Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."





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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

FROM MY SON'S FACEBOOK PAGE

This post comes by way of
Mark Lemley
:
Worth reading, from Dr Curtis Ryan, professor of political science and terrorism at Appalachian State University
"Accelerationists, the Boogaloo, and other random thoughts:
I've been trying to avoid posting about politics, but as demos and riots (two different things) are going on in multiple cities after the murder of George Floyd, there are several things you should pay attention to.
Among them: accelerationists, Hawaiian shirts, the Boogaloo, and Pepe the Frog. Sounds goofy, I know. But please get what these are, and do it fast, because they will be deadly. That's not a joke. So this is just a quick post and then I'm out. I'm exhausted by this. But also deeply alarmed.
So ... the short and off the cuff version:
I've been teaching about terrorism for many years now, and there is a connection between that topic and these events. Specifically this word: accelerationists. Accelerationists are white supremacists who are trying to start a second civil war that will solidify a white fascist state in the U.S. Obviously, with an explicit racist in the White House, fascists and white supremacist groups have felt that their moment is now throughout the Trump presidency, but they are also afraid that their preferred leader may be ousted in November.
Hence all the urgency to create chaos and foment violence in Minneapolis, Atlanta, and other cities. Each of the major cities rocked by riots has claimed that people from outside are doing much of the property damage, commiting acts of arson, and -- somewhat bafflyingly -- targeting minority-owned businesses.
But protesters, the overwhelming majority of whom have been peaceful until attacked by militarized police, have noted that these are usually single masked white men (you may have seen several on film, like the one people were calling 'umbrella man').
They were also well represented in the mainly white right wing MAGA rallies against COVID lockdowns, even storming state houses with AR-15's and successfully shutting down the Michigan state legistature. Not that all those protesters fit that description, but that is not the point.
The point is that in the latter instance, they could get away with pretty much anything, using their white privilege as a shield. In the former instances, of protests against the murder of citizens of color, accelerationists and other white supremacists and far right groups are using protesters as their shield, while they foment chaos, destruction, and violence.
Trump et al are already trying to shriek about antifa and leftists in general. But the online chatter on white supremacists site and other venues is at an overload point: they think it's here. The big one they've been waiting and prepping for. And they encourage members to go and sow mayhem.
Many actually call this the Boogaloo. I know, this sounds like a joke, but sadly it's not. Long story here. Too long for this post.
Like most far right extremist terms, it began as a meme and an inside joke (4chan, 8chan, Stromfront, and other far fight forums were always awash in memes and inside jokes -- from the white power symbol [originally a joke, now real] to pepe the frog [originally a cartoon, now used as a Nazi symbol]. So even such benign or bizarre combos like Hawaiian shirts or skull masks are now appropriated as Boogaloo and Nazi symbols respectively.
If you've never heard of the Boogaloo, or accelerationists, or missed the deep connections of white supremacist groups to this White House, well now you know.
And please pay close attention, because there is also an 'active measures' cyber campaign, and yes, it's from Russia, that seeks to amplify these voices and tensions, from COVID conspiracy theories to protests of police brutality and killings. That's well underway too, so unfortunately much of what is out there on Twitter and the internet in general is nonsense. But the broader threat is real, and it is currently attempting to hijack legimate protest and legimate anger at oppression, and turn it into civil stife within the US, while attempting to blame the victims themselves."

THE OLD PHILOSOPHER GOES FULL TIGGER


Things turned very ugly in Washington, DC yesterday evening, with the police teargassing peaceful protesters to clear a path for Trump’s absurd photo op of a bible held upside down in front of a church, and his fascist threat to use the US military, in violation of US law, to “restore order.”

Against the evidence, I am going to offer an optimistic view of these events.  I think Trump has lost control of the situation and is flailing wildly in an unsuccessful effort to make some sort of impression favorable to himself on TV.  Three points:

First:  the mayors and governors are not falling in line.  They have figured out, from his handling of the pandemic, that Trump is a blowhard, a paper tiger.  He is surrounded by genuinely evil people eager to use him for their fascist ends, but he is not following their guidance, for all that he mouths their words.

Second:  the media coverage is powerfully negative, save for Fox News.  Trump is a pathetic wannabee from Queens, desperate for the approval he can never get from the big boys in Manhattan [and yes, he really does operate at that ten year old schoolyard level.]  Barr and Miller and the others only want power; they do not care how they are portrayed on MSNBC.  But Trump does care, and he has lost the approval he cannot stop himself from seeking.

Third:  If you listen carefully to his fascist speeches, he is actually doing exactly what he has done earlier with regard to the pandemic.  He lays it all on the governors.  Oh, there is bluster and threats and big talk, bizarrely expressed [what on earth are ominous weapons?]  But in the end, he is oddly and repeatedly passive.

I think he is losing, he senses that he is losing, his Republican toadies know he is losing, and if we keep our wits about us, we can come out of this with the House, the Senate, the White House, and a legislative agenda far more radical than Joe Biden dreamt in his worst Bernie nightmares, an agenda he will as president have no choice but to endorse and pursue.

Monday, June 1, 2020

BRIEF OBSERVATION ON THE UPRISINGS

It feels different.  The crowds are multiracial.  The mayors and governors are supportive.  The president is isolated, blustering, impotent.  ["ominous weapons" indeed.]

I don't know, it feels different.

APOLOGIA PRO VITA SUA


Many years ago, more than forty now, I gave a talk at Hampshire College in South Amherst.  My theme was the relative unimportance in the struggle for social justice of disquisitions on the philosophical subtleties and niceties of Marxist theory.  Invoking an image I had used before and would use again, I said that social change was not like brain surgery, where the slightest misstep could lead to death, but rather like a landslide, with huge boulders and uprooted trees sliding down a mountainside, accompanied by countless branches, clods of dirt, and even little pebbles.  The important thing in life was not how big a boulder you were, but rather that you were tumbling down the right side of the mountain.

During the discussion period after the talk, a student asked, “If that is what you believe, why do you write books about the subtleties and niceties of Marxian theory?”  I replied, “Writing books is a quite minor contribution to the struggle, but I am good at it, and I enjoy it, which means I will keep on doing it even when there is not much excitement in the struggle.  Not everyone can be a boulder, but I think my pebble is rolling down the right side of the mountain.”

At times like these, when my world is exploding and I am sitting in my study, self-quarantined and offering my opinions to a world otherwise occupied, I remember that talk and comfort myself that at least I am bouncing down the right hillside.

