Conservatives and Liberals and Soccer and Religion

We live in societies that have lost the ability to clearly communicate across the divides we have created for ourselves. Or so I thought yesterday. Today, laid up with a bum back, I got to watch the American soccer team’s celebration in my home town, and I heard one of its captains, Megan Rapinoe, say this:

“We have to be better. We have to love more. Hate less. We got to listen more and talk less. We got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility. Every single person here. Every single person’s who’s not here. Every single person who doesn’t want to be here. Every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our responsibility to make this world a better place.”

Megan Rapinoe

I have been thinking a lot lately about how we have divided our nation into conservatives and liberals, with a ferocity you can feel by just looking at the labels. In truth, I think both sides want the same basic thing – to make this world a better place.

Conservatives main impulse is to preserve what they see as good in society. Liberals main impulse is to change what they see is bad in society. These are not antagonistic impulses. Good people of any political persuasion should aspire to both of those things. We can disagree about what is good and bad in society and we should honestly and constructively talk about those disagreements, but we should be careful not to demonize people and create straw creatures to argue with and set on fire.

One of the things that is seen as good and bad in society is religion. The number of horrors that have been committed in its name are beyond counting. The number of lives that have been saved, or fulfilled, or made kinder in its name are equally incalculable.

In the 19th Century, Victor Hugo said this:

Religion is undergoing a crisis. We are unlearning certain things, and that is good, provided that while unlearning one thing we are learning another. No vacuum in the human heart! Certain forms are torn down, and so they should be, but on condition that they are followed by reconstructions.

In the meantime let us study things that are no more. It is necessary to understand them, if only to avoid them. The counterfeits of the past take assumed names, and are fond of calling themselves the future. That eternally returning specter, the past, not infrequently falsifies its passport. Let us be ready for the snare. Let us beware. The past has a face, superstition, and a mask, hypocrisy. Let us denounce the face and tear off the mask.

Victor Hugo

Veteran’s Day – More than fighting

This Veteran’s Day I am thinking about the legacy of veterans that goes beyond wars and weapons, to the ideas that compel people to take up arms, and to the wisdom that is gained through experience, especially such transforming experience as war.

Germany, in the early 1930s, was a shithole country. Not that our current president would categorize it that way – most of its residents being white – but it had debts that it could not pay. It rang up those debts in the first World War and thought it might be better to commit further atrocities than to pay off those debts. It was correct. Germany was allowed to prosper after the second World War, regardless of its offenses against the human race, in part because of the Marshall Plan.

George Marshall


Unlike the behavior after previous wars, the Allies did not confiscate the land and property of the Axis powers, or subjugate their people. Instead, the United States government from 1948-1952 gave roughly $100 billion in today’s dollars to rebuild their economies.


On June 5, 1947, US Secretary of State George Marshall spoke these words to the graduating class of Harvard University:


The modern system of the division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down. … Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all. It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Any government that is willing to assist in recovery will find full co-operation on the part of the United States. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.

The plan had bipartisan support from the Republican Congress and Democratic White House.

From the early 16th Century until the end of World War II, Europe’s militaries conquered or subjugated almost every other country on Earth and fought continuously against each other. Other than the warfare that accompanied the collapse of Yugoslavia, and Russian invasions of Crimea and Ukraine, Europe has known peace for seven decades.

The changes in America were profound as well. Before the second World War most Americans were isolationist but as we learned the interconnected nature of human society in the 20th Century, we developed more globalist views. The realization that all the people of the world have more in common that opposition has brought peace and prosperity that the world never knew during millennia of nationalism. The wave of nationalist movements in the US and across the globe today pose a threat to the internationalist policies that we pioneered and whose value have been proven by experience.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn stopped by to see you…

Alexander Solzhenitsyn stopped by to see you today while you were out. We talked for a while about Russian soldiers and all the women they raped in the waning days of the second world war and thereafter. Estimates run into the millions. Girls and women younger than eight and older than eighty, gang-raped, some until they were dead. The Americans did it too, as did the French and English, but none of them on the scale of the Russians. They raped Polish and even Russian women who happened to be trapped there, prisoners of the Germans themselves. They got it coming and going. One of their victims was 12 year old Johanna Renner who would later go on to marry the German chancellor Helmut Kohl, and even later to kill herself.
Solzhenitsyn said that Russia is a patriarchal society but that women are considered the spoils of war everywhere. It’s one of the reasons men go to war, he said. He also wanted to talk to you about the American reporter who was killed this week by the Saudis in their consulate in Turkey. He said the Saudis tortured the reporter before killing him and dismembering him with a bone saw. He wondered why the American government hadn’t criticized the Saudis but figured it was because Trump, like Putin, doesn’t have a problem with killing troublesome reporters. They don’t mind rape either: it keeps women in their place.
Solzhenitsyn said to tell you that he was sorry he missed you but that he was unable to wait around, he was due elsewhere. What could I do to stop him? He’s been dead for ten years.

Woody Sez – Fascism

This machine kills fascists

Woody Guthrie hated fascism. We all like to think we hate fascism but with Woody it was in his bones. Reading some of his unpublished journal entries and letters included in the book Pastures of Plenty gives a good idea of how often and deeply he thought about fascism and the evils of the right-wing embodied by men like Hitler and Mussolini. On his guitar he kept a reminder – this machine kills fascists. 
Woody Guthrie was Antifa before there was Antifa and his reflections on the right wing of his day is depressing relevant to ours. 

