Monthly Archives: September 2015

The radical left loves nothing so much as a trumped-up excuse to go on and on about how awful the United States of America is. Apparently, we have so few real problems in this world that the left needs to make up some. The latest non-problem problem that shows just how “awful” the U.S. is is Ahmed Mohamed and his clock. Now, I don’t know why Mohamed would take an old clock out of its housing, put it inside a storage case and call it an “invention.” There might be a context in which it makes sense. Maybe Mohamed is developmentally delayed and doesn’t understand what an “invention” is. Perhaps there’s some advantage to having to open the case to see the time. Maybe he’s so young he doesn’t remember when people used to wear watches on their wrist and thinks carrying a battery operated clock with you is a good idea. Clearly, the kid’s no genius. Honestly, though, he’s fourteen and maybe we should just leave it at that.

What’s really getting to me is that a every leftist political commentator has to grandstand about how Islamophobic we are. Are there Islamophobic individuals? Yes. I think Pamela Geller is really weird. She’s another one who contrives controversies. I’m all for fighting back when someone wants to limit freedom of speech. I’m pretty clear about that. I’ve said that if you can’t say that cartoonists shouldn’t be killed over a drawing without adding a “but…” you’ve got your priorities seriously backwards. At the same time, I think seeking controversies is unhealthy behavior. However, Pamela Geller is an anomaly and doesn’t represent the United States. That we have to tolerate her antics due to our belief in freedom is speech is how it should be.

I’m not really sure why I got off on Pamela Geller. There’s the brouhaha with Ben Carson recently saying, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” although he would consider voting for a Muslim for Congress. I’m not sure how Ben Carson feels about atheists, agnostics, Jews, Catholics and Mormons. Again, Ben Carson is not in any way a typical American. We’re not all neurosurgeon last I checked.

A recent Gallup poll shows that 38 percent of U.S. residents would not vote for a Muslim for president. That’s not nearly where I’d personally like to see that number, but to put it in perspective 40 percent wouldn’t vote for an atheist, 25 percent wouldn’t vote for an Evangelical Christian and 50 percent wouldn’t vote for a socialist.

If anyone really wants to move the needle on that 38 percent, berating everyone about how prejudiced they are is not the way to go about it. You’d probably do better with one of those touchy-feely ad campaigns, “The friendly Muslim next door” type of thing.

Not having been there, it’s hard to say whether or not the kid should have been arrested, however it’s worth noting that he is far from the first. After the shooting in Columbine, Colorado many schools developed various plans. As part of a federal mandate, schools developed “zero tolerance” policies which do not allow for discretion on the part of teachers and administrators. Further more, bomb scares are not unknown. The school where my mother worked had a series of them. Apparently, some kids thought it was amusing to have the school day disrupted. Finally, the school let it be known that anyone being caught phoning in a scare would be prosecuted. Suspecting either a real bomb or a hoax is far from crazy.

Before Littleton, Colorado over 90% of school-based bomb threats were pranks. Callers often gave little information, such as “there s a bomb in the building,” and hung up quickly. Many school administrators managed the bomb threats without evacuating. Currently, this must be weighed carefully against the statistical increase in more violent types of youth crime. According to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms, there were 2,217 bombing incidents in America in 1997, 107 (5%) of them occurred in educational settings.

As to the idea that Ahmed Mohamed would never have been arrested and escorted from school by the police if he hadn’t been Muslim, a good parallel is the case of Kiera Wilmot, who’s probably relieved that she’s mostly been forgotten.

On 7 a.m. on Monday, the 16 year-old mixed some common household chemicals in a small 8 oz water bottle on the grounds of Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida. The reaction caused a small explosion that caused the top to pop up and produced some smoke. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.

The story doesn’t say what Wilmot’s religion is, so I confess I’m just assuming that she’s not Muslim mainly due to probability. Muslims are the least numerous religion throughout the U.S.

What was the response to this mistake?

After the explosion Wilmot was taken into custody by a school resources officer and charged with possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds and discharging a destructive device. She will be tried as an adult.

She was then taken to a juvenile assessment center. She was also expelled from school and will be forced to complete her diploma through an expulsion program.

Kiera had been a good student with no history of being disciplined and everyone at the school understood it to be an accident.

A follow-up report in USA Today shows that it all turned out okay for her in the end. The situation did get national attention, which was the reason she was allowed back into school. Still, no White House invite, no Google invite, no offer of an internship from Zuckerberg. An internship might have been useful to her since the follow-up reports mentions that she went on to college to major in robotic and mechanical engineering. In all likelihood, though, she’s probably better off without the notoriety.