RESPONSE TO JERRY FRESIA

Jerry, the line you recall is from the first page of the second chapter of Moneybags Must Be So Lucky:

"When the head of Europe's most glorious king fell into a basket and the heavens did not open, the aura of monarchy was forever dissipated."

Sunday, May 31, 2020

A BAD DAY


I am heartsick at yet one more in an endless series of police killings of black men.  There is nothing I can say that you have not already thought.  And yes, I understand that from this explosion of anger and frustration there may come the birth of a strengthened movement for radical change.  It is all that keeps me from utter despair. 

I think back to when I first learned of The Talk, that obligatory conversation Black parents have with a young son when he reaches twelve or thirteen years of age, and I wonder how many white Americans, even those who are of the liberal persuasion, know about The Talk and have really thought deeply about what it must be like to live in a country in which such a tradition exists.

Dear God, let the protesters not contract the virus!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

HUME DAY

In the alternative universe that I inhabit, today is my third Hume lecture.  You can join with the following link:

https://unc.zoom.us/j/93507717703

2:00 pm Eastern US time.

Friday, May 29, 2020

A BOFFO ENDING

I have now finished preparing tomorrow's Hume lecture, and I think it has a great finish line.  We shall see.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A MOMENT OF NOSTALGIA IN THESE AWFUL TIMES

Some time around 1948 or 1949, when I was a teenager, I went to a Pete Seegar concert at Town Hall in New York City.  He played this song.

It was not a better time, but it was a time when it was possible to believe that things would get better.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

WORKING ON MY HUME LECTURE

This is like visiting an old friend.  The pages of my original copy of the Treatise are yellowed and soft and weathered, and covered with underlinings and marginal notations dating back more than sixty years.  It seems somehow an appropriate way to spend time in quarantine.  The memories soften the hard edges of the hyper-modern zoom format in which I must deliver them.

Monday, May 25, 2020

ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL

Currently, the shame of North Carolina is not the statue of a Confederate solder that stood, until quite recently, in a prominant place on the UNC Chapel Hill campus.  It is that the 2020 Republican National Convention is scheduled for late August in the city of Charlotte.

Desperate for the cheers of the masses, Donald Trump has threatened our Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, with relocating the convention unless Cooper permits full attendance without pesky Covid restraints.

Could we be so fortunate?  Is there, after all, a benign and loving God?

Be still, my heart.  Be strong, my Governor, be strong.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

NUMBER TWO IS UP

Thanks to the invaluable assistgance of Alicia Steinmetz of the Yale Political Science Department, the second Hume zoom lecture  is up, and you can find it here.  By the time I am ninety, I may learn how to do this, but by then the in crowd will be vewing things on their eyeglasses, or their contacts, Lord help us.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

HUME ZOOM DAY

Today at 2 pm, no waiting room, Book I Part I

Here is the link.

https://unc.zoom.us/j/93507717703

Friday, May 22, 2020

QUICK RESPONSES

1.  No, CCNY was not for the children of the rich, although it was no longer free, as it was in my father's day.  I took poetic license for a good punchline.

2.  Yes, I left out a comma [perhaps because I was in a coma.  :)  ]

3.  I never met Baldwin, but when I moved into my office in New Africa House, I discovered in the desk drawer a stack of old door name plates from previous occupants, and one was indeed "James Baldwin."  We walk in the footsteps of giants.

SLEEPLESS IN CHAPEL HILL


Last night, I got up at midnight, as I often do, and could not go back to sleep, so after tossing and turning for a bit, I thought to do a version of counting sheep: I counted the colleges and universities at which I have taught at least one course.  I got up to seventeen, checked once to make sure I had not forgotten one, and then turned over and went back to sleep.  Here is the list, in chronological order:

Harvard, the University of Chicago, Wellesley, BU, Northeastern, Columbia, Barnard, CCNY, City University, Hunter College, Rutgers, UMass, Yale, Brandeis, the New School, Williams, and UNC Chapel Hill.

This morning, it occurred to me to wonder how many disciplinary departments or interdisciplinary programs I had taught in.  I counted ten, also in chronological order:  Philosophy, History, General Education (at Harvard,) Social Studies, General Education (at Chicago,) Political Science, Social Thought and Political Economy, Afro-American Studies, Economics [Into Micro. believe it or not], Sociology.

I have spent my life going from city state to city state teaching the children of the rich for money.  In short, I am a professional wise man, what the Greeks called a Sophist.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A MUST READ

One of the anonymati just reposted this link to a terrific article in the Boston Review by Jeffrey Aaron Snyder, and this time I read it.  It is a terrific piece, full of enormously useful informaion and analysis.  I recommend it.

QUARANTINE BROODINGS


I sit here in protected, comfortable isolation, preparing my Hume lectures, all the while trying to understand what is going to happen to the world I thought I knew.  Because I spent my entire adult life as a university professor, my attention has been drawn to the likely impact of the present crisis on that part of the social world.  I do not have any knowledge that is not readily available to all of you, but perhaps my musings will be of interest. 

Almost all of the discussion I have seen of the impact of the virus on universities or colleges has focused on one small corner of the higher educational world, that occupied by the famous elite schools.  This elite school is considering starting the fall semester early and ending by Thanksgiving so that students will not go home, get infected, and bring the virus back to campus.  That elite school has extended until June 1st the deadline for admitted applicants to accept admission.  Another elite school is cancelling lectures while hoping to continue small in-person tutorials.  All of the top schools, despite their bloated endowments, are privately worried that overseas students, who pay full tuition and do not get financial aid, will stay home, throwing school budgets into the red.  An old friend who has spent his entire career at Columbia tells me that 31% of Columbia’s students come from overseas, and all of the name schools have been living large for years off the fees paid by the hordes of students who come from Mainland China.

But I want to try to think about the impact of the virus on the schools not in the elite enclave.  One commentator I read remarked at one point that the top schools would adapt and survive but what about the 1000 schools below them?  That comment caught my eye because, in an effort to be ecumenical, it was so utterly clueless.

Let us remind ourselves of some facts, many of which I have cited before on this blog. 

