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  • feedwordpress 09:01:18 on 2019/02/23 Permalink
    Tags: Brazil, , Crusades, Diocletian, Far Right, Hagia Sofia, , , politics, ,   

    “History repeats itself, “the first as tragedy, then as farce”*… 


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    Brazil

    The First Mass in Brazil, by Victor Meirelles, oil on canvas, 1860

     

    On the day of Jair Bolsonaro‘s inauguration as president of Brazil, Felipe Martins, a political blogger close to the Bolsonaro family, tweeted his personal celebration of Bolsonaro’s victory: “The New Order is here. Everything is ours! Deus vult!

    Observers would be forgiven for wondering why “Deus vult”—Latin for “God wills it,” a medieval battle cry associated with the First Crusade—is reappearing in 21st-century Brazil. In recent years, the “Deus vult” line has been appropriated by the far right in Europe and the United States, and has now become a slogan for the far right in Brazil. Indeed, Martins had already explicitly linked this battle cry to the Crusades when he tweeted on the day of the second round of elections, “The new Crusade is decreed. Deus vult!” On January 3rd, Bolsonaro named Martins as presidential special adviser for international affairs.

    In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, the new government and far-right groups are propagandizing a fictional version of the European Middle Ages, insisting that the period was uniformly white, patriarchal, and Christian. This reactionary revisionism presents Brazil as Portugal’s highest achievement, emphasizing a historical continuity that casts white Brazilians as the true heirs to Europe. In this way, through a genetic view of history, the far right frames Brazilian history as essentially linked to Portugal’s own imaginarily pure medieval past…

    In Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, the new government and far-right groups are propagandizing a fictional version of the European Middle Ages to legitimize their reactionary agenda: “Why the Brazilian Far Right Loves the European Middle Ages.”

    * Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

    ###

    As we resist (opportunistic) revisionism, we might recall that it was on this date in 303 that Roman emperor Diocletian orders the destruction of the Christian church in Nicomedia, beginning eight years of Diocletianic Persecution, the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.

    800px-Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_The_Christian_Martyrs'_Last_Prayer_-_Walters_37113

    “The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer,” by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)

    source

    230 years later, on this date in 532, Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered the building of a new Orthodox Christian basilica in Constantinople – the temple that became the  Hagia Sophia.

    220px-Hagia_Sophia_Mars_2013 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 18:30:54 on 2019/02/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , Engles, GDP, , , , , politics,   

    “The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined by the GDP”*… 


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    GDP

     

    Is the world becoming increasingly prosperous? It would be hard to answer “yes” right now, at least so far as the leading high-income economies are concerned. Yet the longstanding bellwether of economic progress – inflation-adjusted GDP – has been growing across most of the OECD since 2010, suggesting that everything is fine.

    Some 80 years after GDP was introduced, nearly everyone (apart from the indicator’s stewards) has concluded that it is  of economic progress. But there is no consensus yet on a possible replacement. Reaching agreement on an alternative will require a new concept of prosperity and a new way to measure whether living standards are improving…

    Over eight decades after its introduction, there is a widespread consensus that GDP is no longer a useful measure of economic progress.  Its successor will need to be compelling and tell a persuasive story, consistent with experience, of what is happening in our economies.  Diane Coyle offers some leads on possible successors: “What Will Succeed GDP?

    * Simon Kuznets

    ###

    As we grope for good gauges, we might recall that it was on this date in 1848 that a political pamphlet by the German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, was published.  Commissioned by the Communist League and written in German, it appeared as the Revolutions of 1848 began to erupt.  Subsequently, of course, Marx elaborated on his argument (with Engel’s help, after Marx’s death) in Das Kapital.

