The Land of Recurring Contributions

All those sayings, aphorisms, cute quotables about giving back, making a contribution… That’s not what they meant:

I clicked on the link so you don’t have to, and discovered that my $75 contribution will keep happening every month automatically unless I unclick an already helpfully checked box that makes my contribution recurring.

As the kids say, it’s all over the internets, but no one has as much contempt for Republican voters as Republican politicians and right-wing media. Unsurpassed.

Battery Plants

Saw a friend yesterday whose water business took a tumble thanks to the plague shutting down business offices in our small burg. And though that sounds like the plot for another episode of ‘Your Dystopia,’ he said things were looking up, thanks to a new battery plant opening up outside of an even smaller burg a half hour away. Fossil fuels are not ending, but largely over, we agreed. Electric vehicles are very much the present, I may have said, sitting in a late-model guzzler. My water friend went back to his not-so-late model pickup, but the battery plants hung in the air a little longer, walled gardens of Babylon, with added strife and wi-fi.

What if battery plants were literal? Plants are already perfect energy storage dynamos – we just don’t know how they do it. We understand, but it’s still largely alchemical to us. I looked it up:

Imagine if farmers could grow batteries in their fields. Researchers are taking steps towards at least partially making that green dream a reality by using plant materials to make key components of energy storage devices. Pen-Chi Chiang and colleagues at the National Taiwan University review developments in this adventurous ambition in the journal Materials Today Energy.

“We consider the state-of-the-art challenges and issues for using plant-derived biomass materials for various energy storage applications, such as batteries and supercapacitors,” says Chiang.

Energy storage is an essential requirement for modern life. Without it, we couldn’t have cellphones, laptops, or electric vehicles. From consumer electronics to transportation, electrical energy must be stored and be available at the flick of a switch. Current systems, such as the lithium-ion batteries common in many devices, are made from limited resources, and bring environmental problems associated with their disposal.

Chiang points out that a sustainable future will increasingly depend on replacing existing technologies with those using renewable materials that can readily be recycled without damaging the environment.

One of the most promising approaches towards sustainable energy storage devices is to convert plant biomass into a material called “porous carbon”. This is a form of carbon that can be fabricated into three-dimensional ordered “nanostructures” with a variety of useful electrochemical properties.

I guess nanostructures are going to be our best tickets to being able to produce the capacities of plant lignin. It’s the inverse of why biomass is so hard to breakdown, in efforts tap its energy by making fuel. Seems a folly when you think about it like that. Instead of making fuel, figure how they work as batteries – which we seem to already grasp.

As is so often the case, a matter of which word we emphasize. Thinking big does not have to only mean going to Mars. Maybe if ‘Native American’ were two of the words represented by NASA, we might have already figured this out, not to mention a few other things.

Schooling ≠ Education

Surrounded by moral quandaries and crises, we look up from fast food containers unable to ponder greater questions beyond the value menu. Did these questions sneak up on us, or have they been there all along and we just eliminated the practice of engaging them? Cornel West and Jeremy Tate bring light and a bit of heat in the WAPO on the removal of classics at Howard University:

Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture. Those who commit this terrible act treat Western civilization as either irrelevant and not worthy of prioritization or as harmful and worthy only of condemnation.
Sadly, in our culture’s conception, the crimes of the West have become so central that it’s hard to keep track of the best of the West. We must be vigilant and draw the distinction between Western civilization and philosophy on the one hand, and Western crimes on the other. The crimes spring from certain philosophies and certain aspects of the civilization, not all of them.
The Western canon is, more than anything, a conversation among great thinkers over generations that grows richer the more we add our own voices and the excellence of voices from Africa, Asia, Latin America and everywhere else in the world. We should never cancel voices in this conversation, whether that voice is Homer or students at Howard University. For this is no ordinary discussion.

Howard University is not removing its classics department in isolation. This is the result of a massive failure across the nation in “schooling,” which is now nothing more than the acquisition of skills, the acquisition of labels and the acquisition of jargon. Schooling is not education. Education draws out the uniqueness of people to be all that they can be in the light of their irreducible singularity. It is the maturation and cultivation of spiritually intact and morally equipped human beings.

So much of higher education has folded in the face of market pressures, political interference, and fraud that it finds itself all but unrecognizable to former guises. Not wanting to be recognized as what you are can leave you paralyzed when you’re unwilling to defend against impotent charges like teaching social justice. Such charges are softballs and should be parked deep in the cheap seats. But lack of engagement – reading, writing, arguing – makes us afraid of politics, and bullies. We abandon the classical education model at our peril, leaving everyone unable to navigation complexities and only further clearing the path to the bottom-line. Only 99 cents!

Trade school is not an admonition.

Image: Cardinal Sin by Banksy

Call Them What They Are

Pass the COVID-19 relief bill without Republicans, show and tell (over and over) the public how important the bill was, make republican candidates whine about in the mid-terms.

Merrick Garland ftw. His shameless interlocutors on the R/Q/T side are on halfway down the path to defending white supremacy, contradictory examples of the concept though they, and all defenders thereof, may be. Let them go all the way or turn back on their own.