Still, I’m getting sick of this ritualistic self-flagellation that the left expects on a semi-regular basis. Do they actually think they’re gaining anything from this? People on the extremes just harden into their own positions and the middle feels lost and alienated. Seeing that we’re approaching an election in which we can anticipate little to no enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate, this is just plain self-defeating on their part. On the other hand, I think the far left likes it when the  right has the upper hand. They don’t have to do anything except gloat in their superiority to their “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, “Islamophobic” neighbors. If the rest of the country weren’t so bad they wouldn’t look so good.

For information on “zero tolerance” policies there is a Wikipedia article.

I’m currently reading a history of neo-liberalism, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics by Daniel Stedman Jones. It’s turning out to be quite interesting. Here is a quote from Hayek:

The virtues these people possessed – in a higher degree than most other people, excepting only a few of the smaller nations, like the Swiss and the Dutch – were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, non-interference with one’s neighbour and tolerance of the different and the queer, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority. Almost all the traditions and institutions in which democratic moral genius had found its most characteristic expression, and which in turn have moulded the national character and the whole moral climate of England and America, are those which the progress of collectivism and its inherently centralistic tendencies are progressively destroying.

As an individualist and a supporter of democracy who lately has been feeling very uncomfortable with the concessions that liberals have been making to their radical leftists allies lately, I find this statement very appealing. It is a shame that the supporter of this view, in order to implement their economic agenda, made an alliance with the cultural reactionaries. (I was going to call them conservatives, but they don’t want to slow down the rate of change as much as they are reacting against changes that have already occurred and would like to implement a program to bring about a cultural purity that never existed.) As an atheist and a great many other things that these advocates of cultural purification would see stamped out of existence, I am almost forced to side with the far left. It is quite frustrating for me because I entirely agree with the anti-totalitarian point Hayek is making and I can easily see the authoritarian impulses on the left.

There is a great irony that the direct political heirs to Hayek have aligned themselves with Christian reactionaries who are also clearly authoritarian.

I sometimes find myself wondering if the anti-totalitarian left and the anti-totalitarian right can find enough common ground to cooperate because the far left has been going in a direction that I may not be able to keep company with them any more.

The mob justice on social media has been of particular concern to me.

It’s not that I’ve been having a streak of bad luck generally, but when it comes to trying to do anything social I feel like something goes wrong every time. This evening, I found myself sitting alone in a diner pushing a bit of chicken salad around my plate trying to fight back tears and only partly succeeding in so far as I didn’t make a total spectacle of myself. I’ve asked myself this several times over the past few years, but how did it ever come to this? I used to be a normal person. Sure, I didn’t have loads of friends, but I wasn’t friendless either.

I know moving around one too many times in a large part of the problem. I’m far from anti-social, but I’m not gregarious enough to make a new set of friends every three to five years, and it gets harder as you get older. I’m just prickly enough and contentious enough that I don’t hit it off with just anyone, or even most people. Still, although it feels like bad luck, there might be a more general societal problem going on. Every once in a while, I see an article about how there’s an epidemic of loneliness. It might be true because I don’t think there’s any especially unique about me. A few months ago, when I was recently returned to New York, I tried searching on the internet for ideas about how to meet people, not sexual or romantic partners, just people. Most of the ideas weren’t appropriate to someone my age, or I might be the oldest person in the room if I went. Other ideas people have suggested, like taking a class, are not inherently bad ideas, but they’re both expensive and time-consuming. I’ve tried them in the past. You might sign up for a class that runs over several weeks. There might be about a dozen or two people in the class most of whom you don’t wind up getting along with well enough to see again after the class is over. At that rate, it could take years to make a friend.

So, I belong to a social club. Every Friday they get together for dinner, or so I thought. They also have other things like trivia night, but I thought dinner might be less threatening. Now, the newsletter comes irregularly. After all, it’s a volunteer operation, so it’s really hard to complain about that. They also have a website and the website seemed to indicate that the Friday night dinners were still a thing. This was the first event I was going to attend since returning to New York. So, I just went to the place they have been meeting for the past several months. There was a phone number in the old newsletter, so I wrote it down just in case.

When I got to the diner, there was no one there. Since the time had been for 5:30 and it was now past 6:00 I figured that it wasn’t because I was too early. I phoned the number and the voice on the other end confirmed the time and the place and said, “I guess it just sort of petered out.”

I’ve been on a really strict diet the past week and hadn’t eaten much today, so I stayed and had dinner anyway, which is how I wound up sitting alone picking at a plate of chicken salad and fighting back tears. It’s a smallish thing to cry over in and of itself, but I’ve been trying to chip away at this loneliness problem for several years now and I’m starting to get discouraged.

I’m some level, I guess it’s just bad luck.

It’s Friday night and I’m sure there are other things to do, but I’m not sure I have the emotional elasticity to try them tonight.

I don’t have my fingertips on the pulse of the public. I couldn’t sell a box of soap, let alone a candidate like he or she was a box of soap. Consequently, I usually avoid horse race discussions, dissecting campaigns and treatises about messaging. Still, I keep seeing article after article about how Secretary Clinton is struggling, so I thought I throw in my two cents.