1.         America has a sharply pyramidal, extremely unequally compensated job structure.
2.         A four year college degree is, more than any other credential or characteristic, the entrĂ©e to the good paying jobs that offer, in addition to good wages, health care, paid vacations,        and advancement opportunities.
3.         Roughly 63% of high school graduates enroll in four year degree granting colleges and university campuses, and 55% of those actually graduate, so that in the adult population, roughly 35% have BA’s or equivalent degrees.  65% do not!!
4.         There are more than 4,600 colleges and university campuses in the United States.  Not 8, not 20, not 100, but 4,600!  The 1000 schools below the elite 100 are still in the top one-fourth, with another 3500 below them.  Every graduate of the least of these schools is among the favored 35% who can at least have a chance at one of the good jobs in America.  [Forget Bill Gates.  I know he never graduated.  In this discussion, he and his ilk are just shiny objects meant to distract us from the facts.]
5.         [Personal note]  A school like UMass Amherst, where I went to teach for 37 years after resigning my Columbia professorship in 1971, is not one of the nameless campuses in the hinterlands of the great unwashed.  It is an elite school.  Why do I say that?  Because I am pretty confident that UMass Amherst would be considered one of the 200 – 250 best colleges or universities in America, and that would put it in the top 5%!  Indeed, unless you are a college basketball fan, I would bet you would have a hard time even naming 250 American colleges and university campuses, and if you could, could you also name a second 200?  That would still only get you to 10% of the total.

Most of the 4,600 institutions of higher education have small endowments, whether they are public or private.  Can they survive a year without their customary tuition and fee income?  What will happen to them if 30% or more of their students decide to take a gap year and stay in their parents’ homes?  Will parents be willing to pay the outsized costs of a college education if that education is delivered on-line to young men and women who never leave home?

Much has been made in the discussions I have seen of the value of the campus experience, something that is missing from on-line education.  But that experience is essentially enculturation into a privileged social class rather than a desideratum for intellectual development.  I rather suspect similar doubts were expressed when the aristocratic tradition of private tutors gave way to the vulgarity of classrooms.

My guess is that a great many colleges will be forced to close their doors in the next twelve months, a number of HBCUs among them.  All I can do is sit here, my zoom skills honed, and offer my services to any college or university, here or abroad, looking for someone to teach the Philosophy of Hume, the Philosophy of Kant, the thought of Marx, the elements of formal methods in political theory, Ideological Critique. Or anything else that comes to mind.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

DEEP IN THE WEEDS

I am currently learning how to show text selections on the screen during a zoom session to that as I lecture, I can both read and show passages from the Treatise.  I feel like Harry Austryn Wolfson when, in 1952, he tried out in our Spinoza class a hot new pedagogical trick he had heard about from his lunch colleagues in the Harvard Faculty Club -- CLASS DISCUSSION!

That didn't go so well.  I hope this works better.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

THE FIRST HUME LECTURE IS UP

First, let me apologize to those who were kept "waiting."  I am still new to this, and I have to figure out how to admit everyone without going through the waiting process.  I am really, really sorry.  I admitted people who were waiting until I started, and then I got caught up in what I was saying and forgot to look at the upper right corner of the screen where it says whether someone is waiting.

The video is now up on YouTube.  The title is "Robert Paul Wolff  David Hume's Theory of Knowledge Lecture One"  [catchy  :) ]

On to Lecture Two.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

THANK YOU

A number of you responded to my request for suggestions as to where I might donate to support food efforts.  I had no basis for choosing among them, so I gave $100 to each.  Thank you.

Friday, May 15, 2020

REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

Can someone suggest a reliable charitable organization engaged in feeding the hungry to which I can make a donation?

ONCE MORE

Here is the lnk for tomorrow's first zoom-Hume effort:

https://unc.zoom.us/j/93507717703

See you tomorrow [or rather, you will see me tomorrow].

Thursday, May 14, 2020

TWO THINGS, AS TOBIAS WOULD SAY


1.         You young folks must just be patient while I brag about something that will strike you as so obvious as to be beneath notice.  Some days ago, Amazon shipped me a wrist heart rate monitor [it also does about seven other things, but never mind.]  When it came, I put it on but it did not work – nothing appeared on the screen if I tapped it.  The instructions said to pull the straps off, revealing a little projection that was to be plugged into a USB charger.  So I plugged it into a USB port on my computer, but nothing happened [collective rolling of the eyes by readers under the age of fifty.]  I finally deduced that a USB port is not a USB charger, and ordered one from Amazon.  When it came I plugged it into an outlet and plugged the monitor into it, and sure enough the monitor charged.  But the time on the monitor was wrong [it is also a watch, of course] and I could not change it, no matter how many times I tapped.  Back to the instructions, which told to download an app on my phone [it simply assumed I had one.]  So I did.  Whereupon my phone went looking for my heartrate monitor, synched with it, fixed the clock, asked me for my height, weight, and age, and counted the number of steps I took on my walk this morning.  Doesn’t that beat all?  I am feeling very twenty-first century.

2.         Numerous commentators have noted that Trump would improve his election chances if he would simply take charge of the effort to deal with the virus rather than flubbing that and demanding that the economy reopen immediately.  Why is he behaving irrationally?

A suggestion that I have not heard floated on cable news:  Trump is in the hospitality business.  He owns hotels, resorts, and golf clubs, and leases his name to those he does not own.  He must be losing a ton of money when everybody is staying home.  And I do not think he actually has a ton of money to lose.  As always, he is acting in his own short term self-interest.  The thought that he may be going broke is the only bright spot in this godawful crisis.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!

I screwed up and had to delete the link to my Hume lectures.  The new link to each Saturday 2 p.m. zoom Hume lecture is

https://unc.zoom.us/j/93507717703


See you Saturday.  By the way, the limit is 200.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A THOUGHT


I should like to spend a little time elaborating on an idea I have long had, prompted in this instance by a powerful two part piece by my friend, old student, and co-teacher Todd Gitlin, a senior professor at Columbia’s Pulitzer School of Journalism and, in the old days, president for a while of SDS.  You can find the two parts of the essay here and here.

The embrace by Trump supporters of manifestly false claims about the world in defiance of all the evidence has been endlessly discussed first by commentators on the left and more recently even by mainstream media.  Countless explanations have been put forward for this embrace of nuttiness, which is manifested most often in opinion polls and surveys.  Let me offer an additional explanation that, I think, accounts for at least some of the statistical bizarrerie.

People are by and large not stupid, especially when it comes to things in their own lives or touching on their immediate interests.  I may not know where Ukraine is, but I know how to find my way to the grocery store or even to my son’s house all the way across the continent in San Francisco.  I don’t actually know much of anything in detail about what a virus really is and how it causes an illness, but I know how to turn a pound of raw shrimp, some spinach, and a yam into a tasty healthy dinner for Susie and me, as in fact I did yesterday evening.  When someone shows up at my door or calls me on the phone and asks me a series of questions about Ukraine, or COVID-19, or immigrants, or Barack Obama’s birth status, I know perfectly well that the questions are really proxies for the unspoken question, “Which side are you on?”  And so does everyone else who shows up in the statistics of an opinion survey. 

