Politics and the Theater of Authenticity

I've been reflecting on charges of hypocrisy in politics lately, and there are plenty to go around. Democrats -- who gutted avenues of legitimate resistence to Obama appointees -- are now trying to create new avenues to resist Trump's. Republicans, who refused to vote on Obama's appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, are now shocked and appalled that democrats would do the same. Further, "You didn't protest when Obama enacted such policy" is somehow supposed to undermine political opposition to Trump's executive actions, while "Don't call yourself pro-life if you refuse to recognize the lives of refugees as in need of protection" is supposed to somehow be a response to defenses of increased national security measures.

Why does so much political discourse consist in simplistic charges of hypocrisy? 

I don't know, but here's a guess. 

Political representatives publicly engage in theatrics meant to rationalize the action that they (and their party) are taking, while privately engaging in a political calculus based on judgments of power -- political (will this get me elected), economic (will this make my donors happy and thus help the party), and personal (is this in line with my ambitions and the goals I've set to achieve those ambitions). There's also the fact that they are legitimately constrained by those they represent (voting against the interests or expressed views of their constituents does violence to their mandate and puts them in a risky position politically). Because so much of the public understanding of political dynamics, policy, and the actual role of our government in domestic and foreign issues is so cartoonish, these rationalization have to adhere to facile narratives, and, indeed, more often devolve into a sort of tribalistic expression (I voted NO because OBAMA is BAD, I voted YES because REGULATIONS KILL JOBS). 

Because of this, the public record is full of simplistic, fundamentally untruthful explanations of why certain political action was taken. The only way that one can respond to such explanations then -- sort of angrily denouncing the whole system and establishment -- is by pushing hard on the inconsistencies that inevitably arise. You can't respond to the actual motivations that went into a vote, because that would appear disingenuous (and undermine the system as a whole -- bad for your opponent as well as yourself). You can't provide nuanced critiques of the position as stated, because the position as stated is often not even filled out enough to critique. It's cartoonish and based almost entirely on propaganda (and select facts that are largely irrelevant to the actual issues at hand).  

This is why politicians just constantly sling mud. 

And I think much of *our* political discourse (that is, the discourse of non-politicians) simply imitates what's going on in Washington. That, and it's fairly useless to provide facts and nuanced critiques of a position when the champions of that position -- as well as their opponents -- are rationalizing and critiquing it will what amount to a series of non-sequitors or emotive expressions.  

The net effect of all this, though, is that it eventually degrades trust in the government, makes bipartisanship impossible, and undermines democratic systems and institutions that might otherwise work. 

So while democrats and republicans throw themselves into the work of polarizing their base (and expanding that base through such tactics), they end up undermining and eroding democracy. This explains why so much effort on both sides goes into protecting the respective establishments. If an outside figure acquires enough power to actually disrupt the establishment, the game is over and everyone loses their jobs. I'm not suggesting that this is all held together by simple-minded self-interest (though that's certainly a part of it), there's also this delusion -- common among politicians -- that power in their hands is somehow safer and more likely to lead to good results. This last bit -- the utilitarian calculus of power -- also goes some distance toward justifying the instrumental approach so often taken to truth-telling and principled descision making.

 

 

 

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Sidenote: I was once asked why I "troll" politicians on Facebook, instead of sincerely engaging them in reasoned debate or genuine dialogue, and I think what I wrote above goes some distance in explaining this. Often, the most truthful thing that someone without any political power can do, given the dynamics described above, is to push back on a politician's stated rationale -- to undermine it by showing it to be fundamentally false. You can do this fairly easily by laying out the reasons why he or she actually holds the position, and contrasting this with the stated position. But getting the right uptake on such a narrative -- that is: getting the real reasons out there in a digestible narrative that is able to rival the one put out by those in positions of power (with their access to media, staffers, other political levers, etc) -- is extremely difficult. Often, you end up talking to a small group of already convinced critics. So, often, you need to enact the narrative. Slowly, bit-by-bit, in exchanges with the politician in the public eye (on the news, at council or committee meetings, etc). And in doing this, you risk simplifying your own criticisms (to the point where they are in danger of becoming disingenuous rationalizations) so as to gain enough ground to counter the established narrative. I think one can do it with integrity, but it's incredibly hard and requires tons of time, organization, and discipline. By the end of the process, it starts to become obvious why so many political figures take the easy way out: the results in terms of public support and political power are often the same, and if one's willing to take an instrumental view of the value of truth, you might think integrity's not worth the effort...

Constituting One's Self: Authority and Constraints

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So far as I can tell, Korsgaard's view in self constitution (I'm about 3/4 through it)  is something like: action is constitutive of agency insofar as our capacity for self-directed movement against the background of certain perceptual and environmental constraints depends: first, on the freedom we have as agents to formulate conceptions of the work and our place in it and see those conceptions as binding for us, and, secondly, to identify something (movement, internal utterance, mental or physical behavior or performance, etc) as an action is to say that it contributes to the maintenance of our being or form -- it's what it means for us to be the kinds of animals that we are. 

 

That's convoluted (both the original view and my description of it), but I think Korsgaard is on to something. 

 

In my view (which is shared by a number of theorists who have so far been unable to articulate the view in a fully coherent, let alone persuasive, way), the essential link between action and identity is narrative, which I'm here defining as something like: the descriptive whole into which all the actions of an individual fall in a systematic and intelligible way. The idea is something like: we are constituted -- as Korsgaard thinks -- by our actions, but these actions are only intelligible in light of some narrative that encompasses all such actions into one intelligible, coherent whole. To be a whole self, a complete self, is to possess the authoritative self-knowledge of that narrative, and to be able to act in accord with it (and endorse it fully) into the infinite future.  

 

In this way, then, for Korsgaard and for me: (1) Selves are constituted by authoritative actions of the individuals whose selves they are, (2) these actions are not wholly free or unconstrained. 

 

For Korsgaard, the actions are constrained by one's natural form (rational animal, etc), and by some sort of survival / reproductive imperative (among other things, like more imperatives). For me, the actions are merely constrained by the extent to which they constitute intelligible parts in the whole of the narrative of one's life / self. 

"No" Vote Right Outcome for Commerce Center Project

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Last night the Common Council voted, 5-4, to defeat a proposed twelve story high-rise by Matthews, LLC. You can read stories about the decision here, here, and here.

I think this was the right decision. Here’s why:

(1) Neighborhood Plans Empower People

Matthews’s project was radically out of sync with the East Bank Neighborhood Plan, a document created in 2008 setting out a vision for the East Bank Neighborhood. This document was created with input from developers (Matthews’s own firm was represented), local businesses, and individuals from the neighborhood. It required several days of collaborative discussion and more than $50,000 of city funds.

The City of South Bend has many planning documents like this one -- there’s one for the downtown area, one for the parks, several for the various neighborhoods -- and these documents serve as a sort of community-building charter, a direct mandate from members of the community, regarding how we all see our city developing. These documents are often cited when “public input” is needed to justify a decision or a project.

If the council had approved the project, despite the massive incongruities with the plan (the building was roughly three times higher than the limit laid out in the plan), this would call into question the legitimacy of other such plans. It would weaken the force of arguments that such plans justify decisions, and it would send a clear message to the residents of South Bend that public input isn’t taken seriously when making big decisions like this one.

(2) The Council Wasn’t Presented with Enough Evidence

Matthews’s project started as a proposal to win some regional cities grant money. The original project was very different than what ended up coming before the council last night. Originally, the building was supposed to be around 75 feet, but -- after he won the competitive grant -- Matthews went back and almost doubled (and then tripled) that number. Throughout the process, documents were repeatedly requested to substantiate claims (such as the claim that 12-stories was the minimum necessary to make the grocery store and pharmacy possible), and -- even after such documents were provided -- serious questions about the feasibility of the project existed. If, as Matthews claimed, the Common Council is and ought to act as the ultimate zoning authority in the City of South Bend (a claim that councilmembers have themselves questioned), they are making the right decision purely from a zoning perspective. The proposals and supporting documents -- in the opinion of several city officials and experts who were consulted -- just weren’t far enough along. It would have been irresponsible for the Council to green light a project with so little evidence of its likely success.

(3) The Developer Wasn’t Willing to Compromise

At the meeting last night, Dr. James Mueller -- the Mayor’s Chief of Staff -- read a letter from the mayor requesting that the council support his administration’s negotiation efforts. Specifically, the letter set out a compromise that the mayor’s team had reached with Matthews: the city would offer 95% tax abatements for 10 years (meaning Matthews’s would only pay 5% of the taxes on the property for a decade), in exchange for the reduction of the building by one story.

One story.

