I contradict myself

July 12, 2021 at 12:15 pm (By Amba) ()

Do my views and posts seem ideologically contradictory? They are.

I have an allergy to “ism.” That little suffix is like the spike protein—the mechanism by which a mental virus pries its way into your brain. Anything with an “ism” tacked onto it already has designs on you.

I hate prefabricated sets of positions that come all glued together. There’s no space to think in between the parts. The parts don’t move.

I love a good argument. I’ll take one in even if I end up spitting most of it out. I’m pretty sure there’s a little bit of truth in there and I want it. My mind can be changed, or at least complicated.

No mind can come anywhere near the serenely self-contradicting complicatedness of reality.

Add another curlicue

to my convoluted worldview!

Please do!

Thinking is just doodling, anyway.

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21st century religious wars?

April 4, 2021 at 2:04 pm (By Amba) (, )

I’m hiding this here because some of it will be rude to say in public on Easter morning.

These Daily Beast headlines (I’m not bothering to link, they will be paywalled) . . .

. . . together with much recent commentary on how the tribal, zealous, and transporting aspects of religion seem to have migrated over to politics, coalesced in my mind into the realization that we are actually fighting a religious war, just like those that have racked the West throughout so many other centuries.

For the right, “socialism” IS Satan. For the left, science IS gospel. The right has specialized in the crusade of conquest. The left has a lock on penitence. Both practice conversion and excommunication. Each is sure they hold the truth and the other is demonic.

This in turn brought me (by a winding path, admittedly) to the thought that the world would be unimaginably different if the Abrahamic religions had never arisen. And that they may have been the single most toxic and warping factor in human history.

They have certainly been a key to our species’ “success” in the short term—the whole globe having been dragged into this juggernaut by “the West”—but success down a wrong path is mega-failure waiting to happen.

Polytheism, pantheism, nature worship—are they more live-and-let-live, or am I romanticizing them? The impulse to conquest (as opposed to just tribal rivalry and territorial skirmishing) comes with civilization (and its nomadic pastoral predators), which arises from agriculture. But somehow Abrahamic monotheism supercharged it.

It’s fascinating to see how ideas mutate and hybridize, taking on new power and sometimes monstrosity in the process. Neither communism nor democracy would likely exist if not for Christianity. Western Communism x Eastern Confucianism spawned particularly deadly strains.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

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Mom Sounds Off

November 8, 2020 at 1:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

on the post-election mood—9 days before her 97th birthday.

Hey, Annie! What doing? Got an Election Hangover? Are you – as I am – a MishMash of emotional Cross-currents: a schemear of elation, exhaustion, anxiety spread across my breakfast pumpernickel?  Am I afraid that sulking Trump will hang in the air over us like a noxious fart? Are we doomed to suffer his indelible presence because he will intone neither the magic release: “I quit”, nor choke to death on the fatal promise, “NEVER!”?


Sent from my iPhone

She’s like the nonagenarian Rachel Maddow.

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To be as objective as possible…

September 27, 2020 at 11:24 am (By Amba) ()

  • Amy Coney Barrett is a good judge, as was Robert Bork, if you take ideological wish lists out of it.
  • If you believe that there needs to be a balance between right and left, between business and government, between striving and caring, etc., etc. (and that too much imbalance opens the Pandora’s box of corruption and cruelty), this is the WRONG time to tilt the balance further to the right.*
  • What Democrats are experiencing is the incredible frustration of watching Trump make a good move at a bad time for an evil purpose.

*The pendulum is never in more danger of swinging to one extreme than when it is at the other extreme. Those of you who dread violent revolution above all—you are guaranteeing it.


  • Barrett is GOING TO be confirmed.
  • For Trump to set up a Supreme Court that could then stop vote counting and reinstall him as president is using the US Government for criminal self-dealing. The confirmation MUST NOT take place until after the election. This should be the laser focus of the Democratic caucus in the Senate.
  • The best outcome that’s possible at this point: The Republicans decisively lose the presidency and the Senate. The lame duck Senate confirms Barrett. Conservatives get the Justice they most wanted; the two other branches are in Democratic hands. Some balance is restored.

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Social Media Detox 2

August 21, 2020 at 8:46 pm (By Amba) (, , , )

Getting off Facebook again, and for the most part Twitter (I might use it to post links to blog posts if I have anything to share), at least until the election.