People in America, with the possible exception of the overeducated, are compulsive consumers of social media, and hence they know where Trump stands, at least for the moment, on Obama’s birth certificate, immigrants at the Mexican border, or the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine.  When an opinion surveyor [what we used to call a pollster] calls and asks “Do you think Barack Obama was born in America?” we all understand that the latent message [as Robert Merton used to say] of the question is “Are you for Trump or against him?”  And so we answer that question, not the one the pollster has actually asked.

Everyone’s direct experientially based knowledge of the world is actually quite circumscribed.  Almost everything I believe beyond the circle of my direct observation comes from reports that I credit as objective, scientific, true, but which I would be at a dead loss to really justify if I were called on to do so without appeal to authority.  I am typing these words into my desktop computer, but even though I could begin to explain the process by which my tap-tapping on my keyboard produces the words on my screen, my explanation would peter out pretty quickly.  I don’t really know anything beyond the words about solid state transistors, for example, and even what I claim to be my knowledge about their roles in a computer is entirely based on what I have been told by others on the basis of their expertise.

I actually watched a man walk on the moon for the very first time.  Or at least that is what I was told I was watching.  What I saw was some images on a little black and white TV with rabbit ears for an antenna.  I also watched Gandalf turn back to confront the Balrog in the Caves of Moria.  That too was images on a screen, this time in color.

I suspect that the large minorities of polled Americans who are reported as believing that Obama was not born in America are actually Trump supporters who, when asked that question, hear “Do you support Trump?” and answer that question truthfully, albeit regrettably.

Monday, May 11, 2020

DOUBLE CHECKING

David Palmeter reports that he clicked on the link and got a message that he was waiting for the session to begin.  Could someone else try that please just to be sure it was not a fluke?

JUST TO BE SURE

In the next day or two, I am going to schedule a test zoom session of five minutes or so to see whether this really works.  I will ask a few people to join as a test.

By the way, the techie at UNC who is my guru says the limit is 200.  I have no idea whether that will be any sort of problem.

HOW TO JOIN MY HUME LECTURES [I THINK]

OK, here is the link, I think.  If that doesn't do it, try this:  https://unc.zoom.us/j/92201629315

Remember, the first lecture is this Saturday, May 16, 2020, at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

If this does not work, I will just go into hiding and never be heard from again, like J. D. Salinger.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

THE PROSPECT OF HUME


It may seem insane when the economy is cratering and people are dropping like flies, but I am cranking up plans to start lecturing on Book I of David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature this Saturday.  I project four or five weekly lectures, including a brief first introductory lecture at the end of which I will announce the reading for the following Saturday, for serious participants.  If the attendance is small enough, I will unmute everyone at the end for comments and questions.  I shall be making page references to the classic Selby-Bigge edition of the Treatise.

I propose a 2 p.m. Eastern [US] starting time.  Assuming I can figure out how to do all of this, I will publish the link on my blog, save the lecture to the cloud, and then upload it to YouTube.

Any comments, questions, objections, suggestions for alterations in this plan?

PART THREE


As the full scope of our current disaster washes over us day after day, it seems clear to me that things will not be the same as we emerge from an economic crash equaling the Great Depression of ninety years ago.  I am no better able than anyone else to forecast the shape of the decade which we have just entered, but I think I see possibilities to be struggled for, and it is not too soon to start thinking about them.

Let me begin by reminding you that not everyone’s life was turned upside down by the Great Depression.  My father was a New York City high school Biology teacher when the Depression began, and he still was when it ended.  My mother was a secretary at the New York Herald Tribune when it started, and had she not chosen to leave her job to travel to Europe with a writer and his wife as a paid secretary, she would probably have continued in that job.  After my sister and I were born in 1930 and 1933, she got another job as an office worker which she held until a heart attack forced her to leave the work world in 1950.  We were not affluent, but we were, by any measure, middle class, with food on the table, clothes on our back, and money for someone who looked after my sister and me while my mother was at work.  Some version of this domestic story was characteristic of most Americans in the 1930s, but of course “most” left a great deal of room for poverty, hunger, homelessness, and despair.  The same is going to be true for the 2020’s unless all of us on the left work together for a fundamental change in the way America conducts its affairs.

There are so many things wrong with America that it would be pointless for me to make a list.  Let me concentrate my attention on two big things wrong with America that this pandemic moment may make it possible to address.  The first is America’s grotesque inequality of income, and even more of wealth.  The second is the complete lack of solidarity, even of connection, between the well off and the rest.  Income and wealth inequality has been the subject of some considerable attention, as exemplified by the Occupy Wall Street movement and also by the attention paid to the work of Thomas Piketty and his associates.  A wealth tax on the superrich has even made its way into the mainstream of Democratic Party debates, much to my pleasure and surprise.  But the lack of any solidarity between the better off one third [roughly, the college graduates] and the poorer two-thirds [white non-college graduates] has until now simply not been on anyone’s radar with the exception perhaps of Bernie.

The abrupt shutdown of the economy necessitated by the pandemic has concentrated everyone’s attention on the essentiality of the work done by low-wage, non-unionized, previously invisible men and women without whom we would not have food or transport or other genuine necessities.

There is here at least the possibility for a new mobilization of scores of millions of working men and women whose commonality of interest has been revealed for the first time in almost a century.  The present leaders of the Democratic Party quite obviously are not going to embrace this idea, but there are enough professional politicians who will, and who can provide a public face for an insurgency from below.

Will that insurgency gain any momentum?  I do not know.  But this is the first time in half a century that I have thought it was possible.

A RESPONSE TO RESPONSES TO A QUESTION


My thanks to Jerry and others for their detailed, insightful responses to my question about artists’ appreciation of their own works.  A special word to Jerry Brown:  as Marx explains brilliantly in the Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, all human work, at its unalienated best, has the structure that the Romantic tradition imputes to the creative acts of artists.  It is not for nothing that “artist” and “artisan” have the same root.  A beautifully crafted table, a finely wrought poem, an exquisite violin, a lush field of grain, a portrait that reveals the true inner character of its subject – all are, as Marx tells us, self-externalizations and re-appropriations of men’s and women’s creative intelligence.

