The Freedom to Vote Act

Via Heather Cox Richardson:

“The Freedom to Vote Act… establishes a baseline for access to the ballot across all states. That baseline includes at least two weeks of early voting for any town of more than 3000 people, including on nights and weekends, for at least 10 hours a day. It permits people to vote by mail, or to drop their ballots into either a polling place or a drop box, and guarantees those votes will be counted so long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive at the polling place within a week. It makes Election Day a holiday. It provides uniform standards for voter IDs in states that require them.

The Freedom to Vote Act cracks down on voter suppression. It makes it a federal crime to lie to voters in order to deter them from voting (distributing official-looking flyers with the wrong dates for an election or locations of a polling place, for example), and it increases the penalties for voter intimidation. It restores federal voting rights for people who have served time in jail, creating a uniform system out of the current patchwork one.

It requires states to guarantee that no one has to wait more than 30 minutes to vote.

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Thought for the Day – January 8, 2022

Resolved:  Coalitions comprised of people with different cultural capital are weak.

Reluctantly, I’m inclined to agree.  What do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Usually so, but not always?  What exceptions can you think of?

FWIW, I looked up a bunch of definitions of “cultural capital”.  I find Wikipedia’s definition the easiest to understand:

Cultural capital comprises the social assets of a person (education, intellect, style of speech, style of dress, etc.) that promote social mobility in a stratified society.



Thought for the Day – December 18, 2021

Betty Hall, founder of Simon’s Rock, on education:

“There is a four-year span here when youth should become acquainted with the whole range of human inquiry – man in relation to his physical environment – man in relation to his fellow man or social environment – and man in relation to the world of his own creation, his music, his art, religion, literature, and philosophy.”

Reading/Listening Material – August 29, 2021

I forgot to mention the other week that one of my ‘must-reads’ was “Reading and Writing the Lake District” by Jeffrey Bilbro.  “Erasing the Art of Our Imperfect Past” by Katherine Dalton was also very good.  They’re not available on-line but if you can put your hands on a copy of Local Culture I recommend them.  That noted, my lists from the past week:

Must Read/Listen

At least for my adult life, on foreign policy, our political problem has been that the parties have agreed on too much, and dissenting voices have been shut out. That has allowed too much to go unquestioned, and too many failures to go uncorrected. It is telling that it is Biden who is taking the blame for America’s defeat in Afghanistan. The consequences come for those who admit America’s foreign policy failures and try to change course, not for those who instigate or perpetuate them… The tragedy of humanitarian intervention as a foreign policy philosophy is that it binds our compassion to our delusions of military mastery. We awaken to the suffering of others when we fear those who rule them or hide among them, and in this way our desire for security finds union with our desire for decency. Or we awaken to the suffering of others when they face a massacre of such immediacy that we are forced to confront our passivity and to ask what inaction would mean for our souls and self-image. In both cases, we awaken with a gun in our hands, or perhaps we awaken because we have a gun in our hands.

KLEIN: I want to draw this out to a principal about the way we talk about foreign policy here, which is that the American foreign policy conversation, the establishment that drives that conversation — it focuses very intensely on the harms caused by our absence, our inaction, or our withdrawal, but there is no similar culpability or reckoning for the harms we directly commit or that our presence creates.  And so if you’re only ever looking at one side of the ledger, then, of course, you’re going to be biased towards action… Look at the intense moral fervor we get into when we think about the harms that could be triggered by our withdrawal from Afghanistan. And I don’t want to say they’re not real… [but] where is the conversation about the harms that our continued occupation of Afghanistan have visited upon those people, as opposed to simply the harms that our absence might lead to?

A useful chart created by The Economist based on data from UNAMA other sources makes clear that far enjoying “an affordable status quo” Afghanistan was wracked [in recent years] by endemic violence.

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Thought for the Day – August 22, 2021

Excerpting and adapting some text from an opinion piece in the Washington Post:

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan reflects a sound realignment of our national interest.  It puts us on better footing to deal with the new challenges of the 21st century and clarify to allies and adversaries what we are and are not willing to expend resources on.  Ending the long and futile war in Afghanistan will allow us to focus more attention on bigger priorities.


