Monte’s 2017 Fiction Reading List

One of my friends noted that my 2017 reading list had no fiction. This had been deliberate at first because I thought that there were more urgent items to read. Without fiction, however, it is harder to dream. Literature showcases possible worlds, highlighting things that aren’t practical in the present because the present only encases its own possibilities. Reality has to change to make room for different possibilities. I also find that it is draining to constantly focus on what needs fixing. While there is a definite need to reform or revolutionize, and my other list will address that, recreation cannot be overlooked in such struggle.

So here are ten works I want to tackle:

  1. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. This was a tough choice. I was caught between this, Richard Wright’s Native Son and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. However, this is a classic in African-American literature that also features religious institutions.
  2. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. This is one of those alternative futures where the Axis powers (Germany and Japan) had won World War II and now occupy the US.
  3. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. A classic from the Russian master of the novel, this has been on my want-to-read list for over ten years. I had made it about 50pp in previously, but I am super-duper motivated to finish it this time. Just started this epic this afternoon. Whew, he can paint some characters.
  4. Moving the Mountain by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This is a feminist utopian novel that was published before women’s suffrage even existed. I’ve read some blurbs that many feminists have rediscovered the work as one to reflect on.
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. This fascinating story is about an ambassador who comes to a world where the beings exist without gender and the prejudices that usually accompany beings with gender.
  6. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. It’s one of those big sci-fi books all sci-fi fans need to encounter.
  7. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. This one feels pretty appropriate at a time when half the American population wonders what is going to happen with the Great Orange. The blurb on Amazon has to do with fascism taking hold in the United States through democratic means.
  8. The Iron Heel by Jack London. The author of Call of the Wild here presents dystopia, socialism, and all that fun.
  9. Utopia by Thomas More. The beginning of utopian fiction, More explores tons of basic political questions for an ideal society. Much for me to ponder in these times.
  10. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. George R. R. Martin and Ursula Le Guin like it, but my friends recommended it first, so I’m going to tackle it.

If anyone wants to tackle some fiction with me, message me.

Monte’s 2017 Reading List

Heyo. 2016 has been an incredible year for me as well as a depressing one (I write this the day after I turned 34). I feel I’ve come into my own voice, confident in myself, have things to offer, and no longer feel that my thinking and values are in conflict. I feel my marriage is the strongest it’s ever been. We’ve even started a YouTube channel together. I also feel like my kids have someone to look up to.

That’s me.

The world seems to be going bananas (though it probably just seems worse). There is an incompetent, petty demagogue in the White House who also has Republican majorities in the House and Senate, as well as a majority of state houses and governorships controlled by Republicans. The Syrian civil war has become a potential proxy war between the US and Russia. It has created a crisis not only within Syrian borders, but also an immigration crisis as families try to find safe haven all the while they are suspected of terrorism.

While Trump at least seems like he will deescalate relations with Russia, he seems to be ramping up tension with China. His cabinet picks are atrocious. They show his popular appeal for the sham it was. His reckless speech against minorities of all sorts mobilized the alt-right into a viable political force. A glimmer of hope shines in that workers at Facebook (Facebook finally issued a statement) and Google, and Twitter (as a company) will not comply with creating a Muslim registry.

I like to read. Upon looking at these events, they have given me criteria to narrow down my reading list. I had made a list of over 200 books to read in 2017, which for me would not have been possible. I, therefore, narrowed in on works that would help me sort through current events. With the help of a good friend, I narrowed it down to these:

