Do Liberals Feed the Right?


Liberal Fallacies




Democracy is imperiled. It saddens me to say it, but liberals are complicit in digging its grave. Too often they are as contemptuous of freedom as the hard right. Some examples:


·      The Easthampton school board rescinded its superintendency offer to Vito Perrone because he used the term “ladies” in an email. A woman on the board charged him with a “microaggression,” though how she could infer that from an email is mysterious. (Do I smell sour grapes over the original 4-3 vote?)  Fox News lampooned this and for once its judgment was fair and balanced.


·      Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe columnist who infuriates me more than he enlightens, recently argued that working-class voters have left the Democratic Party because it long ago left them. As a labor historian, I’d say there is considerable evidence to that charge.


·      College presidents have been attacked for uttering “All lives matter.” One might think that would be a given but in twisted reasoning, only “black lives matter” is politically correct. Red-meat neo-cons counter that such a restrictive position insults the 86 percent that are not black.


·      Higher ed is embroiled in disputes over pronouns and (sigh!) microaggressions. Matters have gotten so heated that they are easy pickings for those who coined the term “snowflake.”


·      Cancel culture advocates topple monuments and question why they should have to study anything or anybody they find irredeemable. Congratulations! You’ve just ceded the high ground to those who would return us to Thomas Carlyle’s Great Man Theory of history.


Democracy and free speech are inextricably linked. As Noam Chomsky noted, unless you affirm the right of someone to say things that you find abhorrent, you do not support free speech. Utterances can be unsettling, but there’s not an iota of difference between banning words and banning books. It is certainly not free speech to declare microaggressions when someone says something that upsets you.


I appreciate the fatigue involved for those tasked with constantly explaining their viewpoints, but liberals need to think about framing. Motives they think are pure and clear often sound like special privileges to those carrying their own burdens. When, for example, wage earners feel imperiled and ignored, they listen when the right screams, “special interest groups!” And you can bet they won’t care about anyone’s pronouns. Unless you welcome a war of all against all, messages and policies must be shaped as if all lives–black, brown, red, white, yellow–matter. You’re not “woke” if you don’t get that.


Cancel culture is good at anger, but sucks at analysis. In most* cases the rational course is to use controversial ideas, events, people, and things to educate. If that doesn’t persuade, learn from recent history.** Why would anyone assume that weaponized left-leaning ideals will prevail? Prep the soil for the return of Trump or a Trump Lite and you can wave a surrender flag. 


There is a world of difference between content and context. Perrone’s intention was politeness. Language evolves so fast that few can keep up. A friend recently pointed out that the term “grooming” is now problematic. I was grateful, as I had no idea; it’s printed on the side of my beard trimmer!


It's a good idea to clean your own house before castigating others. I never use certain words, but I have to say that mostly I hear the B-or S-words applied to women from the lips of other women. Black hip hop artists routinely used the N-word. Some claim such words are okay as in-group lingo. Really? I always thought one was supposed to model behavior you’d like others to emulate.


Finally, can we learn to distinguish bad actors from those who are mistake-prone and imperfect? (Read: All of humankind.) There’s a recall campaign in Easthampton. I hope it succeeds. A board member that lacks the wisdom to distinguish intention from a benign word, tried to drag another into the debate without her permission, and introduced new complaints after she was called out, has no business making decisions for our oh-so-imperfect commodity: young people.


* Reason must prevail. For instance, no person of color should have to pass a monument to a KKK advocate when voting.


**Ask Mainers what happened to a Frances Perkins mural under Paul LePage, or someone from Richmond who recalls when an Abraham Lincoln statue was routinely defaced.




The Magic Kingdom: Russell Banks' Farewell Novel




By Russell Banks

Alfred A. Knopf, 391 pages.





Unless an undiscovered work appears, The Magic Kingdom is the final novel from Russell Banks, who died in January. It’s a fitting finale for a talented author who seldom shied away from difficult subjects. The title sounds as if this is an exposé about Disney. Actually, it deals mostly with a Shaker community that once stood on the grounds. It’s also the tale of Mann family, utopian dreams, and all-too-earthly temptations. 


We meet the Manns at a Ruskinite community in Graylag, Indiana as they are about to depart for Waycross Colony inn Georgia, for another utopian experiment. Constance and her husband welcome the idea of living in a biracial community in the Deep South, but they end up on the Rosewell Planation where white and black alike are enslaved in all but name. Their salvation comes in the form of Elder John Bennett, who tells them about Mother Ann Lee, the Shaker way of life, and their community near Narcoossee, Florida. Upon the death of her husband, Constance packs up her brood–Harley, his town brother Pence, Royal, Raymond, and Rachel–and make their way to the New Bethany Shakers. Think of it as journey from socialism to authoritarianism to religious idealism.


The tale is told as a reminiscence by Harley and covers the years 1902-72. A lot of the book is a lightly fictionalized version of actual people and events and focuses on the years 1902, when the Manns arrive at New Bethany, through 1915 when the community dissolves. Banks wrote a deeply moving and personal narrative as well as a historical novel. Names are changed, dialogue is invented, and some situations are imagined but you could read The Magic Kingdom and come away with a good base for reconstructing the past.


Twelve-year-old Harley takes to Elder John with such enthusiasm that he apes his words and mannerisms and takes intellectual interest in Shaker doctrine and principles. He even contemplates joining the community. If only he hadn’t met 19-year-old Sadie Pratt, who spends time with the Shakers when she’s well enough to visit from a nearby TB sanitarium. Though he is younger, Sadie is Harley’s forbidden fruit in a celibate community. Sadie likes Harley, but not the way he’d like–at least until he’s older.