Matthews didn’t want to reach a compromise with the mayor, the common council, or anyone else, and that’s his prerogative. As a developer, and as he himself put it at a previous meeting, he’s in it primarily to make money. Fair enough. But if his primary interest is to make money on the project, then the Common Council’s job is to protect competing interests, such as those of the neighbors, other businesses (several of which opposed the development), and the community at large.

From the outset, Matthews was warned that pursuing this project as a PUD was unlikely to succeed, and was told that city offices would be opposing him on the grounds summarized above. He chose to take a risk, and to decrease his chances of success by refusing to find a compromise, so the council’s decision to defeat the proposal is entirely reasonable and appropriate.

(4) This Decision Sets the Right Precedent

Anyone who attended these meetings will tell you that they were long. Discussion of this project -- in committee and in front of the full council -- was exhaustive. And it needed to be. When the council is asked to consider projects of this magnitude, they have a responsibility to investigate every aspect of it. One of the worries with approving this project is that the council would again be flooded with PUD requests of a similar sort (i.e. those designed to get around existing zoning restrictions), and that time and resources that could be spent on other issues would have to be re-directed towards the consideration of such projects. In voting no on this project, the council sent a clear message that these sorts of projects must proceed through the proper channels.

(5) Defeat Allows the Process to Move Forward

The council could have continued conversation on this proposal last night, but given the in-principle issues with approving the project, it’s much better that they simply rejected it. This gives Matthews time to pursue other avenues (such as asking that the East Bank Neighborhood be amended with input from local businesses and residents), or to start thinking about alternate plans. There are several such viable plans. For instance, Matthews is poised to acquire the remaining properties on the site that he does not currently own. With these parcels, he could easily build a shorter building with the same amenities. But Matthews acknowledged that he wasn’t considering those options (and wouldn’t consider those options) unless the current proposal was defeated. By refusing to drag out the process, the council has effectively invited Matthews, the neighborhood, and other developers to start thinking of more creative ways to meet the needs of the East Bank Village, while maintaining its unique and distinctive identity.

The Evidence of Narrative

Been reading Miriam Shleifer McCormick's book on epistemic responsibility the past few days, and really enjoying it. One of her main contentions is: (PB) it is possible, and rational, to form a belief for purely practical, non-evidential reasons in certain circumstances.

PB echoes William James's classic claim (against Clifford and the evidentialists) that "Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds." 

According to McCormick, there are really just three conditions that define circumstances in which the formation of practical beliefs are acceptable: (a) the evidence on the matter is silent or neutral, (b) the beliefs in question would contribute to the agent's sense of meaning in her life, and (c) the formation of the belief does not rely on practices that undermine truth. McCormick thinks these conditions define acceptable circumstances in which to form practical beliefs because:

  1. The norms of belief are ultimately grounded in human flourishing (and connected with truth insofar as true beliefs are generally what our proper functioning belief-forming mechanisms will produce)
  2. Meaning-making practical beliefs can contribute to human flourishing without undermining the truth
  3. Therefore, if formed in the right circumstances, we have no normative basis on which to repudiate practical beliefs

Something like that.

I agree with much of what McCormick is up to in her project. However, I want to consider a possibility that she quickly (too quickly in my mind) passes over. That is: that meaning-making beliefs are truth-conducive in a way that can go beyond the consideration of evidence available at a particular time. Consider the following case:

The Night Of: Nasir Khan has been accused of murder, and the evidence is damning. He was captured on film with the victim hours before her death, he admitted to taking drugs with her at her house just before the murder, he was found with a bloody knife (the victim was stabbed) just blocks away from the crime scene. And yet, he insists that he's innocent. After deliberating for a few days, the jury cannot come to a consensus and is finally dismissed. When asked why they failed to convict, one of the jurors who held out on the possibility of Khan's innocence puts it this way: "All the evidence was there, but something didn't seem right. Why would a kid with so much potential, and no real motivation to kill that young lady, just go berserk and randomly start stabbing her? It didn't make sense to me. He had to be framed or something."

Here, we have what I would think of as a "meaning-making" belief, but not one that is potentially justified in terms of its role in the flourishing of an individual or community. The belief seems to serve as a framework for interpreting the available evidence, rather than as the sum of all the individual bits of evidence. And this is where I think the real challenge for evidentialism lies.

When it comes to belief formation, we have at least two separable categories to consider. We have the data -- what's often called the evidence -- and the framework that makes that data intelligible (both as data, and as data potentially supporting one or another particular conclusion). Now, a lot of folks would like to see the evidential relation as going just one way -- [data --> state of affairs] -- but this ignores the crucial fact that the plausibility of the state of affairs in question, the conclusion to one's deliberation, can itself influence what appears to a subject to be data in the first place. That is to say: evidentialism within a paradigm or framework may well be true, but the foundations of that paradigm or framework are themselves in need of supporting reasons that we cannot conceive of as evidence -- at least so long as our conception of evidence depends on the paradigm or framework in question.

So what could possibly fill the gap here?

This is where narrative comes in. Narratives are complex, highly structured descriptions of events that are typically unified in terms of the exercise of individual or collective agency. They make sense of -- or render intelligible -- otherwise disparate phenomena, unifying them into a single whole with reference to a core framework that is able to explain the various constituent parts.

So narratives are not evidentially neutral, or simple "meaning-making" mechanisms, that can contribute to our overall wellbeing but are otherwise unrelated to the truth. It's not that we are simply story-telling creatures by accident, and that our flourishing depends on narratives in the same way that it depends on having spices available capable of exciting our tastebuds in various ways. Rather: our identity as believers depends crucially on our ability to "make-sense" of the world around us, to organize the disparate elements of experience into data, and to sort that data into evidence, that all of this is possible only by drawing on our capacity to narrate our (individual and collective) life.

Hopefully, it'll become clear where this general sort of view will (and where it will not) dovetail with McCormick's. On the one hand, I agree with her central claim, (PB), but this is not because I see practical reasons for belief as separable from (but normatively unified with) evidential reasons. It's because I see evidential reasons as ultimately dependent on practical reasons. The main cost of my amendment is that it radicalizes and otherwise merely odd view. But the benefit of my account is enormous: it allows the rationally permissible practical beliefs to be normatively unified with evidential beliefs at a deeper level, one that does not require us to give up their truth-conducivity, at least when considered more globally. 

The Narrative Theory of Epistemic Responsibility

Artsy 

Here's the puzzle, in the form of an argument:

  1. We must have voluntary control over our beliefs, in order to be held epistemically responsible for them
  2. We don't have voluntary control over our beliefs
  3. We can't be held epistemically responsible for what we believe

Various proposals have been offered in light of this puzzle: (a) we aren't epistemically responsible for what we believe, (b) we are epistemically responsible in virtue of some form of indirect voluntary control, (c) voluntary control isn't a necessary condition on epistemic responsibility. These views -- at least in the forms in which they've been offered -- are all unsatisfactory. I aim to offer a more satisfactory response. A view that incorporates (but goes beyond) view (b) above.

Here it is. 

Upon recognizing experience as inherently meaningful, we are forced to conceptualize our selves, others, and the world at large in ways that make sense of the significance of experience. But this process requires us to locate ourselves -- in relation to those other two things -- within ongoing narratives of meaning. This processs -- a process that I call "self-conceptualization" -- is equal parts discovery and constitution, though these aspects are no separable from one another. I constitute myself as Catholic because I discover, through my experience of the world, that I'm living in a universe best captured by the Catholic narrative. My suffering is meaningless unless united with Christ's, and when so united a source of strength, intelligibility, and compassion.

We constitute ourselves, then, through self-conceptualization, and this is a process that depends on the faculties we possess that are supposed to make experience intelligible. The process itself, though, is a process of telling a (more or less accurate) story. A story that incorporates our experiences -- of ourselves, others, and the world -- in a coherent, intelligible, and meaningful whole.

Responsibility comes in, then, when we consider two things: (1) how virtuous are the faculties by which form our self-conception? In other words: to what extent are we reliable narrators of our lives and experiences? And (2) how broadly accurate are the pictures we form of ourselves, others, and the world, through this process of self-conceptualization? How well do allow us to act intelligibly and effectively in a world populated by ourselves, others, and -- perhaps -- non-personal sources of experience?

The concept of narrative, then, figures into both of these sources of epistemic responsibility. Regarding (1): these faculties are essentially those that allow for us to tell more or less accurate stories. Regarding (2): the extent to which our self-conceptions are accurate depends directly on those abilities as well. Interestingly, too: the central virtue of our self-conceptualizing faculties is appropriately sensitive trust, in oneself and others, since it is this trust that allows for experience to appear intelligible to us in the first place, and is also a prerequisite for the organization of that experience into meaningful content that can serve as the basis for belief and action.

