Monday, March 27, 2023
HERE IS THE LINK
As soon as I get the link, I will put it up. Needless to say, my lecture will follow pretty closely what I have written in my book on the same subject. This is mathematics, so I cannot, in the interest of novelty, say that this time around the square on the hypotenuse is equal to twice the sum of the squares on the adjacent sides, as it were. However, I have managed to make certain things clearer or more precise in ways that they were not in the book so I am rather pleased with the lecture.
Saturday, March 25, 2023
CALLING ALL NERDS
I have spent the past several days preparing my next lecture on The Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy. Monday, from 2 PM to 3:30 PM Eastern Time US, I shall be giving the first of several lectures on Game Theory.The lectures will be on zoom and the zoom program we are using can handle up to 100 participants. Since I expect only about 10 people to participate from the UNC philosophy department, there is room for others should they wish to attend. Only the UNC students will be able to ask questions, but all the others are welcome to attend as listeners. Tomorrow or Monday morning I will post a link. After I have finished expounding the elements of Game Theory, which may take me two 1 1/2 hour lectures, I will follow that by a formal analysis of the central argument in John Rawls's famous book, A Theory of Justice.
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
THAT WAS FUN
Well, that was fun. I must say you folks have a very rich and varied range of knowledge. Let me say just a word about what led me to raise the question. As you probably know if you have been reading this blog, there was a time in my life when I worked very hard to learn to play the viola. For eight years, I took a 90 minute lesson every week and practiced an hour a day. As a result of all this work, I became a pretty amateur fair violist. That is to say, I was nowhere near as good as a professional violist sitting in the last chair of the viola section of a small regional professional orchestra. The sheer amount of work day after day, month after month, year after year that is required to achieve the sort of command of the piano or the violin or the viola that professional musicians exhibit is something that non-musicians I suspect do not quite understand. When I watch Yo-Yo Ma leaning back and playing the cello as though he were listening to it rather than actually playing it, I have some sense of what it took for him to reach that point and I am in awe.
By comparison, it is my impression that it takes relatively little work to become a good film actor, although obviously some people are much better at it than others. Hence, it does not surprise me that the children of quite successful film actors sometimes themselves become successful film actors. I should imagine it takes a good deal more work than that to become a first-class plumber although I have never done any plumbing so I do not really know.
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
A GAME TO PASS THE TIME
Jamie Lee Curtis won an Oscar. She is, of course, the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. There are lots of successful actors and actresses who are the sons or daughters of other successful actors and actresses. So I got to thinking, are there first-grade classical musicians who were the sons or daughters of other first-grade classical musicians? Well, immediately I thought of David Oistrakh, the great violinist, and his son Igor, also a first-grade violinist. But I could not think of any other examples. There are no great philosophers who are the sons or daughters of other great philosophers, so far as I could think of. Nor could I come up with great poets or novelists or classical composers who are sons or daughters of other great poets or novelists of classical composers.
After a while, it occurred to me that this might be an interesting question to put to the readers of this blog. Can any of you come up with interesting examples of father – son or father – daughter or mother – son or mother – daughter great artists of any sort?
Saturday, March 18, 2023
AND SO IT BEGINS
Well, Trump says he will be arrested on Tuesday and for once I hope he is correct. I suspect he will be indicted in Georgia within the next several weeks and perhaps by the end of May for the Mar-a-Lago matter as well. Meanwhile, France is awash in garbage, England is in bad shape, Italy is in crisis, and Israel is close to what is being described as a civil war.
Perhaps there is something to be said for being very old.
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
I LOVE IT
John Pillette, Google tells me that there have over the years been 44,569 comments on this blog. I think yours is one of my all-time favorites. Thank you for making my day.
I have heard from several people the comment that "punishing" Prof. Wax by banning her from teaching courses in the department will simply have the effect of encouraging others to take this way of freeloading. I must confess I was stunned and totally blindsided by this observation. The notion that someone would brand himself or herself as a homophobic racist, gain the contempt and detestation of his or her entire cadre of professional associates, make himself or herself a laughingstock in the world, all in order to get out of teaching some courses suggests to me that I am more out of touch with the present generation's attitude toward work than I realized.
Let me say, by the way, that the concern with Prof. Wax at the University of Pennsylvania does not arise out of faculty uneasiness being around someone espousing such views, but rather as a response to the extreme distress experienced by students at the law school, primarily but by no means exclusively students of color.
But I think I shall stop blogging about the subject, because quite clearly I am totally out of touch.
Some of you may have seen the long story yesterday in the New York Times, starting on page 1, about an academic freedom controversy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and if you read the story to the end you will have noticed a reference in it to my son, Tobias, who is a professor there. The story concerns a rather unpleasant person named Amy Wax, whose racist views have been a thorn in the side of the Law School and a trial to the students for many years. I actually encountered Wax some years ago when I presented my paper “The Future of Socialism,” to the law school faculty. At my son’s suggestion, I circulated the paper in advance and he assured me that everyone would read it. As the discussion started, Wax asked a belligerent and rather condescending question based on the views of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayak. I pointed out that I had discussed the views of both of these theorists at length in the paper, a fact that she obviously did not know since she had not bothered to read it.
After many years of suffering from the complaints of students about Wax’s behavior and statements in class, the Dean of the Law School announced that an inquiry would be started about the effect that her views were having on the students, and this has generated a vigorous debate about academic freedom. Since I am something of an absolutist about academic freedom, both for reasons of principle and out of self-interest (people on my end of the spectrum being more likely to be attacked than people on her end), I felt rather torn about the issue and I spent some time in the middle of last night lying in bed thinking about it. Here is what I came up with.
Amy Wax was hired some years ago as a tenured professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania. In that position, she has certain rights. She has the right to be protected from professional loss for expressing unpopular opinions. She has the right to receive a salary and raises appropriate to someone of her accomplishments and distinction. She has a right to be assigned office space and to receive her share of such supplementary support as research funds and the like. At the same time, she has certain obligations. She is obliged to teach the normal load of courses, to meet with students an appropriate amount of time, to submit grades for the students in her courses on time and to do her share of such supplementary chores as serving on committees and the like.
She has an obligation to teach courses, but especially in a Law School there are limitations on what courses she can offer. Law Schools are unlike arts and sciences academic departments in this respect. A law degree is a professional degree and professors at Law Schools are required to teach such elementary law subjects as Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, and the like. In arts and sciences fields, the senior professors frequently teach no introductory courses at all, leaving that to their junior colleagues. But even the most famous professors at a Law School will as a regular thing teach first year introductory courses. Amy Wax earned a medical degree before she went to law school, but if she were to announce that she planned to teach anatomy rather than torts next year, the Dean would summarily tell her that she could not do so. That would not be a violation of her academic freedom; it is just a fact of life in Law Schools.
