The Coldplay vocalist [Chris Martin] flew to Seoul in April despite the restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been very difficult to get here to Korea,” Martin said. “We’ve been very lucky with people allowing us to come in for two days just to record. And it was quite a stressful journey, and I was a little bit nervous. I’ve never met BTS before.” (Yonhap)
Must be nice to drop in for two days to pal around without having my kind of stressful journey, you putz. I went to South Korea for work around the same time. I had 14 days in solitary isolation per the country’s strict, if somewhat ineffective, COVID-19 restrictions.
Go take a long walk off of a short pier, you poor little thing.
Teacher appreciation — outside of verbal and written praise — shouldn’t manifest in individual tokens that hinge on family income and gendered labor, because we actually have an efficient, effective, and generally fairly distributed way to show public servants our gratitude and support. It’s called taxes. Taxes are the way we “appreciate” the people who build our roads, the people who process our wedding paperwork, the people who maintain our buildings. And taxes should also be the way we appreciate our teachers: to adequately outfit their classrooms with enough supplies, to make a wage that allows them not to take on a second job and afford housing in their district, to have the sort of stability that makes it possible for them to continue to be one of the most important people in your children’s lives, but also the lives of children you’ll never know. [emphasis mine]
Read the whole article, specially if you have kids and are going though Teacher Appreciation Theater.
Governor Bill Lee signed a bill on Friday, prohibiting transgender children athletes from participating in sports other than their biological sex.
Governor Lee said on Twitter, “I signed the bill to preserve women’s athletics and ensure fair competition. This legislation responds to damaging federal policies that stand in opposition to the years of progress made under Title IX and I commend members of the General Assembly for their bipartisan work.”
I’m so glad someone is finally addressing the occasional problem for tens of Tennessee citizens whose children … hang on a second. I’ve got this somewhere … might encounter a male who rigs the system by identifying as female for the sole purpose of getting ahead in women’s sports.
Obviously women’s athletics is a lucrative target for families to chose to have their boys and young men live a lie – for maybe decades – to exploit. And that assumes they pass their classes to stay eligible to play, never mind the fact that the team will not be fooled by a poser for long.
How wonderful are we Volunteer Staters that our government has no other pressing matters to which they should attend? Well, other than properly outlawing necrophilia, that is.
Full Disclosure: I’ve got family who work in college athletics and I did not ask them their take. They’re so much smarter than me on this and many other topics. I look forward to our awkward family get togethers.
The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down parliament in the run-up to Brexit was unlawful, a humiliating rebuke that thrusts Britain’s exit from the European Union into deeper turmoil.
The unanimous and stinging judgment by the court’s 11 judges undermines Johnson’s already fragile grip on power and gives legislators more scope to oppose his promise to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31.…
Parliament, where Johnson has lost his majority and he suffered repeated defeats since taking office in July, is now set to be reconvened three weeks early, giving opponents more time to challenge, amend, or block his Brexit plans or even bring down his government.
“The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification,” Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said.
In its historic ruling, the court said Johnson had not given any reason – “let alone a good reason” – for suspending the legislature for five weeks.
(Via Japan Today)
The ambassador’s memo is unfortunate in that it is accurate.
A leaked cable from the British ambassador to the US, sent home to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has the ambassador calling Trump “insecure,” “incompetent” and “inept.” In the ambassador’s defense, it’s completely true. Trump has not yet commented on the news.
(Via Boing Boing)
And this isn’t even the most egregious thing of which to be aware of with this administration, sadly.
“Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive,” Zadie Smith wrote in her stirring essay on optimism and despair. But what does the reinvention, reassertion, and survival of progress look like when the basic fabric of democracy is under claw?
That is what Thomas Mann (June 6, 1875-August 12, 1955) examined on the cusp of World War II with a prescience that bellows across the decades to speak to our own epoch and to every epoch that will succeed us.
Thomas Mann at his desk (Thomas Mann Archive)
When Hitler seized power in 1933, the 58-year-old Mann, who had won the Nobel Prize in Literature five years earlier, went into exile in Switzerland. The following year, he visited America for the first time. He returned each year thereafter, until he finally emigrated permanently in 1938 and became one of a handful of German expatriates in the United States to vocally oppose Nazism and fascism. Between February and May 1938, just before the outbreak of the war, Mann gave a series of poignant and rousing lectures across America, published later that year as **_The Coming Victory of Democracy_** (_public library_) — a spirited insistence that “we must not be afraid to attempt a reform of freedom,” and a clarion call for the urgent work of continually renewing and reasserting democracy as menacing ideologies rise and fall against it.
