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Saturday, October 6, 2018


I spent a very bad night.  It is petty and irrational of me to focus my rage and despair on Collins.  She is contemptible, but not as destructive as, say, McConnell, but there it is.  I am a small person.

The Supreme Court is lost for a generation, and at eighty-four, I have no hope of seeing light from that quarter.

So we fight.  We fight for women, we fight for the working class [yes, even for the benighted Trumpites,[ we fight for a higher minimum wage in those states where we have a majority, we fight for clean air and water, we fight for decent health care, we fight even though at best we shall merely be saving some portion of what we thought we had won, some measure of what old folks like me grew up taking for granted as the legacy of the pre-war New Deal.

And to soothe our souls, lift our spirits, and amuse the young, we shall "sit upon the ground and tell sad tales about the death" of Marx.

This morning, I shall contact the Ryan Watts campaign and volunteer for another day of canvassing.


howardb said...

Stirring use of Anaphora

howardb said...

If I may, Collins evokes that social psychology experiment by Asch in the eighties when subjects report a bar on the screen to be the wrong size, succumbing to peer pressure. She succumbed not by sensory distortions but by rationalizations and she probably thought of herself as being balanced and judicious by occupying the middle ground. She likely believed herself to be reasonable- though rational and reasonable are two different things
We will fight in the courts and in the streets and on the internet and at the ballot- we are the majority and we will not be silenced

Ed Barreras said...

I made the recommended $20.20 donation to the CrowdPac drive funding Collins’s opponent, with more to come. They’re currently approaching 3 million dollars in donations, with a goal of 4 million. I got through about five minutes of her idiotic speech on the Senate floor before I had to turn off. I’ve never seen anything so pathetic. Collins is a scumbag and a turncoat. I don’t believe in hell, but a part of me holds out hope such a place exists so I can take pleasure in the thought of her burning. That goes for Kavanaugh, Graham, and the rest of them too.

Michael S said...


1. Permanent possibility of heart-attacks etc.

2. Kavanaugh will never be able to live this down; it will be there, in the background, in the eyes, every time he meets somebody, in every conversation about sex, or sexual assault, or women. He won't feel shame; but he will feel anger and resentment, gnawing and ennervating (and the latter is why it's a consolation). Least he deserves.

3. Collins's amoral cowardice has not raised the likelihood of either nuclear annihilation or (given Kavanaugh's hypothetical replacement) environmental catastrophe.

4. John Roberts is not wholly evil.

5. The world looks and has looked a look darker to others.

Anonymous said...

Collins’s weasel vote didn’t surprise me. It does suggest to me, though, that she’s disinclined to run for re-election, in 2020. Her scripted pseudo-anguish is (always) an act: by voting to confirm Kavanaugheous she keeps her good standing with the Republican senators and doesn’t lose any committee (and other) power. Now they owe her something. She’s atoned for opposing Trump in 2016, when the coast (and cost) seemed clear, and for some of her other non-Right votes. Now she’s a darling and a heroine—for the people who matter to furthering whatever else she’s up to. (The fact that she’s female also helps with the Republican PR optics in this travesty.) I think all this means she’s looking to get out in two years (she’s 65 now). She’s always careful about antagonizing Maine voters, but she’s done it now: the women in Maine won’t forget, and the Supreme Court’ s likely decisions between now and 2020 will keep the self-imposed Scarlet K glowing around Collins’s neck for all to see.

Michael S said...

Having now watched more of Collins's speech--perhaps there is cause for a moment of despair. Like Prof. Wolff's anecdote, if she'd just said (words to the effect of), well, I'm on right, so what do you expect?, it wouldn't be so galling; calling the investigation 'thorough', and expressing hope that he will make the court 'less partisan', it just an insult to rational public discourse itself.

Something about her way of speaking, too; at the level of semantics & syntax, sounding (meretriciously) like the product of sustained, disciplined reflection; but also - to my ear - resonating with her cowardice, the tremolo (which has nothing to do with gender) almost mimetically replicating the as-the-wind-blows quality of her conscience (rather like one can - I can - hear the mendacity in McConnell's).

Anonymous said...

Michael S: I wouldn't read much into Collins's delivery: she talks exactly like that all the time. It's just her odd but for-her-normal way of speaking. To listen to her soporific, clipped, wavering drawl for 45 minutes on end is too much for me. I think she's a sneak and a quisling, but I don't think that her manner of speaking is an act. It's just weird, all the time; and she's too old to benefit from speech therapy. Anyway, who wants her talking better if she's going to be saying that same things?

Miichael S said...

Oh no I wasn't saying it's an act, or a speech pathology, or different to how she usually speaks - just that it struck me anew. (I also couldn't listen to very much of it). Nor - certainly - do I want her to speak better! (But I take the point).

Discouraged, and then some said...