She has an obligation to teach courses, but she does not have a right to teach courses. She has a right to receive a salary and have her tenure protected but she does not have a right to teach courses. As soon as I realized that, the solution to the problem of Amy Wax at the University of Pennsylvania seemed obvious to me. I think she should continue to receive her salary and all of the other perquisites and support appropriate to someone in your position and I think she should be protected in that right despite her despicable views, but I think from now until she retires, she should teach no courses and be assigned no student advisees. She would of course be free to give non-credit lectures on any subject she chose and any student who wanted to study with her would be free to do so, but from now on nothing she does at the University of Pennsylvania Law School should be part of the regular curriculum presented to students.
The University of Pennsylvania Law School made a mistake when it appointed her to a tenured professorship and it is their responsibility to swallow that mistake. If they can afford to do it, they should appoint someone else to cover the courses that she has until now been teaching. If they cannot afford to do that, then the faculty as a whole should pitch in and in rotation teach extra courses to cover her load. She can continue to push her ugly racist views in any way she wishes and as loudly as she wishes but she does not have a right to teach courses at the University of Pennsylvania in which he expresses those views and since the University of Pennsylvania does not have a right to stop her from expressing those views in the courses she teaches, they should simply assign her no courses to teach.
Saturday, March 11, 2023
I WILL TAKE WHAT I CAN GET
When I read about Trump being indicted for paying off stormy Daniels, all I can think of is Robert De Niro as Al Capone in the 1987 film The Untouchables. After all his crimes, they got Capone on tax evasion. I am not choosy. I will take what I can get.
Tuesday, March 7, 2023
AM I MISSING SOMETHING?
There is something that has been puzzling me for some time regarding inflation, and I am hoping that someone can throw light on the matter. One of the causes of the current high inflation in the United States is said to be the tightness in the labor market. As I understand it, this means something like the following: employers are having difficulty filling jobs because there are too few people looking for work. In an attempt to attract employees, employers raise the wages that they offer. This reduces their profits and so they respond by raising prices. The result is inflation, which is to say a rise in prices.
My question is this: why don’t they raise their prices before they are compelled to offer higher wages? If they can sell their goods after raising their prices in response to their rising labor costs, then presumably they can sell their goods after raising their prices even if their labor costs are not going up, in which case they would make more money. If they are unable to sell their goods at the higher prices after their labor costs go up, then they would be forced to bring their prices back down to sell their goods, with the result that they would make lower profits but at least they would make something since the alternative would be that they had unsold goods in their warehouses.
This is such a simple question that there must be a simple answer to it but I confess I am unable to figure out what that is.
Monday, March 6, 2023
IT IS A PUZZLEMENT
I thought I would spend a little time today musing about something that has puzzled me for quite some time. I genuinely do not know what to think about this and I would be curious to know whether anyone has some insight into it.
The United States is an extraordinarily violent country in which a sizable proportion of the population seems genuinely to want an autocratic or dictatorial ruler. There are more than 400 million guns in private hands in America and mass shootings, defined as shootings in which four or more people are killed or wounded, happen a good deal more often than once a day. Virtually all of the shootings that are not triggered by some personal relationship between the perpetrator and one or more of the victims seem to be rooted in right wing conspiracy fantasies, racist anger, so-called fear of replacement, or old-fashioned anti-Semitism.
And yet, despite the presence of so many weapons and the enormous amount of talk about revolution, armed conflict, and the like there seems at least thus far to have been virtually no organized armed military style conflict. The assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 was violent, enormous in the size of the participation, and at least on the part of some of the people there well planned in advance. And yet, when the rioters broke into the building they milled around, spread their feces on the walls, and then took selfies which they posted on social media, making it easy for the Feds to track them down. That event is frequently described as practice for the next coup, and yet I rather suspect that it may have been the high point in antigovernment violence, not the prelude to something more violent and more successful.
There has been a great deal of reporting about the presence in the ranks of the police and the military of individuals sympathetic to these efforts to overthrow democracy, and yet there been no organized units that have as units broken with their superiors and set themselves systematically against the state.
The United States is not only a hatefully violent place, it seems also to be a society obsessed with a kind of performance art.
Are we on the brink of a descent into fascist autocracy? I simply cannot figure it out.
Sunday, March 5, 2023
THE HOT STOVE LEAGUE IS BACK IN SESSION
The UNC basketball team lost to Duke last night, thereby very possibly eliminating it from inclusion in March Madness. That relieves me of the necessity of pretending to care what happens to them, so I can now turn to the more important business of making political predictions. As always, I alert you to the fact that these predictions are based on no inside information whatsoever and precious little outside information either.
I think it is virtually certain that Trump will be indicted by a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia sometime later this spring. It is almost as certain that he will be indicted in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. It is likely that he will be indicted in the Stormy Daniels payoff case, and it is even possible, although somewhat less likely, that he will be indicted in the big January 6 case. One way or another, he will be under indictment when the Republican presidential primaries begin after the first of the year.
Either in spite of these indictments or because of them, he will do quite well in the early primaries, and should lock up the nomination by the summer. He will probably go to trial late in the spring of 2024 and in all likelihood, before the Republican National Convention, he will have been found guilty in at least one of these cases.
The Republican Party will then face a difficult decision: whether to confer the nomination on him or construe the rules in such a way as to dump him. There is of course no obstacle to someone running for the presidency when in prison – Eugene Victor Debs ran in 1920 while in prison on the Socialist ticket and got a considerable number of votes.
If the Republicans do nominate Trump, he will be defeated by Biden and the Democrats will take the House and even hold the Senate. If the Republicans dump Trump, he will do everything in his power to get his supporters not to vote and the Democrats will win in a romp.
Taking all and all, this is a good reason for me to survive at least until November of next year.
Friday, March 3, 2023
R. McD in one of his paragraphs refers to Philip Green and Herman Kahn. This brings back memories
Phil Green and I grew up in a neighborhood in Queens, New York called Sunnyside. I have been told, although I was too young to remember this, that he and I on occasion rode together in the same baby carriage.
Herman Kahn was my great nemesis in my early days in the nuclear disarmament movement. At one point I debated him publicly at Jordan Hall in Boston. I wrote a scathing attack on his book, On Thermonuclear War, for The New Republic.
Back then, it was possible to think that we would win the fight.