In a testament to the great Serbian-American physicist, chemist, and inventor Michael Pupin’s assertion that “an immigrant can see things which escape the attention of the native,” Mann opens with an incisive reflection on democracy, its original ideals, and the necessity of its continual recalibration to the pressures pushing against it:
> America needs no instruction in the things that concern democracy. But instruction is one thing — and another is memory, reflection, re-examination, the recall to consciousness of a spiritual and moral possession of which it would be dangerous to feel too secure and too confident. No worth-while possession can be neglected. Even physical things die off, disappear, are lost, if they are not cared for, if they do not feel the eye and hand of the owner and are lost to sight because their possession is taken for granted. Throughout the world it has become precarious to take democracy for granted — even in America& Even America feels today that democracy is not an assured possession, that it has enemies, that it is threatened from within and from without, that it has once more become a problem. America is aware that the time has come for democracy to take stock of itself, for recollection and restatement and conscious consideration, in a word, for its renewal in thought and feeling.
In a sentiment that calls to mind Martha Graham’s notion of “divine dissatisfaction” as the motive force of all creative work, Mann notes that a certain restlessness about the state of the world and our place in it is inherent to the human animal:
> It is the fate of man in no condition and under no circumstances ever to be entirely at ease upon this earth; no form of life is wholly suitable nor wholly satisfactory to him. Why this should be so, why there should always remain upon earth for this creature a modicum of insufficiency, of dissatisfaction and suffering, is a mystery — a mystery that may be a very honourable one for man, but also a very painful one; in any case it has this consequence: that humanity, in small things as in great, strives for variety, change, for the new, because it promises him an amelioration and an alleviation of his eternally semi-painful condition.
Art by Salvador Dali from a rare 1969 edition of Alice in Wonderland
The greatest threat to democracy, Mann argues, comes from demagogues who prey on this restlessness with dangerous ideologies whose chief appeal is “the charm of novelty” — the exploitive promise of a new world order that allays some degree of dissatisfaction for some number of people, at a gruesome cost to the rest of humanity. To counter this perilous tendency, democracy must continually regenerate itself. Mann writes:
> Daring and clever as fascism is in exploiting human weakness, it succeeds in meeting to some extent humanity’s painful eagerness for novelty& And what seems to me necessary is that democracy should answer this fascist strategy with a rediscovery of itself, which can give it the same charm of novelty — yes, a much higher one than that which fascism seeks to exert. It should put aside the habit of taking itself for granted, of self-forgetfulness. It should use this wholly unexpected situation — the fact, namely, that it has again become problematical — to renew and rejuvenate itself by again becoming aware of itself. For democracy’s resources of vitality and youthfulness cannot be overestimated& Fascism is a child of the times — a very offensive child — and draws whatever youth it possesses out of the times. But democracy is timelessly human, and timelessness always implies a certain amount of potential youthfulness, which need only be realized in thought and feeling in order to excel, by far, all merely transitory youthfulness in charms of every sort, in the charm of life and in the charm of beauty.
That particular strain of fascism was endemic to Mann’s time, but it has manifested in myriad guises countless times before and since. In a letter penned at the peak of the war Mann was hoping to prevent with this humanistic shift in consciousness, John Steinbeck would capture these cycles chillingly: “All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.”
Art by Tomi Ungerer from his visionary book
Mann considers the idea of justice as elemental to our humanity, locating in it the wellspring of our dignity:
> It is a singular thing, this human nature, and distinguished from the rest of nature by the very fact that it has been endowed with the idea, is dominated by the idea, and cannot exist without it, since human nature is what it is because of the idea. The idea is a specific and essential attribute of man, that which makes him human. It is within him a real and natural fact, so impossible of neglect that those who do not respect human nature’s participation in the ideal — as force certainly does not — commit the clumsiest and, in the long run, the most disastrous mistakes. But the word ” justice ” is only one name for the idea — only one; there are other names which can be substituted that are equally strong, by no means lacking in vitality; on the contrary, even rather terrifying — for example, freedom and truth. It is impossible to decide which one should take precedence, which is the greatest. For each one expresses the idea in its totality, and one stands for the others. If we say truth, we also say freedom and justice-, if we speak of freedom and justice, we mean truth. It is a complex of an indivisible kind, freighted with spirituality and elementary dynamic force. We call it the absolute. To man has been given the absolute — be it a curse or a blessing, it is a fact. He is pledged to it, his inner being is conditioned by it, and in the human sphere a force which is opposed to truth, hostile to freedom, and lacking in justice, acts in so low and contemptible a manner because it is devoid of feeling and understanding for the relationship between man and the absolute and without comprehension of the inviolable human dignity which grows out of this relationship.
Art by Isol from _Daytime Visions_.
A quarter century before the pioneering social scientist John Gardner penned his influential treatise on self-renewal, Mann calls for a reinvention of democracy that places human dignity at the heart of its political and civic ideals:
> We must reach higher and envisage the whole. We must define democracy as that form of government and of society which is inspired above every other with the feeling and consciousness of the dignity of man.