I’ve pretty much concluded that the fragile feel-good illusions about the Democratic party and ticket that they have, against all odds, managed to recreate (quite a feat, I have to hand it to them) are all that can just barely save the country and give it a last chance to make good. At full enough flood, that nostalgic resurgence of willfully innocent Kennedy-era idealism might be able to float the country an inch or two over the horrific threshold facing us. Since I recognize that but can’t join in the inspiration (though I feel its pull) or the cheerleading, I’ve decided to stay out of it. So fragile is that gossamer feeling that some of my friends freak out if I express any realism; others are so cynical they seem to think we need another Trump term to trigger revolution, a privileged, romantic idea if I ever heard one. Some other time I’ll post about why I think a revolution is a bad thing to wish for. (Teaser: Revolution was brought to Romania by the Red Army. Romania’s simmering Communist Party seized its chance. The rich were expropriated and set to the lowest manual labor. Yay! Revenge! Some very bright peasants’ and shepherds’ kids got to go to medical school. Yay! Opportunity! As soon as they became full-fledged doctors, they escaped the country any way they could and came to America, where they could make some money and have a nice house, car, and lifestyle. They listened to Rush Limbaugh and now they are all fulminating right-wingers.) Reform is unromantic, but if it’s serious enough (big if), it can actually improve people’s lives, rather than destroying them to save them.

Anyway, I’ll copy some disorganized thoughts I wrote in my journal this morning.

We have to be saved from the abyss if at all possible, and it’s the naïve enthusiasm of the simple (white liberal) folk that will do it. Black people spotted this early on, and it’s why they wisely pushed Joe Biden to the fore. He’s perceived as safe and kindhearted enough for a wide spectrum of frightened constituencies to accept—from the masses of voters to the dollars of donors—and so he, or his handlers, could just barely hold this improbable coalition, with the tensile strength of Jell-o, together just long enough to squeak through the door. Okay, so it’s the same old coalition of the comfortable-enough to be complaisant while the plutocrats fleece us. The difference is that the voters now want to shoehorn the diverse new America into the crude fairness and opportunity of the old (pre-Reagan) America. It was pretty good for them, and they’ve belatedly realized that it wasn’t for everybody. It’s all necessary to survive and to inch forward another half-millimeter toward such justice as glorified chimpanzees are capable of.

The rich must realize they are rich on sufferance, that the only way to enjoy their wealth in peace, without becoming murderers to avoid being murdered, is not to leave the rest of the community behind. To recognize that they are still part of humanity, with reciprocal bonds and obligations, not untrammeled demigods. They have to earn the right to enjoy their wealth in peace, and they can’t be trusted to do it voluntarily. They have to be required to pay the rest of us to grant them that limited license.

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Fall of the Conquerors

July 24, 2020 at 2:20 pm (By Amba) (, , )

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot had two statues of Christopher Columbus removed from Chicago parks and neighborhoods last night. The immediate rationale was public safety: the statues have become flashpoints for confrontations between police and demonstrators; and, in improvised attempts to pull the heavy statues down, people could get hurt. But, after “an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city’s symbols,” in the mayor’s words, you can bet those patriarchs will not be back on their pedestals.

I am totally down with seeing these statues disappear from literally lording it over the public square (yes, I’m aware that there have been ignorant excesses of iconoclasm as well as instances of payback targeting monuments to abolitionists). I would be happy to debate anyone who disagrees.

If we are serious about making this the inclusive and equitable country that it potentially is, about fully extending the promises of the Founders to everyone whose ancestors were drawn here by those promises or driven off or dragged here in violation of them, then yes, we DO have to rewrite history from multiple points of view, and we DO have to stop being unquestioningly presided over by the “heroes” of conquest, colonization, and genocide.

We can’t expect historical figures to have had our perspective,* [see UPDATE below], but it’s time to take an unflinching look at their perspective, and to admit that for most of them, racism was an inextricable strand in it that qualified and tainted whatever noble traits they may have had or deeds they did.

Yes, this change is disorienting when you’ve been taught standard American mythology since you were a little kid. The resistance to it is as intense as if we were losing our civic religion and identity. We are! I am all for it. We’re coming into a bigger-hearted one, and the spirit of the old one is being reborn in unexpected ways as a living part of it (see Hamilton, or AOC invoking the dignity of Congress to call out the fellow representative who insulted her).

I hope the statues reappear in dedicated sculpture gardens where their value as artifacts of history, educational aids, and, in some cases, works of art is preserved.

*UPDATE: This made me think again about that statement:

These ‘historical figures’ were significantly outnumbered by their dead. They were a tiny minority of their own population. Yet we treat them as if they are the only people in history.

When people say, “we can’t judge historical figures by the standard of our time’ what they mean is ‘the monsters did not think themselves monstrous”. What they mean is ‘colonized lives don’t matter’. Because these human beings, living at the very same time, certainly knew that these were monsters. I don’t mean in an abstract political-issues-of-the-day sense, I mean in a very real sense of ‘They’re killing me and selling my children’.