That does it for me: I'm through with politics. Perhaps I'm too dull witted to make sense of it. I am skeptical about the predictive powers of history and I am no equal among blowhards.

Instead I'm drawing and reading poetry the rest of my days. I might have given myself the task of reading Prof Wolff's list of 25 must reads in philosophy, were it not for a city college professor's declaration that philosophy is now a profession, and only PhDs in philosophy can call themselves philosophers. One might as well study brain surgery outside of medical school. I am grateful the list, in any case.

Jerry Fresia said...

Chris Floyd: "If the Republic Were Not Already Dead, This Would Indeed Be the Death of the Republic."

Anonymous said...

Reality check?

Michael S said...

One more dire portent: in addition to the obvious destruction and injustice, both actual and yet-to-come, caused by the Trump administration, there is also the very very dangerous signs of the weakening of the the norm that states do not murder citizens with impunity. The US, prior to and aside from Trump, is not, obviously, innocent in this; but - for all the ways in which Chomskyeans are right, in their vilification of the US - stepping back from its role as ultimate arbiter with an occasional conscience, is not a good thing, for humans, at all. If there were some other superpower, lined up to take over (as the US itself did, from the UK), then things would be different; but there isn't: there are several (already more dangerous) states/state-blocs, and neither their past nor present behaviour is any reason for hope.

I like Chomsky, but the dangerous errors when the views him and his ilk are not properly qualified will be felt when an degraded NATO-EU has to hold off China, OPEC, and the small malevolence of Putin.

s. wallerstein said...

the sun also rises…..

MS said...

A cynic’s response:

The astronomical reference is not entirely comforting – the sun shortly thereafter sets again. The process repeats itself through time. We never achieve the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.

And Hemingway’s version does not end on a high note. Brett says, “Oh, Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together.” Jake tersely responds, “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so?”

The Democrats are largely responsible for this debacle. In 2013, under Harry Reid’s leadership, the Democrats invoked the nuclear option and did away with the cloture rule requiring 60 Senators to end debate regarding judicial nominees, with the exception of S. Ct. nominees. (Only 3 Democrats voted against the rule change – Carl Levin [my senator], Mark Pryor, and ------- Joe Manchn.) It was only a matter of time before the Republicans invoked the Democrats’ action as precedent for applying the change to S. Ct. nominees.

The Democrats keep shooting themselves in the feet.

Postscript: LFC is correct. I was wrong about Gorsuch – he graduated from Harvard law school.

s. wallerstein said...

Obviously, we are never going to achieve eternal sunshine, but I saw so many depressive comments above, including Professor Wolff's post, that my reaction was to remind people that history is a cyclical process, that the left and the right, more or less as we know them today, have been struggling with one another since the French Revolution or maybe the English Civil War and sometimes we (the left) win and sometimes we lose, and that tomorrow will bring other battles to fight and some of them we will win.

MS said...

s. wallerstein,

I don’t want history to be cyclical. In a cyclical process, there will always be people suffering due to the vagaries of history. I want it to be Hegelian – repeated syntheses of thesis and antithesis, moving inexorably upwards to a utopian ideal.

MS said...


And Mick Jagger’s consolation does not help – I am getting neither what I want nor what I need.

MS said...

And to Discouraged, and then some:

Matthew Arnold summed it best in the first modern poem, Dover Beach:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new.
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain,
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Michael S said...

I very much doubt that anyone, probably including Georg Wilhelm himself, wants history to be Hegelian; since, as has been pointed at many times before, there is more than a semantic link between the totality and totalitarianism. Viz., the disappearance of individuals, of particularity, of contingency. Wanting history to be progressive does not mean wanting history to be Hegelian; it might mean wanting history to be as Marx theorised it.

And history might have been (we might see it as) cyclical, so far; but then it's only cyclical until it's not; until, for instance, most/all of us are wiped out. And then, if there's a sense in which it's still cyclical, in not the sense in which it being cyclical is reassuring.

MS said...

Michael S.,

Well, no, that’s not very reassuring. History is only cyclical until it’s not – when mankind destroys itself? So then, there will be neither history nor herstory.

Do I sound depressed?

Have you noticed – the glass is not just half empty; it’s 7/8th (9/10th ?) empty.

In an earlier comment I noted that I was out of ketchup to make eating my words less distasteful.

I’m also out of Valium.

Anonymous said...

MS: Your citing of Arnold’s “Dover Beach” brought to mind a noir contemporary parody of it by Anthony Hecht, “The Dover Bitch.” Maybe you know (of) it already, but it seems to me worth quoting some of it anyway (the whole thing is online in various places). Kavanaugh and his enablers would pretend to be appalled at the smuttiness and cynicism of the poem (but in private, they like it; and they’d like to meet “this girl”).

“Well now, I knew this girl. It’s true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.”

MS said...


Thank you for the reference.