And Neera Tanden, at least she punches up and at times sideways. Count this blog and its owner as objectively #pro-aggressivewomen:

There is no polite way to capture what Republicans in power have done and continue to do. Tanden can be fairly accused of many things, but she cannot be accused of being soft on the party that just gave us four years of Trump’s misrule, culminating in the attack on the US Capitol last month. With regard to Republicans, at least, she has consistently told the truth, and it’s very revealing that telling the truth is the one thing she’s done that’s a dealbreaker for a majority of the Senate.


Video – the early word from Hurley/Watt/Boone

And… scene

With the Washington Monument in the background, President-elect Joe Biden with his wife Jill Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with her husband Doug Emhoff during a COVID-19 memorial, Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Today, who we are gives way to who we would like to be. That violent scene on Jan.6, that’s us in every way – armed, ignorant and preferring to follow rather than think. There’s no back in the bottle for the white supremacist urge. It must be watched, left out in the sun, allowed to finally wither and die.

The new administration gives voice and presence to wisdom, empathy, courage and humility. We pitched in to make it happen, and we’ll have to continue to do a little bit of that everyday even though we aren’t obliged by new atrocities to pay attention every second. Get used to that, remember it’s a luxury, and use the time better than we quite know how, better than we have. The constitution is not magic, and the bald eagle has no special powers. Those are yours.

Get back in the game. Push back. Don’t put up with nonsense, and reserve the benefit of the doubt for only when it’s absolutely warranted. Make, share, give, help, and mask up until we can plant big kisses everywhere.

Saves Who?

Former Bush II speechwriter Michael Gerson in the WAPO, emphasis added:

I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

Disgust at this white supremacist ‘insurrection’ has its christian element that cannot and should not be ignored. They have continually made a calculus, for decades gladly allowing themselves to be co-opted at the willing, possible and very likely expense of the country itself. This was it. They need to reckon with and accept their responsibility. Enough with the white grievance and religious victim-hood. It was always fake. They were willing to fluff their own faith into something phony, self-serving, insincere, selective and arbitrary that betrayed its very origin, and this is true whether you believe it or not.

Simple, evergreen rule: Anyone who will publicly tout their personal religious beliefs for any reason will publicly tout their personal religious beliefs for any reason.

Link to WAPO article.

Legitimacy Crises

Republicans have gone from one lie to the next to others yet again, working ever so vainly to find some way to spare Trump the truth about his demise. In sewing all their pants together at the waist, few seem capable of running away or getting out of the boat as it takes on more and more water. Lord Saletan explains:

Having stoked this distrust, the president and his allies are now exploiting it. They argue that the fraud must be real since so many people believe in it, and that even if it can’t be proved, widespread disbelief in the results makes the election illegitimate. On Fox News, Republican poll numbers have become a routine substitute for evidence. Trump points to them as proof that “the election was rigged.” His campaign advisers, including Lara Trump, also cite these numbers. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz said the Supreme Court should intervene because “39 percent of Americans right now believe this last election was rigged.” In Georgia, Sen. Kelly Loeffler demanded that the secretary of state resign because “Georgians have lost faith in our elections.” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, noting the “distrust” felt by “millions of people,” refused to say that Trump should accept the verdict of the Electoral College.

A proportion of the country believes that Democrats, or other unseen forces, are taking away their freedom, liberty, and whatever else. But it’s Republicans themselves that are doing most of the heavy lifting here. How much gullibility compartmentalization does it take to keep believing that poverty and pollution both are natural? To believe that society and the commonwealth are intrinsically evil, that social justice goes against Christ? That an all-seeing omnipotent benevolence shines upon all but draws the line at national borders, skin color, gender, or sexual orientation? It must be exhausting. But they can’t take even an hour off or else liberal democracy will prevail and the temerity to count people and their votes will leave all the militia babies to cry in the night.

It all seems like such a necessary precursor to what they are most afraid of that some may assume after the fact they were complicit.

For I can raise no money by vile means*

Nobody has more contempt for Republican voters than professional Republicans:

The Trump campaign has been unrelenting in recent days with its all-caps, bold font, exclamation-point-ridden fundraising appeals: “THE DEMOCRATS WANT TO STEAL THIS ELECTION!” “We can’t allow the Left-wing MOB to undermine our election.”

They urge supporters to make donations to President Donald Trump’s election integrity defense, to ensure he has the “resources” he needs to keep the election from being “stolen.”

In the fine print of the fundraising blasts, it lays out that 60 percent of the contributions will first go to the new PAC, up to the maximum contribution of $5,000. The remaining 40 percent goes to the RNC up to the maximum $35,500. If that first 60 percent of the donation exceeds $5,000 the remnants go to the campaign’s “recount account”; if the 40 percent exceeds the $35,500 RNC maximum, only then does it go to the RNC’s legal defense fund.

