are best for African Americans are best for all Americans and for the economy as a whole, while policies that provide windfall profits to big producers of dirty energy harm African Americans disproportionately, but also harm everyone.

I want to close on a personal note. I’m a middle-aged white guy, and obviously I don’t speak for the Black community. But what we have found is that the policies best designed to serve African Americans also serve white households better those being advocated by most mainstream environmental groups. So today I am looking to the environmental justice movement – to people like my co-author Nia and the members of Congress speaking here today – for leadership in the coming climate debate. I call on Congress and the environmental community to invite such involvement, to listen to it, and to act on it.

2nd July 2008


You are in the wilderness and your arm is caught in a trap.


“ 'You have to consider what it means to cut your arm off. You have to worry about whether or not you have made the right decision. When you pick up your Swiss Army knife and lay the blade against your skin, you wonder. Even after you have cut through flesh and muscle and tendon and unfolded the saw for the bone, you think: It’s not too late to stop.'


‘I wish you wouldn’t talk like that,’ he said. ‘And anyway, I don’t se how it has anything to do with your mother.’


‘The point is, it’s a deliberate choice.’


‘Love is not like losing an arm,’ he said.


‘Yes it is. Except it is your autonomy, not your arm.’”


                                                 --Always, by Nicola Griffith, edited for brevity.



Why should one give up one’s autonomy?


To survive?

For a kind word?

From fear of being alone?


But what if you know you will survive, and have learned that there are togethernesses that only make you more alone? What if a kind word is not enough? What then?


For what then should one surrender one’s autonomy? For one thing: to be more perfectly yourself. If it is really love, then you are Hydra: cut off your arm, and two will spring up to take its place.


More precisely: In love, one surrenders some autonomy while expanding one's sense of self to encompass another, to be 'we' in addition to 'I.' The difference between real love and mere infatuation is whether this act of surrender perfects and strengthens, or just intoxicates.

8th June 2008

9:11pm: A Hike Over the Terrain of Happiness: A Brain Teaser
Suppose you have two individuals with different approaches to strategy. One is very good at seeing the action that leads to the best short-term improvement, but may miss the long-term implications. The other is extremely good at seeing long-tem implications and the range of possible outcomes, but may miss the best way to get there.

 What are the advantages or disadvantages of these approaches? Can people with these skills work together to improve their situation relative to acting alone?


Here is a little brain teaser intended to help think about this question:

Suppose Jack and Jill are set down in a mountainous terrain with poor visibility due to fog or haze – less than a quarter-mile. This is the metaphoric terrain of the quality f the world. Their goals are to each get to the highest point they can within some region -- say a 100 mile radius -- before the witching hour. This point will determine the quality of the climber's life.

Fortunately, each of them has a GPS device to help them navigate. However, the two devices are different. Jack's device is like a compass that always points to the single highest peak in the area. It shows an arrow that points to it and a number that says how far away it is. Jill's device provides a topographic map with a two-mile radius from the point where she is at the moment. Who will do better?

There is no certain answer to this question with only the information given. Either may do better. But let's take a few cases:

  • If the terrain slope slopes uniformly toward a single peak, they will both find it and reach it.
  • If the entire region is passable – everything in it can be reached, within the time period allotted – Jack is guaranteed to reach the highest peak and Jill is not.
  • If the highest accessible peak is within two miles of their starting point, Jill is guaranteed to reach it and Jack is not.
  • If the highest peak is on the far side of an impassible barrier, Jack's device may be an affirmative hindrance to finding the highest accessible point. Indeed, if the barrier were to take the form of an uncrossable rift in the center of a deep valley, Jack's device is quite a bit worse than nothing, or a random walk, as he may run out of time deep in that valley looking for a crossing that does not exist.
  • If there are lots of little mountains with local high points, but all the really big mountains are clustered further away, and there is no impassible barrier between them and the cluster, Jack is guaranteed to at least end up at some high point, if not necessarily the very highest one. Jill's device is no help at all.

Both terrain and resources affect the relative likelihood of the two strategies succeeding. The more time and supplies they have, and the better the vehicles, the more likely Jack's device is to lead him somewhere good. A shortage of time and supplies makes it more likely that Jill’s approach will gain an equal or greater height – for instance, this is certain if the time is only enough to travel two miles.

What if Jack and Jill are traveling together, and can each see the output from both devices?

Note first that there is no guarantee that this will improve the final outcome for either of them. Even the probability of an improvement depends on the strategy and the terrain. A few observations:

When Jack and Jill travel together using Jack's strategy, it is nearly certain that Jack will be better off than if he travels alone. As the witching hour approaches, there is always the possibility of heading toward some local peak that Jack could not have found. Jill has no such guarantee. If she has followed the heading from Jack's device for any great distance, the local peak may be higher or lower that the one she could have found on her own from

On the other hand, if they are on almost any terrain where Jack would have done well, Jill will benefit from being with him. Following Jack's machine is a risky strategy for Jill, but one that could have very large benefits.