A PROPOS THE COMMENTS ON THE ELSBERG LETTER
I wonder whether the visceral reaction to the possibility of nuclear war is in part generational. Ellsberg and I are only a few years apart in age and both of us became very involved in opposition to nuclear war when we were young. That is what explains my clumsy and rather desperate efforts to ridicule the casual references to "tactical nuclear weapons." Ellsberg understands much better than I did the concrete consequences of a nuclear war but people several generations younger seem to contemplate that possibility without an awareness of how totally terrible it would be.
It was the threat of nuclear war, rather than economic inequality or racial oppression or gender oppression, that first drove me into political activity, and now, 65 years later, we are living with the society-ending threats that so many of us saw then and protested against unsuccessfully.
Ellsberg was an undergradyate, a Junior Fellow and then a graduate student in economics at Harvard when I was there but I do not recall ever having met him.
My son, Patrick, forwarded this to me.
by Daniel Ellsberg Posted on March 02, 2023
Dear friends and supporters,
I have difficult news to impart. On February 17, without much warning, I was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer on the basis of a CT scan and an MRI. (As is usual with pancreatic cancer – which has no early symptoms – it was found while looking for something else, relatively minor). I’m sorry to report to you that my doctors have given me three to six months to live. Of course, they emphasize that everyone’s case is individual; it might be more, or less.
I have chosen not to do chemotherapy (which offers no promise) and I have assurance of great hospice care when needed. Please know: right now, I am not in any physical pain, and in fact, after my hip replacement surgery in late 2021, I feel better physically than I have in years! Moreover, my cardiologist has given me license to abandon my salt-free diet of the last six years. This has improved my quality of life dramatically: the pleasure of eating my former favorite foods! And my energy level is high. Since my diagnosis, I’ve done several interviews and webinars on Ukraine, nuclear weapons, and first amendment issues, and I have two more scheduled this week.
As I just told my son Robert: he’s long known (as my editor) that I work better under a deadline. It turns out that I live better under a deadline!
I feel lucky and grateful that I’ve had a wonderful life far beyond the proverbial three-score years and ten. (I’ll be ninety-two on April 7th.) I feel the very same way about having a few months more to enjoy life with my wife and family, and in which to continue to pursue the urgent goal of working with others to avert nuclear war in Ukraine or Taiwan (or anywhere else). When I copied the Pentagon Papers in 1969, I had every reason to think I would be spending the rest of my life behind bars. It was a fate I would gladly have accepted if it meant hastening the end of the Vietnam War, unlikely as that seemed (and was). Yet in the end, that action – in ways I could not have foreseen, due to Nixon’s illegal responses – did have an impact on shortening the war. In addition, thanks to Nixon’s crimes, I was spared the imprisonment I expected, and I was able to spend the last fifty years with Patricia and my family, and with you, my friends.
What’s more, I was able to devote those years to doing everything I could think of to alert the world to the perils of nuclear war and wrongful interventions: lobbying, lecturing, writing and joining with others in acts of protest and nonviolent resistance.
I wish I could report greater success for our efforts. As I write, "modernization" of nuclear weapons is ongoing in all nine states that possess them (the US most of all). Russia is making monstrous threats to initiate nuclear war to maintain its control over Crimea and the Donbas – like the dozens of equally illegitimate first-use threats that the US government has made in the past to maintain its military presence in South Korea, Taiwan, South Vietnam, and (with the complicity of every member state then in NATO ) West Berlin. The current risk of nuclear war, over Ukraine, is as great as the world has ever seen.
China and India are alone in declaring no-first-use policies. Leadership in the US, Russia, other nuclear weapons states, NATO and other US allies have yet to recognize that such threats of initiating nuclear war – let alone the plans, deployments and exercises meant to make them credible and more ready to be carried out – are and always have been immoral and insane: under any circumstances, for any reasons, by anyone or anywhere.
It is long past time – but not too late! – for the world’s publics at last to challenge and resist the willed moral blindness of their past and current leaders. I will continue, as long as I’m able, to help these efforts. There’s tons more to say about Ukraine and nuclear policy, of course, and you’ll be hearing from me as long as I’m here.
As I look back on the last sixty years of my life, I think there is no greater cause to which I could have dedicated my efforts. For the last forty years we have known that nuclear war between the US and Russia would mean nuclear winter: more than a hundred million tons of smoke and soot from firestorms in cities set ablaze by either side, striking either first or second, would be lofted into the stratosphere where it would not rain out and would envelope the globe within days. That pall would block up to 70% of sunlight for years, destroying all harvests worldwide and causing death by starvation for most of the humans and other vertebrates on earth.
So far as I can find out, this scientific near-consensus has had virtually no effect on the Pentagon’s nuclear war plans or US/NATO (or Russian) nuclear threats. (In a like case of disastrous willful denial by many officials, corporations and other Americans, scientists have known for over three decades that the catastrophic climate change now underway – mainly but not only from burning fossil fuels – is fully comparable to US-Russian nuclear war as another existential risk.) I’m happy to know that millions of people – including all those friends and comrades to whom I address this message! – have the wisdom, the dedication and the moral courage to carry on with these causes, and to work unceasingly for the survival of our planet and its creatures.
I’m enormously grateful to have had the privilege of knowing and working with such people, past and present. That’s among the most treasured aspects of my very privileged and very lucky life. I want to thank you all for the love and support you have given me in so many ways. Your dedication, courage, and determination to act have inspired and sustained my own efforts. My wish for you is that at the end of your days you will feel as much joy and gratitude as I do now.
Thursday, March 2, 2023
WELL, SO MUCH FOR THAT
I could not figure out how to make it work so I have gone back to the old system and I will just ignore the comments when I want to and go on as though they were not there. I had some nice messages from folks which cheered me up and as for those of you who clutter up the comments section, get a life.
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
I have just change the settings on this blog so that only those admitted as members of the blog can post comments. I assume this means that one will have to ask permission to be a member, but I do not know. My purpose is to try one last time to get people to actually engage with what I have written rather than using this blog as a convenience space for them to have independent conversations with one another. Maybe I am just old, maybe it is a lingering effect of my recent illness, maybe it is just natural grumpiness, but I have more or less had it.
I wrote a short post about an interesting shift in the theoretical analysis of society in the late 19th and early 20th century and no one so much as had the courtesy to take note of it.
If you want to reach me, my email address is at the top of the blog.
As I wait, impatiently, for someone, anyone, to indict Trump for something, anything, I find myself depressed by the state of the world. A massive earthquake in Turkey kills more than 40,000 people; the poisonous right wing Israeli government destroys what little faith I ever had in the experiment called Israel; all over the world people, mostly but not entirely men, find that more than anything else they want to kill one another. I try to make a difference by giving money to political campaigns –it is really all I can do – but I am well aware that it is no more than a gesture.
