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In which an older and wiser yet terminally earnest former liberal struggles to come to grips with the cynicism, hatred, and paranoia that plague both sides of the American political spectrum. "Can we all get along?"

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And I quote:

"The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered."

Edmund Burke, 2nd speech on conciliation with America, Mar. 22, 1775 (Bartlett's 16th ed., p. 331)

Mrs. Powel: "Well, Dr. Franklin, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"

Benjamin Franklin: "A republic, if you can keep it."

After Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Sept. 18, 1787. (Bartlett's 16th ed.)

"As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other, and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves."

James Madison ("Publius"), The Federalist Papers No. 10 (1787)

"Of the three forms of sovereignty [autocracy, aristocracy, and democracy], democracy, in the truest sense of the word, is necessarily a despotism because it establishes an executive power through which all the citizens may make decisions about (and indeed against) the individual without his consent..."

Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795)

"To act successfully, that is, according to the rules of the political art, is political wisdom. To know with despair that the political act is inevitably evil, and to act nevertheless, is moral courage. To choose among several expedient actions the least evil one is moral judgment. In the combination of political wisdom, moral courage, and moral judgment, man reconciles his political nature with his moral destiny."

Hans Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (1946), p. 203

"Thus, whenever a concrete threat to peace develops, war is opposed not by a world public opinion but by the public opinions of those nations whose interests are threatened by that war."

Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations 6th ed., rev. by Kenneth Thompson (1985), p. 288

"The texture of international politics remains highly constant, patterns recur, and events repeat themselves endlessly."

Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (1979), p. 66

"Men wiser and more learned than I have discerned in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can see only one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave, only one great fact with respect to which, since it is unique, there can be no generalizations, only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen."

H. A. L. Fisher, History of Europe (1935), p. vii [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 80]

"Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favour."

Robert Frost, 'Black Cottage' North of Boston (1914), [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 86]

"My thoughts encompass divinity, therefore divinity is. The divinity that my thoughts encompass is associated with the order that arises out of chaos... As we expand our knowledge of this realm, we ... see it in terms of one sublime order that awaits full realization."

Louis J. Halle, Out of Chaos (1977), p. 646

"Here, then, is the complexity, the fascination, and the tragedy of all political life. Politics are made up of two elements -- utopia and reality -- belonging to two different planes which can never meet."

E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939 2nd ed. (1946), p. 93.

"My biggest blunder in life was attempt to seek common ground with Keynesians, based on the naive thought that by putting my ideas in Keynesian language that I would make any dent on the Keynesians."

Milton Friedman, New York Times, July 4, 1999

"War made the state and the state made war."

Charles Tilly, The Formation of National States in Western Europe (1975), p. 42

"Americans like to mock Kuwaitis as rich and pampered and lazy and decadent, which is exactly what the rest of the world says about Americans. Actually, we shouldn't mock Kuwait at all. It represents the hopes and dreams of Americans of all political persuasions. For liberals, it's a generous welfare state with guaranteed employment and a huge government bureaucracy. For conservatives, it's a country with no taxes and plenty of cheap maids who aren't allowed to vote."

Peter Carlson, "Castles in the Sand," Washington Post Magazine Jan. 14, 1996, p. 32-33

"[Bill Clinton's] greatest strength is his insincerity... I've decided Bill Clinton is at his most genuine when he's the most phony... We know he doesn't mean what he says."

Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman, in a speech in Indiana quoted by Howard Kurtz, Washington Post Apr. 27, 1996

"Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton, his opponents [*] must be thwarted. They are enemies of democracy and of the Constitution that insures its possibility. We long ago lost the luxury of choosing our allies. This is war."
* (referred to elsewhere in this piece as "mad dogs bent on political annihilation")

Eric Alterman, "Democracy Disappears" The Nation, Jan. 11-18, 1998

"There are no enemies in science, professor. Only phenomena to study."

From the movie The Thing, 1951 (a Cold War sci-fi allegory)

Julia Roberts: "Can you prove any of this?"