They can guarantee to reach a point at least as high as Jill would have reached by the following strategy: Go to the highest point Jill can see on her screen. If a yet-higher point has come into view, go to that point. Continue in this manner until you are at a point from which there is no higher point in view onn Jill's GPS. If that is not the highest point in the region, then follow Jack's lead until half the time remaining to the witching hour is consumed. If the point at which you have arrived is lower than the previous maximum (whether found before or after you started following Jack's path), retrace to that maximum. If this is not the starting point, then repeat.

So here is my question to you, gentle readers: Is there any other strategy that is guaranteed to produce a better result than this one? Also, is there any strategy that is “better” on an arbitrary landscape using any criteria other than guaranteed success?

The last question assumed that they needed to travel together to communicate. Would the strategy be different if they had cell phones and compasses and could describe the path they followed to the other?

20th March 2008

6:45am: Obama on race in America – Some crucial throw-away lines
This speech was blazingly brilliant – the answer to the question people have been asking for months: "How can Obama respond to the race card without abandoning the high road?" And exactly what America needs to hear today. Whether or not Obama is your man, you have to say he's a class act. This is the essence of the reason that I support Obama over Hillary – not because I think he is better on the issues – I actually think Hillary is better on many of them, such as health care – but because of the value of America hearing rhetoric like this for four years.

As to its basic message, I think the speech speaks for itself better than I can, and I will not attempt to put a gloss on it. But there are two brief passages, both essentially on side-issues to the central topic of race, that I think deserve attention.

The first comes as part of a movingly empathetic accounting of the forces behind white racism, asking working people to unite to address the true common enemy. It reads “This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.” [emphasis supplied]

If he is serious about this, which he may well not be, we still do not know exactly what he means, but it seems clear that he must mean something truly radical. I see only two possibilities: either substantial regulation of international capital flows out of the US, or substantial worker or community control of corporate enterprises. Is there any other way that corporations could be prevented from moving jobs overseas “for nothing more than a profit”? Either one of these is far outside the neo-liberal consensus and a huge break from the recent past for Democrats as well as Republicans. Either one would be the first really radical progressive position to come from a leading presidential candidate or president since at least the Carter administration. This is “change” indeed.

On the other hand, I thought this sentence was strongly at odds with the tone of the speech as a whole:  Referring to comments by Rev. Wright, Obama said  "Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."

First, let's look at the meaning of the word "endemic." It does not mean permanent or inevitable. If it did, the portion of this sentence referring to white racism would be consistent with the rest of what Obama could have, should have and did say. Here is the actual meaning, from Merriam-Webster.  

"1 a: belonging or native to a particular people or country b: characteristic of or prevalent in a particular field, area, or environment <problems endemic to translation> <the self-indulgence endemic in the film industry>"

 By either of these definitions, one could prove white racism is endemic to the U.S. from the text of Obama's speech itself.  

Second, I do not understand how a man who so clearly understands how the roots of racial animus in U.S. whites derives from a very human reaction to real stresses could take such a one-dimensional view of either the desperate deluded despairing dopes who are blowing themselves up in Iraq or of contemporary Israeli foreign policy. In fact, I do not believe he does. Instead, I think this is the first time I have caught Obama saying something he does not really believe for political points. At least, I hope that is true. I'd much rather believe that he is a skilled player of the necessary games then that he can turn his insight into human nature on and off so blithely.

28th February 2008

12:09pm: Unbecoming men* and gender presentation
I have long thought that it is a duty for feminist men to undercut the sharp division between the genders by practicing some degree of genderfuck. See, e.g., "Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender" by transwoman Riki Ann Wilchins for some of the arguments in support of thi view. This is not something I have been very good about doing myself. Occasionally I have gone looking for resource that might prove helpful to that end, and I recently had another go at it. This post is the result. 

The only really good book that I know of that a man can use to help explore gender variation in dress and behavior in a “how to” way is Kate Bornstein’s "My Gender Workbook."  There has been a lot written for men on drag, drag but this is really for people who want to pass, rather than those who want to blur the boundaries. You have books like Veronica Vera's "Miss Vera's Cross-Dress for Success: A Resource Guide for Boys Who Want to Be Girls," "The Lazy Crossdresser" by Charles Anders at least tries to give you permission to experiment. But all these works are trying to help you _cross_ the gender boundary, rather than erode it.