While I sit at my desk in a funk, let me recall for a moment for myself and for you the origin of the notion “middle-class.” Not much of importance turns on the matter, but it is interesting and diverts me.
The modern notion of class, as opposed to status or estate, comes from the work of the early political economists – Smith and Ricardo, most notably. Smith divided the people of England into three groups defined by their relationship to the processes of production of commodities. The first group consisted of those who controled the land on which food was grown. The second group consisted of those who did the labor either in the fields or in the new factories beginning to appear in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The third group consisted of those who used their private funds to rent the land, hire the labor, and buy the raw materials and machinery needed for production. Land, Labor, Capital, the landed aristocracy, the laboring class, the entrepreneurial class.
This functional analysis was an extremely powerful tool and gave rise to the new discipline of Political Economy. One of the important implications of this mode of analysis was that it made transparently clear that the interests of the three classes were in opposition to one another, since in any year what went to one class as rents or wages or profits necessarily came out of what was available to the other classes. So class conflict was built into the structure of the analysis of the classical political economists and whatever their limitations in mathematical sophistication might have been, this fact gave what they wrote enormous analytical and political power.
At about the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, a number of brilliant social theorists, Max Weber most notable among them, looked at the now significantly developed capitalist world and concluded that something more than this functional analysis was required in order to capture the complexity of what they observed, and so in place of the old categories of Land, Labor, and Capital they put forward a more complicated multidimensional analysis of capitalist society in terms of what they called socioeconomic status. It was from this work that there came the classification of the modern capitalist society into Lower Class, Middle Class and Upper Class segments, and then into Lower Middle Class, Upper Middle-Class, and other fragments of the society.
(I am reminded of the delightful old book, whose title and author I cannot now recall, which detailed in amusing fashion the differences in England between the lower, the middle, and the upper classes. For example, when two couples went out for the evening in a car, if they were working-class couples, the two husbands sat in the front seats while the two wives sat in the back seats; if they were middle-class couples, one couple sat in front and the other couple sat in the rear; while if they were upper-class couples, the owner of the car sat with the other man’s wife in front and his wife sat in back with the other man.)
This new sociological reanalysis had the great virtue of capturing differences in attitudes, life chances, and social and regional groupings that were missed by the older classification of classical political economy into Land, Labor, and Capital. But it forfeited the powerful insight of the older mode of analysis that there were structural unavoidable conflicts of interest that lay at the foundation of the society.
I think of this when I hear Biden claim that a proposal for tax reform designed to increase taxes only on those households with annual income of more than $400,000 a year is a proposal that defends the interests of “the middle class.”
Thursday, February 23, 2023
Somewhere in the blizzard of comments during the week that I was hors de combat, there was, I believe, a question about my views concerning Joe Biden’s age and its relation to the prospects for a second Biden presidential term. Since from my perspective Biden is just a young whippersnapper, I suspect I see it differently from those who are a mere 50 or 60 years old. But I will have a go at the question while I wait for the arrangements to be made for the reduced version of my formal methods lectures.
The presidency has never struck me as a particularly taxing job. You are surrounded by people whose entire function it is to give you what you want the moment you ask for it. When you travel, as soon as you get on the plane or in the bus or in the car, it leaves. If you need a book or paper or fact, you just say so and somebody brings it to you. All that is required of the job is that you make wise, thoughtful, knowledgeable, politically shrewd decisions over and over and over again. Extraordinarily difficult, but not very tiring.
My first choice among the available 2020 candidates was of course Bernie, who is I think only a few years younger than Biden. In my own lifetime, I think Roosevelt was a good president, Eisenhower was a fair president, Kennedy was a disaster as a president, Reagan was worse than a disaster – not much there to tell one whether age is a factor for good or evil.
Biden has been, in my view, a quite astonishingly successful president despite having to deal with marginal majorities in the House and Senate and a combination of pandemic and economic crisis. I do not think Bernie would have done as well nor do I think any of the other candidates for the nomination would have done as well. What is more, despite Jerry Fresia’s understandable objections, I have been cheered by Biden’s direct and repeated championing of non-college-educated union workers, something I have not seen from a Democratic president in 50 years.
I think Biden will run again and I think he will win, because whether Trump actually gets the nomination or not, he will weigh so heavily on the Republican ticket that he will bring it down. Unless Biden starts to go the way of Diane Feinstein therefore I think he ought to run again.
A MESSAGE FOR THE PHILOSOPHY SENIOR WHO ATTENDED THE FIRST LECTURE
Contact Myraeka. She is arranging a new time for a small group of students who could not attend the lecture because of a conflict but would like to hear the lectures.
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
GIILBERT AND SULLIVAN MEMORIES
After many weeks of fevered preparation and long nights spent rehearsing my lectures while lying in bed, I went to Wilson Hall to deliver the first of my lecture series on The Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy. I had arranged for a very helpful graduate student to videotape the lectures and post the slides that I had prepared to accompany them and I was ready to roll. I got there a bit early and the only person there when I arrived was the young graduate student. 3:15 PM came and drifted to 3:20 PM and only two people showed up – a senior philosophy major and a graduate student who took my course last semester. That was it, the total audience for my lectures. I delivered the lecture I had prepared, and was dutifully videotaped, but I will confess that my heart was not in it. Later, I checked and the associate chair had indeed sent out a circular memo reminding people of the event. There was simply no interest.
I will freely admit that I was seriously bummed. I decided that like a slightly over the edge container of yogurt, I had passed my sell by date. This morning I formally canceled the lecture series.
One of the virtues of great age is that when you suffer a humiliating defeat, you can reach back to earlier days and remember other humiliating defeats, thereby giving you perspective if not solace. In 1962, I was a young assistant professor at the University of Chicago. I teamed up with Sylvain Bromberger, a wonderful man with whom I had been a graduate student at Harvard, to teach a graduate seminar on the philosophy of history. We chose a nice seminar room with a table that would hold 20 or so students and prepared for our first meeting. Two graduate students took the course, and for the remaining weeks of the quarter, the four of us huddled together at one end of the long table and whispered to one another in low tones about the philosophy of history.
Then there is the talk I was invited to give the University of Maryland Baltimore campus. When I arrived I was taken to a large impressive lecture hall in which there were perhaps 10 people scattered around the several hundred seats. During my talk one or two of them got up and left. Afterwards, when I commented on the disappointing turnout, I was told by the member of the department who had introduced me that he was impressed by the turnout. It seemed that at the very same time the Baltimore Colts were playing a vitally important game and he was surprised that anyone at all came to my talk. It was he said evidence of my great attractiveness to the philosophers there. I remained silent.