What prompted me to ask the question?  I talked yesterday by phone with a distinguished philosophy professor in Canada who is writing about a dispute some sixty years ago and more involving, among others, the Harvard philosopher Clarence Irving Lewis, with whom I had the great good fortune to study in 1953.  Out of curiosity, I re-read the portion of my lengthy Memoir that dealt with Lewis, and while I was back there in 2012, when I wrote the Memoir, I thought to re-read two so-called Appreciations I posted in the same period, one of William Golding’s novel The Inheritors, the other of Erich Auerbach’s classic work Mimesis.  I was, to be embarrassingly frank, simply delighted by the flow of my own words, not so much for their insights into the works, which were hardly original with me, but for the grace of their expression.  The thought occurred to me: Do artists look back at works they have created with a similar pleasure?

And so I asked.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

A QUESTION FOR JERRY FRESIA, AND OTHERS

Do creative artists ever look back at works they have finished -- a painting, a sonnet, a concerto. a sculpture, a novel -- and say to themselves, "Yes, that is what I was trying to create, that is beautiful" or do they restlessly press on to each new creative effort, never retrospectively enjoying what they have made?

PLAYING THE DOZENS

My readers are engaged in a version of the old African-American language game called Playing the Dozens.

I love it.

PART 2A


Before I attempt part three of my speculations, there are a few more observations I want to make about what is happening right now.  I have no inside dope.  This is all reactions to what I see on the tube or read.

First of all, the unemployment figures are much worse than the topline numbers made public.  This is not at all suspicious, it is just a function of how the numbers are collected.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers monthly unemployment estimates [this is how it used to be, back when I was studying these things; it may have changed] by surveying each month a carefully constructed sample consisting of 50,000 households.  Adult members of each household are asked whether they are working fulltime, part time, or are not working.  If not working, they are asked whether they have looked for work in the last month.  If the answer is yes, they are listed as unemployed.  If the answer is no, they are asked whether they have looked in the past two months [or maybe more, I do not recall.]  If the answer is no, they are listed as not in the labor force;  if yes, they are listed as discouraged workers.  [This last category was added by the BLS to capture the manifest fact that many people who would, in better times, be out looking for work, and are thus in some obvious sense unemployed, have just given up.  This is why the unemployed figure may actually go up as things pick up and discouraged workers go out looking for jobs, thereby joining the ranks of the unemployed.]

Obviously, it takes a little while for the Bureau to conduct each survey and assemble the results, so each month’s unemployed number is about two weeks out of date when it is released.  Everybody who deals with these numbers understands this, and some cable news commentators say as much, but the great big number on the screen is what everyone talks about.  Furthermore, also commented on, people who are out of work because of the pandemic are not going to go out and look for jobs when they have been told to stay home.  So things are way worse than they appear.

A second point, of possibly considerable importance when we try to get our hands around the somewhat longer term consequences of the virus-caused economic crash.  Traditionally, in an economic turndown, the men are laid off at the factories and mines and sit around drinking cheap beer until a call goes out to come back to work.  There will be some of that, but not nearly as much as in the old days.  Many still functioning businesses are discovering that they can function with fewer employees, many of whom can work from home.  Even after things pick up, the bosses may decide to continue with what was originally an ad hoc adjustment to reality, thereby saving considerable sums on business travel, office space, and so forth.  We may see another shakeout in the airline industry, for example.  I am reminded of the time – is it now forty years ago? – when a large number of companies with bloated middle management ranks slenderized, throwing a lot of previously well-paid types into the ranks of the unemployed.  Not only did they find that the firing of these semi-important people did not diminish their profits; it did not even diminish their gross receipts, which, if the senior executives believed the nonsense they learned in their college Econ courses, meant that those laid off employees had zero marginal productivity and so did all of the retained employees in the same niche in the company’s organizational chart, so that ALL the middle level managers should be paid zero.  Oh well, as they say, don’t get me started.

It is blindingly obvious that there is a rational response to this crisis, but it is not available in any systematic way in a capitalist economy.  [“Anonymous” is right that we must continue to use the term “capitalist” and not default to “the economy” as though our response to the virus is, like the virus itself, a matter of ideologically neutral science.]  To put it as simply as possible, keep essential services going with all the testing, contract tracing, and mitigation needed, pay those who provide those services decent wages, keep everyone else home as long as necessary, and have the government print and distribute the money necessary to enable everyone at home to buy the services being provided by the essential workers.  Sheer desperation has compelled the Congress to take half steps in this direction, but they will not follow through adequately, as we can already see.



MILESTONE

I am about to go for my morning walk, and not too long after I return, Google will record the four millionth page view for this blog.  Even after we deduct my obsessive clicks and those of S. Wallerstein, that still leaves at least three million.  :)

Not bad for an old second tier philosophy professor.

Keep on clicking!

Friday, May 8, 2020

YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP

An aide to Pence has also tested positive.  Who is she?   The wife of Stephen Miller.  

Thursday, May 7, 2020

PART TWO


What is going to happen to the economy in the short run, which is to say over the next twelve months?  I am not competent to construct reliable econometric models, but certain things seem obvious.  Tens, perhaps scores, of millions of workers are already out of work.  Many millions more will be laid off as businesses large and small fold.  Consumer spending will plummet for three reasons:  because laid off workers do not have paychecks, because those threatened with job loss will hang onto what money they have, and because millions of those whose jobs and salaries are secure will hesitate to risk infection by going out to shop.  Amazon and Instacart may flourish, but an economy 70% of which is fueled by consumer spending will go into a deep depression.

Before the crisis started, slightly less than half of all Americans had health insurance provided by their employers.  Tens of millions of those laid off and their families will thus join those already without health insurance.  The pressure will, I suspect, be irresistible for universal health insurance unconnected to employment. 

Regardless of how and when businesses open up again, and in what sequence, the lack of adequate consumer spending will condemn many of those businesses to failure unless some form of guaranteed minimum income puts money in the hands of those who can be counted on to spend it more or less immediately.  Since MMT has become the de facto new orthodoxy, and borrowing costs are currently close to zero, the federal government will, under Democratic control, essentially spend whatever it takes to recreate adequate consumer demand.  Some small businesses that have failed will reopen, calling back as many of their employees as they can locate, and little by little, the economy will start to function again, albeit with public health precautions that will slow the recovery considerably.  There will be a severe hunger problem, starting this summer, and there will be a rise in preventable deaths caused by treatable conditions not being promptly addressed in doctors’ offices and hospitals.  

The rich will seek out ways to get richer.  If a Biden administration follows the path broken by the Obama administration, they will succeed, to the detriment of the 99%.  However, a much more progressive House and an emboldened progressive caucus in the Senate will begin exploring a wealth tax that, if implemented, could make some measurable difference in America’s grotesque inequality.

