It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Dude Sings

a rant by Bob Roman

No really, as of the January 26 – 27 weekend, the Federal Government was not entirely up and running. With President Trump’s promise to sign the legislation, Congress passed HJ 28 that pertains to spending for all the outstanding appropriations except the Department of Homeland Security. Trump has signed it, extending funding for those parts of the Federal government for several weeks. Money for the Department of Homeland Security is covered by HJ 31. Both the House and the Senate passed this bill, but the Senate had amendments that need to be reconciled with the House. These appear to be mostly proof reading changes, but it still requires legislative action by both chambers.

Beyond that, these bills place the situation approximately where it was right before Trump did his informal veto. The continuing resolutions were the final items on the 115th Congress’ agenda. When Trump humphed, Congress swore and went home. Trump must have felt this would inevitably put the blame on Congress. That it ended up splattering mostly upon him must have been an unpleasant surprise. Will he try it again?

There are some major exceptions to this status quo ante, however. One is the damage done to Trump’s political base of support, both within and outside the government. This has been much commented on, particularly with regard to the Fox News commentariat, blogs, and social media. But while Trump has been seen to jump in response to these folks, it’s also true that the House Freedom Caucus had lit their farts in support of a veto. Now that Trump has “caved”, it will be harder for Trump to assume their support. How badly does he want or need it? Depending on the answer, it may mean we will be facing a second shutdown when the clock expires on these two continuing resolutions.

Or it may mean that the House Democratic caucus gives Trump a piece of his wall. Because that is the other major change: the House of Representatives has changed from being run by the Republican caucus to being run by the Democratic caucus. What will the House Democratic Caucus be willing to give in exchange for keeping this assortment of government departments and agencies open, and how will that affect internal Democratic politics? And what shall we say of the Senate Republican caucus?

And then there is the prospect of a State of Emergency. Sounds pretty ominous, doesn’t it? With Trump in charge, you needn’t be an American lefty to start measuring the distance to the Canadian or Mexican borders. But in fact, a State of Emergency would not be anything new. These have been extensively if incompetently legislated. We’re actually living under several of them right now. This does not mean you should be any less concerned than you would be if asked to venture into a field of land mines. Congress today is potentially about as meaningful as the Roman Senate was under Caligula, and Trump is only the immediate hazard. My fellow Americans, Congressional incompetence has all our asses in the wind. If you are at all curious, I’d recommend this recent article by Elizabeth Goitein.

Keep in mind that walls and border police are in fact more effective at keeping people in than fencing people out. Gulag America?

Hail to the CreepAnd about round two? Oh, right. I’m supposed to be answering these questions, pretending to a punditry I do not possess; I’m not quite the walking definition of unhip, but the circles I inhabit are a long way from within the Beltway. Given that half to two-thirds of politics is gossip, I’m at a severe disadvantage. But the metric I’m watching (lacking, as I am, in gossip) is Trump’s approval polling, though not so much his disapproval numbers. Just what one is to make of them is hard to say as I believe it will depend on context. For example, is Trump cornered? What is the impact on Republican radicals?

An obvious strategy for Democrats is finding a way of splitting the Republican coalition. It seems unlikely that this would be fruitful in the space of a few weeks, but however long it would take, the resulting policies would not likely be thrilling for us lefties.

Yet these are just the latest battles in what will be a decades long conflict, the latest manifestation of a disease afflicting the American body politic like a recurring infestation of malaria. Trump is correct in identifying immigration as a major issue right now, though he sees it as means of mobilizing fear, bigotry, alienation and anger to his own ends. Indeed, that’s why he wants a wall rather than pursuing other policies. But I see migration and refugees as possibly a defining characteristic of much of the 21st Century. Granted, the 20th Century saw its share, but that illustrates how extreme I suspect the not-too-distant future will be. Even with Trump gone, this will remain a major issue.