And of course I will never forget the time during one of my first trips to South Africa when I was invited to speak to the philosophy department at the University of Cape Town. The member of the faculty presiding over the affair introduced me as Richard Rorty.
As Pooh Bah says in the Mikado while holding a small bag of money in his hand, “another insult, and by the feel of it, a light one.”
Monday, February 20, 2023
ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH
I am mostly better from the terrible headaches and eye infection that have afflicted me – it takes longer to recover when one is this old. Today I give the first of six two-hour non-credit lectures in the UNC philosophy department on the use and abuse of formal methods in political philosophy. I hope somebody shows up.
In preparation for these lectures, I did something I have not done in three years: I went to an actual hair salon and had an actual hair cut. Ever since the pandemic hit I have been using an attachment on my beard trimmer to give myself haircuts and although I have managed to avoid looking totally shambolic, they have not really been very good haircuts, but now I look about as good as I have ever will.
I have arranged for the lectures to be videotaped and put on YouTube so eventually anyone who wants to watch them will be able to.
Wish me luck.
Sunday, February 12, 2023
Several people have made comments to which I should like to respond but I have felt so terrible for the past week that I have been unable to. My apologies. I hope soon to recover sufficiently to be able to get back in form. One word: the Barney Wolff who comments from time to time is indeed my cousin. His father was my father's brother, and our grandfather, after whom he is named, was Barnett Wolff, one of the leaders of the New York City socialist party and the cofounder of the Brooklyn branch of that party. I think we share a great family pride in this connection.
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Unexpectedly, reluctantly, against my instincts and predilections, I am becoming a convert to Joe Biden. He was my last candidate in the 2020 primary and although I gave money to him and voted for him it was really only because the alternative was unthinkable. But there is no way to deny the facts. Biden is the most pro – union Democratic president since Roosevelt. He is the first Democratic president I have ever heard say that he wants men and women who do not have college degrees to get good middle-class jobs – not that he wants him to go to college but that he wants them to get good middle-class jobs despite not having college degrees and is prepared to put the weight of his presidency behind policies designed to accomplish that. When he said last night that this is not your father’s Democratic Party, it is your grandfather’s Democratic Party my heart swelled.
Now to be honest, I did not actually hear much of the speech as it was being delivered. On Sunday I was struck down by the most ferocious headache I have ever had in my life, pain that lasted when I went to the emergency room and afterward and did not ease up until Monday morning when I saw my doctor and got a shot that diminished the pain. Apparently I have developed something called “cluster headaches,” a condition that is painful, not dangerous, and transitory. One of its symptoms or signs is that my right eye is swollen almost shut, a fact that I find disorienting even when the pain is not present. I have great faith in my doctor, who assures me that I will get better and have no lasting consequences from this affliction, the causes of which, he says, are not known. So I heard some of the speech and watched some of it today before going off to have an MRI.
With the exception perhaps of Bernie Sanders and a handful of other Democrats, there is nobody in the party who talks like this and I love it. No, I have not forgotten what he did for Clarence Thomas and to Anita Hill, never mind all the other things in the past 40 years or more. But for whatever reason, he talks more like my grandfather, the socialist leader of Brooklyn in the first decades of the 20th century that he does like any of the hotshot young lefties who have sprung up in the party.
Saturday, February 4, 2023
GET A LIFE!
It was not a Stealth bomber carrying nuclear weapons. It was not an intercontinental ballistic missile. It was not an Imperial Death Star ready to destroy the earth. It was just a goddamn great big balloon. Give me a break!
Friday, February 3, 2023
Last night, as I lay in bed awake at about 2 AM, I found myself turning over in my mind the kerfuffle in Florida about the AP African-American history course in Florisa high schools. Before going to bed, I had listened to a long discussion of the subject between Chris Hayes and Ta-Nihisi Coates. Now I should explain that the only high school course in history I ever took was Mr. Wepner’s course on European history, and that was 75 years ago, so I am really not up to speed on high school history courses or AP courses (which apparently means “advanced placement”). But I have the following thoughts, for what they are worth.
Let us suppose that seniors taking an AP American history course for a semester meet five times a week, 50 minutes each time (is this correct? I have no idea.) That is roughly 4 hours a week. I am going to assume that the students all have cell phones and that they spend maybe three hours a day, seven days a week on them texting, sexting, exploring social media, tweeting, Lord knows what else. That is, let us say, 20 hours a week, which is five times as much as what they spend in their AP American history course.
Ron DeSantis does not want them to study African-American history. But Ron DeSantis has no control over what they find on their phones. So here is my proposal. A group of distinguished historians of African-American history should get together and post online a series of little lectures, discussions, videos, and so forth on aspects of African-American history. Each of these posts should state clearly that the material contained therein is not considered appropriate by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for high school seniors to encounter. Young people should be urged not to watch this material, not to tweet about it, not to send messages about it to their friends, and certainly not to mention it in class. Anyone encountering this material accidentally on his or her phone should be warned that if they live in Florida, the governor does not want them to know about it.
My guess is that within 72 hours more young people in America would know about what was in this material than could be accomplished by a $300 million government grant to the US Department of Education. I mean, does anyone actually believe that young people these days derive their primary understanding of the world from what they are told by teachers in high school classrooms? I am 89 years old and even I know that that is nonsense.
Thursday, February 2, 2023
My curiosity piqued by the decision by Ron DeSantis to attack the AP black studies courses in Florida high schools, I went back and reread the third chapter of my book Autobiography of An Ex-White Man. If you want a clear, transparent, well-written statement of the essential outlines of the true history of the United States, take a look at it. It is, in a sense, a summary of what I learned from my colleagues during my 16 years as a professor of Afro-American Studies.
Monday, January 30, 2023
To Marc and Howie. Those of the first coherent explanations of friction I have ever encountered. That still leaves the question of Noam's beard.
Sunday, January 29, 2023
IDLE THOUGHTS WITH NO REDEEMING SOCIAL VALUE
First idle thought: I have raised this question before but have never received a satisfactory answer. Can anybody explain to me how friction works? When I put on an undershirt in the morning, it slides easily over my body, but if I try putting it on after a shower and I am still a little bit damp it sticks to my skin. This, I take it, is a consequence of friction. But how does friction work? Why does a little water on my skin make the fabric of the undershirt catch and not fall effortlessly down?
Second idle thought: I met Noam Chomsky roughly 70 years ago when he came to Harvard to take up a Junior Fellowship. He was then a young, slender, clean-shaven handsome man, and he remained that way, at least to my way of thinking, over the next 65 years or so. When people asked me how I thought I differed from Chomsky, I would reply jokingly that he was better looking than I. But several years ago – I am not sure quite when – Noam stopped shaving and very quickly grew a full beard, so that in recent YouTube posted interviews, he looks like an old rabbi from an East European shtetl. Does anybody know why he did that? The difference is really quite striking.