Several months ago, I said to my mother that I felt Clinton was the only Democrat who could lose. My opinion hasn’t changed.

Just about every talking head out there who’s tried to make sense of Donald Trump’s lead in the GOP primary race had mentioned the dissatisfaction that voters have with the power elite in Washington. Just this morning I read:

Washington isn’t broken. It is a well-oiled machine that works for the well-connected and responds to the well-heeled. This corrupt nexus of favoritism and cronyism tends to leave hardworking Americans behind.

This was immediately followed by what is becoming the ubiquitous reference to Howard Beale, also used at a touchstone the day before by Daniel Henniger in The Wall Street Journal. However the comparison is a poor one. The movie Network, one of my favorites, is not about politics but about television news ceasing to be journalism and becoming entertainment. However, the anchorman’s on air rant which made the movie such a popular reference reminds me how much worse the general state of the country was back in the nineteen seventies.

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

For all our problems, in the United States of America is far better than 1975. Our most pressing problem is ISIS, and that’s overseas. Sure, there are problems, but they don’t seem as insoluble as they did forty years ago. Still, although the problems don’t look insurmountable, it looks as if no one is going to take them on. A couple of days ago, on the website The Hill, Brent Budowsky wrote:

There is in this consultant industrial complex a Washington-based tier of operatives who move back and forth between working for Obama, profiting from anti-populist corporate business that would normally be associated with Republicans and most recently working for Clinton.

This cronyism is something everyone sees. Perhaps the people in positions of power feel entitled to be there. However, it doesn’t appear to be sustainable. That is the concern. We are not in an especially bad place at the very moment, but people are apprehensive that we are about to head in a very wrong direction.

I am not particularly concerned about whether or not Clinton can win the Democratic Nomination. My concern is that she wins it and loses to someone like Donald Trump.

Clinton has been forced down the throats of rank and file Democrats in the party by the higher-ups with the promise that she can win. For well over twenty years the Democratic Party has neglected its down ticket races. It has no “bench” because it hasn’t cultivated the state level and local level politicians that eventually feed into the national level. The Democratic Party has indeed become a “consultant industrial complex.” We need a change of leadership in the party.

After dropping my sister off at Bennington College for the summer, my parents now prepared to free themselves of the responsibilities of their younger daughter for a few weeks in the summer. My parents had been unfailingly indulgent throughout my childhood, and now that my sister and I were finally of an age that they could have, once again, time to themselves, they divested themselves of our presence in a comparably indulgent way. I was still a year too young for many of the summer programs run by colleges. I could not have accompanied my sister to Bennington even if I had wanted. However, with one daughter away for the summer it seemed to them to make the most sense to send the other daughter away as well, although it could be argued that I was not nearly old enough or mature enough for that. My sister and I were the sole children in our family and we were only about a year and a half apart, and one grade apart in school. Often, we were treated like twins. We shared many things and what we couldn’t share my mother often bought in pairs, so we were often dressed alike, or nearly alike. I tagged along after my sister, to the park, to dance classes, to horseback riding lessons. Much of my life, I was pushed by circumstances to behave as if I was a year or two older than I was. I was not aware of any pressure. In fact, I enjoyed the inevitable compliments about my maturity. As luck would have it, I just barely qualified for a program at a Well Known Art School only a few miles away in New York City.

New York, New York. I’d grown up in its orbit, reading its newspapers, watching its television stations. As kids, our parents took us into “the city” for its cultural institutions and events, museums, concerts, Broadway plays, dance performances, but it was always in and out, for a day, for an evening. At most we might stay long enough to get a bite to eat. Now I was going to spend an entire summer (well, a month or so) in the city off my parents’ leash.

The dormitory was located on Union Square West on the corner of 15th Street, if my memory serves me correctly. The front of the building fronted the park, where the students were told to never go. For younger people today, the level of danger that existed in large cities at that time is something they really don’t understand since they never experienced it. Teenagers were just as inclined then to ignore adults’ warnings if those warnings seemed exaggerated. Yet we avoided the park. I walked in there exactly one time that summer with a group of several other girls. Back then, it was frequently described as an open air drug mart. From what I saw on my one visit, that was a fairly accurate description. In any case, it was so bleak and unkempt, there was no real reason to go in there anyway.

The dorm rooms were arranged in suites, five or six rooms around a common area with a shared bathroom and a kitchenette. Two of the rooms were single rooms and both housed older students. The other rooms were doubles. It was one of the old, formerly commercial, buildings that ringed the square and the ceilings were high. The beds were bunk beds and high enough to stand underneath. I had nightmares about rolling out almost every night and I felt nervous climbing up and down the ladder to the bed every day and every night, especially down, since I tend to wake up groggy and light-headed and am not myself until I’ve moved around a bit. I don’t think I changed the sheets once while I was there.