There is a category of book that that is empty so far as I know, again except for the one Bornstein book – something attempt to help people explore genderfuck by easing into it, rather than by jumping in with both feet. This is something that is especially needed for men, for whom full-scale gender-discordant dress and motion is more shocking to the conventional eye and subject to greater social sanctions.

I know there is a substantial body of resources prepared for people undergoing gender reassignment surgery. I wish there was a way to get access to that, or excerpt the most useful stuff -- if anyone can help with this, please write.

There is a lot to learn about gender and movement style, that should really be explored through video. Again, the set of videos that are designed to help you blur the line is almost empty, but there are quite a number of explorations on how to cross it. I do think there are interesting things to be learned from some videos in the latter category, like those on people who are transitioning, e.g. "Normal" (2003) directed by Jane Anderson (fiction, MTF) "Changing Sexes: Male to Female," The Discovery Channel, November 2002.

FTM’s seem to have caught the interest of far more documentary makers than MTFs, and I offer a few examples of these here as well. They include Sam Zolten's “Just Call Me Kade: (2002) (documentary), "A Boy Named Sue," by Julie Wyman (documentary) and Sir: Just a Normal Guy" by Melanie La Rosa (documentary).

In the later class of videos, those designed to undermine gender, sui generis of course is Alice Lebow's documentary about Les Feinberg, "Outlaw." I'd love to see this one again. My friend Karen Everett's "Sweet Boy" is also wonderful. I like her "My Femme Divine" even better, though it focuses less on choice in gender presentation.

"Boy I Am" by Sam Feder & Julie Hollar has an interesting dialog between FTM transfolk and feminist who are concerned that transitioning can be a form of appropriating male privilege that betrays the feminist project rather than a deconstruction of the male/female distinction that is essential to the maintenance of that privilege. If anyone knows how to lay hands on a copy of this one I’d love to hear about it.

*I stole the title of this post from a good book on male strategies for opposing male privilege from the early 1970s. Of course, one’s choice in gender presentation is a very small piece of this larger project.

12th February 2008

6:30pm: Server crash
Dear friends--

My organization's server crashed last week and took much of our email with it. we are trying to get by with various substitutes, but they have all been very unreliable.

Until the sever is replaced -- probably early next week -- anyone who wants to reach me should probably do so by phone. And if you have written me recently and i have not responded, it is not because I am ignoring you.

5:56pm: Promotion

You thought you were fired today –
Betrayed, mismanaged, or found redundant –
“Immensely valuable to the company,” but not today.

 But this was merely prologue.

The Goddess stopped into your office this afternoon
To make you an offer you couldn’t refuse.

 “I have a position for you,” she said.
“We have been underutilizing you.
No longer. We are moving you to a new position
In a new company. It will be far more challenging
Than anything you have ever done before.
In fact, all that you have done so far --
You poetry, your politics, your work,
Even your marriage – were only preparation.
We have had you in training,
And your new position will use all those skills
To the max.  So here is the deal:
We are going to make you Susan Mernit.”

 “Ha! I thought that would get a gasp out of you.
But I’m quite serious.
I know it is more than you expected.
But we think you can handle it.
We have faith in you.

 And we are giving you a new team.
Good folks. Take care of them
And they will take care of you.
Let me introduce you to your new core staff.”

“This is Destiny. She will be handling
Your long-range planning
Under your guidance, of course.

 You already know Genius.
She was wasted in her previous role.
She’ll now be reporting to you directly.

 Ambition retains her title
Of COO, but for your Division of Voice and Vision
Under Ethics. He takes the place of Chaos
Who will now be heading the Art Department
And a new special project on lateral thinking
Like Yahoo’s Brickhouse – but with a freer hand.

Order is running Legal now, and Justice
(After a stint as CEO of a competitor)
Will be returning to Chair your Board.”

 “I’m going to let the rest of your team
Introduce themselves
With one exception
Who I have hand-picked for you.

Now where did he . . .Ah, there he is!
Susan, I am pleased to introduce
Your new chief of staff,
He’s a real team player, a very steady straw-boss.
He’ll help you keep all your operation on an even keel
And maintain open lines of communications
Between your Divisions.
He has been tested under fire.
When stuff gets hot and heavy
You can count on him.

 Well, I’ll leave you to it.
I’m actually quite looking forward
To seeing how you handle all this.
If it goes as well as I expect
Well, I can’t make any promises, but you know,
I’m not getting any younger.”

 “No no, I know, you needn’t protest --
And it’s true, there’s life in the old girl yet.
Still, I’m looking forward to sitting on a sunny beach somewhere
With a tall, frosty glass of something potent
With fruit on little sticks."