    150px-Communist-manifesto

    Cover of the first edition

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:49 on 2019/02/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , League of Women Voters, politics,   

    “Belief can be manipulated. Only knowledge is dangerous.”*… 


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    diderot

     

    Denis Diderot and the encyclopedists had a plan to catalog knowledge that seemed harmless enough; but what they intended was far more subversive– to restructure knowledge itself:

    Far more influential and prominent than the short single-authored works that Diderot had produced up to this point in his life, the Encyclopédie was expressly designed to pass on the temptation and method of intellectual freedom to a huge audience in Europe and, to a lesser extent, in faraway lands like Saint Petersburg and Philadelphia. Ultimately carried to term through ruse, obfuscation, and sometimes cooperation with the authorities, the Encyclopédie (and its various translations, republications, and pirated excerpts and editions) is now considered the supreme achievement of the French Enlightenment: a triumph of secularism, freedom of thought, and eighteenth-century commerce…

    At first glance, [Diderot’s] large map of topics, which ranged from comets to epic poetry, seems quite inoffensive. Indeed, the Encyclopédie’s earliest critic, the Jesuit priest Guillaume-François Berthier, did not quibble with how Diderot had organized the “System”; he simply accused Diderot of stealing this aspect of Bacon’s work without proper acknowledgment. Diderot’s real transgression, however, was not following the English philosopher more closely. For, while it was true that Diderot freely borrowed the overall structure of his tree of knowledge from Bacon, he had actually made two significant changes to the Englishman’s conception of human understanding. First, he had broken down and subverted the traditional hierarchical relationship between liberal arts (painting, architecture, and sculpture) and “mechanical arts” or trades (i.e., manual labor). Second, and more subversively, he had shifted the category of religion squarely under humankind’s ability to reason. Whereas Bacon had carefully and sagely preserved a second and separate level of knowledge for theology outside the purview of the three human faculties, Diderot made religion subservient to philosophy, essentially giving his readers the authority to critique the divine…

    The only other subject more problematic than religion was politics. In a country without political parties, where sedition was punished by sentencing to a galley ship or death, d’Alembert and Diderot never overtly questioned the spiritual and political authority of the monarchy. Yet the Encyclopédie nonetheless succeeded in advancing liberal principles, including freedom of thought and a more rational exercise of political power. As tepid as some of these writings may seem when compared with the political discourse of the Revolutionary era, the Encyclopédie played a significant role in destabilizing the key assumptions of Absolutism.

    Diderot’s most direct and dangerous entry in this vein was his unsigned article on “Political Authority” (“Autorité politique”), which also appeared in the first volume of the Encyclopédie. Readers who chanced upon this article immediately noticed that it does not begin with a definition of political authority itself; instead, it opens powerfully with an unblemished assertion that neither God nor nature has given any one person the indisputable authority to reign…

    From a fascinating excerpt of Andrew S. Curran’s  Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely.  Read the piece in full at “How Diderot’s Encyclopedia Challenged the King.”

    * Frank Herbert

    ###

    As we note that knowledge is power, we might recall that it was on this date in 1920 that the League of Women Voters was founded.  Created to support women’s suffrage, it remains nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or parties, and advocating for (now more broadly understood) voting rights and for campaign finance reform.  The League sponsored the Presidential debates in 1976, 1980, and 1984, but withdrew in 1988, when the demands of the two parties became untenable. Then-LWV President Nancy Neuman said that the debate format on which the parties were insisting would “perpetrate a fraud on the American voter” and that her organization did not intend to “become an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

    200px-LWV_Logo.svg source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:01 on 2019/02/10 Permalink
    Tags: , crime rate, , Margaret Hamiliton, politica; science, politics, , , , , Wicked Witch of the West   

    “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes”*… 


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    crime-perceptions

     

    There’s a persistent belief across America that crime is on the rise.

    Since the late 1980s, Gallup has been polling people on their perception of crime in the United States, and consistently, the majority of respondents indicate that they see crime as becoming more prevalent. As well, a recent poll showed that more than two-thirds of Americans feel that today’s youth are less safe from crime and harm than the previous generation.