The window was huge and the sill was wide. When I arrived, my roommate, a large blond girl, was sitting on the sill. She invited me to join her on the window ledge which was wide enough to seat the two of us. “Look down there,” she said. This was far from the tallest building I’d ever been in, but it was the tallest in which I had spent any length of time. I looked downward at the little cars and dots that were people and had a distinct sense of vertigo. It just felt too easy to fall. I made some excuse and walked away from the window.

I wandered back into the large central room of the suite. There was a young woman with straight black hair which stood on end in an unusual way which looked messy but had to have been intentional. “How old are you?” she asked. “Thirteen,” I replied. “I didn’t think they let people your age into this program,” she said and walked back into her room. She would turn out to be sixteen. As someone who was always the youngest in a group, I was used to the petty bigotry teenagers had about age. I would find that there were few people willing to talk to me. I’m not sure that I’m a loner by nature so much as someone who learned to be a loner.

I would soon learn that they made a really strange design decision with the dormitories. The main door to the suite required a key, but individual room inside had none, nor did the wardrobes have locks. The door to the suite was open. A student staying in another suite poked her head in the room. She was petite and perky with long red hair and would turn out to be one of the youngest students in the program along with me. Furthermore, she was in my class. She had one great advantage I did not possess, she was outgoing, and I happily tagged along after her.

Alice, as I’ll call her, wanted some partners in crime to head on up to the boys’ floor. My roommate declined, as did the girl with the spiky black hair. The dormitories were single sex only by suites and most of those tended to grouped on floors. The result was that while you didn’t share bathrooms and didn’t have to be worried about being caught undressed, there was no real division and boys and girls they were on one another’s floors with regularity.

As a summer program, people of any age had signed up, you just had to be past middle school. Although we all shared the dormitory, it quickly became clear that it was going to sort itself out by age. The self-segregation by age is something that has always seemed odd to me. Still, it is a fact. People do it, and in a situation like this, it became very obvious, college age, younger high school students, older high school students and adults. We all occupied the same space but barely talked to one another.

It didn’t take long to find a suite in which a large number of the high school aged students had gathered. The noise coming from the suite told us which one was it. Introductions mostly involved asking where people were from since we came from around the country. Alice came from far enough away that I would never see her again after the summer. The internet, of course, didn’t exist yet and long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive. It was still, primarily, a face-to-face world. Of course, this meant that I was exposed for the first time to people not from New Jersey.

A young man with an accent that marked him as being from the south declared his eagerness to try one of those bagels he’d heard of.

“I wonder what they look like.”

“They’re round with a hole in them,” I responded.

“Are you sure. I had an idea they were triangular,” he said.

“So, they’re just doughnuts,” someone else said.

“No, not at all like doughnuts,” I answered.

“You seem to know a lot about bagels. Are you from New York?”

“No,” I said. “I’m from New Jersey.”

“Do they have bagels in New Jersey?”

Yes, children, this was the level of ignorance we had back in the pre-internet days. You couldn’t just search on the internet for “bagel” if you wanted to know what one looked like.

“So, you’re from New Jersey,” an older high school boy began. “Do you like Bruce Springsteen?”

Uh oh, I thought. Why did I have to go and attract attention to myself by loudly proclaiming I was from New Jersey. Back home, I’d been suffering from social ostracism. Music was not something to be simply enjoyed, but a means by which teenagers signaled allegiances. This was something I hated and I usually avoided discussion about music to avoid the inevitable social fallout. Worse yet, this was a mixed gender crowd. Boys were usually more aggressive when arguing about musical tastes. Asking me a straightforward, point blank question about music in a group of other high school students I’d only just met and who were all older, including some terrifyingly adorable older boys, and were now staring at me waiting for an answer, I was a heartbeat away from wetting myself.

Worse yet, the question was about Bruce Springsteen. Retrospective histories never convey the actual reception he received as I experienced it at the time. He was, in many ways, an anomaly. A musical genre of one. Sure, there were a small group of other bands who got their start along the Jersey Shore and played along a corridor that ran from New York to Philly, but they were a really small group of people that had little connection to the other musical trends of the time, and no connection whatsoever to larger cultural trends.

I couldn’t figure out what was the socially acceptable response, so I decided I might as well tell the truth. “Yes,” I said.

“Have you ever seen him perform live?”

No, as it happens, I’d see him perform live for the first time later that summer.

“Wait here,” the boy said. “Who’s Bruce Springsteen,” a couple of Southerners whispered while he was gone. Minutes later he returned with a boom box and a pile of cassette tapes. He set it on the table. The cassettes were obviously homemade cassettes, the paper inserts covered in a minuscule scrawl. “Bootlegs,” he said proudly. “My friend recorded this one in Philly a couple of years ago.”

