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Monday, August 12, 2019


Saturday afternoon, Susie and I went to a folding and stuffing party.  This was not some New Age event combining Yoga and Gluten Free snacks.  It was a gathering of local Democratic Party volunteers to prepare a mailing to supporters.  The mailing was only a thousand letters and more than a dozen folks showed up to help.  We met in a ramshackle house in the town of Pittsboro, 25 miles south of where Susie and I live.  Pittsboro, I believe, is the county seat of Chatham County, which faithful readers will recall is one of 100 counties in North Carolina.  I would estimate the average age of the folding and stuffing crew as falling on the Golden Age side of 70, including at least one retired medical doctor who lives here at Carolina Meadows and whom I see during my early morning walks.

For Susie and me this was a stroll down Memory Lane, since on countless occasions during the twenty-five year run of my scholarship organization we sat at our dining room table and assembled fund-raising mailings of 1000 or more.

So there we sat, some of us stuffing, some of us sealing [with glue sticks, no licking], and some of us putting on the stamps.  The whole job took the assembled volunteers less than two hours at a leisurely pace, after which I took Susie out to dinner.

And that is what politics looks like at ground level.  Oscar Wilde famously observed that Socialism would never work.  “Too many meetings.”  But neither will democracy, unless we all put down our Op Ed pens and pitch in.


TheDudeDiogenes said...

I quite agree about pitching in. The problem is that for the great majority of US citizens, such an activity is far outside their normal daily thoughts and routines. Especially, working class individuals and parents, will have far less free time to devote to political activities than members of the 1% or even the Professional-Managerial Class. I would imagine that most individuals never think about doing such things, which is exactly what our fat cat overlords would prefer

Robert Paul Wolff said...

But if it is done through churches, through neighborhood groups, dare I say it through unions, a fairly wide segment of the population might be recruited.

LFC said...

The Wilde quote is that socialism would take "too many evenings" (or at least that's how it's usually given). Same point as "too many meetings," but slightly wittier.

LFC said...

On a more serious note and consonant with the orig. post's emphasis on action, here's a piece about local protests against the border detentions, held last month:

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Again, I quite agree! But all three of those social institutions have declined over the past 30 (40? 50?) years. I happen to be a union member, but as an atheist, am part of no church, and since graduating from university in 2004, have been part of no clubs or groups, formal or informal, except a cribbage league for a few months several years back.

It's only been a little over a month since I moved in, but I now live with sister, and her two boys (ages 4 and 7); and with employment, and helping to keep up the house, and spending time with my nephews, my time is pretty much exhausted. I'm lucky enough to have an office job in which I'm not surveilled, and so can read books, watch videos, and post comments on blogs, pretty much at my leisure, but most people are not so "lucky" (is it lucky to have a job with which one does not in the least identify?).

I feel like we're all so atomized and alienated these days that solidarity has become a faint pipedream. For myself, apart from my family, and a small circle of friends, I feel little to no identification with any other group. I at times get sentimental about living in Minnesota and the USA, especially when my grandmother speaks of how blessed she feels to have immigrated to the US after escaping a Russian concentration camp in the former Yugoslavia, but those are rare occasions (and those bursts of sentimentality have become increasingly rare since the invasion of Iraq, and precipitously rare since Trump's election).

But without thick bonds on the various levels of local community, State, and nation that people deeply feel, how can we honestly hope for a mass political movement? I can run political philosophy through my mind, and that may be enough to get me to contribute, as I do, to Bernie's campaign, but most people do not have college degrees, much less ones in Philosophy.

Now, I do hope to join the nurses union, at the hospital at which I am employed, in picketing on Aug 20th (they're in contract negotiations), but I only really intellectually understand solidarity - I don't feel it in my bones. That may just be a personal flaw, but that lack seems pretty widespread in our country at this moment in time.

Jim said...

Dude Diogenes --

Point well taken. Note Professor Wolff's observation that the average participant at the folding and stuffing party were retirees -- people who actually have the leisure time for such activities!

A note on alienation vs. solidarity. Way back when I was an undergrad, I took a graduate seminar course with about 5 other students. At one point during a discussion, the professor asked, "Well, how do you treat this topic when you discuss it with each other outside of class?" One student, known for being brutally honest, replied, "we don't discuss anything with each other outside of class." Dismayed, the professor asked, "Why not?" The student's response? "Because we are all too alienated from each other to say anything outside of class other than hello or goodbye."

Point being, solidarity is (increasingly) a hard sell.

-- Jim

Jerry Fresia said...