 "I’m so glad we had this little talk.
I knew you were concerned.
Glad I could to a little something
To assure you that your career
Would continue to thrive.

Heartily know
When the half-jobs go
Your Job arrives.”

11th February 2008

6:22am: Doing Ill that Good May Come: American Self-Interest and Credible Threats in Iraq
In my last post, I claimed that we could solve the Iraq problem quickly and with little further cost to Americans in a way that will probably also leave Iraqis with a functioning democracy, provided we are willing to ignore, or at least present a credible threat of ignoring, all moral and humanitarian concerns. How can this be? Let us first ask, strictly and entirely from the point of view of America’s narrow self-interest, “What would be the best and the worst outcomes in Iraq?” This analysis will lead us directly to a vicious and immoral policy that, if put forward credibly, provides the best actual hope of a good outcome for all concerned. 

Well, the best outcome would be a stable, functioning, multi-ethnic democracy indebted to the U.S. for its continuing existence. Such a regime would serve many U.S goals, from stabilizing the world oil supply to serving as a force for tolerance and peace in the permanent low-grade war between Israel and its neighbors. The second-best would be a stable dictatorial regime friendly to the U.S.

The worst outcome for the U.S. is a civil war followed by a Shiite theocracy. Such a government is likely to be highly inimical to American interests in the region. It would not feel indebted to the U.S. despite our role in ending Sunni dictatorship because it would neither be rooted in our principles nor helped by us militarily in the civil war that establishes its power.

We would much prefer that Iraq become another Somalia – that it cease to be a nation altogether, instead becoming a loose collection of dueling warlords, a state of permanent civil war in which every human hope is progressively lost, the economy crushed, and the people starved and polarized until even the vision of peace and prosperity is seems increasingly like a naive and dangerous fantasy.

By ranking these four outcomes in this way, we can put the Shia leadership in the position of choosing, not between democracy and a Shia religious government, but between democracy and an anarchic wasteland. This is because U.S. policy can achieve an anarchic wasteland by the simple expedient of arming the Sunnis, at a tiny fraction of what it has cost us to run the occupation.

Moreover, if the Sunnis and the Kurds are aware that we are taking their part in this way, and become a stable and active part of the resulting government, then we can be assured first, that the excesses of theocratic government will be avoided, because the three groups have no common religion. And second, while all three groups will have some reason to hate us, those reasons will be so different, one from another, that they can not form the basis for a common anti-American policy.

What they will share, on the other hand, is the good that we did them – that they are actually left with a functioning multi-ethnic constitutional democracy and a good chance at civil peace and rebuilding their economy. Moreover, the requisite system of ethnic checks and balances, together with such democratic principles and institutions as they are able to keep, should assure a wider distribution of the economic benefit of the oil economy than Iraq has ever managed to achieve before, or is likely to achieve under any other government arrangement. This distribution, though it will surely be far from perfect, nonetheless makes it much more likely that Iraq will end up on a genuine modernization and development path, as a more widespread distribution of capital makes it more likely that at least some of it will end up in the hands of people who use it to start domestic business and educate their children.

It is, of course, to be hoped that, if the Iraqi leaders refuse to see reason, the U.S. will never act on such a barbaric policy. The probability of this is, unfortunately, the greatest threat to peace in the nation. If the Iraqis come to believe that we are not the villains we are trying to appear, then we are back where we started, and all hope for peace or democracy is lost.

So we are faced with this question: “Can we present a credible appearance of following the policy described here if we do not intend to follow through on it?” I hope so. Because if we can not, then we are presented with a far more difficult dilemma. We can actually adopt this policy, and hope for reason. Or we can behave in a decent and moral manner, and watch the nation descend into a genocidal civil war, knowing full well that it was our initial invasion that set it off.

4th February 2008

10:00pm: Solving the Unsolvable In Iraq
I have maintained from before the start of the current occupation of Iraq, and consistently ever since, that there is simply no possible outcome of ousting the previous regime that is not disastrous for the U.S. and the stability of the region. This is because the Shiite majority is not interested in democracy, but in a government that follows the law of the Shia – in a rule of Ayatollahs, like that of Iran. 

This also explains the intransigence of the factions within the negotiation to create a new government. If there is a civil was, the Shiites believe, correctly, that they will ultimately win it, and impose a Shiite regime over the region in much the same way that the Sunnis previously imposed rule on them, albeit a secular rule. Conversely, the Sunnis are justifiably reluctant to accept any agreement in which their rights are not set in stone and militarily defensible.