No, I had never heard of that parody of Dover Beach. After reading your comment, I looked the poem up and read it. Yes, it is amusing. As I was reading it, I had this image of Holden Caulfield speaking, giving his version of Dover Beach.

I still like the original better. Generally, I am not a big fan of blank verse. E.g., I find Eliot and Pound pedantic and abstruse, compared to the ingenious rhymes and lyricism of Wordsworth and Keats. (But, my daughter tells me that I’m a hopeless romantic.)

Discouraged, and then some said...

I prefer Eliot.

Discouraged, and then some said...

I forgot to mention a videotaped talk of Christopher Ricks promoting his book True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell Under the Sign of Eliot and Pound, during which Ricks recites Anthony Hecht's Dover Bitch.

MS said...

Speaking of Pound, I have an anecdote about my encounter w/ Ezra Pound’s grandson. (I am desperately seeking any diversion that will take my mind off current events.)

When I was a senior in college, I took a creative writing course that was being taught by Frederick Seidel, the writer in residence at the time. (Mr. Seidel is a poet of some note – the NYT had a major write-up on him about a year ago.) In the class was a young man by the name of Siegfried de Rachewitz. Siegfried was very flamboyant in attire – he invariably wore a scarf twirled around his neck, even in warm weather. He had grown up in Italy and was the son of Pound’s daughter, Mary de Rachewitz, who was married to Prince Boris de Rachewitz, a scion of Russian nobility.

During the class, one of the students would be chosen to read his/her literary creation and we would critique it. (When I read my poetry, Seidel and other students commented that my writing reminded them of Wilfred Owen, which I regarded as a compliment.) Many of you are no doubt aware that during WWII Pound broadcast radio programs from Italy in which he praised fascism and expressed anti-Semitic sentiments. After the war, he was arrested, tried for treason, and was thereafter committed to St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C. One day Siegfried was chosen to read one of his poems. One of the lines in his poem contained the phrase “Jew Jersey.” After reading the poem, Siegfried apologized and stated that he had misspoken. I thought to myself, yeah right – like grandfather like grandson.

Siegfried went on to obtain a Ph.D. in literature from Harvard and taught literature at Harvard and other colleges. He currently resides in the Tyrol, in a castle owned by his mother and father (deceased), Brunnenburg Castle, where he manages the Brunnenburg Agricultural Museum and International Study Center. His mother is still alive and resides there also.

s. wallerstein said...

Actually, in many ways the U.S. left, as far as I can see from a distance (I live in Chile), is in a much better position now than it's been since the mid 70's. In my lifetime I've never seen so many people in favor of socialism or at least social democracy. It's true that the country is polarized and the right is strong and terrifying, but we're also stronger than ever. So instead of giving up after the first skirmish, the Kavanaugh affair, which we couldn't really expect to win anyway given the composition of the Senate, we need to get our act together and start educating people politically.

Discouraged, etc said...

S Wallerstein,

I’m still doing my civic duty, but I have no patience for clicktivism or for for debating political praxis with other farts as repulsive as myself, now that I am old enough to join their unimpressive ranks.

s. wallerstein said...


One of the wisest things that Professor Wolff teaches us is that politics is a long march and that if you are going to participate in it, find something that you enjoy doing within the political sphere and do it. That is, if you hate marches and shouting slogans (as I do),
help out with office work or donate money or offer to do their accounting (if you know accounting) or design a leaflet, etc.

By the way, I also prefer Eliot. I walk around the city a lot and find myself repeating:
"unreal city, I had not thought death had undone so many".

Discouraged etceterus paribus said...

“Unreal city, Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many.”

The fog of Dickens's Bleak House turns up in Eliot. Not an original observation. I could go on about my artist father and my writer mother, who took me with them to play and poetry readings in the village when I was a little boy, and there were no babysitters. But I won't. Sitting by myself in Gene Frankel's theatre during readings, the playwright shrieking with laughter at her own lines, until the critique that followed. Paralipsis of the mandible.

MS said...

Discouraged etceterus ...

As you say, in Bleak House Dickens makes marvelous use of descriptions of the fog permeating London as a metaphor for the corruption and venality seeping into every pore of English society, a metaphor that could aptly apply to American society today.

And Bleak House contains arguably the greatest depiction of the inscrutability and interminability of litigation in all of literature: “Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit, has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it.” Brilliant! (I had a medical malpractice case that, like Jarndyce, droned on and on – the defense attorneys at every turn took the case up on appeal – four times before the case even got to trial. By the time I left the law firm at which I represented the patient’s estate, the case had already been in litigation for six years. And it droned on and on even after I left.)