I applaud all the ground game volunteers and people who wait hours upon hours to cast their vote often, for the lesser evil. Every little bit counts, especially in a multi-trillion dollar economy. BUT...there is an elephant in the room that Bernie points to: why for the past 45 years, with all this terrific volunteering, under both Dems and Repubs, has inequality been growing horrifically. Recent data from the Fed indicate that now the top 1% own more wealth than the bottom 90%, and when that 1% is broken down, it is the top 1/10 of 1% that owns more wealth than the bottom 90%. Unless the volunteer ground game workers work in tandem with anti-establishment boat rockers OUTSIDE the electoral system - demanding in militant peaceful civil disobedience primarying establishment democrats with "justice" democrats, single-payer, the Green New Deal, and a host of other revolutionary reforms, volunteer ground game activity will become political Cargo Cults in an dying empire. Bernie is right: nothing will change until we have a revolutionary movement outside the electoral system in order to make work inside the electoral system meaningful.

Talha said...

But Jerry, don't you understand that what's most important is to to realize "we"--i.e., all who would never vote Republican--are on the same side? Never mind that this supposed "side" includes Harris, Biden and various other neoliberal corporate shills whose policies are directly responsible for this increasing inequality? No no much more important than pointing this out is simply to *do* something, anything. Most especially to "get out the vote" irrespective of which Dem you vote for.

Left-wing commitments? Ideology-critique? Those are just past-times. People who are "morally serious"--aka moralizing individualists who don't understand social structure or care about material consequences--understand that what matters most is signaling one's virtue--understood in identity-politics terms--and then being "hard-headed" or "pragmatist" about what can be done. The rest is for the seminar room.

Jerry Fresia said...

Talha :)

s. wallerstein said...

The Case Against Obama: article from the London Review of Books

Talha said...

Thanks, SW. The following captures it perfectly:

"We judge Lincoln by how he handled the Civil War and Roosevelt by how he handled the Depression. Obama came to the presidency at a potentially momentous crossroads, when the neoliberal order was deeply discredited because of the disaster in Iraq and the financial crisis. In that context, Obama was the object of charismatic longings of rare intensity. Grasping this, he ran on the promise of moving in a wholly new direction, claiming we needed not just new policies but a new mindset. Once elected, however, he governed on the basis of ‘pragmatism’, ‘little steps’ and ‘bipartisanship’. In the end, it was not Obama but Trump who answered the call for a wholly new direction, but in a disastrous way."

But one point SW: It is puzzling to me that you can see the value and even post items like this but then continue to think--without, as far as I can see, any shred of support--that Chris and David Palmeter are "basically on the same side" etc. Head-scratching.

s. wallerstein said...


I think different things every day. I see things from a different perspective every day. That doesn't mean I'm going to morph into a Republican tomorrow, but on many issues my point of view changes constantly. I would say that the learning process works that way.

Chris said...

Jerry and Talha, way to make my morning!

Eli Z is great, at least according to me ;)

Chris said...

By the way, even better than EZ, was Perry Anderson's devastating critique of the Obama presidency, which in many ways encapsulates the best observations by Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Scahill, and Taibbi, but also people like Jerry and Talha:

It's a work of pure beauty. If I could recommend only one text on Obama, this would be it.

s. wallerstein said...

Thanks, Chris.

Perry Anderson is great. I'm sure it's a work of pure beauty, as you say, a beauty based on lucidity.

To reply to Talha, I value beauty and lucidity, and I find more beauty and lucidity on the left, specifically the Marxist left, than I do in folks like Maureen Dowd. However, that doesn't mean that everyone on the Marxist left evinces beauty and lucidity. You may not understand this, but I guess that finally, although I've spent my whole life involved in left politics, I'm not a very political person and I am an aesthete of sorts.

Chris said...

I understand it completely. Let us be frank, the works of Upton Sinclair will never, ever, hold a candle to the works of Cormac McCarthy, Dostoevsky, or even Thomas Malthus - all of whom are rightward thinkers. The left has no monopoly on lucidity or beauty, although in the aggregate we may produce more beauty. That said, every once in a while genuine left wing work is also genuinely beautiful: Steinbeck cannot be praised enough, and - I'm going to lose friends here - nor can Brian De Palma ;)

Chris said...

p.s. Just to defend Talha's point against you Wallerstein, you would be hard pressed to say DP and I are on the same side for the following two reasons:

1. I voted Green party over Clinton, and wrote in Sanders for EVERY other position including local county Sheriff...
2. I WILL vote Green party, socialist party, or write in Sanders if Biden is the nominee.

So DP and I are not on the same page, since JUST beating Trump isn't in my purview of desirable goals.

Anonymous said...


Let us be frank, the works of Upton Sinclair will never, ever, hold a candle to the works of (...) Thomas Malthus

De gustibus non est disputandum, of course, but the Sinclair/Malthus comparison seems kinda weird. Sorta like "Beethoven is better than Cervantes".

Just sayin'

-- The AnonyMouse :-)

Chris said...

I don't disagree. Bringing in Malthus was me being slightly polemical, also I do think there's lots of lovely writing by the political right in political texts, just as there is often really lousy political writing by the political left (e.g., Bakunin).

s. wallerstein said...


There are days I would vote Jill Stein over any Democratic candidate, including Sanders, and there days I wouldn't.

Anyway, why are we singling out David Palmeter?