Mel Gibson: "No... A good conspiracy is unprovable. If you can prove it, someone must have screwed up somewhere along the way."

From the movie Conspiracy Theory

THE 16 WORDS: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Pres. George W. Bush, State of the Union address, Jan. 2003

"When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out."

Pastor Martin Niemõller

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana

"Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, to have approached global warming as if it is real means energy conservation, so we will be doing the right thing anyway in terms of economic policy and environmental policy."

Sen. Tim Wirth, 1988

But we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can, uh, find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."

Nancy Pelosi, March 9, 2010

"However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."

George Washington

"And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there?"

The lead character "V," from the movie V Is for Vendetta

Father (watching a falcon fly) to his daughter: "Nothing is more important than freedom. ...
You don't know what it was like before the thinking people mucked up everything."

from the movie Great Day (1944)

"Julia, there is truth and there is untruth. To be in a minority of one doesn't make you mad."

The lead character Winston (played by John Hurt), from the movie 1984 (1984), based on George Orwell's book 1984.


May 24, 2023 [LINK / comment]

Mass shootings in the U.S.: What can we do?

One year ago today, 21 innocent people (19 children and two teachers) were murdered in cold blood in the small town of Uvalde, Texas. Today's lead story in the Washington Post focused on whether enough law enforcement authorities were held properly accountable for the delayed response. It's fairly obvious that multiple people utterly failed in their responsibilities, and it is likely that some lives could have been saved by a more effective policing, but that diverts attention from the more fundamental problem, which is the ongoing breakdown of civilized norms in American society.

As every year passes, we become more tolerant of sociopathic behavior and self-indulgent egomania. Young people are being brought up (if that word is even applicable, as two-parent families become the exception rather than the norm) to disregard basic social norms of modesty and self-restraint. Instead, they are conditioned to flaunt their identity in an orgy of bragging and insults toward various outcast subgroups. Social media is amplifying the worst tendencies that are latent in all of us, leading to the formation of extremist cults, widespread feelings of misery and depression, and even suicide. The dirty little secret of America in the early 21st Century is that our social institutions have not developed the means to cope with and repress the evil side-effects of technological progress.

Indeed, modern public policy in the U.S. often seems to make things worse by subsidizing day care for young kids so that the mother can work on a full-time job. (The very fact that so many people complain that day care is "too expensive" is itself an indication that society deprecates the social value of bringing up children.) Such policies undermine the vital role of parents in fostering healthy attitudes in youth, who end up absorbing the norms and values of their peers -- often very destructive ones. But questions about how to reform social policy and how to rebuild a culture that values good parenting will have to wait until another day. The point is that, right now, we as a society are engaged in a massive exercise of denial with regard to the plain fact that vicious, hateful, murderous feelings are on an inexorable rise, and that we are virtually at war with our own selves.

Here is what I wrote in a comment responding favorably to a Facebook post about Uvalde by Alex Knepper two days after the massacre, May 26, 2022:

I got so sick of the predictable, stale partisan rhetoric that gets recirculated every time there's a mass shooting in this country that I included a verse about that in a song I wrote, "Better Left Unsaid." The massacre in Uvalde, Texas sheds light on two related problems: the extreme psychological duress afflicting many if not most younger people these days, especially among boys who didn't have a full-time father during their formative years, and (to a lesser extent) the increasing polarization of our society, which makes consensus on needed policy reform on such areas as regulating gun purchases. People on both sides tend to just ignore what the other side thinks and says, and nothing gets done. But the main problem is not easy access to guns, it's the (literally) demonic thoughts and attitudes that have infected our society in recent decades. Anyone who is serious about stopping gun violence must address the cultural origins of all the hate and anger in our midst. We are a sick society, and for real healing to take place, contemporary norms and assumptions need to be challenged.