The Sunni, unlike the Shiites, have a history and a belief system that supports separation of secular from religious authority, going back to the early Caliphate government founded shortly after the death of the Prophet. Shiite support for religious government has equally deep historical roots, and is bound up with its origin as a distinct tendency within Islam. (Shiites believe that the true leadership of Islam, both civil and religious, is in the descendants of Muhammad and their delegates, and not with the secular leadership (including the early Caliphs) that arose distinct from the religious leadership). Secularist views also exist within Shia, but mainly within the better-educated and more Westernized groups -- groups more prominent in Iran than in Iraq, yet still unsuccessful there.

I was wrong. In actuality, there is a path to stable multi-ethnic democracy within Iraq, a path that is simple, workable, and reliable. America can create the conditions that make it likely that Iraq will follow this path by means of policies we can adopt unilaterally. These policies would allow us to withdraw our own forces quickly, and (probably) leave behind a land at peace with a functioning government that could get on with rebuilding the nation – a government with a debt to America sufficient to make it likely to retain an overall outlook favorable to the U.S.

I, and most Americans, have failed to see this path despite its simple and straightforward nature and attractive probable outcome because it has certain features that are so repulsive that any moral individual will tend to turn away from it in disgust before examining it carefully. And because opponents of the war have tended to be the most, rather than the least, moral among us, we have been particularly averse to even thinking about the kinds of policies and instruments that it requires – policies that appear to be rooted in the worst sort of amoral realpolitic, military adventurism, and selfish American parochialism – precisely those things that we hoped we could rise above by withdrawing from the occupation.

What is this path, and what is our role in it? We will answer this in our next post.

22nd January 2008

5:38pm: True
A muck blots out the scene, and all hopes melt,
And never and never our broken hearts renew.
But never comes; and from the mud the shoots
Arise, and we can yet be true.
In memory yet green, in joy still felt,
Our life re-blossoms like the morning dew.
We triumph; Life's disasters are undealt,
And while our pain is old, the world is new.
5:35pm: Political blogs

I recently took a look at the political blogs that were among the 100 most popular blogs as rated by Technorati: http://technorati.com/pop/blogs/ In defining political blogs, I included sites that are single-issue, even if commercial, but excluded general magazines unless they are clearly advocacy-oriented. Several interesting things are immediately apparent. 

  1. After technology and business blogs, political blogs are the most numerous. Fifteen percent of the top 100 blogs, and 18 percent of the top 50 blogs, are political.
  2. Progressives dominate blogging to nearly the same extent that conservatives dominate talk radio. Not only are 62 percent of the political blogs in the top 100 progressive, all six of the top six political blogs are, as are seven of the nine blogs ranked above fiftieth. Four of the six conservative blogs are among the lowest-ranked five of the political blogs in the top hundred.
  3. Third, the number of think-tank-like or magazine-like blogs is roughly comparable to blogs of a more popular or radical (whether of Right or Left) nature.

Here is a list of political or progressive blogs in the top 100. The numbers before each blog are the Technorati rankings. Conservative blogs are marked with an “*”.

 4. The Huffington Post http://huffingtonpost.com
11. The Daily Kos http://dailykos.com
20 Treehugger.com  http://www.treehugger.com/
25. Think Progress (Center for American Progress blog)  http://thinkprogress.org/
26. The Consumerist http://consumerist.com/
32. Crooks and Liars http://crooksandliars.com/
38. The Drudge Report http://www.drudgereport.com/ *
40. Talking Points Memo http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/
43. Threat Level (Security, freedom, and privacy issues from Wired Magazine). http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/
52. Newsbusters. http://newsbusters.org/ *
57. The Daily Dish (Andrew Sullivan from The Atlantic) http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/
66. The Corner: National Review Online http://corner.nationalreview.com *
73. Hot Air http://hotair.com/ *
82. Instapundit. http://instapundit.com/ *
90. Global Voices Online http://globalvoicesonline.org/
100. Little Green Footballs  http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog *

4th December 2007

10:59pm: Angels!
Currently the greatest pleasure in my life is to watch with the growth of my relationship with Susan, and the evolution of her own relationship with her past and with the world. To see poetry reawaken within her. To watch her sense of herself as someone who can make a difference, nurtured through two decades of ever-increasing scope of managerial responsibility, recombine at a deeper level with the desire to make this a better world that had her teaching literature to poor kids in Harlem in her 20s.

It is also a deep delight, and one I feared was lost forever, to be heard.

I had been working till one in the morning on a big report on financing ocean and coastal protection. I was tired, but too wired to go to bed, so in an effort to relax I made myself a glass of hot cider and opened up Dan Rockmore’s Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis: The Quest to Find the Hidden Law of Prime Numbers (a wonderful and non-technical garden of intellectual delights) and began reading at random.