Next Steps

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Understandably, I've seen a lot of shock and confusion in my Facebook feed. We're numbe with shock. We weren't prepared for this. The experts were wrong. The models didn't predict... 

Fine. Take a breath. Take another.

But now what? 

We can't leave. Or, we shouldn't. This is my country and I'm not going to let a narcissistic bully -- a heartless, sexist, xenophobic coward -- chase me off. Fuck him.

I've seen a lot of people post about their grief -- about their fear for where the country is headed, about what the future holds. And I respect all that. I'm not there. I'm mad as hell. When I see the bad guys wield power unjustly, a switch flips in my brain and I can't think of anything but how we can collectively wrest it from their hands and distribute it to the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed.

Point is: I cope differently than many of my friends. And I don't care how you're coping.

Here's what I do care about. 

Before this wears off -- before your anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, despair, and grief run their course -- make a fucking plan.  It can be simple. List five things you're going to do politically -- five things that you can accomplish -- to fight to improve the lives of those in your community.

These could be local political goals -- policies you'd like to see raised at a City Council or a School Board meeting. They could be at the state or the federal level -- campaigning for someone you'd like to see in the state senate, volunteering for a voter education organization, protesting at the White House. I don't care.  

But don't let this moment pass. Don't let your heart harden, or your passion burn itself out. Commit yourself to action, and record your thoughts and feelings, so you can remember what you're fighting for in the long, frustrating days ahead.

Here are an example from my own list:

  •  Attend school board meetings at least once per month (starting on November 21, 2016) , and learn more about how I can participate in those meetings. Learn more about the structure of the school board and the school corporation. Research best practices regarding the treatment of teachers. Research what districts are doing with low family involvement and high percentages of impoverished and at-risk children. Advocate for reasonable policy and deep change where needed to address systemic issues of inequality. Develop relationships with the school board members and contact them as needed with questions and concerns. Bring at least one new friend to every other school board meeting I attend.

Here's another: 

  • Continue to work with the growing coalition of South Bend residents who want to see more accountability and transparency in the SBPD. Push for the release of the privately funded report that was conducted last year of the department. Continue to push for the formation of a citien review board (in addition to the Board of Public Safety), and continue to push for restorative justice for the victims of the SBPD, as well as better understanding amongst community members of the real, systemic injustices that oppressed communities (even here) have long faced.

Again, add details as you see fit. Remind your future self what it feels like to be you right now. Look up your representatives' information. Write them a practice letter tonight (or -- my favorite -- tag them in a public Facebook post), letting them know how you feel, what you intend to do, and that you're not going away. Discuss your action items with friends and family.

But whatever you do, commit yourself to action.  

We may be in for four long, dispiriting years, but the next opportunity for political change is likely less than a week away.  

We can't wait to be offered the chance to share our vision of how things ought to be, we've got to fight with all we've got to realize it today. 

 

 

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. Matthew 11:12 

The Blaschko Party Line

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I've had a couple people ask me who all I'm voting for, so I decided to post the info here. Unlike my post about the school board, these aren't endorsements (or, they are, but I'm not offering them as such since I'm not an expert / authority, and I'm not backing up my recommendations with links to my research) -- it's just info that people who know me may find useful. 

I researched candidates I voted for fairly extensively. I didn't vote in some races / on some questions -- mostly because I couldn't find adequate info on them.

I would *love* to talk more about the races / candidates -- so please just comment here or in FB and we can discuss!

Anyways, here it is. 

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A friend who is an attorney provided this really helpful insight into the process of selecting / appointing and "retaining" judges at the various local levels:

 The judge thing is always tough because there isn't ever much info readily available.  It's just Hurley and Hostetler that are up for retention locally, and Crone and Riley up for the Court of Appeals, right?  None of those will have an opponent because those are appointed and not elected by popular vote (only their retention is something that gets voted on by the general public).  To become an IN Court of Appeals Judge, you have to apply and interview with the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission, who gives a list of finalists to the governor, who then makes the final decision based on that list.  The process is the same for the St. Joseph County Superior Court judges, only it is a local nominating commission that selects the finalists instead (not all counties use this process in Indiana--FYI).  For whatever reason, the judge for the Circuit Court in St. Joseph County (as we see in this election) is an elected position, as is the Probate Court Judge (I think that election is maybe 2 years away?  Can't remember for sure--I think that one is a 6 year term).  I don't remember why these judicial positions are treated differently, but I bet you could find out from a Google search.

As a local attorney, I can only speak to the reputations I hear and my experiences (if any) I have had in these judges' courtrooms.  I have only been in front of Judge Hostetler so far.  He handles civil cases and is a very professional, knowledgeable judge in my opinion who is pretty involved in the local community.  He also was one of the three finalists this past Spring for our most recent IN Supreme Court vacancy, which I think says a lot.  Judge Hurley handles criminal matters and since I do not practice in the criminal arena, I don't have any experience with her.  I have heard positive things about her though.  I also do not do appellate work, so I wouldn't have dealt with the Court of Appeals judges.  However, I had the pleasure of meeting most of the Indiana Court of Appeals judges this year, and found them to be very knowledgeable and professional as well.  Terry Crone is actually a South Bend native and a former St. Joseph County Circuit Court judge.  He practiced law here prior to that.

Voter Suppression in South Bend?

From a friend of mine (who wants to remain anonymous) on her experiences attempting to vote in South Bend:

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I tried to vote early today. I registered to vote with the DMV several weeks ago before the deadline, and also waited in a long line there to get a new Indiana driver's license in order to meet the stringent Indiana residency and ID requirements for voting.

The only requirements for voting, as listed on the Indiana state government website, are to be a registered voter and to present a US or Indiana issued ID.

I showed up with my Indiana driver's license. After seeing me and my successful registration in the computer, the staff member said my status was listed as "pending", and told me to go upstairs four floors to new voter registration so that they could flip my status from "pending" to "not pending". (It was unclear what exactly was "pending", since my registration from a few weeks ago had gone through and they could see it in the computer. She did not clarify despite my asking several times what, exactly, was "pending".)

I obliged and went to the fourth floor, where a voter registration employee found me again in the computer, and said that in order to vote, I'd need to bring a letter that the DMV had sent verifying my information. (!) I said that there was nothing about this in any voter rules, including anything listed on the Indiana government website or any other materials. I offered several other forms of proof of Indiana residency, and also offered to come back in a few minutes with my passport. But the employee said that I could not vote without an extra letter from the DMV verifying the veracity of my registration or information (it was not clear which purpose the letter was supposed to serve)-- a letter that has not arrived weeks after receiving my Indiana license, and possibly might not arrive in time for election day.

I'm lucky: I have a flexible job that will permit me to go back and try this again if I receive that letter. And I will wait in any line and deal with whatever barriers they throw my way in order to vote. But others might not be so lucky-- others that took off work to try to vote, and were rejected for reasons not listed anywhere on any official documentation.

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A bad voter suppression update, I'm afraid. After making several calls to county and state officials this morning, they all had similar explanations: local and state voting officials were flooded with registration requests at the last minute and thus many on-time registrations from several weeks ago were still "pending". Bringing a county-issued letter to the polling station is sufficient to switch one's status from "pending" to "not pending". There are several things wrong with this:

(1) Early voting has already started. If my experience is generalizable, hundreds of thousands of legally and punctually registered voters will not be able to vote because of their "pending" status.

(2) I have received no such letter in the mail, weeks after registering at the DMV. Many others probably have not either.

(3) The letter is not legally required to be able to vote, according to several online sources and the letter itself, which apparently instructs the receiver to retain it for their own records. The only requirements for voting are being a registered voter and having a state or government issued ID.

So this is a multi-step voter suppression technique. First, define a category in between "registered to vote" and "not registered to vote" and call it "pending". Then, hold countless residents who registered on time in that category. Next, do not send the official document that will switch residents from not being able to vote to being able to vote. Finally, deny residents voting rights at the polling stations without saying anything about these supposedly required documents on official election material -- documents that the county has not sent out, thus denying countless legally registered people their right to vote.

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This is subtler than the techniques that are being used elsewhere in our state, but no less worrisome.

When Shayla and I first arrived in South Bend something similar happened to us. We wanted to vote in the local and state elections, and made sure to register ahead of time -- but when the time came to vote, we were told that we had to have a official Indiana IDs. I had a temporary driver's license (my permanent one was in the mail), and wasn't allowed to vote. I was super surprised, since I'd voted in MN elections just by having someone vouch for me (and presenting a bill with my name and address on it). To be honest, it's ridiculous that we even have to register almost a month ahead of time. 

Do others have stories of possible voter suppression here in South Bend (or IN more generally)?

Does anyone know of anything that's being done about it, or anything concerned Hoosiers can do to address it?