One side effect of all these mass shootings is that many of us tend to become desensitized to the problem, as if the next such horrific act is almost as inevitable as a storm front. Whenever an especially bad mass shooting takes place, the Washington Post lists the names of all the victims of such crimes, as a apt reminder that each and every one of those people was a unique inividual human being who was loved by others and was a vital part of our social fabric. In the Uvalde massacre, the young victims all had several decades of life to look forward to. Trying to discern lessons from the raw statistics on mass killings, as people such as me are prone to do, should not detract from the fundamental horror that confronts us -- whether we choose to recognize it or not.

In my political science classes for the past year, I have been presenting the following map (or preliminary versions of it) as a way to get a handle on the magnitude of the problem of mass killings, and how their occurrence varies from one part of the country to another. Some people try to make political hay out of mass killings, but they seem to happen in "red" and "blue" states without discrimination.

Mass shootings by state

In order to draw something substantial from the above graphic portrayal of mass shootings, here is a listing with places that will be immediately familiar to almost everyone.

The worst mass shootings in America
Date Location Number of fatal victims
Apr 20, 1999 Littleton, CO : Columbine High School 13
Apr 16, 2007 Blacksburg, VA : Virginia Tech campus 32
Dec 14, 2012 Newton, CT : Sandy Hook Elem. School 26
Jun 12, 2016 Orlando, FL : Pulse nightclub 49
Oct 1, 2017 Las Vegas, NV : strip (outdoor concert) 58
Nov 5, 2017 Sutherland Springs, TX : First Baptist Church 25
Aug 3, 2019 El Paso, TX : WalMart 23
May 24, 2022 Uvalde, TX : elementary school 21

SOURCE: Washington Post (editorials) Nov. 17, 2018 and May 21, 2022; May 8, 2023

The emphasis I have placed on the under-acknowledged sociological deformities in the United States should serve to caution against the notion that tighter restrictions on the sale or ownership of firearms will necessarily do much good. I don't oppose such restrictions, but this is a case of the proverbial "horse being out of the barn," and there is already such a glut of firearms in our country that anyone with a computer and access to the "Dark Web" can get hold of just about whatever weapons he (or she) wants. (I mention "she" because, even though virtually all mass shooters are men, there was a case of a female mass shooter in Kentucky earlier this year.)

President Biden marked the anniversary of the Uvalde massacre today by repeating his call for a ban of "AR-15 firearms and assault weapons." ( But even if it were politically feasible, would such a ban really change things that much? Until the president addresses the dimension of disposition (hateful yearnings) as well as the means of committing violence, we aren't likely to get very far. As a preface to the conclusion here, it is worthwhile spelling out exactly what the Constitution says about the right to bear arms. I am constantly amazed by how many people are either ignorant about this, or just don't care.

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

To sum it all up, the key to addressing the problem of mass shootings in America is forging a new consensus that balances the constitutional right to bear arms with the needs of public safety. That means circumventing the entrenched factions that currently hold sway in both the Republican and Democratic Parties, repeatedly blocking reform efforts. Those who would just as soon repeal or ignore the 2nd Amendment in order to enact their preferred measures are not doing anybody a favor. And neither are the 2nd Amendment absolutists who refuse to acknowledge that all rights are subject to various practical and legal limits. Once we get past the essential task of agreeing to abide by consitutional guidelines, we can begin to formulate appropriate (much stiffer) regulations to drastically reduce the accessibility of dangerous weapons to malevolent individuals.

There are provisions in the Constitution by which Congress can regulate state militias, and this provides an opening for measures such as beefing up a national registry of gun owners. Gun ownership should be at least implicitly tied to an obligation to serve the local community in case of disaster; that's what a "militia" is all about. If someone is in the National Guard (the formal "militia") or is retired from the armed forces, he or she should have relatively easy access to automatic weapons. As for other people seeking such weapons, they should have to pass a rigorous series of tests (marksmanship as well as psychological screening) in order to qualify. To deal with the "horse out of the barn" problem, there should be a comprehensive system by which all sales and transfers of weapons from one person to another are recorded in a national database, and any violation of such requirement should be severely penalized, including jail time. There should be bounties for people who "snitch" on unlawful weapons transfers by gangs and extremist groups. (The existence of such extremist groups in America is one of the biggest obstacles to fully implementing such reforms, but that merely illustrates the need for undertaking such measures.) Perhaps those who own multiple firearms could become subject to a tax that would fund greater Federal efforts to oversee gun possession. Will some people object to such efforts? Of course. But as long as the core of the 2nd Amendment is firmly upheld, there is no reason for law-abiding citizens to fear such regulation.