There were some unique characteristics of Bruce fandom at this time. Springsteen became known, not through his studio recordings and radio airplay, but through his live shows. His energy at a show was legendary and they frequently lasted four hours. He once said that he would lose five pounds during a good show. His popularity was intensely regional, centered on Philadelphia, although New York was within its orbit, as was the entire state of New Jersey. His fans were passionate, but there were entire social sectors that more or less just ignored him. He didn’t usually engender hatred in those who were not interested in his music because he was not a pop star in the traditional sense. He seemed to have no connection to other areas of show business. The last thing you would ever think of would be a Bruce Springsteen branded line of cologne – or anything else for that matter, not even a leather jacket. More than anything, however, his fans ignored his studio albums. They traded live bootlegs with a seriousness I’ve never seen in any other group of fans, although Grateful Dead fans might come close. At the time, I suspected he was far more popular than his record sales would indicate. And his popularity spread word of mouth. I knew of him because of my sister. My sister might qualify as Bruce Springsteen’s biggest fan.

It was a strange evening. I hoped it would repeat, but soon the large mass of students would separate into smaller groups. The older students would complain about the noise and there wasn’t another large gathering like that again, at least not that I saw.

Between getting settled and going through the ritual paperwork of registering for classes, it was a short school week. The weekend came and I was eager to get out and see New York City. About half a dozen of us, including Alice and Bruce Springsteen Boy headed to Times Square to take in a movie. We waited online for tickets. When I got up to the box office I took a five dollar bill out of my pocket. As I was bringing it forward towards the semi-circular opening in the ticket booth’s glass window, a man came out of no where, grabbed the bill from my hand and ran away. “He took my money,” I said in stunned disbelief. The woman at the box office just rolled her eyes. “That will be five dollars,” she said impatiently. The people around me grumbled. They all saw what happened. They didn’t care. I was taking too long. I pulled another bill out of my jeans pocket. This time, I kept it balled up in my fist until my fist was right at the box office window and pushed it through so that it was barely exposed until it was slipped into the slot. It was a way of behaving with money that I continue to do until this day. When people describe New York City in the seventies as out of control, it was not only the serious crimes that gave that sensation. A thirteen year old girl could be robbed in a crowd in broad daylight and no one in the crowd would even blink. It was routine. Expected.

It was an overcast day and unseasonably cold for the summer. Still, one of our number was eager to see Central Park. The others concurred and after the movie we headed north. The park was not like the park today. There weren’t nearly as many people in it. It was unkempt and dingy, a sad ghost of its former self. We climbed up on top of one of the many rocks that had been hauled to this place a century ago to make the landscape. The were few people around and no one was interested in a group of high school students sitting on a rock. One of the other students reached into a large satchel she’d been carrying and took a bottle out of her bag. Southern Comfort. I pretended to not be shocked. I’d never had alcohol before, nor had I been around when other students drank it. I was aware of being the youngest of the group and I didn’t want to stand out. After all, my apparent youth and vulnerability had already been on display by the fact that of all the other people standing on line to buy movie tickets I was the one chosen to be the robber’s victim. Predators choose the young, the old, the sick. That was all past now and I wasn’t especially nervous sitting there on that rock, but I think I was not as relaxed as the others either.

The bottle got passed around and I was intensely curious. I took a swig. It was sweet and cloying, like candy. It didn’t taste bad, but I can’t really say I liked it much either. I felt nothing. The next time it came around I just passed it on to the next person. No one seemed to notice that I didn’t drink. That would become my behavior throughout high school. I never drew attention to the fact that I didn’t drink or smoke pot, I just passed it on to the next person. I wouldn’t drink again until I got to college. In recent years, I’ve spoken to people I knew in high school and referenced how “straight” I was. Few people except my closest friends remember me that way. One even swore up and down I drank and took drugs. I think because I was perceived as “artsy” people assumed I was doing things I wasn’t.

Many of the high school age students were taking the same course of study, an introductory course, but not the girl with the spiky black hair. Whereas most of us were interested in “art” without much differentiation among media, she was very committed to photography and seemed to be advanced along those lines already having learned to develop her own film and make her own prints. After a few days, I noticed that she was alone a lot. The other older high school students and aspiring photographers seemed to avoid her. I heard noise coming from her room and the door was open. I walked over and stood in the doorway.

“Come in. Sit down,” she said.

“I thought I was too young for you to talk to.”

She smiled and laughed. “Beggars can’t be chosers.” I might have been insulted, but that was pretty much the same situation for me in much of my life, so I sat down.

“What are you listening to.” It was definitely something I hadn’t heard before. What was coming out of the box was barely more than static. More bootlegs, I assumed. Still, I didn’t know how much to attribute to the poor quality of the cassette or to the music itself.