Third idle thought: every night Susie and I eat at the bar in the Pub, which is one of the three dining venues here at Carolina Meadows. We are usually joined by retired general Jim Anderson, whom I have mentioned here before. The three of us were all born in 1933, so all of us turn 90 this year – Susie on January 16, Jim on April 3, and I on December 27. If I were to tell you that I had dinner last evening at a restaurant with three 90-year-olds, Your natural reaction would be how strange it was to be at the same counter with three such ancient characters, and yet that is not the way it feels to me at all. What unites us is not our age but the fact that we all like oysters. On Friday evenings, Carolina Meadows serves oysters on the half shell and they have a limited supply, so the three of us arrive early and among us eat almost half of all the oysters they have secured for the evening. The fact that we are all or about to be 90 does not come into it. It is very strange.
All of this is what I think about as I wait impatiently to find out what the Fulton County District Attorney means by the word "imminently."
Saturday, January 28, 2023
I had planned to ramble on about chat bots and the next 20 years and one thing and another, but I made the mistake of watching the beginning of the video that was released of the beating death of the young man and it upset me so much that I cannot think about anything else. I have nothing profound to say about it. I am simply crushed by the endless repeated evidence of the pointless cruelty that we show to one another. I can offer deep ideologically encoded explanations with the best of them but now I simply want to hide under the covers and shut out the world. We inflict so much suffering on one another, needlessly, endlessly, not even in the pursuit of what could be called rational self-interest. I do not want to find clever ways of talking about it, I simply want it to go away.
Friday, January 27, 2023
GOOD NEWS, SORT OF
Ronna McDaniel just beat back a challenge to get reelected as head of the RNC. This pretty well means that the RNC winner take all primary rules will not be changed, which in turn means that Trump has a much better chance of being chosen as the Republican candidate in 2024. Which in turn means that the Democrats will win the presidency. You have to take good news wherever you can find it.
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN
It is all set. I will begin my series of lecturees at UNC on the use and abuse of formal methods in political philosophy on Monday, February 20. Six two-hour lectures are planned, but we shall see whether that much time is required for what I have to say. The lectures will be videotaped and posted on YouTube, probably in one hour segments. I am looking forward to it.
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
GOD EXISTS (WITH APOLOGIES TO MICHAEL LLENOS)
I lay down to rest after lunch today and nodded off to sleep with the television set on. I awoke to reports of classified documents found in Mike Pence's home. All that was missing were angels with harps singing "Nearer my God to thee."
Monday, January 23, 2023
ODDITIES OF NEUROSCIENCE
I have, I think, made reference from time to time to what is called “senior moments.” By and large, it is proper names that I have difficulty calling up – at one time, as I have remarked, I simply could not keep in my mind the name of the great soprano Kathleen Battle. Yesterday I had a quite bizarre senior moment when I was talking with Susie. I was trying to recall the word that one uses for damage to the lining of the stomach or the intestine caused by stomach acid. I simply could not recall that word.
Then I remembered that in one of the 35 or so hour long lectures that I have posted on YouTube I use the word. I recalled that it was in the four lecture series on The Thought of Sigmund Freud. I recalled that it was in the first of those lectures. I recalled exactly where in the lecture I used the word. So I went to YouTube, called up the first of the Freud lectures, almost immediately found the place where I use the word and heard myself say “ulcer.” “That is it!” I cried and told Susie the word I had been trying to recall.
I mean, that is weird. What is going on in the brain that blocks my recollection of a particular word but allows me to remember exactly where I used it in a recorded lecture?
Saturday, January 21, 2023
I'M WORKING ON IT
There are still some details to be worked out, but it looks as though I may be able to record my lectures on the use and abuse of formal methods in political philosophy and post them on YouTube. I will be starting probably in the second week of February so stay tuned.
Thursday, January 19, 2023
A COMMENT ABOUT THE COMMENTS
The comment about Addison's disease reminded me of an old story about the one televised debate that Kennedy and Nixon had in 1960. Apparently, one of the side effects of Addison's disease was that it gave Kennedy an artificial tan and a rather robust look, so although he was sick he looked well. Nixon, on the other hand, had thin skin. I do not mean that he was unnaturally touchy, I mean literally he had thin skin and the result was that even when he was clean-shaven, under the unusually bright lights used in early television, he looked as though he had a 5 o'clock shadow. It was also reported that when Nixon arrived at the studio for the recording of the debate, he banged his elbow as he was getting out of the car so he was in a little bit of pain. As a result, although he was quite healthy, he looked unwell.
This was the very early days of television and many people listened to the debate on their radios. Afterwards, it was reported that those who had seen the debate on television thought Kennedy had won the debate whereas those who listened on the radio thought Nixon had won the debate.
For some while after that, I use this as an example of the contrast between appearance and reality in politics.
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE
Yesterday, I read an article about chat bots and the way in which they are forcing professors to change what they do in the classroom. I started thinking in a variety of ways about the subject and while I was doing that I received the following email from a reader of this blog.
Karl Marx, in his book "Capital," introduces the concept of "mystification" as a specific form of deception that is used by capitalists to obscure the true nature of economic processes and relationships. This deception, according to Marx, serves to justify the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class and to conceal the source of capitalist profits.
Mystification, as described by Marx, differs from garden-variety stupidity, ignorance, and superstition in several ways. First, mystification is not simply a matter of individuals being unaware of certain facts or having false beliefs. Rather, it is a systematic and intentional manipulation of knowledge and information that serves to maintain the power and privilege of a particular social class.
Second, mystification is not limited to the realm of religion or superstition, but is a pervasive feature of capitalist society. It can be found in the way economic processes are presented, in the way commodities are marketed, and in the way the labor process is organized.
Third, mystification is not a passive state of mind, but an active process that requires the participation of both the ruling class and the working class. The ruling class uses various means, such as religion, ideology, and the media, to impose its own perspective on reality, while the working class, due to its lack of access to the means of production and to knowledge, is forced to accept this perspective as the only one possible.
Finally, Marx argues that mystification is not eternal, but that it can be overcome through the collective action of the working class. As the working class becomes more aware of the true nature of economic relationships and the source of capitalist profits, it can take action to overthrow the capitalist system and establish a more just and equitable society.
Mystification arises from specific social relations and economic processes, rather than from individual deficiencies or shortcomings.Mystification is perpetuated and reinforced by the dominant social and economic institutions and practices, rather than being a product of individual beliefs or behaviors.Mystification serves the interests of the dominant class, rather than being a neutral or benign phenomenon.Mystification can be dismantled and overcome through a critical understanding of the social and economic processes that produce it, rather than simply being a personal or psychological problem to be overcome.