Share Your Thoughts

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For quite a while, now, I've been thinking about how incredible, smart, and thoughtful my friends are -- and how many of the things they say to me really deserve a wider audience. So -- after talking to a couple of these friends -- I've decided to open my blog up to contributions by guest authors. As of right now, I'll just be publishing one-off pieces here and there that are submitted to me, but I'm also open to establishing on-going relationships with guest contributors (so let me know if that's something you're interested in). 

 

For now, please let me know if you're interested in posting something on the blog. It should be fairly brief (750 - 1,000 words, or in that range), and should fit the style of the blog. Posts that apply abstract, theoretical, or otherwise big-picture intellectual considerations to everyday subject matter like politics (local, state, or national), general culture are one way to "fit the style" of the blog, but there are others. Polemical content is preferred, but I will also accept generic thoughtful, well-measured argumentation.

 

Email me with questions, or proposed topics or posts. I'm happy to proofread / provide feedback. 

Commerce Center Development Project

I've been seeing a lot of pictures of this building in my FB feed lately... 

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It's what Erin Blasko of the South Bend Tribune calls a "massive high-rise," proposed for development on what is now the parking lot of the Commerce Center. Despite all the (great) coverage, it's not super easy to know what's going on with this proposal -- so I decided to give a quick summary.

What is being proposed?

The Commerce Center

The Commerce Center

Dave Matthews (of Matthews LLC) is a local developer who has shaped much of the East Bank Village (and the greater SB area more generally). He wants to build a "massive high-rise" on what is currently just the parking lot of the Commerce Center (he currently owns the Commerce Center and the lot). The high-rise would house 240 residential units (apartments), and would have a Martin's grocery store and a pharmacy on the first level. It would also require a large parking ramp (current estimates have it topping the Commerce Center by something like 30 feet), that would be built above ground -- nestled between the high-rise and the Commerce Center.

The relevant lot is between Lasalle and Colfax, just west of the East Race River. 

The relevant lot is between Lasalle and Colfax, just west of the East Race River. 

Why doesn't he just go ahead and build the high-rise?  

Well, because he can't. For two reasons: (1) there are currently zoning restrictions on the lot that wouldn't allow him to build such a massive building, and (2) the East Bank Village Master Plan has language suggesting that buildings of this sort shouldn't be built in the neighborhood (even if a zoning workaround is legally feasible).

So, Mr. Matthews has asked the South Bend Common Council to approve an special exception in this case, so that he could re-zone the lot as a PUD (a "planned unit development"). This would allow his office to basically come up with their own plan for the space (which would later have to be approved -- possibly by the Common Council (I don't know who all has to approve PUDs)), essentially bypassing the current zoning procedures and processes.

 What are the pros and cons of the current proposal for residents in this area and the surrounding neighborhoods?

Pros: 

  • Groceries. We all know how badly we need a grocery store that is accessible (hopefully walkable from) downtown.
  • More residential development (which may lead to lower rent prices over time) .
  • This would likely be the first step in developing the area between The Pointe and Howard park (the riverfront area), and we'd likely see something in the next few years go in on the Ole' Sand Pit.
  • Matthews LLC has a history of investing in the community and the neighborhood, and moving forward with this project would continue that history / relationship (which has largely been beneficial to residents in the area). 
  • GROCERIES OMG! 

Cons: 

  • Height. Residents at The Pointe would have a towering building put up right next to them. Shadows would be a concern (as they were when a 9 story high-rise was proposed for the Ole' Sand Pit a few years back), as would the significant changes to the skyline and feel of the neighborhood.
  • Precedent. The East Bank Master Plan is a document that took time and effort to produce. It had mechanisms for public input, and lays out a vision for this area (which is supposed to be a sort of "Riverfront Arts District" type place). Having the Common Council vote to allow the site to be re-zoned would sidestep both this Master Plan, as well as the procedures we have set up for zoning. 
  • Height...because twelve stories (!)

Where could things go from here? 

The most pressing issue is what the Common Council will do next. So far as I could tell, the Zoning Committee (which met yesterday) is going to forward it on to the full Council for consideration at the next Common Council Meeting (which I believe will be held on November 14th). I'm not sure whether they will forward it with any recommendation (favorable, not-favorable, etc). Public comment will be heard at that meeting, and anyone wanting to have a voice in the process should give their input (in person, at the meeting, or by calling or writing an email to their Council-person(s)). 

Obviously it's up to you what you want to say. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that there are multiple ways to support this project. Here are just some of the positions one could take: 

  1. I support the project fully, as is. Please vote to re-zone as a PUD and let's get this high-rise built! 
  2. I support the project, but would like to see it go through the proper zoning channels, and would thus ask the Common Council to vote down the request to re-zone the area. 
  3. I support the project generally, but not the height. Please vote no so that the height issue can be fully addressed via the proper channels / procedures. 
  4. I support the project only if the height issue is resolved. Vote no, so that we can make sure the project is in line with the East Bank Village Master Plan. 
  5. I do not support the project at all. Please vote no. 

Again, it's up to you how you'd like to weigh in, but know that these next couple weeks are the time to do it. After that -- you may not get the chance to do so. 

Vice Presidential Candidate to Speak about Injustice in South Bend

Ajamu Baraka -- a longtime human rights activist and Vice Presidential candidate on the Green Party's ticket with Jill Stein -- will be speaking at the Chicory Cafe in South Bend on Monday, October 24th from 11:30am - 2pm. Mr. Baraka was contacted personally by activists in South Bend worried that establishment politics were getting in the way of an open, transparent, and accountable dialogue on some of the recent problems regarding police / community relations. Baraka, who has a personal connection to the region, agreed to speak on the topic of "Systemic Injustice and the 'Two Party' System."

Mr. Baraka has a long record of civil rights advocacy, and -- with Green Party Presidential Candidate, Dr. Jill Stein -- has called for sweeping reforms in areas like domestic policing, mass incarceration, and sentencing policy for criminal offenders.

Confirmed speakers at this event include Councilwoman Regina Williams-Preston (who co-organized the event), local activists Blu Casey and Nia Okereke (local organizers with Black Lives Matter and the Nu Black Power Movement), a representative of the local chapter of the Green Party, and Mr. Baraka himself.

For more information, please visit the Facebook Event that has been set up for the event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/703188643163252/ 

At a Glance:

  • Longtime human rights activist and Vice Presidential Candidate (Green Party) to visit South Bend
  • Event will take place on Monday, October 24th from 11:30 - 2pm at Chicory Cafe
  • Councilwoman Regina Williams-Preston and other local activists will also speak at the event
  • Public is welcome and advised to visit https://www.facebook.com/events/703188643163252/ for more information

Images:

Ajamu Baraka, VP Candidate - Green Party

Ajamu Baraka, VP Candidate - Green Party

Jill Stein, Presidential Candidate - Green Party

Jill Stein, Presidential Candidate - Green Party

Green Party presidential campaign logo, 2016

Green Party presidential campaign logo, 2016

More Resources for SB Area Voters

IMG_0474.PNG

Part one of my series of posts on school board candidates. 

 

Video of a debate featuring many of the School Board candidates is here

 

Video of the debate between Lynn Coleman, a libertarian, and not Jackie Walorski here.

 

Live stream of the Indiana Senate candidates will be available here on October 19th from 6:30 - 8pm.

 

I've also been told that Walorski, Coleman, and a libertarian will be interviewed on WNIT's Politically Speaking next Sunday (these will be separate interviews, not a discussion or debate). I'll post more info about time / whether it will be streamed or posted when that becomes available. 

 

Visit http://www.vote411.org for more general info re: voting. Or ballotpedia (https://ballotpedia.org/Main_Page

Standing in the Way of Justice

Known civil rights violator, Officer Aaron Knepper, has been involved in at least three extremely problematic interactions with South Bend residents in the past few years. He was recently found guilty of having violated the rights of a young black man in South Bend. He was involved in the public posting of a video in which he, and a couple other SBPD officers, tricked a developmentally challenged gas station clerk into taking the "cinnamon challenge" (the sometimes fatal prank that more generally lands high schoolers and moronic frat boys in trouble).

 I've written elsewhere that this is enough to establish a pattern (one pattern among several, in fact) of abuse.

Today, in "an unusual statement" (South Bend Tribune's words), Chief Ruszkowski cleared Knepper of any wrongdoing in a more recent case, a case in which he claims Notre Dame football player Devin Butler attacked him and he had to defend himself (a claim Butler and at least two eye-witnesses dispute).

The statement is unusual for a number of reasons. 

First, let me say: I take no position as to whether or not Knepper did anything wrong in the Butler case. How could I? I wasn't there. The eye-witnesses were, and they claim Knepper attacked Butler unprovoked.  