  1. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson. Nationalism has become a central feature of the political climate in the US and in Europe.
  2. The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. Many fear the signs pointing to totalitarianism in Trump, and so I want to hear Arendt’s analysis of how Hitler and Stalin came to power.
  3. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle. I have begun to see the inseparability of ethics and politics and so want to delve into this classic.
  4. The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls by David Boucher and Paul Kelly. Social contract theory is the lens through which I understand politics, though admittedly I haven’t read much on the subject. I’m looking here for fodder on developing stronger communities.
  5. A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski. Bronski begins his history in 1492, long before Obergefell v. Hodges.
  6. Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left by Paul Buhle. As the USSR fell, many saw Marxism “proven” to have failed. A resurgence happened as Bernie Sanders declared himself to be a Democratic Socialist in the 2016 election cycle. Knowing a little about figures like Eugene Debs, I want to see how these leftists fared in a hostile environment.
  7. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. Media consumption is a prime topic since the headlines of “fake news” popped up in the autumn of 2016. The authors caution readers to be just as critical of legitimate(d?) news sources.
  8. A History of the Birth Control Movement in America by Peter C. Engelman. I’m interested to see how birth control went from an almost uniformly disparaged practice to the presumption of normalcy it enjoys today.
  9. The Black Panthers Speak by Philip Foner. I’ve become interested in radical groups of various stripes in the past year. The more I find out about them, the more I like the Panthers.
  10. Church and State in America: The First Two Centuries by James Hutson. This work doesn’t start at the American Revolution, but with the establishment of Virginia and continues up to Jackson’s presidency. Interested to see how this relationship has changed since Jackson.
  11. Theorizing War: From Hobbes to Badiou by Nick Mansfield. I have held diverse positions on war since I was a boy, ranging from preemptive strikes, to just war, to pacifism, to pro local violence but anti large scale violence. Eager to see what these thinkers propose.
  12. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. This is my foray into feminism beyond the Anglo kind.
  13. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche. Again on ethics, I’m looking at how people develop ethical systems without appeal to dogma or foundationalism.
  14. On the Genealogy of Morality by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s thoughts on the origins of morality.
  15. Marx on Religion by John Raines. While not all of what Marx has to say on religion (see that big list here), I want to move beyond that “opiate” statement for a fuller picture of Marx’s thought, particularly since the Communist Party USA had this to say about religionists: “The Communist Party USA encourages people of faith to join our Party.”
  16. Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader by Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston. The ideology of neoliberalism is largely shared by Democrats and Republicans in the United States, but I don’t know much more about it than that democratic socialists, communists, and Marxists of various stripes largely consider it the ill of modern times.
  17. Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa. This work seeks to make the case that the Democratic Party lost its pedigree as the party of the working class. I suspect it will be similar to Saad-Filho and Johnston.
  18. Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism by Victoria Clark. I’ve become increasingly critical of the state of Israel since I began to see it not as a theocracy or an institution in continuity with biblical Israel, but a colonial state backed uncritically by American foreign policy.
  19. The Bible and Empire: Postcolonial Explorations by R. S. Sugirtharajah. Through my reading I have seen the Bible used as justification in all kinds of colonial endeavors, but not organized in one volume. I’m excited to explore this study in an Indian (India, not indigenous Americans) context.
  20. A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. While I used to entertain the (hidden) normative claim of the Enlightenment that the West exists in a largely post-religious epoch as a statement of fact, I now find the claim dubious. However, religion as a concept has indeed changed in the past few centuries and I find it worth my while to finally tackle this book.
  21. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf. This book is high on the list because of significant women in my life have struggled after the mist that is beauty. Rather than just rest in my own opinion, I want to see how a female scholar tackles the issue.
  22. Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism by Richard Wolff. While I appreciate that the American Revolution sought political freedom, I have found more of my freedom curtailed in the workplace because of the power owners and managers hold over employees. I’m interested to see what Wolff proposes.

This is going to be a great year. If anyone wants to join me in the reading adventure, let’s plan on it. To make it through these in a year, it will take about 15-20 pages of reading a day. I feel it will be more rewarding than having the bulk of my reading consist of news consumption.

Should Joe Citizen Get to Spend as Much on a Candidate as Richie Rich? Vote Yes on Missouri Constitutional Amendment 2

What is it?

Amendment 2 would limit personal and corporate campaign contributions.

Why is this on the November 8, 2016 ballot?

There had initially been campaign donation limits approved in 1994 by Missouri at near 74% of the vote. Former governor Matt Blunt and the Missouri Legislature overturned this “Proposition A” in 2006 and 2008 with the explanation that the identity of contributors would be public knowledge. Chris Koster, who as a state senator voted to repeal the limits (but now disavows it…while not refunding yuge donations toward his gubernatorial campaign), had the same reasoning. To see how campaign spending has gotten out of hand, two individuals have together donated roughly $15 million. Current Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Eric Greitens, has received the state’s largest single donation in history at close to $2 million.

 

What reasons are people giving for and against this amendment?