“Siouxie and the Banshees.”

“I never heard of them.”

The girl with the black hair smiled, “I’d be surprised if you had. I copied this off of a cassette a friend had copied off of someone from England. Can you even hear it? The quality’s terrible. Still, this is all I have of them. I’ve got to find a better recording somewhere.” She hit eject. She took out another cassette. From the writing on the insert I could see it was another homemade tape. “The quality on this one isn’t great, but it’s much better. At least you can hear the music. They’re called the Psychedelic Furs.”

“Are they also from England?”

“I’m not sure, but I think so,” she said.

When the cassette ended she asked, “Do you think I’m weird for liking this?”




So, it seems I’m now a “social conservative.”

I spent my early years in an environment dominated by reformed Jews who leaned left and who saw advocating for civil rights and social justice to be part of a long and noble tradition. My family then moved to a town that was known for its large middle-class black population, high average level of education and its active artistic community. In high school, many of my friends proudly declared themselves to be “radicals, not liberals.” I had my hair dyed pink and posed nude for aspiring photographers. I accompanied a friend to the Chelsea Piers and snuck into midnight drag shows in the West Village.

The opinion of my teachers and the guidance councilor at my high school was that I leaned left even in this overwhelmingly leftward leaning environment and they all highly recommended that I go to one of those small, liberal arts colleges known for breeding radicals.

But it seems I’m a social conservative.

At fourteen, I told my high school friends I was bisexual and groped and fondled some of the girls. In college, I had a relationship with a radical lesbian separatist feminist who wore a black leather jacket, rode a motorcycle and fixed cars. A few years later, I nearly managed to cohabit with a man while having a girlfriend on the side. Might have worked if they hadn’t gotten jealous.

This is the behavior of a social conservative.

I’ve been a highly vocal supporter of the right to abortion and contraception since ninth grade.

I take an uncompromising stance on women’s bodily autonomy. “No” means no, and saying “yes” isn’t only for boys.

During the late eighties, when racial tensions rocked New York City, I found myself rethinking much of my politics. Different minority groups were in conflict with one another with dueling claims to being “the oppressed.” As I’ve recounted before, the way of viewing the world that I had been taught left me unable to make sense of this. At this point, many of my acquaintances and one of my close friends had become anarchists. At the same time, my boyfriend received an anonymous gift subscription to The National Review, the conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley. I became disheartened by the willingness of the left to subordinate the truth to propaganda, the degree to which they actively discouraged me from reading sources they of which they didn’t approve. Despite being warned against it, I read the forbidden magazine. I agreed with next to nothing in it. Despite the fears of my friends, reading conservative ideas didn’t make me automatically agree with those ideas. Still, the left was failing me intellectually and I spent several years trying to make sense of my own politics.

Though I lived in Brooklyn, much of my free time was spent in the East Village and on the Lower East Side. One of my anarchist friends kept trying to get me involved in the “occupation” of Tompkins Square Park. She knew of the political questions I’d been asking myself and thought if I could see what she saw in the encampment I would find myself drawn to anarchism.

As luck would have it, although I’d barely spend anytime there at all, I would be there when the riot broke out. A week or two later I’d be with that same friend at a bar in the East Village. With a few other anarchists, she told her war stories. It was all a lie. I’d been right there with her. I listened to these self-aggrandizing accounts and felt disgusted with them all.

In the meantime, I’d been reading more of older liberal thinkers. Years earlier, I’d been kept from embracing the Marxist position of many of my friends due to a copy of The Wealth of Nations I’d picked up without any real reason in a used bookstore. Now, I read Hume and reread John Stuart Mill. I also became interested in the origin of liberalism and the ideas of John Locke.

It is important to note that while I was growing up, leftism and liberalism were still seen as two distinct ideologies. Nowadays, the term “liberalism” is used to indicate a wide array of positions, some contradictory, on the left.

It is important to understand that engaging with a thinker’s ideas does not mean that one accepts all of his or her ideas or that one accepts them uncritically. However, the ideas of long dead liberals pointed a way out of the intellectual bind in which I had found myself.

This major reworking of my ideas in my early twenties has served me well in the decades since. I’m having a hard time articulating my ideas because I’ve rarely spoken to anyone about them, and I’ve never had a chance to talk to anyone who was especially knowledgeable who didn’t simply want to tell me how to think. I’m nearly fifty. I’ve read a fair amount and been intellectually engaged, at least in a passive sense. I may not be particularly articulate, but I know enough to not want to be instructed in what to think.

I’ve not had reason to alter my ideas significantly since, although there have been minor adjustments and addenda. One of the most influential thinkers on my ideas in the decades since, for instance, was Amartya Sen. So, while there has been a development of my ideas, there hasn’t been significant movement along the left-right axis. Despite this, as the political center in the United States moved to the right under Reagan and Bush, followed by a movement of the left towards the center under Clinton and then the rightward edge further to the right under the younger Bush, I found myself much further to the left vis-à-vis the prevailing political discourse than I had been when I first developed my ideas.