So what's the evidence relevant to the case? And how did the Chief determine Knepper was innocent of all wrongdoing? 

We have no idea. 

For all we know, there is video footage of Knepper punching Butler in the face unprovoked (as he did with DeShawn Franklin while he lay sleeping in his own bed in 2012). For all we know the chief saw this footage and thought, "Ah, Butler probably deserved it. Knepper's good to go." 

For all we know, there's absolutely no evidence either way, or maybe evidence impugning the reports of the eye-witnesses. 

This is why we need a public and transparent process. This is why literally any process other than the one that actually occurred would have provided accountability this is absolutely and completely lacking in this case.  

The Chief could have voluntarily kicked this up to the Board of Public Safety. 

The Chief could have brought in an external investigator, or asked someone else to conduct the internal investigation. 

Instead, he's asking us to take him at his word. Even though we know about how much the word of an SBPD officer is worth in South Bend these days. 

 

What could possibly explain this bizarre public statement? What could possibly explain the fact that -- at a time when South Bend needs transparency and accountability more than ever -- the Chief, along with our Mayor, seem to be conspiring to deny or cover up patterns of abuse in the SBPD and city administration? What could explain why the Chief, whom I have met and whom I think is a smart, caring, and passionate human being, would put himself between this city and justice, transparency, and accountability? What's at stake here, and for whom?

 

I don't know.

But it could be that Mayor Pete Buttigeig is preparing himself for a legal battle. It could well be that the mayor knows that in order for him (and the Chief) to emerge unscathed after such a battle, they'd need to establish a public record denying there to be any patterns of abuse or injustice here in South Bend. It could be that the mayor sees this as the only way forward for himself politically. That actually addressing systemic injustice -- by engaging residents, challenging the police department, opening up the public process (by doing things like releasing the results / report of the $25k outside consultation that he requested of the SBPD in the past year or so) -- is just too politically risky for him. It's a process he couldn't control.  

If that's the right reading of the situation, I'm ashamed for him. I'm embarrassed that he would -- in full knowledge of what he is doing -- put himself and his career, his political ambitions and aspirations, the good of himself and his friends, above the good of our city. 

In fact, it's more than embarassing.

It's morally despicable. 

And you don't need degrees from Harvard and Oxford to realize that. 

School Board Endorsements (Part 1)

In a previous post, I detailed four areas of special concern in deciding whom to vote for for SBCSC School Board, along with a detailed rubric for evaluating candidates in those areas. Based on my research -- which consisted in visiting candidates webpages and Facebook pages, reading short biographical profiles in the South Bend Tribune, and conducting interviews in person, over the phone, and via a survey I emailed out -- I'm offering my first round of endorsements. These are candidates for whom I feel there is strong enough evidence for me to make an informed judgment, and for whom that judgment is that they would contribute in an overall positive way to the functioning of the SBCSC School board.

District 3

FYI: The districts for School Board are not the same as districts for Common Council. If you don't know what district you're in, you can check out this vaguely helpful map!

There are three candidates running for one seat in district three. They are:

I'm endorsing Leslie Wesley
 

Ms. Wesley is a South Bend native and attended South Bend schools. You can view her bio here, and her platform here.

Two things about Ms. Wesley stand out to me: (1) her history of effective leadership and involvement in the community, and (2) the detailed and comprehensive proposals that she has made for addressing issues the SBCSC is currently facing.

Ms. Wesley talks about challenges like transportation, increase parental involvement, and community outreach and communications, with the experience of a successful local businesswomen and the passion of an involved parent. She has already been involved in the SBCSC, serving on hiring and advisory committees, and she's demonstrated a thorough understanding of the ways in which SBCSC can catch up with neighboring school districts and local private and charter options. While many candidates express positions and opinions I agree with (end the school-to-prison pipeline, provide better support for teachers), Ms. Wesley has demonstrated in public forums, in conversation, and in writing, how should would put those positions into practice.

For a better sense of where she stands of many of the biggest issues facing SBCSC, and how she plans to address them, check out this document.

When I asked her why she was running after one of the forums organized for school board candidates, she said "The School Board needs to have a voice for parents represented, and I want to be that voice."  Though I cannot vote for Ms. Wesley, I urge those who live in district 3 to do so. 

✊ = 3/4 ✏️ = 2/4 ❤️ = 4/4 ✅ = 4/4

(For an explanation of these scores, see the rubric I created, linked above)

I'm endorsing Ms. Wesley as the best candidate in district 3. I also think one of her opponents, Scott Siler, would also make an excellent school board member, and will likely profile him in a later post.

At Large

here are 8 candidates running for 2 at-large positions. Anyone in the district can vote for these positions. The candidates are:

I'm endorsing Jasmine Brown

Ms. Brown has a palpable passion for public education. She is herself a teacher, and has taught for SBCSC in the past. Her responses at the forum I attended were clear, direct, and well-informed. She knows the problems on the ground in the SBCSC, and is willing to advocate for teachers, students, and parents in the process of addressing those problems. You can read more about some of the positions she's taken here.

I will be voting for Ms. Brown in the upcoming election.

✊ = 3/4 ✏️ = 4/4 ❤️ = 3/4 ✅ = 4/4

(For an explanation of these scores, see the rubric I created, linked above)


I consider the following candidates highly electable, but have not decided who, amongst them, I will vote for...

John Anella

  • 2 years experience on the school board (he was appointed to an interim position)
  • Has practical, concrete goals and policies that he is pushing for
  • Has taken time to visit school and listen to SBCSC teachers and staff
  • For public statements and positions, see his website: http://www.johnanella.com/

✊ = unranked ✏️ = 2/4 ❤️ = 4/4 ✅ = 3/4

Karl Nichols

  • Experience in local business, marketing, campaign management
  • Passion for SBCSC Schools, and first-hand knowledge of issues facing many SB parents and families
  • Willingness to explore creative solutions and open up processes to the public to make the school board more transparent and accountable

My opinions of Karl are based on two interviews I conducted with him, as well as observations of his statements at the various forums. For more information visit his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Nicholsforschoolboard/?pnref=story

✊ = 2.5/4 ✏️ = 2/4 ❤️ = 4/4 ✅ = 3/4


I need more information about the following candidates before I can form a judgment regarding their candidacy...

Just Words

image.jpg

In roughly a week, give or take a few days, my wife and I are expecting a baby boy. We have a name picked out (but it's a secret). We have his room all ready. We've even got a little library for him. In the last few days, I've started googling around and asking friends to remind me of all the lullabies, rhymes, and limmericks I might want to have in my repertoire. 

For the most part, I'm pretty liberal. I mean, fairy tales can be pretty weird. Many of them have pretty morally problematic origins. Some are deeply sexist (mostly in ways that are inessential to the plot), or nativist, or embed some other form of ignorance. Still, I don't think I'm going to ban a story just because there's an opportunity to learn about some small way in which the world and our representations of it used to be (or still are) broken. 

Still, there's one rhyme I will never teach my son: Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me .

Why not? Well, for one thing it's not at all clever. There aren't any fun characters or flourishes, and it doesn't even rhyme. But even apart from the aesthetic criticism: the only thing it claims -- that words will not (or cannot) hurt one like sticks and stones can -- is just plain false.

A few days ago, I wrote about some words that our mayor and other local officials have been fond of using lately. The words "good guys" and "bad guys." In a simple phrase, they are able to identify, label, and completely dismiss a human being; a resident of the city we all share.  And these labels spread. I've talked to friends of mine who say things, "Oh, that guy? Yeah, he's a bad guy." As if that were a sufficient response to any claim he's ever made. As if that were enough to dismiss his concerns, the arguments he's made, the fact the he lives in our community and contributes more than most of us ever have or will to the wellbeing of some of those suffering in our city.

Yesterday, Donald Trump (and many of his followers) took a similar line. Trump's claims, that he had kissed and groped women without their consent -- oh, that was just "locker talk." In one of the many terrifying moments in last night's debate, Trump, breathing heavily into the microphone, responded to Clinton's question about the comments by speaking over her, "Just words," he said. "Those were just words..." 

Much has been written about the link between such words and rape culture. I'm not going to comment on that here (others have done so and much more expertly than I could have). I just want to make one simple point. 

Words, the way we speak, the way we think, the way we behave and interact with one another verbally -- in conversation and debate and performance -- are as damaging a force in our culture as any weapon you could name. Perhaps even more damaging: at least weapons can be physically constrained or restricted. 

I'm not saying we should similarly constrain or restrict speech. In fact, quite the opposite. I vehemently defend Trump's right to say literally whatever the hell he wants.  