    Even the highest ranking members of the government have been suggesting that the country is in the throes of a crime wave:

    We have a crime problem. […] this is a dangerous permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk. (then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions)

    Is crime actually more prevalent in society?… crime rate data from the FBI shows a very different reality…

    More on a phenomenon that would simply be bemusing if it weren’t driving both personal and governmental action: “The Crime Rate Perception Gap.”

    * Sherlock Holmes, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles

    ###

    As we triple-lock our doors, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that Sesame Street aired episode #847, featuring Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.  It scared children so badly that the episode has never been re-aired. (This, after she had appeared as herself in three episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, between 1975 and 1976– because Fred Rogers wanted his young viewers to recognize the Wicked Witch was just a character and not something to fear.)

    220px-Sesame_Street_Margaret_Hamilton_Oscar_The_Grouch_1976 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:47 on 2019/01/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , Farewell Address, global politics, , Military-Industrial Complex, , politics,   

    “There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship”*… 


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    democracy

     

    Democracy stopped declining in 2018, according to the latest edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. The index rates 167 countries by 60 indicators across five broad categories: electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties. It is stricter than most similar indices: it concludes that just 4.5% of the world’s people live in a “full democracy”. However, the overall global score remained stable in 2018 for the first time in three years. Just 42 countries experienced a decline, compared with 89 in 2017. Encouragingly, 48 improved.

    In recent years, threats to democracy around the world have become increasingly obvious. The Arab spring fizzled. China’s leader is poised to rule for life. Populists with autocratic tendencies have won elections in the Philippines, Brazil and Mexico and subverted democratic institutions in Hungary, Turkey and Poland. Perhaps because the trend is so glaring—strongmen in different countries often copy each other’s tactics, soundbites and scapegoats—voters are not taking it lying down. Political participation improved more than any other measure on the EIU’s index. This is true even in advanced democracies such as the United States, where voters are highly disgruntled. Polarisation in America has led to anger, gridlock and [a government shutdown]. According to Gallup polls from January to mid-November 2018, the share of Americans who approve of the way that Congress is handling its job had fallen to an average of 18%, down from 40% in 2000. Perhaps because they are so cross, they are more likely to vote. Turnout at the 2018 mid-term elections was the highest for over 100 years.

    Parts of Europe are suffering from a democratic malaise. Italy fell from 21st to 33rd in the rankings after voters elected a populist coalition that seeks to bypass democratic institutions and curtail the civil liberties of immigrants and Roma. Turkey’s score declined for the sixth year in a row as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept aside most constraints on his power. Russia deteriorated for the tenth year in a row, after the main opposition candidate was barred from running in a presidential election and Vladimir Putin continued to crush civil liberties. Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia saw slight improvements in 2018, mostly reflecting higher scores for political participation.

    The report warns that all this may be a pause, rather than the end of democracy’s retreat. The global rise in engagement, combined with a continued crackdown on civil liberties such as freedom of expression, is a potentially volatile mix. It could be a recipe for instability in 2019.

    See the report in full– and explore the interactive version of the map, above– at “The retreat of global democracy stopped in 2018.”

    * Ralph Nader

    ###

    As we commit ourselves to citizenship, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that President Dwight D, Eisenhower made his farewell address on a national television broadcast.  Perhaps most famously, Eisenhower, the only general to be elected president in the 20th century, used the speech to warn the nation against the corrupting influence of what he described as the “military-industrial complex.”