Reading/Listening Material – August 22, 2021

Must Read/Listen

In a prescient 2020 essay about the pandemic, Ed Yong observed that “instead of solving social problems, the U.S. uses techno-fixes to bypass them, plastering the wounds instead of removing the source of injury—and that’s if people even accept the solution on offer.” No need for good judgment, responsible governance, self-sacrifice, or mutual care if there’s an easy technological fix to ostensibly solve the problem. No need, in other words, to be good, so long as the right technological solution can be found.

I was introduced to L.M. Sacasas via Ezra Klein’s podcast.  This essay prompts me to remember that I became a scientist because I had a (not fully-formed) belief in “Science for Conviviality”. I contrast “Science for Conviviality” with making it an endeavor because it can serve as a basis for dominion over Nature – for the purpose of financial reward or just a feeling of control.

For those of you who don’t know me, here is my background — the perspective from which I write tonight.

I covered the fall of the Taliban for NPR, making my way into their former capital, Kandahar, in December 2001, a few days after the collapse of their regime…. I reported for a month or so…. Within another couple of months, I was back, not as a reporter this time, but to try actually to do something. I stayed for a decade. I ran two non-profits in Kandahar, living in an ordinary house and speaking Pashtu, and eventually went to work for two commanders of the international troops, and then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff….  From that standpoint — speaking as an American, as an adoptive Kandahari, and as a former senior U.S. government official — here are the key factors I see in today’s climax of a two-decade long fiasco:

Afghan government corruption, and the U.S. role enabling and reinforcing it…. Pakistan…. Hamid Karzai… Self-Delusion.


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Ending on a Positive Note

Reading (and Listening) Material – August 11, 2021

Short List

A lot of technological criticism today is about weighing whether a technology is good or bad, or judging its various uses. But there’s an older tradition of criticism that asks a more fundamental and nuanced question: How do these technologies change the people who use them, both for good and for bad? And what do the people who use them — all of us, in other words — actually want? Do we even know?

L.M. Sacasas explores these questions in his great newsletter, “The Convivial Society.”… Sacasas recently published a list of 41 questions we should ask of the technologies and tools that shape our lives. What I loved about these questions is how they invite us to think not just about technologies, but about ourselves, and how we act and what we want and what, in the end, we truly value. So I asked him on the show to talk through some of them, and to see what light they shed on the lives we live.

Related reading:  Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality

In this episode, Matt and Sam are joined by political theorist and conservative intellectual Samuel Goldman—a very sensible and polite “enemy”—to discuss his brilliant new book, After Nationalism. Topics include: Goldman’s punk-rocker past; the influence of Leo Strauss on his thinking; historical attempts to provide Americans with a coherent, enduring symbol of national identity; why these symbols have failed; what all this means for debates about teaching U.S. history; and what alternatives to nationalism its critics can offer.

For the record, I have favorable views of Sitman, Adler-Bell and Goldman.  We disagree some on the path forward, but I think Goldman’s diagnosis is largely correct.

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Reading Material – August 1, 2021

Short List

Prior to the rise of car culture, we could expect to regularly interact with friends, neighbors, and strangers as we made our way through cities developed with walkability and multimodal transportation in mind. Especially since World War II, we still encounter those folks…but many of those encounters are “mediated by the automobile windshield.” Not only did car culture change how we build cities, it changed how (and how often) we encounter other people: “When we encounter someone [as a driver],” writes Jacobsen, “we don’t encounter another human being with whom we might connect. We as a driver meeting another driver encounter a competitor—a competitor for lane space and parking spaces.”

The more acceptable it is to denounce people because of their speech, the more likely it is that it will eventually happen to you.

Haider’s argument is far more nuanced than that, so much so that I couldn’t pick a paragraph-long excerpt that made sense out of context.

Shortly after January 6, I exchanged a few emails with Robert Paxton, author of The Anatomy of Fascism, asking him his opinion about what happened. A long time skeptic of the idea that Trump was a fascist phenomenon, the events of January 6 appeared to have changed his mind. In particular, he made the comparison—made by others in subsequent days—between the January 6 riots and the attempt by far-right leagues and military veterans to storm the Chamber of Deputies in Paris on February 6 1934.

This comparison appealed to me immediately, because I’ve thought for a long time the French Third Republic was a more interesting and productive place to look for parallels to the present than the Weimar Republic or post-World War I Italy.

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