First of all, he can speak for himself.

Second of all, it's not cool to single out one person who is courteously discussing political ideas with you and analyze him without his participation as if we were analyzing
some public figure, say, Nancy Pelosi, who by becoming a public figure invites public discussion of her virtues and lack of virtues.

So I made a mistake when I joined the discussion about David Palmeter and I'll not discuss him or any other habitual commenter in the future, since participation in this blog is a collective effort in which all of us habitual commenters play a part and thus, we are all compañeros of sorts, those who will vote for Biden if he is the Democratic nominee and those who will write in Ho Chi Minh if Biden is the Democratic nominee.

Chris said...

I only singled him out to fortify the following point from Talha:

"But one point SW: It is puzzling to me that you can see the value and even post items like this but then continue to think--without, as far as I can see, any shred of support--that Chris and David Palmeter are "basically on the same side" etc. Head-scratching."

Talha said...

Just to briefly chime in: no nefarious singling out of David--whom I agree has been very courteous in his discussion--was meant by me. Rather, I was just invoking David and Chris as representatives of two distinct political positions among commentators here to make a point, namely that they *are* very distinct positions, with Chris (and myself) falling very much on the left side of establishment Dems, and calling for transformational, rather than incremental, approaches to politics, as opposed to David who has consistently taking an incrementalist approach that I believe is in fully conformity with the centrism of the establishment Dems. I would be surprised to hear if David disagreed with this characterization and in any case it is not meant as some sort of insulting or name-calling or otherwise abusive one. Rather, underlining important substantive differences.

Jim said...

Chris --

This message is really only for you, as few others who read this blog would understand. Thank you for the Brian De Palma shout out! A few favorites:

Scarface: What is the "American Dream"? Tony Montana's faith got him killed.
The Untouchables: How does one persevere over a corrupt justice system?
Carlito's Way: Probably the best Al Pacino performance ever.
Snake Eyes: Probably the best uncut extended opening scene in cinematic history. Plus the added bonus of Carla Gugino.
Mission to Mars: The Van Halen "Jump" sequence secures it as a classic. The rest of the story only solidifies it.

Many other films left out, but no less important.

-- Jim

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Whoa, I didn't realize De Palma had directed "Mission to Mars", a film which I actually saw at the cinema. I also quite agree the "Carlito's Way" is Pacino at his best.

Chris said...

Finally we are discussing the real issues! :)

I rate Body Double as the single greatest film I've ever seen, alongside Holy Mountain. After that, I adore (in no particular order) Carrie, Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, Redacted, Dressed to Kill, Snake Eyes, and Carlito's Way. Carlito's Way really is THE mob film, and Jim you're absolutely correct that the opening of Snake Eyes is a masterpiece unto itself. Personally, I thought Mission to Mars was one of the top five worst films I've ever seen, but only because I knew what De Palma was capable of, and he clearly failed in that film to express himself (he admits as much in interviews too). But there are some occasional good shots and scenes.

Jerry Fresia said...

Boy, I must be getting old; haven't heard or seen most of those films. What about Il whiz bang film, but touching I thought.

Chris said...

Many of the films I picked came out well before Postino!

But sure, what about The Cabinet of Dr Caligarri?

s. wallerstein said...

The Chilean film, Machuca, is worth seeing. I don't know if it's been distributed widely in the U.S.

Jim said...

Chris -

Just saw your comment -- we should have a sub-blog about film.

I love Body Double but resisted listing it because it is so derided in many circles. Melanie Griffith is perfect in the role as is Craig Wasson. It also evokes Hitchcock while paying tribute to him but simultaneously surpassing him.

The film that is often flagged as his worst is Raising Cain. Tarantino, who considers de Palma a mentor, once said about Raising Cain on the Charlie Rose show, "that's just de Palma having fun." I agree.

Now that we can be honest, I still love the first Mission:Impossible film -- one of de Palma's best.

Wallerstein --

Have you seen The Maid (La Nana), 2009? Directed by Sebastian Silva. A fantastic film.

-- Jim

s. wallerstein said...


No, I haven't seen it. For personal reasons I wouldn't go into I haven't seen almost any movies for almost 20 years.

I'm not sure Machuca is a great movie in artistic terms, but it's a painfully accurate depiction of the class prejudices which characterize Chile and Latin America in general and are the principle social and psychological force motivating and moving people in this horribly unjust region.

Chris said...

Raising Cain, Mission to Mars, and Untouchables are the only De Palma movies I'm averse too, but I agree Raising Cain was clearly De Palma just goofing around.

We should definitely start a film blog Jim, and admission to entry is adoration of Body Double ;)

Also, have you seen Hi Mom! ? Holy hell that is exemplary film by De Palma, in terms of being a perfect blend of subversion and artistry. It also has a rape scene which is perhaps the most difficult thing to witness in any of his films, and one of the most difficult scenes I've managed to sit through. Fortunately it's not AS DIFFICULT as Salo/120 days, or anything by Von Trier.

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