And yet, and yet – despite Dickens’ perceptiveness regarding the injustices that afflicted English society, he treated his wife of 20 years, who bore him 10 children, atrociously, dumping her (because he accused her of gaining too much weight) for a 17 yr. old aspiring actress. And then there is his cruel, stereotypical depiction of Jews in the character of Fagan, demonstrating once more what has been the occasional subject of comments on this blog – the imperfect character of humans, even of some of our icons – even of federal judges nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court.

s. wallerstein said...


Having been exposed in school at an early age to Dicken's heartwarming Christmas Carol, I've never been a Dickens fan and I don't know much about his life. However, I don't see anything wrong with him leaving his wife for a younger woman if child support is duly paid, if he continued to parent his children from his first marriage and if given the fact that the labor market for women in the 19th century was limited, Dickens, as a wealthy man, paid a generous financial settlement to his first wife.

Love is not eternal. People deserve the possibility to find new spouses, for good or bad reasons, I will not judge.

MS said...

s, wallerstein,

Not surprisingly, there are different attitudes regarding how Dickens treated his wife, Catherine. There is the male version, which does point out that he provided for her financially ( and the female version, which is less sympathetic (

Even the male version points out that Dickens went to great length to conceal his relationship w/ Ellen Ternan, out of concern that it would taint his public persona as a paragon of virtue. In defense of women, I would point out that men often do not appreciate the damage that child birth inflicts on their anatomy, as well as the risk of death, especially in the age of Queen Victoria, and even today. A woman who has undergone childbirth 10 times, largely to please her husband’s desires for a large family, could not avoid putting on weight – after all, their consumption of food during pregnancy is what provides nourishment to the fetus. So, it seems to me a bit unkind, and rather disloyal, for Dickens (after their separation, they never saw each other again) to have unburdened himself of his overweight wife when her biological purpose had been fulfilled. Not what I would expect from a man who professed so much empathy for a little crippled boy.

That said, he was, from my point of view, a phenomenal writer.

s. wallerstein said...

Women leave their husbands because they get fat too or because they're "boring" and only think about their work, with which they are of course supporting their bored wife. That's their right. Love is not exactly rational and I don't expect it to be.

As for Dickens hiding his new relationship, well, the standards of virtue of Victorian England are not mine nor do I feel particularly uncomfortable about the standards of sexual virtue of increasingly Victorian contemporary U.S. political correctness. I'm all for a little sinfulness.

s. wallerstein said...


I mean "nor do I feel particularly comfortable about the standards.."

MS said...

s. wallerstein,

We can carry on this back-and-forth debate ad nauseum, and it is getting a bit far afield of Prof. Wolff’s original posting (I admit, due to my diversionary references to Pound and Dickens). So, this will be my last comment on this issue.

I used the word “disloyal” to describe Dickens’ treatment of his wife. I find it a bit curious that among male friends, loyalty is a highly esteemed character trait. We have no problem condemning a man who betrays his purported best friend by, for example, not coming to his defense in a time of trouble, in order to please the powers that be and advance his own career prospects. And, while it is true, that even some women cheat on their husbands, and some divorce their mates when their sexual allure has dissipated, statistically, males desert their wives at a much higher rate. So, why do we not value loyalty, for loyalty’s sake, when it comes to marital relationships to the same degree that we value it among male friends? Yes, love is not rational, but why do we use that as an excuse to justify disloyalty to one’s spouse in pursuit of satisfying one’s carnal desire for sexual gratification, rather than expecting the husband to suppress his sexual drive our of a sense of loyalty to a woman who has sacrificed her health in order to bear children?

s. wallerstein said...

Friendship and marriage are not comparable.

Marriage is based on sexual attraction and the other person being an appropriate mate in the so-called "marriage market".

I have only a couple of male friends and they've been friends for decades. Loyalty is an essential part of the relationship as well as a certain deep psychic affinity which transcends politics or lifestyles, etc. I've had lots of male "pals" (I use the word to differentiate them from the friends), and they've never been especially loyal, especially when they had an interest in one of my women sexual partners nor when money is concerned. I don't expect loyalty from male pals.

The sexual hormones are very strong, especially when one is younger. What's more, with time sexual attraction generally fades in relationships, and that leads us to seek more attractive partners. That's the way people are, men and women. In fact, as women become more "liberated" (which is a good thing in general), they become as promiscuous as men are.

What's more, there's a marriage market. People compete for the most attractive and the most solvent mate. Markets do not foment loyalty; rather, each person seeks the best bargain, so to speak.

On the other hand, no one looks for friends. There is no friendship market (let's omit Facebook where friends are not friends). Friends appear without looking for them, unlike mates.

With time mates may grow into friends and there loyalty makes its appearance.

However, I don't anyone, male or female, to suppress their sex drive, as long as the other involved is a consenting adult. That's just not human nature. Life involves enough suffering without asking people to suppress their sexual drive in the name of loyalty. On the other hand, if people value loyalty more than sex, good for them too.

s. wallerstein said...

another errata:

last paragraph

I don't expect anyone….