But "free speech" doesn't mean that any such use to which speech is put will do no harm. Words have effects. They can literally ruin a person's life. The freedom of speech is a precious freedom, and one that should not be taken lightly. 

 

Miranda Fricker -- a philosopher at CUNY -- has recently expounded upon a concept that has long been making the rounds in feminist epistemic circles, that of "epistemic injustice." An epistemic injustice is an injustice having to do with belief or knowledge, and there are many. For instance, limiting an individual's access to knowledge-producing mechanisms (like newspapers or publications) based solely on factors like race or gender -- that's an epistemic injustice. 

There are also subtler epistemic injustices. Injustices that are more insidious because less overt. 

Consider the way in which the concept of "hysteria" developed and was used, for many years, to dismiss the serious concerns of women to a predisposition to allow emotions to interfere with the proper function of rationality. Or the way in which, before the concept of sexual harassment was widely recognized as a genuine form of abuse, serial abusers were able to chalk up the distress of their victims to a sort of prudishness or "inability to take a compliment." Let's call these sorts of injustices (with Fricker) hermeneutic injustices.

Hermeneutic injustices can be person-destroying.

When stress and anxiety and extreme pressure are internalized as character flaws, when someone sees herself as a "dumb slut" or a "brainless blond," when someone finds himself unable to find terms in which to express the oppression he feels at the hands of spiritual advisors, when someone finds herself fundamentally incapable of believing that her opinion matters as much as those of the men in the room -- it can be too much.

She can crumble. He can lose it. They can give up hope.

 

Yesterday, in a brave and utterly original move, I posted on Facebook about my political views.  "How can a Christian support a blatant misogynist like Trump?" I wondered. My friends had many helpful suggestions along these lines...

There were a couple people in particular, though, that took things to an almost fanatical level. Posting long, angry, semi-coherent rants. It was as if Trump had some sort of virus, and that it had become airborne. Or like some inner hate-monster had been awaken inside of them. 

And, look, I get it. Politics riles us all up. We care deeply. We see the truth. And everyone else just. Doesn't. Get it. 

But something I noticed about these Trump-trolls was the particular vehemence with which they would denounce the women posting on the thread. They would call me "stupid" and then give me seven reasons why my view was delusional, but they would refuse to even engage in argumentation with the women. "You clearly lack the knowledge to have a substantive discussion on politics," one wrote (paraphrased for anonymity) of two of the smartest women I know. He had literally no basis for the claim. Or another posted an angry screed in response to my mother's totally legitimate opposition to repealing the Hyde amendment (this is a political position, we are allowed to have those). Something like, "I hope you never have a daughter who is raped and then told that because people with irrational worldviews like yours no one can have abortions and so she'll have to raise it with a rapist and..." 

What the FUCK? 

When I intervened on these threads, the original posters would often walk their claims back. "Oh I just meant..." and "My point was not..." speaking as if they'd been calmly (or maybe not so calmly) debating the whole time. 

They hadn't.  

They'd been harassing.  

Not in some technical or legal sense -- just in a common-sense. They had been trying to cause emotional pain in the women they saw as disagreeing with them; as having the audacity to question their "logic" and "reasoning." They had been using words like Trump uses words. Unjustly. They have been using unjust words. 

 

Maybe you don't know what it's like to be marginalized in every single public space you ever have to inhabit. I sure as hell don't. But I know what it's like to feel vulnerable. To feel like there's something deeply wrong with me, and that it's going to be discovered at any moment. To feel as if I can be dismissed by the mere identification of my incompetence or ignorance. To feel like every interaction is just another opportunity for me to be exposed as a useless, ignorant fraud. 

And I'm a freaking white dude living in America in 2016.

 

I'm not going to tell you what you can and can't say. In fact, I'm going to argue with anyone who thinks they can. I'm going to fight tooth and nail for your right to post whatever the hell comes into your brain at any given second on the internet for the whole world to see. 

But I just have one request. 

Please remember that not all words are just words. 

Please try to respect that.

Rubric & Info Re: SB School Board Candidates

I'm gonna be posting a voter's guide in the next couple of days for the SBCSC School Board race. That guide will be based on my own research and my evaluation of each candidate against the following rubric:

Update (10/12): a previous version of this post included a link to a draft of the rubric rather than the final thing -- the link has been fixed and this picture corresponds to the final, updated draft. 

Update (10/12): a previous version of this post included a link to a draft of the rubric rather than the final thing -- the link has been fixed and this picture corresponds to the final, updated draft. 

My research is based on this South Bend Tribune article, the candidate's Facebook pages and websites (I'll post links to these as I can), and my own survey (which 8 of the 12 candidates have responded to thus far).

I heartily recommend that you read the SBT article (linked above) and find the candidates on FB, Twitter, and the web. It'd also be great to attend one of the upcoming forums that's being held. Here's a link to the info for one such forum that'll be held at 6:30 on October 12th at the Century center.

Three White Horses

Dear S, 
 
Someday this is going to make much more sense to you.  But I want to tell you a story about two men that I love. They're men that you love, too, even if you don't quite understand it...
 
So one day a few years back, I got a call from my parents when my grandpa Leonard (my dad's dad, your grandpa's dad!) was dying. We'd been waiting for the end for a while, but -- as I'm now learning with the birth of my son -- life (and death) care little for our timeframes. Still, he'd taken a turn, and my dad told me that if I wanted to say anything to him in person, this might be my last chance. So I hopped on a Grayhound with two outfits and my laptop in a bag and started off towards Minnesota. 
  • hey Dad, I was in Starbuck's today, working on my dissertation, when this song came up in my Spotify queue...

Fifteen miles or so outside of Chicago I took out my laptop and started thinking: what do I even want to say to him? My grandpa had owned and edited the local newspaper in Henderson MN for many years. He'd be a harsh (but fair) critic. I was nervous that I'd start reading him a letter and he'd look around for a red pen...still, I opened a document.

 

April 21, 2014

Dear Grandpa Leonard,

Here’s what I know about you. When I was young we’d visit you and Grandma in Henderson. The trip felt -- to the three of us kids in the backseat -- like it took a day and a half. Whenever we were within city limits Russell -- my dad, your son -- would look over his shoulder at us and tell us to stop bickering, look out the window at that dike. “They built that up because it used to flood so bad down here,” he’d said. “We’re right in the river valley.” He’d tell us about the time there was water above some of the rooftops. When we’d arrive at your house he’d get out the scrapbooks and show us pictures. One of them was of you, thick glasses, driving a motorboat down mainstreet. “That’s your grandpa,” he would say, pointing at you. I’d always compare. The man in the picture, the one manning the boat, he looked sort of like you. Younger though. And smaller. To me, you were a mystery of time and age. A visitor from the yellowy past of newspaper clippings, living here, in the future, with a new pair of glasses and a grandpa costume. It took me a few years until I finally actually believed that it was you in that picture. This, though, might have had less to do with my underdeveloped conceptions of time and aging, and more to do with something else: I’d learned early on not to trust a Blaschko when he told a story -- not even my own dad.

 

I listened to the song "Three White Horses" by Andrew Bird (above) pretty much on repeat this whole time. My grandfather had been fascinated by horses. He had pictures of horses all over his house. He'd once owned some horses, I think, but his respect for them bordered on reverence. At fourth of July parades, when the horses rode by, he'd grab my shoulder and point them out. 

"Look at them horses," he'd say. And then without looking away: "Beautiful." 

 

There'll be three white horses, all in a line

There'll be three white horses in a line

Three white horses, when you go that way

You will need somebody when you come to die

 

Another story from the past you belonged to -- one that I’d hear about from time to time at holidays when voices started getting louder around the card tables and drinks started disappearing more quickly -- was that you, when you’d hear sirens, would load the kids up the car -- all still in their pajamas -- and chase the firetrucks to some smoldering local disaster. It was the story you were after. A newspaper man, Leonard Blaschko, you had to be first to the scene, had to get the scoop. I can imagine you hunched over at the table, hours later, trying to have final copy done in time for the deadline; your sleepy children waking up and wandering downstairs to the sound of a chattering typewriter. 

 

  • Anyways, the song totally brought me back to those last few days, and it was like somebody'd punched me in the face. I felt the tears welling up. It's sort weird, but I've been getting super emotional lately about fatherhood -- Shayla blames it on my "pregnancy emotions" -- I've been thinking about how grateful I am for all the things you taught me. For how much I looked up to you as a kid, and still do. For how much Grandpa's philosophy of life has carried over into the way that I treat people on a daily basis.

 

We played cards with you for hours, even as kids. Dollar a game, quarter a buck -- though you didn’t always make us pay when we were really young, you’d sometimes hit up our parents -- you own children -- for the balance of our debts. “Gotta learn sometimes,” you say laughing. You were always laughing.