In the short run we are in for worse times than have existed since I was an eight year old.

And all of this assumes that a vaccine can in fact be found, something that is not at all certain.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

I'VE BEEN THINKING





We are becoming accustomed to describing the current medico-economic crisis as comparable to the Great Depression, which indeed it is, but without reminding ourselves that the Great Depression lasted twelve years, from September 1929 to December 1941.  While sheltering in place and coping with personal difficulties, I have been trying to think through the larger meaning of it all, without, of course, any medical expertise whatsoever.  There are at least three separate large questions:  First, what does it mean for the election?; Second, what does it mean for the economy?; and Third, what does it mean for American politics over the next generation or two?

The first question is the easiest to answer, so I will tackle that today, leaving the second and third for tomorrow.

I think it is quite clear that Trump is toast in the upcoming election, and that he is liable to take the Republican Party down with him.  There is a myth abroad on the left that Trump is the Teflon Donald, but nothing could be further from the truth.  He won the presidency by a fluke against a world-historically awful candidate, and ever since that time the Republicans have been losing mid-term elections, off-year elections, by-elections.  Whenever Trump steps into a local election and tries to make it about him, the hapless Republican candidate loses.  Before the virus hit, but after Biden was elevated by the Democratic Establishment to Presumptive Nominee status, every poll reinforced the impression that Trump would lose.  Trump’s ace in the hole, or so he thought, was the economy.  And now, in a matter of two months, he has swapped the longest expansion, the lowest unemployment, and the strongest stock market in living memory for another Great Depression, with the ranks of the unemployed swelling to unimaginable levels and businesses small and large going belly up.

On top of which, the pandemic has seemingly been crafted by a heartless, amoral Democratic strategist.  COVID-19 started in the deepest of Deep Blue states, making it a Fundamentalist Protestant wet dream – God punishing the heathens.  For what seemed like an eternity, we lived with Trump’s grotesque Corona Task Force performances, until finally he jumped the shark with bleach infections and decided that his only reelection chance was a reopened economy.  Now, at Trump’s urging, the Red States are reopening.  Inevitably, this means a dramatic rise in cases and deaths just in time for the election.  By October, which is now only five months away, Trump will be lucky if he is not lynched by an angry mob of rural non-college educated White men, their MAGA hats converted into masks.

So politically, this godawful disaster is, as it has become popular in certain circles to say, a win-win.  Where does that leave the economy?

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

THE PERSONAL TAKES PRIORITY OVER THE POLITICAL


Last Thursday, my wife, Susie, fell badly while we were taking a short walk.  She broke a bone in her wrist and now has a large, heavy, clumsy cast on her left arm.  Over the weekend we thought she had also broken a rib, but x-rays yesterday showed she had not, thank God.  For these five days, the larger meaning of the current crisis has faded into the background of my mind as I try to deal with our own small personal crisis.  There is no deep lesson from all of this, just a fact of life when you are in your middle eighties.

Thank  heavens for pain killers.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

MEMORIES


Those old enough to remember Watergate [now almost half a century ago] may recall a delicious phrase coined by H. R. Haldeman in a March 22, 1973 meeting with Dean, Mitchell, Erlichman, and Nixon himself, a phrase that became immortal as soon as it was made public.  The phrase was “a modified, limited hangout.”

I have no idea whatsoever of the truth of Tara Reade’s claim to have been forcibly fingered by Joe Biden in 1973, but when I watched his appearance yesterday morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, that phrase came unbidden to mind.

NOTED WITHOUT COMMENT


Some years ago I developed an extremely painful condition called polymyalgia rheumatica.  My doctor diagnosed it, prescribed 20 milligrams a day of a medication called prednisone, and in 48 hours I was pain free.  I then went on a very slow declining dosage, the process lasting more than a year, until I reached a point at which I was taking 2 milligrams a day, something I have been doing for years now.  This morning, out of idle curiosity, I went on line to see whether there are any bad side effects of prednisone.  Naturally I came up with a very long list, but one stood out from all the rest:

Inappropriate happiness.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

TWO THINGS


As readers of this blog know, I have two sons, of whom I am inordinately proud.  The younger is Tobias Barrington Wolff, who is now the Jefferson Barnes Fordham Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania.  But he was not always thus.  Forty years ago, he was a tow headed little boy called Toby, who had a difficult time getting a word in edgewise at a dinner table with a father who was a professor of Philosophy, a mother who was a professor of Literature, and a big brother who was a chess prodigy.  When little Toby noted a lull in the conversation, he would, like as not, stick up a finger and say “two things …,” staking a claim to his share of air time.

On this slow Thursday afternoon, I find myself raising a finger and saying “two things,” to make a little room for myself before the comments flow in.

First thing, the future of higher education.  Todd Gitlin, with whom I have been co-teaching these past two years, tells me that Columbia will not even announce plans for the fall semester until July.  One plan being floated is to skip the fall semester entirely, push it to the spring, and use next summer for the spring semester.  Columbia is rich, of course, and although their six billion dollar new Manhattanville campus has caused a budget freeze for Arts and Sciences, they have lots of money to ride out the disruptions.  But a great many of America’s 4,600 college and university campuses are not so fortunate.  I have been especially worried about the fate of the historically black colleges and universities, the HBCUs as they are called, some of which might be forced to close if they lose as little as one semester of tuition.  Howard and Spelman will be just fine, but I am not at all sure of Bennett, where I spent a volunteer year seven or eight years ago.  After the Congress gets done pouring hundreds of billions into the bottomless pockets of the airlines, the cruise ship companies, and Trump’s hotels, I hope they can spare a few score millions for the HBCUs.

Second thing, a word of praise for some genuine political leadership.  Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today a program, starting next Wednesday, of daily sanitizing of the Greater New York City area’s subways and commuter rail system.  This will be done between one and five a.m., during which the subways and commuter trains will be closed.  Since many of the First Responders travel to or from work at that time, a system of free busses, limos, and ubers will be available to transport them.  Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appeared with Cuomo by zoom at today’s press briefing, observed that this would mean rousting the homeless men and women who ride the subways all night long to get indoors.  The city, he said, would us this opportunity to work with the homeless, to counsel them, to get them into city shelters, and perhaps in this way more effectively to address their needs.  I almost teared up as I listened to him.  It warmed by heart to see this sort of caring, thoughtful using of a terrible crisis in a generous fashion.