 

Pro

Con

1. Allows greater civic participation 5. Does not limit the already wealthy from self-funding
2. Provides transparency 6. Doesn’t address lobbying
3. Limits corruption 7. Doesn’t set limits on city or county donations
4. Legislatures can’t overturn people’s voice…easily 8. Does not affect super-PACS
9. Limits freedom of speech and association (Allegation 25)

 

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

  1. Greater civic participation: Fred Sauer gives this argument and he is the initiator of the amendment. He also lost appallingly in his 2012 gubernatorial bid, and I wonder if that has something to do with his motivation to fight money in politics. I honestly don’t care about his motivation; this proposal would partially (get to that in a moment) decenter large contributors from drowning out the voice of the common person regardless of his intent. It is somewhat odd that a proposal to limit campaign donations is currently almost entirely funded by Sauer himself. However, as Senator Claire McCaskill has said (with a little paraphrase), sometimes you have to punch a bully really, really incessantly hard before he stops picking on you. Well, while she didn’t put it quite like that, she likes it that he’s using a lot of his money to fight other people using a lot of their money in order to help everyone else be able to use what little money they have.

 

  1. Provides transparency: Missouri Attorney General, and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Chris Koster makes this one. He states that there is too much money in this election. Which is true. Notwithstanding his recent conversion to donation caps (remember he voted to repealing that earlier?) and his current acceptance of large campaign donations, his current position on donation caps shouldn’t need a defense. If a murderer says murder is wrong, I’m not going to question the wrongness of murder just so I can say I disagree with that bad man. That would be like saying you don’t like Springfield Cashew Chicken because Hitler liked it. Sometimes good people and princes of darkness prefer the same food.

 

  1. Limits corruption: I’m going to keep coming back to this in a massive post on the unpersonhood of corporations, but for now I like how Todd Jones, the penmaster of the amendment, put it: “If you give a million dollars to a candidate, whose call are you going to take? Are you going to take mine? Or are you going to take the donor’s?” The majority opinion for Citizens United v. FEC contained a stupidly narrow understanding of how quid pro quoness goes down. Justice Stevens in his dissent asserted that there is a fine line between buying votes and buying preposterously easy proximity and influence. Or his actual words, “But the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind” (p. 57(144)). This was empirically shown in a multivariate study where it was demonstrated that Joe Citizen has essentially “non-significant, near-zero” influence on public policy when compared to elites and organized interest groups (571-72 of that study). So yah: less money, less corruption potential.

 

  1. Legislatures can’t overturn people’s voice: this assertion comes from the League of Women Voters of Missouri. The exact words are “This amendment is probably the only way to enact contribution limits that then cannot be overturned by the legislature.” An amendment is pretty hard to overturn. Article 12 Section 2(b) of Missouri’s Constitution lists the parameters for how amendments can be submitted. Here is the restriction on further emendation: “No such proposed amendment shall contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith.” So this could be a double-edged sword. What is a very potential con part of this pro is that augmenting it would take some work, especially after the inevitable court battle that will ensue after Amendment 2 passes. More on this on argument 9.

 

  • Arguments 5-7 are really variations on the theme that this proposed amendment “does not go far enough.” A spokesperson for Eric Greitens notes that it does not limit already wealthy people from self-funding. The editorial board for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch addresses that the proposal doesn’t speak to lobbying restrictions. The fact that this proposal doesn’t put caps on local and county elections further adds to its weaknesses. However, a weak proposal is better than the current crap we have. Senator McCaskill essentially says as much. As she says, this proposal is “a great first step,” I assume toward broader campaign finance reform, but I’m not her, so I ain’t sure.

 

  1. Does not affect super-PACS: Jason Rosenbaum has highlighted the following: “it would not place limits on contributions to any third-party committee (one that is not set up by a candidate).” You and I, dear reader, can thank the bonehead majority justices in Citizens United v. FEC for that. In their bonehead reasoning, corporations are people, too. As I just mentioned, I will be writing on that at length. Speaking of corporate peoples…

 

  1. Limits freedom of speech and association: this was the problem Missouri Electric Cooperatives and Legends Bank had before Missouri’s higher courts told them to take a hike until after the election. They think the measure is “neither reasonably related nor narrowly tailored to address any interest of the State of Missouri.” A conservative think-tank sees this at best as a curb against non-existent hypothetical corruption, but definitely a violation of constitutional rights of those poor, downtrodden corporations. I’d like to punch a corporation in the jaw to teach it some manners, but alas its personhood is amorphous. Maybe corporations are like ghosts: they have personalities, but don’t have bodies and pester the living. I wonder if you can marry a corporation or adopt a baby with it. I wonder if you can commit involuntary manslaughter against it. I’ll pick a more detailed fight with this ridiculous personhood argument later, but for now, I cavalierly dismiss any notion of rights pertaining to a corporation.