An hour later I crawled into bed, flush with new and exotic knowledge, and S-- woke up and wanted to talk. As did I. Half the prime numbers I have always known stop being prime when considered as complex numbers with no imaginary part. Some prime numbers are factorable!* Crazy! Impossible! Wonderful! True! and as I lay there, babbling to her about this, I say “Prime numbers are like angels!” And S-- responds “Yes! They are like angels!” And though I am not sure that she meant the exact same thing that I did, still, I am convinced that she got the gist, and agreed, which makes her one in a million, if not yet more rare and beyond compare.

Like angels, Primes are immaterial, spiritual. They are utterly lawful, yet their law surpasseth human understanding and appears as caprice. They are innumerable. They underlie all things. They are the basis of harmony and the music of the spheres. They can be appreciated through the angelic facility of reason. They are abstract, alien, and their concerns are not ours. And yet, any child who understands multiplication can take the first step to understanding them. Their mysteries ennoble; and there is no end to the depth of them. Ten lives of drinking at the well of that knowledge would leave one strengthened and refreshed, and yet with thirst no more slaked than the day you began. Angels, I say!

And more. Because primes definitely and unarguably  exist. And in that they exceed the angels. As does S--.

Peace & Joy to all.

*For instance, 3 has factors (2+i) and (2-i). When divided by four, every prime over three has either remainder 1 or remainder 3. All the primes with remainder 1, and none of those with remainder 3, have integer factorizations in the complex plane. Incidentally, these factorable primes would also make Pythagoras happy, because each one can be written as the sum of two squares, i.e. is a hypotenuse of integer length for a right triangle with sides of integer lengths. The factors have one of those squares as the real part, and the other as plus and minus the imaginary part.

13th November 2007

1:36pm: Progressive Scholars and Thinking Activists

Earlier I have written of my ongoing efforts to create something that I have call the Convergence Institute or the Progress Institute, a home for an ongoing cross-movement dialog on the long-term future of the American Left. I am now trying to develop a list of potential candidates for an advisory board for this organization.

 A plausible candidate should have a vision for what success by the Left would look like and some notion of a possible path from here to there, or a plausible strategy for rebuilding the Left as a movement. He or she should be an activist thinker or a thinking activist., and well-known as a leader in his or her movement or field. Does this description cause any names to spring to your mind?

I have been finding it surprisingly difficult to come up with names that fit the bill. Of course,, this is largely because I have so much difficulty in remembering names in general, rather than because of any shortage of candidates. This is my short-list of possible names so far:

  • U. WI-Madison sociologist Eric Olin Wright, director of the Real Utopias Project
  • Linguist George Lakoff, author of "Don't Think of an Elephant" and expert on political framing;
  • Sally Kohn of the Movement Vision Project;
  • Entrepreneur Wes Boyd, founder of MoveOn.org;
  • Possibly someone from the Commonweal Institute, http://www.commonwealinstitute.org/;  
  • or the Commonwealth Institute in Cambridge, MA, http://www.comw.org/;  
  • or Demos in New York, NY, http://www.demos.org/home.cfm.

 Suggestions for more  names, especially of women and people of color, would be extremely welcome.

22nd September 2007

6:21pm: Finding one's voice
The archetypal story of finding one’s voice is that of Helen Keller. It struck me today that, though we as a culture remember the miracle of Helen Keller learning to speak, we have largely forgotten what she said. She became a widely sought-after speaker, a tireless advocate of social justice. She spoke out not only for the rights of the disabled but for pacifism, suffrage, and socialism. She was also something of a mystic, a follower of Swedenborg.

When the silent speak, they do not simply say the same thing as the voiced. They are not a random sample. The silent are the silenced, and they are silenced for a reason. To giving voice to the silent, whether individuals or parts of ourselves, is a step toward the individual and social integration toward which we must grow if we are to be whole. And we can find a guide to the nature and form of our individual and social pathology by asking by consistently asking what interests these silences serve.

7th August 2007

6:12pm: Terrifying
The central tendency of the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been an increase of 3 degrees centigrade, or a bit over five degrees Fahrenheit, by 2100. Now a new NASA study looks at climate change the U.S. using a much smaller grid square than before. See http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/druyan_07/ This increase in accuracy turns out to have a major effect on the outcome. Although the warming for the whole planet is the same, some areas see considerably less warming and others see quite a bit more.

One of the latter areas is the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. While the course modeling suggested that mean summer daily highs would be in the 75-95 degree range, the new model suggests that the highs will normally be in the 95-110 degree range – and hit these highs by 2080.

These numbers are scary enough all by themselves. But what really scares me about them is that, so far as I know, (I am not a climatologist) there is no reason i know of to think that record highs will not increase apace. 50-year record highs in the Eastern Seaboard have generally run about 15 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than daily average highs. Thus we could expect to start seeing 120 degree days along the Atlantic coast with some regularity.