My old Afro-Am Department Chair [and later Bennett College President] Esther Terry would describe this in her down home North Carolina way as “making chicken salad out of chicken shit.”  It gave me a moment of hope for this often disappointing country.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

NEW ESSAY IN BOX

With the aid of Professor Jennifer Lamborn of the University of Wyoming Philosophy Department, I have just been able to upload to Box.net my old essay on the relation of Kant's CRITIQUE to his ethical theory, should anyone be interested.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

THE DREAMS OF MY YOUTH


In this blog post, I shall make an attempt to analyze and forecast one possible outcome of the current public health and economic crisis we are now confronted with in America.  This is not a prediction.  Rather, it is a sketch of a possible future for this country.  I think we are fast approaching a moment, an inflection point, quite unlike anything we have seen since the Great Depression ninety years ago.  I invite thoughtful responses.

Sitting here in North Carolina in comfortable quarantine, it is easy to lose track of time, so I need to remind myself that my current isolation is only five or six weeks old, but will almost certainly last through the summer, perhaps well into the fall or beyond.  Already, national unemployment has reached Great Depression levels, and the inevitable wave of business failures and foreclosures has scarcely begun.  I believe the short term political consequences are clear.  Trump will lose the Presidency, the Democrats will hold the House, and it is increasingly likely that the Democrats will take the Senate.  But that, welcome though it will be, is the least of it.

Because we are facing an economic crash brought on by a pandemic, not by financial malpractice or a war, we are experiencing a once in a lifetime thoroughgoing redefinition of our collective socio-economic reality.  This is nicely captured by the now ubiquitous phrase “essential workers.”  To be sure, the focus of our attention is quite properly on doctors, nurses, EMTs, and the like, all of whom are required to have college degrees of some sort and many of whom are well paid.  But suddenly, out of the shadows have emerged supermarket employees, food service deliverers, meatpacking workers, bus drivers, and a host of other low paid, overlooked men and women whose labor turns out to be, as it always has been, absolutely essential to the survival of high paid, college educated post-industrial professionals like me without whose services it turns out the society can actually get along quite well, at least in the near term, while we “shelter in place.”

I have previously observed, somewhat puckishly, that the crisis has abruptly transformed Modern Money Theory from a fringe heresy to unquestioned orthodoxy.  Many commentators have recognized that when it comes to combating a pandemic, universal health care is the rankest self-interest, not a nutty European idea made more or less kosher by the farthest left of candidates for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.  But I believe we are actually witnessing something dramatically more way out than that, namely the crisis-driven beginnings of the de facto implementation of a guaranteed minimum income.  Not a minimum wage, that necessary product of the last great inflection, but a guaranteed minimum income, separate from employment.  How to pay for it?  The answer is a wealth tax, something unthinkable until now in the political mainstream.

More fundamental still is a rebirth of the idea of a union of the college educated, privileged one-third of the work force and the non-college educated two-thirds.  This virus may, at least in the near term, bring back the old now-discredited ideal of solidarity.  Is this possible?  I do not know.  Is it probable?  Perhaps not.  Could it happen without a titanic struggle?  Absolutely not.  But is it worth the struggle.

Oh yes.

Monday, April 27, 2020

VIOLATING THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH

"I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course."

This is a part of the Hippocratic Oath.  In my judgment, by sitting quietly while Trump floated the idea of injecting cleansing agents into COVID-19 patients, Deborah Birx violated this oath.  I think she should be stripped of her medical degree.

YOUTHFUL MEMORIES


In the summer of 1953, after graduating from college, I worked as a counselor at Camp Winamac in New Hampshire [I think].The oddest camper was a boy from New York who was a pathological liar.  He told huge, absurd, self-aggrandizing obviously false lies about himself and his family, a practice that made him a constant butt of ridicule from the other campers.  I had never encountered anyone like him, and his behavior puzzled me.  He clearly had nothing to gain from the lies; quite the contrary.  I could not tell whether he believed them, in any usable sense of the word “believed.”  There was no point to them, no consistency in them.  If we were going swimming, he would claim he had once swum the English Channel.  If parents’ weekend was approaching, he would say his father was the richest man in America.  If we arranged for some campers to go horseback riding at a nearby stable, he would say his parents had twenty horses on their estate, one of which had won the Kentucky Derby.

That was sixty-seven years ago, and I have never encountered another compulsive liar of that sort, at least not until now.  I wondered then, and I wonder now, what twisted, abortive, punitive, crippled childhood produces them.  At least that little boy did not grow up to be President of the United States.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

A PREDICTION

Trump is an empty human being, obsessively, insatiably in need of confirmation, approval, sadistic relief from an inescapable inner conviction of his worthlessness.  He does not have purposes, strategies, or goals, just an immediate need for approval.  His political rallies provided relief until the pandemic forced their cancellation.  His daily briefings served as a substutute until [I hope I am using this phrase correctly] he jumped the shark with the inquiry about internal LYSOL cleansing.

I predict that very shortly Trump will become desperate for approval.  He will use the excuse of the May 1st "reopening" to schedule one or more rallies, and from those rallies will come COVID-19 hot spots.

CALLING ALL TECHIES


Nothing is ever easy in cyberworld.  It seems there is a way to livestream a lecture on YouTube and then post it there permanently, but I cannot figure out how to do that.  I need a YouTube account, which I apparently have, but then what do I do?  This does not allow for interaction, as zoom, does, so I am not sure I want to do it, but I would like to know how.

Anybody really know?  Can you explain it so that your grandfather can understand?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

PLANS


I am making progress, I think, on the technical plans for the zoom-to-YouTube Hume lectures.  I thought, when I start in a week or two, that 2 p.m. Eastern time on Saturdays would be good – a weekend for those who work, 11 am on the West Coast, middle evening in Europe.  This would of course be impossible for Charles Pigden, should he be interested.

If only a half dozen or a few more sign in, I can unmute everybody and take comments and questions as I go, but if, by some miraculous combination of terminal boredom and philosophical interest, thirty or forty folks show up, I would have to mute everyone until a question period at the end.

How does that sound?

THE OLD ORDER PASSETH


Yesterday, I received my copy of Harvard Magazine, the alumni publication Harvard puts out in its endless and very successful effort to raise money [if you manage to get in and show up for at least a week, you are ever after considered a member of the class, even if you promptly drop out – Harvard takes the long view of these matters.]  As has become my custom, I turned immediately to the obituaries at the back of the magazine, and there found two familiar names.