Echoing Theodore Roosevelt’s admonition against the cowardice of cynicism as one of the greatest obstacles to a flourishing society, Mann calls for relinquishing our reflexive cynicism about human nature:
> The dignity of man — do we not feel alarmed and somewhat ridiculous at the mention of these words? Do they not savour of optimism grown feeble and stuffy — of after-dinner oratory, which scarcely harmonizes with the bitter, harsh, everyday truth about human beings? We know it — this truth. We are well aware of the nature of man, or, to be more accurate, the nature of men — and we are far from entertaining any illusions on the subject& Yes, yes, humanity — its injustice, malice, cruelty, its average stupidity and blindness are amply demonstrated, its egoism is crass, its deceitfulness, cowardice, its antisocial instincts, constitute our everyday experience; the iron pressure of disciplinary constraint is necessary to keep it under any reasonable control. Who cannot embroider upon the depravity of this strange creature called man, who does not often despair over his future& And yet it is a fact — more true today than ever — that we cannot allow ourselves, because of so much all too well-founded skepticism, to despise humanity. Despite so much ridiculous depravity, we cannot forget the great and the honourable in man, which manifest themselves as art and science, as passion for truth, creation of beauty and the idea of justice; and it is also true that insensitiveness to the great mystery which we touch upon when we say “man” or “humanity” signifies spiritual death. That is not a truth of yesterday or the day before yesterday, antiquated, unattractive, and feeble. It is the new and necessary truth of today and tomorrow, the truth which has life and youth on its side in opposition to the false and withering youthfulness of certain theories and truths of the moment.
It is only a difference of degree, not of kind, between this ordinary cynical contempt for human goodness and the most extreme acts of evil. Mann writes:
> Terror destroys people, that is clear. It corrupts character, releases every evil impulse, turns them into cowardly hypocrites and shameless informers. It makes them contemptible — that is the reason why these contemners of humanity love terrorism.
Thomas Mann with Albert Einstein at Princeton, 1938.
Twenty years before Aldous Huxley asserted that “generalized intelligence and mental alertness are the most powerful enemies of dictatorship and at the same time the basic conditions of effective democracy,” Mann places education and critical thinking at the center of a robust democracy:
> Democracy wishes to elevate mankind, to teach it to think, to set it free. It seeks to remove from culture the stamp of privilege and disseminate it among the people — in a word, it aims at education. Education is an optimistic and humane concept; and respect for humanity is inseparable from it. Hostile to mankind and contemptuous of it is the opposing concept called propaganda, which tries to stultify, stupefy, level, or regiment men for the purpose of military efficiency and, above all, to keep the dictatorial system in power.
> Democracy being a fertile ground for intellect and literature, for the perception of psychological truth and the search for it, contradicts itself inasmuch as it has an acute appreciation and makes a critical analysis of the absurd wickedness of man, but nevertheless insists resolutely upon the dignity of man and the possibility of educating him.
In consonance with Iris Murdoch’s assertion that “tyrants always fear art because tyrants want to mystify while art tends to clarify,” Mann considers art as a pillar of democracy:
> To come close to art means to come close to life, and if an appreciation of the dignity of man is the moral definition of democracy, then its psychological definition arises out of its determination to reconcile and combine knowledge and art, mind and life, thought and deed.
Complement **_The Coming Victory of Democracy_** with Leonard Cohen on democracy’s breakages and redemptions, Jill Lepore on the improbable birth of American democracy, Robert Penn Warren on democracy and poetry, and Walt Whitman’s indispensable _Democratic Vistas_, then revisit Mann on time and our search for meaning.
James Gfrerer hasn’t been CIO of the Department of Veteran Affairs long, but he’s already under the close watch of Congress.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., penned a letter Jan. 11 asking Gfrerer to “provide a comprehensive and prioritized list of VA IT projects” along with any “metrics or explanations of processes that are used to prioritize these projects.”
“There is no doubt that insufficient resources, a chronic lack of transparency, and an inability to effectively prioritize countless competing objectives have led to serious questions about VA’s ability to meet the standard of technology necessary to serve our nation’s veterans,” Tester wrote.
Within that letter, Tester lists the myriad problems VA’s Office of Information and Technology has struggled recently: the ongoing work to modernize the department’s electronic health record and make it interoperable with the Pentagon’s; the recent debacle surrounding a software issue that has left many veterans without housing stipends under the GI Bill; and others.
“I am eager to work with you to solve the litany of problems we have seen from OI&T, and I genuinely believe that we can do so,” wrote Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “However, any progress towards achieving this goal is dependent on transparency from VA about the Department’s true IT needs and the challenges you face in funding and execution.”
Tester is likely relieved there’s finally a permanent CIO in place at the VA, as so are many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill. The department has been without an official IT chief since the change in administration in Jan. 2017, when LaVerne Council resigned. She was followed, on an acting basis by Rob Foster and then Scott Blackburn, who resigned in April. At that point, Camilo Sandoval, who had been a controversial staffer on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, stepped in to fill the spot.
The president appointed Gfrerer to the CIO position in July. He was confirmed Jan. 3 on the final day of the 115th Congress.
I’ve long opined that real support of the U.S. military isn’t in displays, kneeling or standing, or words. It is in what we as a Nation do. First and foremost has to be the VA and health care.
The Pentagon and the VA still have incompatible systems AFAIK. There is still a massive amount of paperwork that is still on actual paper AFAIK. And there is still a woeful budget for military and veteran health care including PTSD support.
IT should be in front of fixing some of these major problems, but without adequate funding there is only so much that can be done.