This was, without a doubt, the winner's table... 

This was, without a doubt, the winner's table... 

Come to think of it, you taught me how to play slots, too. On your very own slot machine. Kept the key in it so when we ran out of quarters from the jar you kept on top of it we could open it up and start over. This may have been the single best lesson about gambling I ever learned: “Why,” I remember asking myself, “do I always inevitably run out of quarters?” It’s like the odds are against you when you gamble or something...Well, the odds were always against me. Somehow, and I’ll never quite figure this out, you had a way of bending those odds in your favor. A fact you enjoyed in full everytime you won yet another game of Pfeiffer. “It’s all in the cards,” you’d laugh. But I’ve long suspected otherwise...

 

When I got to the hospital room you looked worn. You were skinny. You spoke with difficulty, but I could understand you. But you still laughed. Every time you asked the nurses to turn the blanket that covered your legs around. "Hor-ses up!" You'd say. The blanket, covered in pictures of horses in full gallop, had to be right-side up. "They can't run," you said -- laughing -- when they gave you a hard time about being picky.

Here's something I'll never forget, though. Your breaths were labored. It was hard for you to talk, but you made the effort. I read this letter to you. You cried. I cried. You held me close. You told me, "I don't want to go yet. You're all just having so much fun. I don't want you to have all the fun without me." 

For grandpa life was a party. A beautiful celebration, with laughter and food and drink and games and -- most of all -- family. Who would want to leave a party like that? 

 

  • Anyways, I was quickly packing up so that I didn't lose it in front of the barista and everyone, but then this line came up:

 

Don't dismiss it like it's easy

Tell me what's so easy'

Bout coming to say goodbye

You're gonna miss her in the evening

You know I won't be needing

Somebody when you come to die

 

  • And I just couldn't help myself. Tears streaming down my face as I quietly made my way to the bathroom. I miss Grandpa so much. I'm so sad that my son will never miss him. Tearing up again in the library, just writing this email to you.

 

You taught me how to drink, too. I had my first sip of coffee at your house; a tablespoon of the black, bitter liquid was enough to get the reaction you were looking for on my face. You laughed as I stuck out my tongue and hacked. A few years later it was the same old trick, this time with a beer. Looking back, I can understand why someone might have said you weren’t the “best influence” on us grandkids -- but, honestly, they’d be wrong. You were always right there, smiling, laughing, teaching us temperance in lessons that were as fun for you as they were memorable for us.

You’d take us fishing. God bless you for that. You certainly couldn’t have enjoyed it. I remember you tried to convince me once, to stop moving from the front to the back of the boat. “The fish,” you’d said. “They can hear your footsteps -- they’ll all hide on the bottom of the lake!” I never told you, but this just made me stomp more heavily. Secretly, I never wanted you to catch any fish. I was afraid you’d hang it down on your line in front of my face and tell me to “Grab that squirming thing like a man, with your fingers right around the fins.” I never learned how to grab fish like a man, or to bait my own hook. Once you stopped doing it for me, I got Russell to do it for me. When he quit, embarrassed to bait a hook for his grown son, I got married. Now Shayla baits my hook and takes the fish off. I have to give you credit for trying, but Jesus Christ himself couldn’t get me to touch one of those slimy panfish if he walked across the lake with the promise of eternal life if I took just one fish off the hook. I would have done to him what I used to do to you in that situation: shield myself behind one of your unused worm towels and squeal like a little girl until you figured it wasn’t worth the additional fish I was scaring off. There’s only so much a grandpa can do.

 

There'll be three white horses in a line

There'll be three white horses in a line

There'll be three white horses when you go that way

You will need somebody when you come to die

It's not desperation that we're breeding

It's just a need we're feeding

Before we say goodbye

 

  • Anyways. I made it to the bathroom. Found a stall. Sobbed for a good 5 minutes.
    And I just wanted to share this with someone. Facebook was the natural inclination, but it felt too personal for that. I wanted someone who understood. Who would miss Grandpa when they heard the song, too. So, anyways, I just decided to email you.

 

I have your name, Grandpa. I’m proud as hell of that. It used to embarrass me, I’ll admit. “Leonard,” is a name that sort of sticks out in a generation of Zacks, Hunters, and Dustins -- but now, I wouldn’t trade that name for the world. I wear it like a badge and when people ask me my middle name nowadays I whip out my license to prove it. “It’s Leonard,” I tell them. “After my paternal grandfather. He was sort of a sonofabitch, but also a helluva man.” (Did I mention you also taught me how to curse?) Sometimes I start laughing, too, when I think of all these memories. I love you Grandpa -- and I’ll always carry you with me. Your name, your laugh, and your big, smiling face.

Love always -- your grandson,

Paul Leonard Blaschko

 

 You're gonna miss me in the evenings

You know I won't be needing

Somebody when you come to die

Yeah, I won't be needing

Somebody when you come to die

 

  • I miss Leonard. I miss you guys. I can't wait for you to meet my son, and for me to introduce him to his Grandpa. Deacon-Grandpa Russell. I can't wait to tell him all about where he came from and to share this song with him. Tearing up again so I'm going to cut it off :) Love you! Your son, Paul

 

All my love.

Your father,

Paul

Good Guys // Bad Guys

When dealing with human beings it's important to remember that absolutes, terms like "good" and "bad," or "helpful" and "unhelpful," "collaborative" and "uncooperative" are unlikely to have unambiguous application. The truth lies in a gray space. None of us our perfect, but that doesn't mean we can't assume the best of each other -- at least so long as this helps us do right by the city we live in, and by the members of our community.... 

When dealing with human beings it's important to remember that absolutes, terms like "good" and "bad," or "helpful" and "unhelpful," "collaborative" and "uncooperative" are unlikely to have unambiguous application. The truth lies in a gray space. None of us our perfect, but that doesn't mean we can't assume the best of each other -- at least so long as this helps us do right by the city we live in, and by the members of our community.... 

Over the past month or so, I've been in touch with several Common Council members, the Chief of the SBPD, and the mayor and his office. I've also been working closely with some leaders in our community who have asked, over and over, for the city to take action on issues that are entrenched in our city, and that constrain or even wholly oppress the constitutional rights of large portions of residents in our city. These requests have been reasonable, actionable, and concrete. For instance, a few weeks back, some of us sent an email to the mayor's office, common council members, and the clerk's office. We asked that $50,000 in the SBPD budget that was already being set aside for "ongoing education" and training (I was told that this would include things like "implicit bias training") be spent to bring in a group from Chicago who does just this sort of thing, in the context of broader needs assessments. 

We were told that residents weren't allowed to decide where (specifically) money in the city's budget got spent. Confusing, since that's literally our money...

Still, we backed off. Asked if we could set up a residents advisory committee or board who would make a recommendation on how that money should be spent, or who could comment on the particular ways in which that money was spent. 

This is nothing new. In fact, the formation of such an oversight committee was part of a resolution passed in the Common Council years ago.

But the administration still didn't like this idea. They refused, and refused to meet to discuss other options -- other ways of building resident-based accountability mechanisms into the way that SBPD spends taxpayer money.  

Essentially they ghosted us. 

So we proposed a new meeting. A dialogue focused on big picture goals. A place where we could get all the relevant parties in the same room (the mayor's office, CC, SBPD, concerned residents) simply to dialogue about the problems of city is facing. The proposal was made in the spirit of the mayor's own pronouncement: "I knew this was going to be tough, but that's why the community needed it. I'm not naïve — I know one conversation isn't going to solve everything, but at least we've started the conversation."

Perhaps naively, we assumed that this conversation was one the mayor was interested in continuing. 

 

When we sent the proposal, we gave two weeks notice, and opened up a poll that listed times between something like 7am and 8pm for an entire week. We said that we'd be willing to meet wherever it made most sense for us all to get together.

 

But the administration was worried. They demanded "proof" that all parties to the dialogue were "acting in good faith" -- they said that they believed that some (including yours truly) had it out for the administration, and just wanted to embarrass the mayor and his staff. 

The meeting never happened. 

I tell this story, because there are so many reasons why it's problematic.

Some included on the list have been opposed to some of the policies of the administration, some have been vocal and outspoken about issues that they saw as deeply important for our community. But -- so far as I know -- none of those included had made any personal attacks on the mayor or his administration, at least not publicly, not in print. It seems that this administration is unable to distinguish disagreement and criticism from bad-faith attempts to undermine the administration. This is an astonishing (and dangerous) shortcoming of the current administration.