Obviously, no laws will ever prevent all acts of evil from being committed by sociopathic men (and boys), but we can at least get ourselves on a course of gradually reducing them. In conjunction with social action -- including religious action -- at the community level aimed at combatting murderous dispositions, we can begin to restore a semblance of civil society. We really can make things better if only we set aside our prejudiced attitudes about gun ownership.

U.S. Cabinet, current

Department Secretary
State: Antony Blinken
Treasury: Janet Yellen
Defense: Lloyd Austin
Justice: Merrick Garland
Interior: Deb Haaland
Commerce: Gina Raimondo
Labor: Marty Walsh
Agriculture: Tom Vilsack
Health & H.S.: Xavier Becerra
Housing & U.D.: Marcia Fudge
Transportation: Pete Buttigieg
Energy: Jennifer Granholm
Education: Miguel Cardona
Veterans Aff.: Denis McDonough
Homeland Sec.:Alejandro Mayorkas
Other cabinet-level posts:
W.H. Ch./Staff * Ronald Klain
U.S. Trade Rep. Katherine Tai
OMB Director Neera Tanden
Dir. of Nat. Intel. Avril Haines
EPA Admin. Michael Regan
Small Bus. Adm. Isabel Guzman
Amb. to U.N.Linda Thomas-Greenfield
NOTE: The official positions considered as cabinet-level may vary slightly from one administration to the next.
* = not subject to Senate confirmation.

Last updated: 21 Jan 2021

118th Congress

U.S. Senate
(Web site)
Post Republicans Democrats
Pres. Pro Tem--Patty Murray (WA)
Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) Chuck Schumer (NY)
WhipJohn Thune (SD) Richard Durbin (IL)
Seats4948 + 3
The President Pro Tem of the Senate traditionally goes to the most senior member of the majority party in the Senate, but in January 2023 Dianne Feinstein turned down the job, and Patty Murray was next in line. Three independents presently caucus with the Democrats, giving them an effective 51-49 majority.
U.S. House of Representatives
(Web site)
Post Republicans Democrats
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (CA) --
LeaderSteve Scalise (LA) Hakeem Jeffries (NY)
WhipTom Emmer (MN) Katherine Clark (MA)
NOTE: It took the Republicans 15 ballots and more than three days to reach agreement over the selection of a new Speaker of the House. House members of the 118th Congress were finally sworn in after midnight on January 6/7, 2023. One seat is vacant (VA-4), pending a special election.

The real leaders in each chamber are in bold face.

Last updated: 09 Jan 2023

Virginia Government

Executive branch
Post Name Party
GovernorGlenn YoungkinGOP
Lt. GovernorWinsome SearsGOP
Attorney GeneralJason MiyaresGOP
Virginia Senate
Post Republicans Democrats
Pres. Pro Tem -- Louise Lucas
LeaderThomas NormentRichard Saslaw
Virginia House of Delegates
Post Republicans Democrats
SpeakerTodd Gilbert
LeaderTerry KilgoreEileen Filler-Corn
The real leaders (as opposed to ceremonial) in each chamber are shown in bold face.

* In the November 2021 elections, the Republicans won all three statewide executive offices (names in parentheses above, pending inauguration) and gained 7 net seats in the House of Delegates, going from 45-55 to 52-47; one seat became temporarily vacant in December. In the November 2017 elections, the Democrats gained 15 net seats in the House of Delegates (with one tied election being resolved in the Republicans' favor by drawing lots), going from a 66-34 to 51-49. In the November 2015 elections, the Republicans retained a 21-19 majority in the Senate, while the Democrats gained two net seats in the House of Delegates.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2022


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