    But he also used the occasion to urge a long view of our America and its citizen’s responsibilities:

    As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

    250px-eisenhower_farewell source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:38 on 2018/12/11 Permalink
    Tags: Batu Khan, cliche, , , Mongol, politics, , rhetoric,   

    “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity”*… 


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    elephant-abley (1)

     

    For the powerful, the repetition of stock phrases can be a valuable tactic. These phrases serve to fortify rhetorical armour, deflecting all attack. The armour often brings clichés and abstract words together in a metallic professional embrace. Consider this, from an article on the website of the British government: “The Prime Minister emphasised her desire to listen to the views of businesses, to channel their experience and to share with them the government’s vision for a successful Brexit and a country in which growth and opportunity is shared by everyone across the whole of the UK.” Or this, from a speech by the ceo of Exxon Mobil: “Our job is to compete and succeed in any market, regardless of conditions or price. To do this, we must produce and deliver the highest-value products at the lowest possible cost through the most attractive channels in all operating environments.”

    To quote neither the Bible nor William Shakespeare: yada yada yada… Listeners can be lulled into smiling submission.

    Or they can be roused to a condition of prefabricated outrage…

    How prefabricated language helps everybody from politicians to CEOs disguise what they really want to say: “Clichés As a Political Tool.”

    * “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.  When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns…to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.” George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.”

    ###

    As we search for meaning, we might recall that today is the anniversary of the day, in 1241, that “most changed history” (per Yale’s Timothy Snyder):

    The Mongol warrior Batu Khan [grandson of Genghis Khan] was poised to take Vienna and destroy the Holy Roman Empire. No European force could have kept his armies from reaching the Atlantic. But the death of Ögedei Khan, the second Great Khan of the Mongol empire, forced Batu Khan to return to Mongolia to discuss the succession. Had Ögedei Khan died a few years later, European history as we know it would not have happened…

    Batu Khan

    Batu Khan on the throne of the Golden Horde  (source)

     
  • feedwordpress 15:50:18 on 2018/12/05 Permalink
    Tags: Catiline Oration, , envy, , , politics, René Girard, ,   

    “The one who believes he can control violence by setting up defenses is in fact controlled by violence”*… 


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    Envy_Invidia

    Pieter Beugel, “Envy” (source)

     

    René Girard (1923–2015) was one of the last of that race of Titans who dominated the human sciences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with their grand, synthetic theories about history, society, psychology, and aesthetics. That race has since given way to a more cautious breed of “researchers” who prefer to look at things up close, to see their fine grain rather than their larger patterns. Yet the times certainly seem to attest to the enduring relevance of Girard’s thought to our social and political realities. Not only are his ideas about mimetic desire and human violence as far-reaching as Marx’s theories of political economy or Freud’s claims about the Oedipus complex, but the explosion of social media, the resurgence of populism, and the increasing virulence of reciprocal violence all suggest that the contemporary world is becoming more and more recognizably “Girardian” in its behavior…

    Stanford’s Robert Pogue Harrison on Girard’s life, work… and its cautionary relevance to our time: “The Prophet of Envy.”

    * René Girard

    ###

    As we deconstruct desire, we might recall that it was on this date in 63 BCE that famed Roman orator (and Consul) Cicero gave the fourth and final Catiline Oration., an accusation that Senator Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline) had led a plot to overthrow the Roman government.  At Cicero’s urging (and over the the more moderate wishes of some other senators), Catiline was convicted and sentenced to death.

    Some modern historians, and ancient sources like Sallust, suggest that Catiline was a more complex and sympathetic character than Cicero’s argument declares, and that Cicero, a career politician, was driven by a desire to establish decisively a lasting reputation as a great Roman patriot and statesman.

    In any case, most accounts of the events come from Cicero himself.  And as he was an accomplished self-promoter, this is one of the best, if not the very best, documented events surviving from the ancient world– one that presaged the series of political struggles throughout history that pit state security against civil liberties.

    cataline oration

    A fresco by Cesare Maccari (1840-1919 CE) depicting Cicero denouncing Catiline in the Roman senate.