It’s as if we write about serial killers, but only from the perspective of serial killers. . . .

A few thousand Europeans colonized millions of people across the world. They laundered this theft by simply rendering the victims subhuman, an injustice we continue to this day.

We talk about historical figures and historical standards as if these millions of people simply did not exist. . . .

These perspectives matter. All of the lives that were silenced by the whip or the noose before, they are silenced by armchair historians today. People talk about a whites only history where only white feelings mattered, and because white people didn’t feel bad, it simply wasn’t bad.

This simply isn’t true. It was bad. The people living it knew.

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An uneasy suspicion gathers

March 28, 2020 at 10:20 am (By Amba) (, , )

like an unformed storm.

I’m posting this tweet mainly so you can see the thread below it—a lot of “die, New York, die, LA” sentiment.

In the absence of an early smart response, bluer states are generally hit sooner, harder, faster (is this a new Olympics?) by the virus than redder states because of large cities with high population density.

And, the MAGAs would be sure to point out, diversity. Queens is full of working-class people who are being hard hit, but that very population is also, I think, the most diverse in the U.S. Immigrants and their descendants from all over the world—Romania, Thailand, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, you name it.

It’s almost as if . . . well, you can see where I’m going. Maybe better than I can. I’m not sure where I’m going.

The more thinly populated and less-diverse red states that preponderate in the Electoral College are also being hit later and less intensively by the virus. If nothing else, they will use this to tout the superiority of their way of life.

But they are not invulnerable either; the virus, unlike the species it infects, doesn’t discriminate. What will happen when MAGA communities begin to lose loved ones?

“Others” will be blamed, for sure. That’s one of the things that will happen. Blamed and possibly attacked.

Trump’s delayed and addled response will not. Wasn’t that really a smart chess move, or a lucky break, or an act of God, to decapitate and depopulate blue (and multicolored) America?

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A young relative’s take post-Super Tuesday

March 4, 2020 at 10:50 am (By Amba) ()

This just all feels so pointless. Why have we had a primary at this point. The DNC wanted Biden, they got Biden. Politics is a rigged game and nothing the common people want or need or care about matters at all. How much time and money was wasted in what feels like a preordained coronation of a senile and deeply flawed bowl of oatmeal. It’s like they just let us all play a game like we are children for a year and now The Party has spoken and we can go back to being irrelevant serfs who provide background noise to their real lives in Washington 

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Political Dreams

February 18, 2020 at 12:34 pm (By Amba) (, )

When the public sphere floods your night head you know you are “living in interesting times” and there is no escape.

The New Yorker recently ran an article whose SEO (search engine optimization) title is “How Dreams Change under Authoritarianism.” (I can’t find its print title, so I’ll resist a digression on how the internet sucks all the art and wit out of writing titles and turns them into dull labels.) The article is about an out-of-print book, published in English translation in 1968, called The Third Reich of Dreams: The Nightmares of a Nation, 1933-1939. The author, Charlotte Beradt, was not a psychoanalyst, simply a writer who collected 300+ dreams of apprehension and dread from friends and acquaintances before she made it to New York in 1939.

A small shopkeeper in Vienna dreamt that the lamp in the corner of his room suddenly began to talk, repeating to the police every sentence that he had ever uttered against the Government, every political joke he had told.

(To think that we complacently invite just such “talking lamps” into our homes—Alexa!! It’s not even a stretch to imagine them put to work as household spies surveilling and betraying us. They already keep dossiers of our consumer choices and personal vulnerabilities. Only that last hook-up between the tech corp and the government is unfinished . . . and Zuck is working on it.)

Learning more about this book led to the discovery that there is a Museum of Dreams in London, Ontario, “a hub for exploring the social and political significance of dream-life.” Its founder, Sharon Sliwinski, published her own book in 2018 called Dreaming in Dark Times. Her conviction is that dreams can (again, as they did for our tribal ancestors) reveal truth in times of confusion and denial, and provide insight and guidance not only to individual dreamers but to the community:

[T]he disclosure of dream-life represents a form of unconscious thinking that can serve as a potent brand of political intervention and a means for resisting sovereign power. 

How about that! Show me yours and I’ll show you mine and we can call it Resistance!

Reading the dreams of people under the rising Nazis makes you realize that comparisons of our situation to theirs are still hyperbolic. But does anyone really doubt anymore that “it could happen here” (and has, if you’re not white), that we are on a road that leads there for many more of us if we don’t get off it ASAP, and that we’ve trusted in institutions to protect us that are far weaker than we thought they were?

I’ll show you mine, and maybe you’ll show me some of yours in the comments. Maybe we can get a read on the truth of our predicament.