Furthermore, the language had changed. Partly, I think this came about because successful political action requires alliances. The rise of conservatism during, and immediately preceding, the Reagan years caused liberals and people further to the left to make common cause with one another. Shared opposition to the rising conservative movement concealed underlying ideological differences. For instance, I, as a liberal, might support LGBT issues due to my belief in individual liberty, while a leftist might support LGBT issues because they are an historically oppressed group. Our immediate goals are the same, but our reasoning is very different. To a conservative, we are both “liberal” opponents.

Adding to the confusion, in the nineties people on the left decided to resurrect the word “progressive.” Essentially, pollsters had been finding that many Americans were reluctant to identify themselves as “liberals.” Many people on the left felt that conservatives had been successful in their efforts to demonize the word and they wanted to flee the label. Since the left was often portrayed by conservatives as anti-American, to resurrect their reputation in the eyes of the American public, activists on the left reached for the long disused word “progressive” with its echos of the “Progressive Era” in American politics. I was not originally fond of this since I believe that changing language without changing the substance yields poor results. However, in recent years, I’ve come to use it myself to describe the area where leftist and liberal goals overlap.

The past couple of years have been very disorienting for me. Much as the rightward edge of the political spectrum moved far to the right during the 2008 presidential campaign, the leftward edge seems to be moving far to the left. Suddenly, after years of being somewhere to the left of center, I’m a “social conservative.” My ideas have not changed, but other people’s have.

The other day, on the website Politico, in what I thought was a rather puffed up celebration of “a landmark year for civil rights”, I read the following:

For many Americans, these milestones have been cause for rejoicing. For many others, they have occasioned alarm—and could incite further backlash, whether in the name of social conservatism, religious liberty or claims of color-blindness.

In the realm of ideas, one of the greatest achievements is to have your idea become so accepted that it goes uncontested. This year, we have seen several forces on the left push the idea of race as the defining aspect of an individual’s identity from the realm of debate to a place of unassailable acceptance. To think that an individual is defined by more than their race is now an idea that is beyond the pale to the left. By insisting that “color-blindness” remains an ideal I put myself in the company of the owners of Hobby Lobby.

The University of California system held seminars this year ostensibly to teach professors how to avoid racist and sexist statements. According to a Daily Beast article, an example of a “racist” statement is “There is only one race, the human race.” Under the guise of not giving offense, the university is forcing professors to tacitly affirm particular a particular philosophical and political idea, an idea that I would argue is still up for discussion.

I just finished reading Kenan Malik’s discussion of Michael Ignatieff’s biography of Isaiah Berlin.

For many, the two dominant themes in Berlin’s philosophy seemed horribly at odds with each other. How was it possible to have a commitment to individual liberty and also be sympathetic to the idea that individuals should aspire to a group identity? For Berlin, however, such contradictions were inevitable because contradiction was the very essence of the human condition.

Reading this drove home the point that it is ridiculous to pretend that this is a settled question. This emphasis on group rights as opposed to individual rights is a rejection of liberalism and it is a political question.

Recently, in The Atlantic, Conor Freidersdorf wrote:

But if adherents of colorblindness are vulnerable to ignoring or underestimating race as a factor, the academic left is vulnerable to fetishizing it and missing some of the ways in which race is a pernicious construct that robs people of their individuality. Ensconced in campus bubbles, the academic left also underestimates how divisive it can be to put anything other than individualism at the center of identity.

Then, after reflecting on the appearance of white nationalists at rallies supporting Donald Trump, he goes on to say:

Even the most naive iteration of colorblindness looks damned good next to the subset of people who’ve interrogated their whiteness and then embraced white supremacy or separatism. The academic left casts all proponents of color-blindness as naive. Perhaps they’re correct that the ideal of colorblindness alone will never bring about an America where anti-black racism is no more prevalent than anti-Irish racism is today. But isn’t it more naive to imagine that masses of white people will identify more strongly with their racial tribe and then sacrifice the interests of that tribe?

There is no precedent for such a trajectory.

I’m going to repeat that last sentence –

There is no precedent for such a trajectory.

Well, I’ve been rambling for some time now and I’ve gotten tired and I need to wrap this up without reaching any clear conclusion. All I can say is that I find myself disoriented by being grouped with social conservatives and people who claim that foisting their religious beliefs on others is inherent in a free practice of their religion. One of the reasons that the far left radicals have found it useful to masquerade as liberals is because there is not enough popular support for their beliefs.