Can you imagine what that would mean to the ecosystems of Northeastern states? I can’t.

6th August 2007

4:05pm: A "wish" Meme-oid
Here is a question that I often ask other people, and myself. The answer is often interesting or enlightening. If you read it, maybe you could answer it here, and see the answers of others who read my journal.

You will be granted one wish. It has to be for yourself (no "peace on earth" wishes). It can not be for more wishes or the equivalent. It need not be scientifically possible, e.g. you could wish for a super-power. What do you wish?

5th August 2007

3:05pm: Verbal privilege.

“Everything we write
will be used against us
or against those we love.
These are the terms,
take them or leave them.
Poetry never stood a chance
of standing outside history.
One line typed twenty years ago
can be blazed on a wall in spraypaint
to glorify art as detachment
or torture of those we did not love but also
did not want to kill.

We move but our words stand
become responsible
for more than we intended

and this is verbal privilege”

            from “North American Time,” by Adrianne Rich


Everything we write can be used by us
to connect more deeply with spirit, and with those we love.

Each word that forth unto the world
we’ve sended
(with its own freight
(which unlike energy
‘s not locked eternally
in stocks that fixéd be)
of love or hate)
shall be withered or unfurled
as it is fed and tended
and shall continue like all living things
(undying from the moment that a bit of slime
first learned the art of reproduction)
the pageant of creation and destruction
that from their nature rings
cascading down the stream of time.

We, knowing of our words we’ll never know
to whence they’ll go,
or wither grow,
retain the hope of infinite ramification,
that not our curses only
but our blessings
can break the curse of lonely isolation,
can work an intercession,
can color the stream of time with wonder
can roll through all the years like thunder
and pour out bounty, lo, from generation unto generation

and this too is verbal privilege.

22nd July 2007

3:50am: Leadership and hierarchy
I am having a painful dispute with a friend. I will not say who, or discuss the details of that dispute here, except to say that it is on its surface a disagreement about the terms under which some progressive activism/organizing tasks will or will not be performed for money. But I think the dispute is really over a deeper philosophical issue, and one that has repeatedly wracked the Left on every scale of operations: What is the role of hierarchy in organizations that serve egalitarian goals? This is an interesting and important question, whether or not I am right in believing that it is the foundation of the dispute between my friend and I, and is the subject of today's essay.

There is a position that is widely held and believed, that hierarchy and egalitarianism are antithetical. If an organization seeks to oppose racism, sexism, or poverty and yet has a hierarchical structure then it is not reflecting its values in its own operations. The right thing to do with such organizations is to critique them, from without and within, until they mend their ways. To do otherwise is to surrender to very evil that one is fighting, and ultimately hypocritical, self-defeating, and immoral.

 To this view, I counterpose a simple empirical observation: There are no effective, long-lived, large-scale social change organizations that are not internally hierarchical. Period. I am unaware of a single counterexample. Go through the major movements of the last hundred years – the labor movement, the first and second wave of feminism, the fight against racism, the peace movement, the environmental movement, the immigrant/national origin right movement, the environmental movement, the fight for democracy and free expression around the world, fights to end poverty, protect traditional ways of life and livelihood or distribute wealth more fairly, queer rights, you name it. For any movement you choose, try to identify the most effective couple of organizations. These organizations are always either hierarchical or short-lived.

 I conclude from this that hierarchy is not a sign of moral failing, poor planning, or internal contradictions in egalitarian movements. It is a genuine necessity in a social movement that is capable of winning and retaining victory.

At its worst, the more extreme versions of egalitarianism take success itself as a sign of unethical decision-making. Is an organization large and successful? Then there must be something rotten about it. Is a person a visible leader and symbol of a movement? Then we should look for any failing or shortcoming we can use and tear them down. A Left that adopts this worldview eats its young and destroys its leaders. It is doomed to fail. Always.

Of course, to say that some degree of hierarchy is necessary in large-scale, long-lived institutions is not to say that it is always necessary in every institution, or that more is always better. Organizations obviously can not survive if they are riven by the same evil they are designed to fight. An anti-racist organization with a highly racist internal structure is likely to tear itself apart. Many social change goals can be served by small organizations of less than twenty people, and such organizations can sometimes thrive with quite flat structures, although again, a strong anti-leader sentiment will frequently impair their effectiveness by discouraging people from adopting coordinating or spokesperson roles.