That story was three weeks ago. By now they have raised more than $170m and it’s difficult to characterize as anything other than a nice haul. It can also be a struggle to sympathize with the donors, as it has always been:

The new NRA disclosures appear to constitute a formal admission of financial mismanagement, which the gun group had denied under months of mounting pressure. In August, following a lengthy investigation, Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York, filed a civil suit seeking to dissolve the organization, alleging the NRA had grown rotten from “a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight.” To James’s mind, LaPierre’s repayment represents a drop in the bucket. She told the Post that the $300,000 is “just a fraction of the millions he personally profited from,” and she accused LaPierre and his deputies of having raided “NRA coffers to fund lavish lifestyles that included private jets, pricey vacations, expensive meals and no-show contracts.” The Wall Street Journal recently reported that LaPierre is being investigated by the IRS for “possible criminal tax fraud related to his personal taxes.” LaPierre declined to comment to the Post.

We might call this Green brutality, because nothing reveals the vulnerable like the willingness to sell their fears back to them.

* For I can raise no money by vile means.
By heaven, I had rather coin my heart
And drop my blood for drachmas

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene III

Kangaroo Democracy

Republican office holders and the people who support them do not want a functional country, much less a functional constitutional democracy. We can keep asking them if this is their final answer, they will keep voting for con men and flimflam artists.

The country they want, indeed the country they made sure we would have four years ago, had 148,302 COVID-19 cases two days ago, more then 130,000 each of the two days prior. This is what they wanted, this is what we have.

Now what do they want? Go back to normal, Pandemic be gone, don’t steal the election they lost, celebrate your positive test… the idiocy knows no bounds. It does know an end. We are at the beginning of that end now with Trump’s countdown to disinfection at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The people in our lives who seek to continue to be part of this dysfunctional cohort – wanting it all to continue, wanting some of it (the mask parts) to end – what do we do with them? Ignoring this malignancy does not work; ignoring their part in it may keep the peace at the holidays… but we won’t have the usual Thanksgiving this year. They made sure of that. This current episode was avoidable, they made sure we didn’t, no siree. There is a direct consequence to selling out your vote and your country to a racist ignoramus not interested in anything outside of his personal benefit. This is one of them; unfortunately, there are also many more.

We can take heart in the events of the last week, but we’ve got to remember all of them. Republican voters have put us all in their boat, even if it feels like we finally have enough oars in the water to row to a better shore. Remember this effort, all the work it takes, and that they want it to fail. Unless or until they prove otherwise, they must be considered a danger to themselves. They must be considered in favor of a country that ignores recognized standards of law and justice, one that holds no standing outside of fearful, closed minds. They have warned us. They want a kangaroo republic – to leap over the facts and people they don’t like, to live a fantasy yesteryear, reciting incantations to conjure divine rights.

Meanwhile, let’s get more oars in the water. Everybody row.

Cutting people off from the Human connection

black and white photo of woman
Hannah Arendt by Fred Stein, 1944

For a while now, it’s been an enduring mystery how so many ostensibly intelligent people can harbor such fantastically reactionary political opinions, believe utter nonsense, vote for incompetent racists, support hatred and bigotry in all its forms. I mean to say, don’t they know any people? Don’t they have friends and encounter strangers, at least once and a while? The great Hannah Arendt explained the relationship between lonely isolation and the inability to think:

Organised loneliness, bred from ideology, leads to tyrannical thought, and destroys a person’s ability to distinguish between fact and fiction – to make judgments. In loneliness, one is unable to carry on a conversation with oneself, because one’s ability to think is compromised. Ideological thinking turns us away from the world of lived experience, starves the imagination, denies plurality, and destroys the space between men that allows them to relate to one another in meaningful ways. And once ideological thinking has taken root, experience and reality no longer bear upon thinking. Instead, experience conforms to ideology in thinking. Which is why when Arendt talks about loneliness, she is not just talking about the affective experience of loneliness: she is talking about a way of thinking. Loneliness arises when thought is divorced from reality, when the common world has been replaced by the tyranny of coercive logical demands.

We think from experience, and when we no longer have new experiences in the world to think from, we lose the standards of thought that guide us in thinking about the world. And when one submits to the self-compulsion of ideological thinking, one surrenders one’s inner freedom to think. It is this submission to the force of logical deduction that ‘prepares each individual in his lonely isolation against all others’ for tyranny. Free movement in thinking is replaced by the propulsive, singular current of ideological thought.

In one of her thinking journals, Arendt asks: ‘Gibt es ein Denken das nicht Tyrannisches ist?’ (Is there a way of thinking that is not tyrannical?) She follows the question with the statement that the point is to resist being swept up in the tide at all. What allows men to be carried away? Arendt argues that the underlying fear that attracts one to ideology is the fear of self-contradiction. This fear of self-contradiction is why thinking itself is dangerous – because thinking has the power to uproot all of our beliefs and opinions about the world. Thinking can unsettle our faith, our beliefs, our sense of self-knowledge. Thinking can strip away everything that we hold dear, rely upon, take for granted day-to-day. Thinking has the power to make us come undone.

Read the whole thing, because it is amazingly perceptive about what we’ve been experiencing for a while. And of course, she got there first. Perhaps the single greatest intellect of the 20th century.