This dream of a grove of tree trunks with their branches and leaves (and the sky) sealed off by a crude concrete ceiling, cemented out of sight—trees painfully choked off from their own upper reaches—seemed to me a political dream though there is nothing overtly political in it. I still don’t know how to “read” it. Any thoughts?

Yesterday Twitter was flooded with posts on the hashtag #PresidentWarren, a vigorous pushback against the media’s “erasure” of candidate Warren. Like most such tweetstorms, it was clearly orchestrated and coordinated, yet some unknown proportion of the participants also seemed sincere. It’s hard to tell the operatives from those who are there in all innocence. Anyway it was effective in blasting Warren back onto the radar and creating the perception that she still has lots of ardent, enthusiastic support. (This morning there’s no sign that the mainstream media noticed.) (UPDATE: One day later, they noticed.)

So I dreamt of a cityscape that looked like a Maurice Sendak children’s-book illustration—something like the city skyline of baking soda boxes in In the Night Kitchen, in cozy brownstone colors. In this cityscape, Elizabeth Warren’s already largish figure was to be cut out, made larger still, and reinserted into the scene so that she would stand out more—if not quite bestride the city like a colossus, a political Godzilla. I was somehow to be one of the participants in this effort, or at least an implicated bystander, and I was very confused about whether it was a good thing or not. Clearly you could do that, you’d better do it if you wanted to be visible at all . . . but should you, really?

My best political dream to date, in terms of giving me heart, was more than a year ago, maybe even two. I thought I wrote about it, but that was probably on Facebook.

I was out shopping, carrying some bundles and a paper cone of flowers, and I had to pee. I stopped in a deserted corner of some mall or train station or bus terminal or Starbucks and went into one of those big one-person, all-gender, family-and-wheelchair bathrooms. Sitting on the john and reading a magazine, I fell asleep in the dream.

I woke up and Donald Trump was looming over me.

He had on a cheap-looking royal-blue suit—it could have been an expensive suit but it still looked cheap—and a red tie. His face was flushed (or blushed), his eyes were a hot blue and his expression was challenging and overbearing. There was no iota of a #MeToo situation. His intent was simply to intimidate.

I was not intimidated. He was ridiculous. I would have burst out laughing if I weren’t so annoyed at the intrusion and incredulous at his rude bloody nerve. I rolled up the magazine and started whacking him with it, shouting with every blow, “GET – OUT – OF – HERE! . . . GET – OUT!!”

I kept on whacking him until he slunk out the door.

I woke up lighthearted, freed from the burden of fearing or even hating Trump. He is a joke. I remain very afraid, but not of him—of the forces that are filling him like a poisoned Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon and using him (as long as he’s useful) as the front and figurehead for their takeover.

(Credit where credit is due: this dream may have been enabled by Nancy Pelosi, at one of their early meetings, shaking her finger in his face.)

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Concrete R vs composite D

February 8, 2020 at 9:35 am (By Amba) (, )

Reading this article this morning, after watching that lamentable debate, I got the sinking feeling that Michael Bloomberg is going to be foisted on us. He and his backers banked on (pun intended) the emergence of that void we saw last night. While the Republicans are a phalanx (of white men in suits), Democrats are a gaggle. Their diversity is their disunity. So by default they are going to hire a proxy, their own white man in a suit with a fortune, who represents none of them. It’s a weak position.

For some reason I started thinking of it in terms of construction materials.

Republicans are the “rump” of the old, white, Christian America that had three TV networks and 16 baseball teams and the AFL-CIO and a Fourth of July picnic cuisine, garnished with a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving banquet. Note that I’m nostalgically exaggerating the unity of that lost America, just as its embattled fetishizers do. In reality that America was always riven by “the narcissism of small differences” between Christian denominations and European immigrant groups contending for assimilation, and patrolled by vigilant contrast with those it would never take in because they would freckle its complexion and relativize its religion. Still, it had a unity, a mass, an aspirational uniformity. It was an identifiable substance, Americanness, homogeneous as Wonder Bread and solid as concrete. Its remnant is like an old pillbox bunker on a sea bluff. Weatherbeaten, shrinking and eroding on the outside as it loses chips and chunks to the elements, at its core it is still uniform and, if nothing else, it still coheres.

Democrats are everyone else. They are—someone in construction please help me out with the terminology here—like an amalgam or composite with insufficient binder. It hasn’t yet fused into a substance with enough consistency and alignment to hold a shape and have tensile strength. It keeps crumbling back into its components. When you look at the Democratic field of candidates, they embody this. Each is a different piece. None is the binder that can hold it all together.

The Democrats and the coming-to-be America they attempt to represent have never recovered from the assassinations of April and June, 1968.

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