Mystification is a systemic and intentional process that is built into the structure of capitalist society, whereas stupidity, ignorance, and superstition are individual and accidental phenomena.Mystification serves the interests of the ruling class by disguising the exploitation of the working class, whereas stupidity, ignorance, and superstition do not have a clear class bias.Mystification is a form of deception that is used to maintain the existing social relations, whereas stupidity, ignorance, and superstition are forms of misunderstanding that may or may not be used to maintain existing social relations.Mystification is a product of the alienation of labor under capitalism, whereas stupidity, ignorance, and superstition are not directly linked to alienation of labor.
Mystification is a deliberate and intentional process, whereas stupidity, ignorance, and superstition are not.Mystification is a product of the capitalist system and its institutions, whereas stupidity, ignorance, and superstition are not necessarily so.Mystification serves the interests of the ruling class by maintaining their power and control, whereas stupidity, ignorance, and superstition do not necessarily serve any specific interests.Mystification produces a false consciousness among the working class, leading them to accept their own exploitation and oppression, whereas stupidity, ignorance, and superstition do not necessarily have this effect.
Take a look at this and think about it. Later on today I will have a variety of things to say about the subject.
I just learned that I will be able to give a series of lectures in the next few months in the UNC philosophy department on the use and abuse of formal methods in political philosophy. As things now stand, I shall be giving six weekly two hour lectures. The department has found me a handicap accessible classroom and I am good to go. It will be fun to be back in the classroom yet again.
Here is the flyer I wrote yesterday announcing the lectures:
The Use and Abuse
Of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy
A series of lectures
by Robert Paul Wolff
In the past 100 years or so, the ancient disciplines of ethics and political philosophy have been significantly changed by the incorporation of formal materials introduced from logic, mathematics, and economics. Rational choice theory, collective choice theory, and Game Theory have all played a significant role in recent literature, perhaps most notably in the work of John Rawls.
Sometimes the introduction of these formal materials has made for greater precision and power in argumentation, but all too often the result has been confusion rather than clarity, and ideological rationalization rather than greater understanding. In fields as far apart as legal theory, nuclear deterrence theory, and political philosophy inadequate understanding of the formal methods has resulted in ideological rationalization of questionable normative claims.
The purpose of these lectures is twofold: First, to present the foundations of these formal methods with sufficient precision and clarity so that students can master them and really understand what they are about; and Second, to give examples of the ways in which these materials have been misused through inadequate understanding.
In the first part of the lectures, we will develop formally the concept of a utility function, distinguishing ordinal from cardinal utility functions, and we will explore some of the difficulties and complexities of these notions. We will then look closely at the so-called “paradox of majority rule” and examine in some detail Kenneth Arrow’s proof of a powerful theorem generalizing the Condorcet paradox. We will also go through a proof of an interesting theorem by Duncan Black concerning single peaked preference orders. We will then move on to a formal development of the elements of Game Theory as first developed by John von Neumann. Included in this discussion will be a formal development of the oft referenced but usually misunderstood notion of a zero-sum game. We shall, with any luck, also put to rest the confusions concerning the so-called “Prisoner’s Dilemma.”
In the second part of the lectures, we shall take a look at some of the misuses of this formal material. Our principal focus will be on a formal analysis of the central argument lying at the heart of John Rawls’s famous book, A Theory of Justice.
Saturday, January 14, 2023
I have had virtually no experience in my life of the inner workings of bureaucratic institutions, so I may be all wrong, but it seems to me that the current flap about classified documents found in Biden’s various homes and storage spaces is what they call in tennis commentary an unforced error. Let me explain.
The White House, as I understand it, has a staff of several hundred people whose job it is in one way or another to advance the president’s interests and make him or her look good. Last October, when the FBI conducted a search of Trump’s Florida estate, and found masses of classified documents that had not been returned and whose existence had been denied, it seems to me that someone in the White House – perhaps a high-ranking official or maybe just a low-level flunky – should have thought, “wouldn’t it be awful if some documents of that sort turned up in Pres. Biden’s storage spaces?”
It is obvious that if the documents were there, sooner or later they would become public and it would be infinitely better to find them now, announce publicly that they had been found and had been immediately returned, and, as they say, get on top of the story. I mean, how much brains does it take to think of that?
Since the president has endless resources to tap for such tasks the whole thing could have been done in a few days way back in August. Say what you will about Biden, his strong suit is supposed to be that he has been around Washington forever and knows its ins and outs. Why on earth did this not occurred to him?
Regardless of the report of the special counsel appointed to investigate Biden’s classified documents problem, I think it is now politically impossible to bring charges against Trump on that matter, at least until he has been charged with something else more serious. I repeat what I have said before: my hopes are placed on the Fulton County, Georgia district attorney.
Thursday, January 12, 2023
STICKY FINGERS JOE BLOTS HIS COPYBOOK
On August 15 last, shortly after the Mar-a-Lago documents case broke, I wrote “I remain convinced that Merrick Garland has evidence of some sort showing that Trump intends or intended to monetize those documents in some way.” It seemed obvious to me that the very first time in American history that a former president was charged with a crime, it would have to be something serious and not simply a matter of having some documents he should not have kept. Now, it may turn out that Merrick Garland has some evidence of genuinely treasonous behavior and is just keeping it very quiet, but I have to confess I have not seen the slightest evidence of it.
And now it turns out the good old Joe also took some classified documents home with them and stuck them in a closet. I know, I know, the cases are very different. Well they may be legally but politically the documents case is dead now unless Trump really did try to sell them and Garland can prove it.
I never placed much store in the documents case anyway. But the Fulton County, Georgia case is something else again. I would be willing to bet that the DA is going to indict Trump and a bunch of other people as well and with that phone call that we have all heard a million times, I suspect she will get convictions. The news is not all bad on a cloudy Thursday morning.
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
There are three dining venues in the continuing care retirement community where I live: the Pub, the Courtyard, and the Marketplace. Susie and I eat each evening in the pub and when we can, we sit at the bar where there are four places. Quite often, we are joined at the bar by another old guy named Jim. Jim is a retired Army general who taught for many years at West Point. All three of us turn 90 this year – Susie in a few days, Jim in March, I in December. Yesterday evening, Jim remarked that when he had his 90th birthday, he planned to celebrate it by going to Fort Bragg and jumping out of an airplane, accompanied by members of the Golden Eagles, the Army’s elite parachute team. I have to admit, I was impressed.