If you judge that this is a thoroughly pessimistic vision, you’re quite right. People leave home for a foreign country mostly because their situation at home has become untenable in one way or another. And that’s pretty much what I see happening over large portions of the world. Historically, humans have attempted to deal with ecological collapse and climate change through military means. This is how I perceive much of what is happening along the southern and eastern Mediterranean coast, but it is happening elsewhere, too, closer to the U.S.A., with all the consequent people looking for new homes.

Would you stay, suffer and die if migrating were even a long-shot option?

Despite being a charter member of the Democratic Socialists of America, I don’t believe in uncontrolled borders for people, never mind goods and money. Regarding people, the most diplomatic way of putting it is that there is something about migrants that does not bring out the best in humans, most especially among the receiving population. The migration doesn’t have to be across international borders. Just think of the California of The Grapes of Wrath or the less than welcoming streets of northern cities during the Great Migration or the urban “hillbilly” slums that provided refuge for the Appalachian dispossessed. Nor are the newbies necessarily any more saintly; mostly they’re simply at a disadvantage.

Having said that, keep in mind that people are going to do what people want to do or feel they need to do. After a while, setting up a system of rewards and sanctions whose consequence make whatever it is (in this case, immigration) impossible, it becomes an exercise in malice and stupidity: exactly what we have with our current laws regarding immigration and asylum.

I don’t have much optimism that the left, including DSA, will come up with a workable solution to this issue. Calling for the abolition of ICE, for example, is a fine way of throwing rocks through the windows of the Establishment, but anyone governing will end up reinventing that institution. (Which could still be a step forward.) At best, along with the labor movement, I might hope for some mitigation of what big business clearly would love: some system of indentured servitude, something the current system of H-2B visas closely resembles.

If I could speculate on what a workable system might look like: allow people to come to the States under normal tourist or student visas. If they intend to look for work or if they are offered work, charge them (and perhaps their employer) a fee for a taxpayer ID number that would be partially refunded if they choose to leave. It could be paid in installments in lieu of Social Security deductions, for example. The cost for migrants would still be far less than what a smuggler would charge, these days at least. Depending on your level of bigotry, one might propose further punitive details involving criminality much like the last so-called “compromise” regarding immigration did, but I leave these as an exercise for your sick imagination.

Incidentally, don’t assume that U.S. citizens are automatically welcome and accepted elsewhere. It hasn’t become an issue, but various countries (Mexico and Costa Rica for examples) have populations of U.S. citizens resident with dubious documentation: retirees, mostly, but one could easily imagine circumstances where we come to work. I recall that some of the proposed “free trade” agreements in the past had provisions for numbers of foreign workers to come here. There really should be reciprocity in these agreements.

Refugees are a special category of migrant. Keep in mind that some of them will be U.S. citizens: think Louisiana, Puerto Rico and California as current examples. There will be more in the future. It’s time we start dealing with this in a more systematic way, and we may as well include provisions for foreigners as well.

One last word, this about conservatives: One ongoing point of conservative agitation is the charge that Democrats and the left (oddly synonymous among right-wingers) favor open borders because the migrants (Mexican and Central Americans in particular) will therefore end up voting for Democrats. In its more delusional manifestations, said migrants end up voting for Democrats long before they even become citizens.

Conservatives have some reason to worry about this, though realistically it’s mostly because of their own behavior. Such an unwelcoming political brand! But in the past, conservatives were steadfastly in favor of admitting migrants from communist countries: Vietnamese, Russian Jews, Cubans. And those groups did tend to vote Republican once they became citizens. Providing them a new home was the right thing to do even if it was also blatantly hypocritical. For example: the Haitian human rights record was far more sordid than Cuba and the Haitian economy every bit as wretched or worse than Cuba. Upon setting foot in America, Cubans could stay but Haitians go home! Since immigration policy has been so plainly political for conservatives, it’s easy to see why they’d be prone to panic and to assume hostile motivation. Asking conservatives to get over it is probably futile, but…

Get over it.

The Emperor of Time

Written and directed by Drew Christie: “The strange and sordid tale of Eadweard Muybridge, the man who accidentally invented motion pictures. The film is told from the point of view of Muybridge’s abandoned son and viewed completely through a nineteenth century early cinema contraption called a mutoscope.”