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:40 on 2018/11/29 Permalink
    Tags: Axis Sally, , , Mildred Gillars, , politics, , , Rita Zucca, , ,   

    “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are”*… 


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    machiavelli

    Niccolò Machiavelli has a bad reputation. Ever since the 16th century, when manuscript copies of his great work The Prince began to circulate in Europe, his family name has been used to describe a particularly nasty form of politics: calculating, cutthroat and self-interested. There are, to be sure, reasons for this. Machiavelli at one point advises a political leader who has recently annexed a new territory to make sure to eliminate the bloodline of the previous ruler lest they form a conspiracy to unseat him. He also praises the ‘cruelty … well-used’ by the mercenary captain Cesare Borgia in laying the foundations of his rule of the area around Rome. However, Machiavelli did not invent ‘Machiavellian politics’. Nor was his advocacy of force and fraud to acquire and maintain rule the cause of individual leaders using them. What then did Machiavelli do? What did he want to achieve?…

    Machiavelli’s  name has become synonymous with egotistic political scheming, yet his work is effectively democratic at heart; Catherine Heldt Zuckert explains: “The people’s Prince.”

    [image above: source— also worth a listen on this subject]

    * Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

    ###

    As we ponder power and presentation, we might send traitorous birthday greetings to Mildred Elizabeth Gillars; she was born on this date in 1900.  After failing to find a career in the theater, vaudeville, or music in New York City, she left the country, ending up in the 1930s in Berlin… where, in 1940, she became announcer for the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (RRG), German State Radio.  She broadcast English-language propaganda throughout World War II, earning (with her colleague Rita Zucca) the nickname “Axis Sally.”  She was captured after the war and convicted of treason by the United States in 1949.

    AxisSallyMugshot source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2018/11/03 Permalink
    Tags: academic freedom, accidents, , Hanna Gray, , politics, , , universities   

    “The task of a university is the creation of the future, so far as rational thought and civilized modes of appreciation can affect the issue”*… 


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    Saul-Alinsky

    Saul Alinsky speaking at the Symposium on Civil Disobedience in a Democratic Society, Oberlin College, December 1965

     

    Education is always political, but the politics and parties which it serves change… There was a twentieth-century party of the university, and that party held that the free humanistic-scientific pursuit of knowledge itself served a political purpose. It was not a purpose above or free from politics, but nor did it understand the university as the educational arm of a society devoted to the pursuit of a single moral vision. When the party of the university lost in Germany to the party of (im)moral education, its members fled to hospitable regimes in Britain and the U.S. These regimes did not understand the university as an organ of justice, but as an institution devoted to often amoral inquiry…

    Rita Koganzon on An Academic Life, the memoir Hanna Gray, the former President of the University of Chicago– and on it’s lessons for higher education and society as a whole in our time: “The Party of the University.”

    * Alfred North Whitehead

    ###

    As we we redouble our allegiance to learning, we might recall that it was on this date in 1848 that the two dominant political parties in the U.S. came to fatal blows:  two Eastern Railroad trains crashed head-on near Marblehead, outside Salem, Massachusetts.  The Salem-bound train had a delegation of Whigs aboard, and the Marblehead train had a party of Democrats. The presidential election was to take place on November 7, and several political meetings and torch-light parades occurred during the week before the election.  A total of 6 people were killed, and about 40 people were injured in the wreck.

    220px-Locomotive_at_Wenham_station,_January_1892

    An Eastern Railroad train of the era

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2018/10/27 Permalink
    Tags: A Time for Choosing, , , political speeches, politics, resentment, , ,   

    “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”*… 


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    victor

    One of dozens of definitions, from acrimony to wrath, that make up the language of resentment– “Glossary: Rivalry & Feud.”

    * Carrie Fisher

    ###

    As we slog through the swamp, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that Ronald Reagan delivered what is still considered one of the most effective political speeches ever made on behalf of a candidate, “A Time For Choosing,” an endorsement of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.  While Goldwater was roundly defeated the following month, the speech launched the political career of Reagan, who was, soon after, asked to run for Governor of California… and who carried the tag “the Great Communicator” for the rest of his life.

    A_Time_for_Choosing_by_Ronald_Reagan.ogv source

     

     
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