Tuesday, January 10, 2023
THINGS ARE LOOKING UP
Perhaps it is merely the fact that the days are now a little bit longer and the depressing sequence of four-day weekends is over for a bit, but I am feeling a good deal more cheerful and my natural Tigger is returning. The special grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia has wrapped up its work and the fact that it has asked for its report to be made public suggests very strongly to me that they are recommending indictments for Trump and a number of his co-conspirators. We shall see in not too much time. The discipline maintained by Hakeem Jeffries in the House and the disastrous decisions by Republicans encourages me to believe that before this 118th Congress has completed its two-year journey, control may actually slip away from the Republicans.
I did want to make one observation about the comments concerning movies. I have always been rather put off by the snobbish attitudes of the super sophisticated European left-wing theorists. They all strike me as a bunch of upper-middle-class overeducated snobs who think that anything more than a raised eyebrow is an excessive response to the world. They are the sort of people who would consider a belly laugh a sign of intestinal upset. I have seen virtually all of the movies that Marc Susselman lists in his lengthy comment and I agree that we should simply allow ourselves to enjoy them without worrying too much about their ideological significance.
Nevertheless, I would like to point out that the very first movie on his list – The Wizard Of Oz – derives from a book by Frank Baum that was a satirical view of the late 19th century conflict over the gold standard (“oz” is of course the symbol for an ounce of gold.) The Midwestern farmers who are the heroes of the story had mortgages on their farms and the steady decline in the value of the dollar made their mortgage payments progressively less burdensome. The East Coast bankers, on the other hand, were creditors and pegging the dollar to the price of gold maintained the value of the mortgage money they were collecting.
I loved Herbert Marcuse and I admire the work of his colleagues at the Frankfurt Institute but I do not think it would have been much fun to live in the world that they sought to bring into existence.
Sunday, January 8, 2023
In June 2020, I wrote a blog post about intertextuality, one of my favorite things in literature. Yesterday evening Susie and I went to the movie shown here at Carolina Meadows (free, with complementary popcorn) and saw the new Downton Abbey movie. There is a lovely and extended homage to the great old Gene Kelly Debbie Reynolds movie, Singin’ in the Rain. If you have not seen the Downton Abbey movie yet, I strongly recommended. It is great fun in these difficult times.
On a totally different matter, I learned to walk 87 or 88 years ago – I do not actually remember precisely when – and since then like all other human beings I have been walking around without any difficulty. As a boy, I was a pretty good dancer, and I could even press up into a handstand and walk around on my hands – no problem. Now, because of my Parkinson’s, walking and even standing steadily upright have become problematic, and for the first time I am compelled to realize how extraordinary it is that we humans walk about on our hind feet without dragging our knuckles on the ground to steady us. It really is, when you think about it, an extraordinary feat of balance.
Friday, January 6, 2023
Forty-three years ago I proved a powerful and important theorem in the mathematical reinterpretation of Karl Marx’s economic theories. I was, I thought, the first person who had even thought to prove the theorem and I was extremely pleased with myself (although the advanced mathematics that I used to prove the theorem would have been easy for any undergraduate mathematics major at a decent college or university.) The next year, in 1981, I published my results in a journal article. John Roemer, a very gifted Marxist economist and mathematician, wrote a comment on my article in which he noted that a Spanish economist, Josep Vegara, had proved the same theorem several years earlier. I guess it is a pretty good thing to be the second person to prove an important theorem, but it is nothing like being the first person.
Fast-forward 42 years and once again I have been upstaged. Yesterday afternoon, as I was watching Kevin McCarthy’s ritual humiliation, I reflected that the real solution to the standoff would be for five or six Republican Congresspersons elected from districts carried by Biden to declare themselves Independents and vote for Jeffries, on condition that when they ran for reelection no Democrat would run against them in their districts. I knew it would take some more time before this became likely but it seemed to me eventually to be a genuine possibility. I decided to write a post on this blog about my idea. A little later, as I was watching the Ari Melber show on MSNBC he had on as a guest the irrepressible Michael Moore, who put forward exactly the same idea. (I am sure all of this has long since been widely discussed in the Democratic House leadership, but what the hell.) Moore added something that I did not know and had not occurred to me: apparently in every Congress of 435 members, as many as 10 or 15 do not make it to the end of the term, either dying or retiring or running for some other office or whatever. Moore predicted that before this Congress is over, Jeffries will be House Speaker.
On a brighter note, although my local supermarket has stopped carrying that to-die-for popcorn, they do, it turns out, carry candied popcorn that is almost as good and I finished most of a bag yesterday watching the fun.
Well, in 6 minutes the House convenes again. I must go.
Wednesday, January 4, 2023
Well, despite the fact that the supermarket did not have any more of that marvelous popcorn, it was a very pleasant afternoon. I enjoyed the giggles and smirks of the Democrats as the Republicans flailed around and revealed themselves for what they are. If I may adopt a new meme that has gained currency lately, the Democrats were in total array. I shall be watching again at noon today. I have no idea at all how this is going to end but it clearly will end badly for the Republicans.
On another more personal matter, I had a very useful zoom conference this morning with my neurologist’s physician’s assistant, discussing my Parkinson’s disease. I asked a number of pointed questions and got, for the first time, clear coherent answers. To summarize the conversation briefly, it turns out they have not a clue. They do not really know what causes Parkinson’s, what it is, whether the medicine I take helps, what my prospects are. They simply do not know. So I am going to stop asking and just go on with my life. I am so glad to be living in a time when medicine has advanced far beyond what could be offered to patients when I was just a child.
Monday, January 2, 2023
WAITING FOR THE GREAT BEAST TO SLOUCH TOWARD BETHLEHEM
Well, it seems that my dreams are to be answered. Tomorrow, when the House of Representatives convenes, and each Representative, standing by his or her desk, announces in a loud voice a candidate for the office of Speaker, no one will get the 218 votes required. There will then be more rounds of voting.
This prospect poses for me a serious personal problem. During the run up to the holidays, a local supermarket started carrying cardboard tubes of candied popcorn that was to die for. Susie and I, but mostly I, consumed five of these in the course of a couple of days. My problem is twofold: is the supermarket still carrying this popcorn and do I dare buy some more of it to eat as I watch the chaos unfold? I think the answer to the second question is yes. If you cannot indulge when you are 89, what is the point of living to such an age?
The Republicans will have to be careful. There has been some talk that several of them may choose simply to reply “present” when their names are called. If twelve of them take that choice, then only 422 votes will be cast, and Hakim Jeffries, sitting there with 212 votes, will be the new Speaker.
As I have observed before, in these terrible times one must take one’s pleasures where one finds them.