The first was “Stephen Joyce.”  Steve shared a triple in Eliot House with two friends, Paul and Sadri. [that is to say,  a suite with a living room, and bathroom, and three small bedrooms.]  Paul was Paul Matisse, the grandson of Henri Matisse.  Sadri was Saddrudin Aga Khan, grandson of the Aga Khan and nephew, if I have this right, of Rita Hayworth.  Steve was the grandson of James Joyce.  Three less serious students it would have been impossible to find.  I visited their room once [my close friend, Mike Jorrin, knew Steve.]  On Sadri’s desk was a photo of a New York chorus girl in a skimpy outfit.  It was signed, “To Sadri, with all my love, Bubbles.”  Steve was named Joyce’s literary executor, and he created an international scandal in the literary world by carrying out his grandfather’s testamentary instructions to destroy all of the great writer’s personal letters.  Literary scholars never forgave him.

The other name was “Robert Tracy.”  Bob was a big, bluff, good-humored Comparative Literature graduate student who wrote his doctoral dissertation under the direction of Harry Levin.  Levin was an officially Big Deal, but he was hard of hearing and did not pay much attention to his students.  Bob, as I recall, was writing on the performances of Chekhov in England and America.  When he had finished the first half, on the performances in England, he turned it in to Levin and then went to see him for comments and criticism.  As Bob told the story to all of us in the Winthrop House Senior Common Room, Levin had very little to say about what Bob had turned in, but several of his comments made Bob suspect that Levin had forgotten that the project was supposed to deal with England and America, so when Levin said that with a few emendations it was OK, Bob kept his mouth shut, ditched the American half, turned in what he had already written, and got his degree.  Bob spent his career at Berkeley, so I guess it didn’t hurt him any.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

PROGRESS REPORT

I am deep in email conversations with the UNC IT person about how to set up zoom sessions for the Hume lectures.  Stay tuned.  It is a little like her trying to explain to a prehistoric hunter gatherer how to use a wheel.  Sigh.  I wish I were fifty years younger.

AN INNOCENT AMUSEMENT

One of my most sophisticated friends, a medievalist who arranged for me to teach at Columbia, sent me this link to a brief YouTube upload that captures what we more refined, intellectual, culturally sophisticated observers of the passing scene think about the current crisis.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

IDLE HANDS ARE THE DEVIL'S WORKSHOP


I still have a set of papers coming in, but then I really will be at my leisure.  Two questions:  First, if I deliver a short series of zoom lectures on Hume, how many people can join?  Second, is there any way I can record them and upload them to YouTube?  I know that when the managers of Carolina Meadows, where I live, hold a Virtual Town Hall, as they do each week, 300 or more residents join.

Anybody?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

INVITATION


In the lovely remake of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet and the always wonderful Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet, there is a moment at the very end of the movie, after Mr. Bennet has consented to the marriage of Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy, when Sutherland, seated alone in his study, says to no one in particular [roughly] “If there are any other suitors for my remaining daughters, send them in.  I am quite at my leisure.”

Yesterday I taught my last zoom class at UNC, so, like Donald Sutherland, I am quite at my leisure.  If anyone else in the world wants me to teach a course, send them in.


[Thanks to Carl for the spelling correction.]

Monday, April 20, 2020

SIMPLE PLEASURES

I just spent a delightful hour watching this lecture by Noam Chomsky delivered seven years ago.  This is not the political Noam, but rather what I think of as the real Chomsky, the linguist.  His mind is so clear, so sure, so elementary, so powerful, it was a great pleasure watching.  I recommend it.

MY DAY


Thank you all for your concern.  On this rainy Monday, when my morning walk has been canceled, let me spend a few minutes detailing the current circumspection of my life.  The Continuing Care Retirement Community in which Susie and I live has been on modified lockdown for four weeks now.  Two of the three entrances are closed, and the third is monitored.  The main building is closed, all meetings have been cancelled, and our dinners are delivered to our door.  We have been told not to leave the CCRC save for vital doctor’s appointments and the like, and if we do, we are supposed to self-quarantine for fourteen days.  Several residents who have been making repeated trips under false premises have been threatened with expulsion.  Visitors are allowed only to drop things off at a resident’s door.

I leave my apartment four times a day:  to take my early morning walk, to take a short later walk with Susie, to go downstairs to get my mail, and to take a bag of garbage to the chute at the end of my hall.  When deliveries arrive from Amazon, I quarantine them under a blanket – one day for paper and cardboard, three days for plastic.  Then I wash my hands.  Deliveries from the local supermarket are sanitized.  I bring in the NY TIMES from my door each morning, quarantine it for a day, wash my hands, and read yesterday’s paper.

Until now, I have not been sanitizing the dinners and other supplies from the central kitchen, but I shall now begin doing so.

I never see other people save on my walks, when I am wearing a mask and am a fair distance from them.

I teach via zoom [last class this afternoon], I spend endless hours on my computer, I write for this blog, follow the comments, and amuse myself imagining ever more baroque humiliations for Trump.

I suspect this will go on for at least two or three more months.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME


While I was meditating in my deep philosophical fashion on the larger meaning of the current pandemic, news came that one of the staff here at Carolina Meadows had tested positive.  He last worked here on April 10th, and since has been furloughed [on full pay].  Ten of his fellows who worked in close proximity to him were furloughed on Friday.  He worked taking phoned dinner orders from residents and packing the bags with dinners that are delivered each early evening to our doors.  Has he infected other workers?  Residents?  Have I been successful in protecting my wife and myself?  Time will tell.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

DAY DREAMING


I have already voiced my belief that out of the present crisis there might emerge a dramatic progressive leap forward in American politics, like that which many of us recall nostalgically as Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Bored out of my skull on a lovely spring day in quarantine, and curious to see how that great transformation in our collective public life was launched, I Googled a bit and came up with the Platform of the Democratic Party adopted at the 1932 National Convention that nominated FDR.  It is an interesting document in many ways [one of which is the central position given to agricultural policy, a reminder of how fundamentally the American economy has changed in 88 years.]

At the very beginning of a long list of policies and proposals appear these sentences:

“We advocate an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance to accomplish a saving of not less than twenty-five per cent in the cost of the Federal Government. And we call upon the Democratic Party in the states to make a zealous effort to achieve a proportionate result.
We favor maintenance of the national credit by a federal budget annually balanced on the basis of accurate executive estimates within revenues, raised by a system of taxation levied on the principle of ability to pay.”

A 25% cut in government expenditures and a balanced budget.

I think perhaps we should not worry too much when Ole Joe issues a moving call for a Return to Normalcy [Warren G. Harding’s campaign slogan in 1920.]