And what is the relation between genius and being human, being a mensch? Once upon a time, not really all that long ago, there seemed to be a trade-off between being a good person and being a genius. Not that being a genius automatically meant that you were bad, but that it was to be expected that genius would or could or perhaps had to transcend convention, a sort of sociopathy in the service of science or of art or of commerce or of politics.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein encapsulates the idea; the alternate title being The Moderm Prometheus. And Dr. Frankenstein’s creation is perhaps in the image of his creator, beyond morality.

We’ve been getting away from that, I think, but perhaps the Emperor of Time is an example of that quaint vision of genius.


In the night the dead arise: lost loves, broken friendships.
You among them. Well met, old friend.
We sit and speak; of what, I do not remember.
It doesn’t matter. It never did.
It is a futile love though love remains
But in dreams alone reunion.

— Yip


Chicago’s Loyola Park is graced by an extensive beach. As large as it is, in the days before ubiquitous air conditioning, one could expect it to be heavily occupied. Think of it as a human Serengeti Plain with herds of various humans replacing African wildlife. With concerns about skin cancer and other, cooler alternatives, the traffic in the 21st Century is not so heavy.

Somewhere around the turn of the century, someone at the Chicago Park District had the bright idea of recreating the dunes that once lined the shores. With less summer traffic, there would be space to plant dune grasses that would anchor the sand from wind and water erosion, letting nature handle some of the work of beach maintenance. With less summer traffic, there would be room for dune grasses to be protected from being trampled. As it is a “green” project, much of the work of planting and weeding might be done by volunteers. In many ways, it’s a project lifted out of the pages of McHarg’s Design with Nature.

I don’t recall the date but sometime around the turn of the century, a section of the beach was loosely fenced and dune grasses were planted. Photo by Roman.

I wish I could tell the story of how this project came to flower, but I don’t know it. And that’s not what this post is about. Rather, I want to explore the beauty of the dune grasses and the wonderful way photography can lie.

It’s early 2003. The grasses are just beginning to remake the beach into a dune. The camera makes it look like an endless plain, but it’s no more than a few hundred feet. Photo by Roman.
It’s July of 2006 and the grasses are becoming more various and the sand is accumulating. Once again, the camera makes it look a nearly endless expanse. Photo by Roman.
Another look at July, 2006. Photo by Roman.
The developing dune earlier in 2006. Photo by Roman.
2018. Notice the roped pathway on the left; dune grasses do not tolerate much traffic. Also, this is a home for nesting birds. Photo by Roman.
2018. Photo by Roman.
2018. Photo by Roman.
2018. Photo by Roman.
2017. Photo by Roman.

Max Headroom

Let’s go back 20 minutes in the future… of 1985. For those of you for whom 1985 is more-or-less pre-history, the Max Headroom character was a scanned digital simulacrum of “hard hitting” TV journalist, Edison Carter. Despite being a copy, Max Headroom is rather different in character than his fictional human original, particularly in Max’s role in both the U.S. and British television series “Max Headroom”. Edison Carter was a classic muck-raker journalist. Max Headroom was an “edgy” (because, after all, he isn’t real and so: what standards should apply?) talk-show host and corporate shill.headrest1

I missed most of this back in the 1980s, understand, as my last television set died around 1981 or 1982, never to be replaced. My main exposure to Max Headroom was Garry Trudeau’s use of him in the Doonesbury comic-strip as a satire on Ronald Reagan (Ron Headrest), implying that if President Reagan were replaced by a digital automaton, no one would notice. On the other hand, one of Garry Trudeau’s characters, television reporter Roland Hedley, resembles and predates Edison Carter. Maybe there’s some British borrowing there, or maybe it’s just a mutual stereotype.

The program was a British import, and like many such, it was remanufactured for the American audience, with possibly less violence to the original concept than is typical. But there are differences. Here is the original British pilot, an hour long, from which the whole enterprise sprang… sort of a punk Dr. Who. Hold on to your TRON.


(Be sure to watch all the way through the credits.)