Earlier this evening, I saw a headline that gave me some food for thought. “America Strikes Back: Tea Party to Gather with Trump, Cruz, Palin, Duck Dynasty, More on Capitol Hill Against Iran Deal.” This appeared on the website Breitbart. After reading about Palin’s supportive comments about Donald Trump, it was not surprising to see her name, his and the Tea Party in the same headline. Although I should have expected it, the appearance of “Duck Dynasty” seemed discordant. It makes me feel that this “rally” is more about tribal identification than about foreign policy.

One of the most influential books on my thinking was Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. Although it is not exactly related, that book really hammered home for me how innate many of our social behaviors are and how that can influence our politics, economic order and other aspects of our society. When talking about politics, it is so easy to get caught up in discussions of policy or ideology and forget how much of it is purely social. As in the behavior of “virtue signalling”, out social behavior is often ostensibly about something else.

In recent months, the rise of mob justice on social media has caused me to distance myself from some people on the left who believe that the end justifies the means and can’t see that “Mob Justice Isn’t Justice at All.”

Since human behavior is malleable, it is always treacherous to talk about our innate impulses. Still, anyone who has survived grammar school knows that much of our beliefs, and even more of what we profess, is shaped by our social group. For instance, I sometime catch myself, not lying, but shading the truth to appear agreeable. I find myself saying that I’m “not religious” rather than that I’m “an atheist” if it think I’m talking to someone who might find the word atheist too shocking.

Nowadays, many people are getting their news, not from  newspapers, or even television or primarily news websites, but from social media like Twitter and Facebook. Even on websites, comments can add a social dimension to reading and thinking about a news event, an action which used to be principally private. When we did talk to our friends and colleagues about a news item, it was often hours after we first heard about it, giving us a chance to develop a preliminary opinion.

This year, I have felt very alienated from the positions held by people on the left. However, when I read articles on more conservative sites, I am left with the distinct impression that I could never be a conservative because, as a bisexual, formerly promiscuous, not quite white, urban dwelling, Burgundy swilling,television abstaining, atheist, I am not one of their tribe. It may not be that the Democratic and Republican tents are getting smaller, but they may be getting more tribal, less associated with political positions and more associated with sub-cultures and identities.

This led me to a bit of cogitation earlier about how some of our democratic rituals may have evolved as they did partly as a way to circumvent exactly this sort of behavior and allow us to be, at least for a time, a little bit more like a “rational actor,” although one could argue that as social animals there is nothing irrational about our socially motivated behavior.

We will see if in the face of social media our political institutions need to adjust.

Some time ago, as in over a decade ago, I went to hear Paul Krugman speak at the Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan. I believe he had recently published The Great Unraveling, so that would put it some time around 2003. He referred to the fact that the economic conservatives had little in common with the Christian right with whom they had aligned themselves to be able to pass conservative economic legislation that would not have popular support on its own. If my memory serves, he said that he had told business people he knew, who seemed to think this was a wonderful little trick they had discovered, that they would come to regret it one day. He said that they would not be able to get “the genie back in the bottle.” ultimately, they would not be able to control the force they had unleashed.

It took longer than I expected, but it looks like Krugman’s prediction is coming true, at least in part. I expected the rebellion to have more of a religious tone and less of a populist one, and I think he did too. I expected someone more like Sarah Palin, not Donald Trump. Of course, when Krugman gave that talk, the Tea Party Movement was not yet a force. The libertarian rhetoric and fetishization of symbols of American culture had not yet been married to the Christian right in a form of a complete sub-cultural identity.

When I saw the headline that Sarah Palin had said that she wanted a president who was tough rather tan one who could win a game of Trivial Pursuit, Krugman’s image of the escaped genie sprung to mind. I’m hesitant to make any predictions. Trump could implode at any time. One of the more typical party candidates could find an appeal that could work. I’ve read some blog posts written by people who support Trump and apparently the fact that his candidacy could destroy the Republican Party is indeed part of his appeal.

The Democrats shouldn’t be too self-satisfied. They’re only a few years away from where the Republican Party is right now. The word sclerotic springs to mind as a good descriptor for the party. Just a week or two ago, when seemingly everyone, including me, was assuming Trump was going to pull out as soon as he got whatever boost in name recognition I assumed he was seeking, the Democrats were busy wringing their hands over their lack of potential candidates. That it took them this long to notice that they had not been nurturing state level and local talent is mismanagement of the highest order. This is a dearth decades in the making and will not be fixed anytime soon. That they have been trying to plaster over this hole with solicitous overtures to the most radical elements in the country makes me wonder if they’re not heading for a similar showdown in the future themselves.

The Democrats should heed the warning of the Republicans’ current turmoil and hold the far left at arm’s length.

Again, I’m not going to write much. Here are some more photos, also taken on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. For those of you who don’t know, the Eastern Shore is a penninsula. The Atlantic Ocean is on the east and the Chesapeake Bay is on the west. Along the bay, the land is very irregular with lots of little inlets.