“Fascism is a bully too dumb and too thick skulled to think out a mental reason or explanation or a hope or a plan for us, so it says the world belongs to the bullies and the gangsters who grab clubs and guns the quickest and rob and kill us first – before we can get ready mentally and bodily to fight back. But fascism can no more control the world than a bunch of pool hall gamblers and thugs can control America. Because all of the laws of man working in nature and history and evolution say for all human beings to come always closer and closer together – to know and understand all races, creeds, and colors better; and fascism says for us to split ourselves up into the thousand cliques and klans and beat our own chains of slavery onto our ankles by wasting our strength fighting our friends and neighbors – and allowing the fascists to nip us off one by one, little by little, group by group.”

Here are Billy Bragg & Wilco putting their music to Woody’s lyrics for “All You Fascists”:

I’m gonna tell all you fascists, you may be surprised
People all over this world are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
Race hatred cannot stop us, this one thing I know
Poll tax and Jim Crow and greed have got to go
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose 
All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists are bound to lose
People of every color marching side by side
Marching across these fields where a million fascists died
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists are bound to lose
I’m going into this battle, take my union gun
Gonna end this world of slavery before this war is won
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose 
All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists are bound to lose
I said, all you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists are bound to lose

Don’t Let The Door Hit You On The Ass, 2017

Disasters, both natural and the man-made kind, dominated the year that is ending today, but there were other things too, good things that should be remembered and celebrated because it is important to recognize beauty and progress. It’s also more fun that bitching about this awful year.

Great new music was released by Jay-Z, Randy Newman, U2, and others, probably even better, by artists that still exist in the zone of my ignorance.

#metoo gave warning to the misogynist patriarchy that it will be crushed and swept into history’s landfill where it belongs.

45 new drugs were approved by the FDA including the first cancer treatment based on genetic characteristics rather than location of tumor.

After five centuries a “new” Leonardo da Vinci painting made headlines. 

There were fewer murders in NYC in 2017 than in any year since reliable records have been kept.


We remember those who fell this year – Chuck Berry, Sam Shepard, Jerry Lewis, Mary Tyler Moore – but there were also seeds planted this year that will take years to fully blossom. We may look back on 2017 as the year when one of our greatest people was born but it will be decades before we know it.

So raise a glass of champagne, kiss someone you love, and place a big red mark on your calendar for November 6, 2018, our next opportunity to vote and re-direct our ship of state from the venality of 2017.


The devil fools with the best laid plan
Swing low Alabama
You got the spare change
You got to feel strange
And now the moment
is all that it meant

Alabama, you got the weight on your shoulders that’s breaking your back
Your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the track


Banjos playing through the broken glass
Windows down in Alabama
See the old folks
tied in white ropes
Hear the banjo
Don’t it take you down home?

Alabama, you got the weight on your shoulders that’s breaking your back.
Your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the track

Can I see you and shake your hand?
Make friends down in Alabama
I’m from a new land
I come to you and
See all this ruin
What are you doing 

You got the rest of the union to help you along
What’s going wrong?

CitySketch – Seward

“One of those spirits who sometimes will go ahead of public opinion instead of tamely following its footprints.” Carl Shulz, of William Seward

William H. Seward – Billy Bob to his friends, of which there were none – was the 24th Secretary of the United States. If you’re going to be a secretary, the United States is probably a good thing to be secretary of. Seward was governor of New York, US Senator, and one of the main figures of the Republican Party in its founding days. One of the guiding principle of the Republican Party at that time was the basic human dignity of the African people who were brought to this country in chains. Priorities change.

As governor of NY, Seward signed laws guaranteeing fugitive slaves the right to a trial by jury in the state and he fought for freed people enslaved in the South. Abraham Lincoln chose Seward to be his secretary of state and during the war between America and the traitors, Seward kept England and France from recognizing the Confederate States of America as an independent nation, threatening them with war if they did.

On the day that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln one of Booth’s co-conspirators, Lewis Powell, went to Seward’s house to kill him. Frederick Seward, William’s brother, tried to stop Powell and was beaten with the barrel of a gun. Powell stabbed William Seward five times in the face and neck. Powell was hung for his crime but not before Seward’s wife Frances died from a heart attack brought on by the shock of the assassination attempt that had almost killed her husband and injured both her sons. Frances had been deeply committed to the abolition of slavery, growing up in a home that was a stop on the underground railroad.

William Seward is now best know for “Seward’s Folly,” the purchase of Russian America (now known as Alaska) for $7.2 million in 1867. He was also instrumental in the purchase of the American Virgin Islands. If it was up to him, the US would have also purchased Greenland, Iceland, and the Dominican Republic.

The statue of William H Seward sits at the southwest corner of Madison Square Park.

“The interest of the white races demands the ultimate emancipation of all men. Whether that consummation shall be allowed to take effect, with needful and wise precautions against sudden change and disaster, or be hurried on by violence, is all that remains for you to decide.”