 

Verdict?

I give a measured YES. We need this as a start, but come on, we cannot let this legislature get away from us. There are way more average Missourians (in a modal sense; as an arithmetic mean that statement lacks any coherence) than there are millionaire Missourians, and we want impact. Too much money from one sector poisons the well.

 

So vote YES on November 8, but don’t stop there. Push to shore up the limitations of this proposal: on lobbying, local/county elections, the 28th constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and perhaps flat limits on total campaign spending (like where there are individual donation limits, but overall donation limits as well; e.g., each campaign has a $10 million maximum limit to do with as they please). Share your ideas to see how we can further campaign finance reform in Missouri and in the US of A.

Give Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1 a Yes

In the upcoming election, there will be six ballot initiatives in Missouri. I plan on writing a post on each of them. Consider with me Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1.

Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1 is actually a renewal of an already existing tax authorized by the Missouri Constitution.

What is it all about?

It continues a 1/10 cent sales/use tax for conservation, state parks, and other sites. Other funding comes from “camping fees, concessions and souvenir sales.”

If it doesn’t pass, Bill Bryan, director of Missouri state parks, states that “A hundred percent of the soil and water program is funded by the sales tax … so essentially, it goes away”

Who proposed it?

Some Missourians in 1984. According to ballotpedia, no formal group stands opposed to this measure.

When is it on the ballot?

This, along with the other issues, will be on the November 8, 2016 ballot.

Why is it on the ballot?

The amendment language requires that the measure be renewed every 10 years or dropped.

Concerns:

  • I don’t have many. The unfortunate part is that the constitutional language has renewal in it. I wish it just stated that it would remain in force until someone had problem with it enough to want to appeal. Alas, my clear thinking did not sway Missouri voters in 1984. For one reason, I was two years old, and another I was not a Missouri resident. Blerg on formalities.
  • Former state senator Joan Bray (D) wanted to see more of the funds available for soil/water projects in urban areas; this might be worth pursuing, but only if she spelled out what she intended.

This seems to be a pretty cut and dried measure. It carries bipartisan support and no opposition. Vote YES with me on Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1.

Rhetoric of the Adjective “Biblical”

When you see titles such as “The Biblical Case for…” or “The Biblical Case against…” both assume a univocality of the Bible, a book that contains one voice.

(Edit: I will explain how the New Testament came into being in a later post)

How does the “biblical” adjective work? I see it working in two ways:

  • a stamp on one’s own position
  • a foil to be trampled in light of one’s own position

The same book that contains this passage: “If you do not diligently observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, fearing this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies. He will bring back upon you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were in dread, and they shall cling to you. Every other malady and affliction, even though not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will inflict on you until you are destroyed.“(Deuteronomy 28:58-61)

also contains this:

“In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4)

Lest it be construed that I don’t know what I’m doing in juxtaposing texts outside a context, let me note that I am highlighting the danger of prooftexting without respect to context (or the rhetoric particular biblical authors used).

Next time you see someone say “The Biblical Case for,” think of it in these terms: this is my perspective with some Bible verses thrown in to bolster my case.

How can one know what the Bible says? There are tons of free resources easily available in the digital age. One of the best is biblegateway.com which allows you to read straight text from multiple translations. It also allows you to do word searches.

One of the greatest antidotes for terrible Bible teaching is simple familiarity with biblical literature. Read it through 3-6 (edit: times) and you should feel pretty comfortable holding your own in a conversation.

Just please, please don’t take authors at their word that they know what the Bible says, especially in an election cycle. There’s too much reason to present one’s own position as the Bible’s in such a time…if the Bible presents one voice on an issue. Cursory reading reveals that the Bible doesn’t have a unified voice on all things and that’s why we have theology: attempts at explaining “seeming” paradoxes/contradictions/”difficulties” in the text.