Several times during the email exchanges, the phrase "good guys and bad guys" was used. Good guys and bad guys. "We'll work with good guys," we were told, "but not with the bad guys."  Two thoughts here:

 Firstly: The odd thing is, I never told the mayor that I wouldn't meet with him until he proved to me that he was more interested in South Bend than in his own political career...I mean this honestly. He said in an email that his time is just too scarce to meet with our group. I could have pointed out that an easy fix for this would be to stop taking long weekends to Washington D. C. To fundraise for the establishment. I could have asked him to justify those trips (and that time out of South Bend) in terms of concern for our city.  

But I didn't. 

Because I don't need people to prove themselves to me before I sit down to listen to them. I don't need a guarantee of intentions and good faith before I sit down to listen to what they have to say. 

I guess you could say I just give them the "benefit of the doubt."

Secondly: As someone who was officially labeled a "bad guy," let me see if I can shed a bit of light on why someone might be awarded this label. ..

We live in a representative democracy. That means something to me. It means that I get to vote for people who I believe will represent me and my interests, as well as those of the community, in their policy and legislation making, executive decision-making. It also means that when I feel like those elected to represent me are failing at this job in any way, I -- along with all the members of my community -- am entitled to hold them accountable. 

Now, ideally, elected officials will be sensitive to these considerations. They'll make it easy for residents to provide feedback, they'll responsibly gather data and information from those feedback mechanisms, and they will justify their action, at least partly, in terms of that feedback. 

In short: they answer to us. They work for us.

But the mayor doesn't seem to appreciate this model. For whatever reason (maybe because he spent too much time in the UK? A joke...), he seems to think that his election (and then re-election) was tantamount to a coronation. He seems to think that he is the king, and that we are (and ought to be) his loyal subjects. 

That's not the world we live in. 

And to be perfectly honest, being treated like it is the world we live in is a bit crazy making. 

 *          *          *           *

During the Elbel campaign, we sought simple meetings with elected officials and their representatives. The Common Council was (for the most part) open to such meetings. They were professional and responsive. The parks board and the parks department were a bit more difficult to get a hold of, but that was -- in large part -- because they are unelected; because they answer to the mayor. 

The mayor was impossible to get a hold of.  

I reached out to him first thing when we started the campaign and received no response. I reached out mid-campaign. No response. After gross procedural irregularities were made public (e.g. our group's presentation had been scrubbed from the minutes of the park's board meeting) -- the mayor finally answered an email and agreed to meet the very next day.

At this meeting, he made it clear that he had no intention of keeping Elbel. No intention of running it as a municipal golf course. No intention of looking into options like turning it into a nature preserve. He just didn't care. 

So we left that meeting and put some more pressure on. Eventually, the Council and the Park's Board forced him to withdraw (unhappily). Nowadays, Elbel sits in a precarious position, run by the city, but under constant threat and with no safe-guards in place. 

I mention this to illustrate something. The mayor and his administration has a pattern of behavior. They ignore residents who disagree (in any way) with their chosen course of action. They try and distract them, divide them, create increasingly obscure and ineffective processes so that those who want to be a part of the process are cut out entirely. 

 *          *           *          *

It's easy to see why this behavior might frustrate someone. When a resident -- exhausted and exasperated -- realizes that the structures are set up against her, when she realizes that the mayor doesn't care to represent her interests or the interests of her community, and decides not to show up for bullshit committee meetings that changed locations at the last second and that will be moderated through three channels of ineffective and unelected officials, or worse: when she decides to speak out against the unfair way in which local political power is being wielded against her...

She turns into a "bad guy."

Someone with whom the mayor is unwilling to engage. 

Someone with "behavior problems" who needs to "prove to the administration" that she is worthy of engaging with them directly. 

That's oppressive. 

It's enough to make someone want to disengage. To give up on the whole system. Amazingly, though, not everyone has.

 

There are those who fight passionately for justice in our city. 

There are those who resist the powers that be; who refuse to be kept down.

There are those in South Bend who care enough to fight against the pattern of abuses and injustices that the mayor and other city officials have allowed to stand (or who actively ensure that they do). 

 

Many of these folks are several steps beyond "polite." They aren't interested in "proving themselves" to the mayor, if that means proving that they won't challenge or disagree with his approach to the things in the city they have much greater stake in than does he. Like the mayor (and every other human on planet earth) these folks aren't perfect. They make mistakes, they make rash judgments and sometimes lash out in anger or pain on Facebook (I'm looking at me here...) -- but being a flawed human person doesn't mean you lose your right to engage. It doesn't mean that it's okay for the administration to capitalize on those flaws to discredit, undercut, and dismiss people like us.

So I guess these are the kinds of folks the administration wants to label "bad guys." I guess I'm among them.

You know what? I couldn't care less what the mayor wants to call us.

I couldn't, at this point, care any less about what the mayor wants... 

~ ~ | PATTERNS | ~~

Illustration: Decartes's Mechanical Philosophy, a map of the universe. 

Illustration: Decartes's Mechanical Philosophy, a map of the universe. 

When I was about four years old, the concept of a pattern was explained to me. There are things, I was told -- singular events, instances, data points -- and then there is the way those things are arranged. The part that confused me then (and still confuses me now, in some cases) , is that that arrangement -- the pattern those things constitute -- can sometimes have properties that the things themselves don't have. For instance. Consider the asterisk:

* 

The asterisk is small. It appears roundish, it has snowflake-like fingers. And that's about it. But consider the asterisks:

*           *          *          * 

The asterisks are in a row. We could draw a straight line through all the asterisks. The pattern they constitute has certain properties. For one thing, it's made of up asterisks (no individual asterisk is so constituted), and of asterisks that are equally spaced along a particular line.

 

Yesterday I went to a talk by Nancy McHugh . The talk was part of the annual FEMMSS conference (an organization devoted to, among other things, feminist epistemology). Her talk was on institutional epistemic injustice in the prison system. It was on carceral oppression, especially as it relates to end-of-life issues. 

It was heartbreaking. I barely held it together. 

Dr. McHugh talked about her students (incarcerated individuals in a program called "Inside Out"). She talked about how the systems and processes put in place not only dehumanize them in the sorts of ways we might imagine (by making them exist in literally blank spaces, wear exactly what the other inmates are wearing, and beg for food from guards with almost absolute power over the movement of their bodies), but also in more particular, epistemic ways.

The carceral system is meant to rob individuals of knowledge, and of the capacity to produce such knowledge.  After a while, inmates will internalize a sense of hopelessness when it comes to advocacy. Even when that advocacy is as simple as getting basic medical care. Dr. McHugh spoke of a woman who went to the infirmary complaining of pains in her chest and arm, who literally died of a heart attack in front of a nurse who kept telling her, "You're just trying to manipulate me. You're fine. Stop pretending." 

This woman was refused authority over even the most basic kind of self-knowledge. 

 

I could go on, but I have two concrete points that I have to make this morning.

  1.  There are patterns of injustice in South Bend

Here are two:

  • Aaron Knepper, a police officer of the SBPD, has displayed a pattern of abusive behavior. He has attacked citizens unconstitutionally, escalated a traffic stop and sent a man to the hospital with head injuries, taken advantage of a man with developmental disabilities for his own pleasure, attacked (and then lied about attacking) a Notre Dame football player according to multiple witnesses. (Read more here.)
  • Chief Ruszkowski, the SBPD more generally, and now the mayor's office have displayed a pattern of neglect. The Chief dismissed community concerns about Knepper. He laughed in front of an auditorium full of community members -- including members of the Franklin family -- and declared Knepper "harmless," despite the fact that Knepper has been found guilty of violating constitutional rights of a citizen in our community. Is that not harm? Mayor Pete Buttigeig said to a secret meeting he held last Thursday with hand-picked community members that he believes Knepper has "done nothing wrong." Done nothing wrong? Does the mayor not believe violating constitutional rights is wrong? He cannot possibly believe this. The only explanation for this is that he -- probably on the advice of his legal council -- is trying to establish the belief that Knepper has not displayed a pattern of abusive behavior -- because if the mayor knows that Knepper has displayed such a pattern, and he takes no action, he is failing to protect the residents of South Bend against one of his own employees. The mayor is not dumb. He knows this is what he is doing. He is lying for legal and political gain. He ought to be ashamed of himself. But I have no desire to try and reach Pete morally (I've tried, and he's shown that he is, systematically, uninterested in ethical considerations).

So why even bring it up?

    2. The mayor of South Bend and the Chief of police know or should know that Aaron Knepper has displayed a pattern of abusive behavior, and is currently harming the residents of South Bend by his continued employment at SBPD. They have constructive notice because of the pattern of notices (I have a record of at least four attempts to engage on this issue), and because they continue to dismiss these claim (I have a record of at least four refusals on the part of the administration to engage on this issue).  This pattern and practice of dismissing or not addressing clear violations of rights might pierce the veil of sovereign immunity.