To say that large, effective organizations must be hierarchical is not to say that they must be undemocratic or authoritarian. Many large and effective organizations are quite democratic in their internal structure – the Sierra Club, for example. Moreover, healthy egalitarian organizations often have a strongly federal structure, with many important decisions being made on a local level by the people most directly involved and affected. There is considerable evidence, for example, that unionization drives are more successful when the leadership is recruited from the shop floors rather than supplied by a national organization, though some degree of national organizing may be necessary in order to identify and train the local leadership. I think it is quite generally true that institutions and values of accountability of leaders to those they lead is a sign of organizational health and maturity.

I believe that egalitarianism within progressive organizations is often best served by giving everyone in an organization as much leadership as they can handle. The object is to be constantly developing leaders and leadership skills. In such organizations, the slogan is not “No leaders!” but rather “Every One a Leader.” Egalitarianism is achieved, not by having no hierarchy, but by helping people to advance within a hierarchy as fast and as far as possible, acquiring skills and accomplishments along the way and strengthening and expanding the movement as they do.

Soon – but not today –I will discuss some of the more serious and successful examples of attempts to build movements without internal hierarchies. These include much of the recent anti-globalization movement, portions of the second-wave feminist movement, the IWW (Wobblies), some mass action movements such as Universal Strikes, the Clamshell Alliance, and others. I welcome suggestions of additional candidate movements that fit the bill.

For the moment I will simply observe three things about such movements. First, they tend to be short-lived, though the victories they have won may live on for a while after the victorious organization has largely vanished. Second, they are usually most successful in movements that succeed through disruption rather than by other strategies. Finally, there will always be an important and honorable place for such movements as long as oppression exits, though .complimentary organizations that have greater stability and more hierarchy are also always necessary if any victories won are to be retained.

29th June 2007

5:59pm: What's youth got to do with it?
I am occasionally annoyed by poetry about love that assumes that only youth can love, or that older people understand love in a way that younger people do not.  The truth is that love is a capricious god, that comes and goes at the command of no one; some it favors  and blesses, some not, and its full mysteries remain unfathomed.  Take this delightful snippet from Yeats:

Brown Penny

I whispered, ‘I am too young,’
And then, ‘I am old enough’;
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
‘Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.’
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

Are we to believe that to be "looped in the loops of her hair" is an experience only for the young? Palpable poppycock! My loopiest year by far (so far) was in my mid-40s, and nothing I experienced as a youth could match it. Do we grow too old to understand that nobody is wise enough to know everything important about love? Do we outgrow the lesson that "one cannot begin it too soon"? I think not.

Granted that when I spoke of love as a youth I sounded more like a skeptic and less like a curmudgeon.
5:49pm: San Francisco: Jello
San Francisco in Jello

28th June 2007

5:44pm: Livejournal: Privacy vs. communication
Dear Folks –

I have been thinking lately about what goes into a livejournal and what does not. It is really motivated by my having met more new people lately. I originally though of this as a place to write to folks who knew me well, and a few who found me by searching on things that I write about who otherwise do not know me at all. For both of these groups, seeing the whole me is fine. But every time I think of telling a new person, I am in doubt.

Historically I have posted about four kinds of things. First, there are ideas that I am excited about, usually concerning politics, science, or math, occasionally humor. Anybody can see that. That is my public face. Then there is material concerning some mixture of paganism, sexuality, and art. If I post it here, it is not something that I am ashamed of, but on the other hand, I don’t really want to share it with people who would be likely to find it offensive or peculiar, which is probably most people, though not, I imagine, most people who now see my posts. Then there is stuff about my love life, which I think I post here only when I don’t have a convenient person to talk to about it. Most of it is either bragging or whining, though I try to at least use interesting language in the boast or complaint. I don’t know who should see that, if anyone. And finally, there is stuff about my battle with depression, things that work and things that don’t. I’d like that to be seen by people who are close friends and people who are themselves battling with depression, and really nobody else.

So here is what I am wrestling with. I meet someone and have in interesting conversation, and want them to see the political me. Is this someone who can be a friend? Then what do I want them to see? I meet someone I might like to date. Do I really want them to have immediate access to everything I have ever said about depression? Or to the moments when I have been gloomiest about existing or past relationships or my romantic prospects? Conversely, do I want to hide all of that from them? Should I divide this journal into two journals, or three? Or define an inner core of personal friends who get to see my down side, when others don’t? Then what do I do with my desire to let other people who are also struggling with depression benefit from my experiments and research?

Finally, I see signs on the horizon of the potential success of certain fantasy projects of mine. Should this occur, I believe I will be thrust into a much more public role, perhaps becoming a minor celebrity, a much more interesting target of gossip, and someone who does not want his contribution to the contest of ideas imperiled by his personal quirks.

I would very much like to know what sort of divisions or rules others use in navigating these waters. I think a good sample would help me think these issues through.

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