Thursday, December 3, 2020

Why We Need the Electoral College (we really don't)

Why We Need the Electoral College by Tara Ross presents a decidedly conservative view on the subject.  Ross does make some great points.  But overall, she presents arguments in favor of the Electoral College according to its rules.  Sometimes she claims how the EC is better than the popular vote, or other outside influences, but mainly her arguments are based on the inner structures and configuration of the EC, and her arguments are therefore circular.

She is a member of the Federalist Society, who adhere to a strict interpretation of the Constitution.  A strict interpretation of the constitution is an inherent contradiction, as all readings of a document are an interpretation.  Interpretations are always changing, as she points out; for many times the EC has changed with the times.  She also whitewashes the EC’s more dramatic failures, like the Election of 1876.  This is like painting a face on a baboon’s rear and calling the likeness a super-model.

Once upon a time Senators were not elected directly.  That was changed, and the Senate did not collapse.  My sense is that our republic can survive the retirement of the EC.  Only those who treat the Constitution as a religious document, like Ross, will lament its passing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Hotel du Lac


Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner, is a meticulously well-written book.  Brookner has the ability, often found in writers of a certain kind, of slicing a moment down to its human mechanics.  She takes a facial expression, a few words, and makes the world move in slow motion as she parses out what all these motions and words we perform and speak represent.

Monday, November 30, 2020

The Princess and the Prophet: The Secret History of Magic, Race, and Moorish Muslims in America


A truly fascinating book, The Princess and the Prophet: The Secret History of Magic, Race, and Moorish Muslims in America by Jacob S. Dorman, examines the  proliferation of groups of African Americans in the late nineteenth and twentieth century who formed organizations professing resistance narratives to white Christian religion and society – often under the guise of some form of Islam.  

This came about through curious twists and turns.  Dorman shows how European Orientalism had a profound influence in America, and its most common expression was in circuses, sideshows, and world fairs.  Black men and women played Moors, Hindus, and other “exotic” peoples who had power and charisma.  At this time the Shriner movement of the Fez hats arose, which had its own Orientalist origins as a secret society with Islamic roots.  As African Americans moved north these organizations became increasingly popular, and powerful among a dislocated people.  Organized Shrinerism and Circus Orientalism combined in novel and powerful ways  

Dorman’s subject, the Moorish Science Temple of America, was the direct antecedent of The Nation of Islam.  His work helps to explain why a man like Malcolm X knew so little of Islam, yet called himself a Muslim in his early years in the Nation of Islam (before he embraced more “normative” Islam).  Moorish and Islamic movements were trying on guises that were in direct contraction to the narrative of white supremacy with amazing results.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Via November


Via November

Of brown and gray

The downward day

Hissing grasses

And naked trees

Asleep for eternity 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Scapegoats of the Empire: The True Story of Breaker Morant's Bushveldt Carbineers


Scapegoats of the Empire: The True Story of Breaker Morant's Bushveldt Carbineers by George Witton is an unfortunate book. Witton is not a writer, and has little sense of how to tell his story.  If you have not seen the 1980 Australian film, or are aware from another source of the war crimes that Witton, Morant and Handcock allegedly committed, this book would be completely cloudy.

In the end, this book does nothing to prove the crimes of Witton, Morant and Handcock were anything but that, crimes.  Even if orders existed to kill Boer prisoners, it was an unethical order, and should not have been obeyed.  Their defense that war on the Northern Transvaal was simply of this nature, irregular and total, is also no excuse.  This is like the defense that I am not culpable because all cars are traveling seventy in a fifty-five mph zone, I do not deserve to get a ticket if stopped.  The illegal actions of others is no excuse for my own illegal actions.

This case, and this book, really calls out for the dire need for a military to maintain discipline and order.  In the stress and turmoil of war, a lack of discipline is the slippery slope toward war crimes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Book as Bomb

Does a book really matter?  Is the world better if a book is published?  In The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, the authors prove that a book can really have impact in the world, especially when it is entangled in politics and ideology.  The tug of war over Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is a fascinating case study of how in times and places of political turmoil, the written word can be a weapon and a piece of art, even for art’s sake, a bomb.

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Truth of War

What is war like without jingoism or a distorting ideological lens or patriotic glorification? Madness Visible: A Memoir of War by Janine di Giovanni is one of the most honest accounts of war and its costs I have encountered.  

The author recounts her experiences in the Balkans in the 1990s and early 2000s, and is exposed to the extreme limits of the utter barbarism our species is fully capable of achieving.  Her book is the closest to war one can experience on a page.

This is also an achievement of pure journalism.  Certainly, di Giovanni did not have report in the Balkans as it disintegrated into war, death, ethnic cleansing, systematic rape,  forced expulsions  and genocide.  The people around her in Kosovo and Sarajevo had no choice but to be in the war.  But she went as a professional calling and duty, detailing crimes that we always say should no longer happen, but ultimately, and sadly, are replicated.