Shakers were celibate, but they did not withdraw from the world like the Amish. Worldly temptations intrude upon Shakers, including the idiosyncratic beliefs of another community and World War I, but the real danger lies within. A decade later, Harley’s obsession with Sadie supplants his piety. As he and Sadie move closer together than John or Eldress Mary Glynn think (for good reasons) is appropriate, jealousy, imagination, and tragedy upset the delicate balance among the Shakers and allied outsiders who live and/or work there.  


Banks gives us a vivid view of Shaker routines, as well thrilling external threats provided by drought, a Florida freeze, fire, and the dueling stratagem between Elder John and Cyrus Teed of the Koreshan community. Things are fragile with the Manns as well, with Pence leaving New Bethany, Constance and several of the children opting to join the Shakers, and Harley lost in his lust.


As an old man living alone in a modest shotgun house with a model of New Bethany he built, Harley imagines himself responsible for New Bethany’s fall. He’s not entirely wrong. It might have failed on its own, but he played a major part in dramatic events involving accusation, homicide investigations, testimonies, recantations, allegations of financial malfeasance, heartbreak, and other unfortunate occurrences. Though ostracized, in many ways he’s the last New Bethany Shaker, albeit a repentant one. Ironically, as the head of Shaker Real Estate he witnessed the Shaker community crumble into scale and disposed of much of the land. A third party buys the bulk of it on behalf of an unknown client, but we know who that is! Harley observes, “I had seen with startling clarity … the fall of New Bethany and the rise of Disney’s Magic Kingdom.”


Is there anything more tragic than regret? The Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” contains the lines: 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free/'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be/And when we find ourselves in the place just right/'Twill be in the valley of love and delight. The only thing missing is the insight to recognize such things when they are at hand.


Rob Weir


For more on the real Florida community see: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2699&context=fhq


Wikipedia gives a decent overview of the Shakers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakers


2023 MLB Preview: American League


2023 American League Preview:




AL East:


Is this the year the Blue Jays finally win the East? If it’s not, something went wrong. Springer, Bichette, Guerrero, Chapman, Belt, Merrifield, etc. is a way better top-to-bottom lineup than anyone else in the East can send to the plate. The likely pitfall would be pitching, which is just an injury or an off-year away from being a real problem. The balanced schedule will help the Jays enormously as they tend to falter against the East as the season progresses.


The Red Sox get my vote for the team mostly likely to surprise. Devers, Turner, and Yoshida are professional hitters. Success, though, depends on the health of pitchers whose recent health has been shaky–see Kluber, Paxton, and Sale–and the performance of guys playing out of position. Arroyo at second and Hernandez at short might be the shakiest middle infield in MLB. The 4-5 pitchers haven’t shown much thus far and Casas might not be what they think they have.


Boston isn’t good enough to win the AL East, but they could battle the Orioles for a Wild Card. Baltimore is quietly building a nice young lineup–Mullins, Rutschman, Mountcastle, Santander–but the pitching could turn out to be mediocre unless Grayson Rodriguez is ready to shine.


The Rays are actually my pick for a Wild Card. You might not recognize some of the staff, but Tampa always seems to get a lot out of pitchers who are not household names. Their biggest problem, I suspect, will be scoring enough runs. Franco may become a superstar but he’s not there yet, and aside from Arozarena there’s not much power.  


The Yankees are my pick to have MLB’s most disappointing season in 2023. The Brian Cashman era simply needs to end. This is a poorly constructed team that needs to eat salaries of underperforming veterans, promote promising kids from the minors, and build a roster that gets on base more often. Their offense is Aaron Judge and a bunch of plow horses. Judge is great, but he won’t hit 62 homers again. It’s time to chuck the analytics staff and end the “launch angle” nonsense. The Yankees also need to fire their conditioning staff; the spring DL already looks like triage at a MASH unit. It would not surprise me to see New York tank. It also won’t surprise if Cole can’t pitch without Spider Tack, or if Cortes can’t duplicate 2022. Trading for Montas was just dumb.   


AL Central:


Let’s not sugarcoat it. Someone has to win the Central, but no one in it is likely to go far in the offseason. On paper, the White Sox have the best pitching and firepower. This, of course, is what everyone said last year when they failed to make the post-season. I’ll go with them, but not with a lot of confidence. My thinking is simply that Anderson, Robert, Benintendi, Moncada is a better lineup than anyone else in the Central. Cease and Giolito are good pitchers, as is Kopech if he stays off the DL, which he hasn’t done very often. Getting Clevinger will help, but I’m not a Lance Lynn fan.


There is no better manager in all of MLB than Terry Francona, so never count out the Guardians. It boggles the mind, though, to think of what Cleveland could do with a budget like that of the Yankees. Kwan, Naylor, Bell, and Ramirez are the offense, but they need more. Bieber and Quantrill are solid hurlers, but they’ll need better performances from Civale, Plesac, and McKenzie.  


Never bet on the Twins. If they win the Central it will be because others collapse. They actually intend to play Joey Gallo!!? Buxton finally had a good year in ’22 but I still don’t believe in him. Wanna bet whether Correa stays healthy? Not much stick in Minnesota. No great arms either unless you think Ryan’s stats last year are for real. I don’t. 


After a glimmer of hope the Tigers have taken a step backward. Not a single one of their starters threw a complete season last year. Their best hope for staying out of the basement is if the Royals suck more. That could be the case.


AL West:


This has the potential to be the most competitive division in the American League insofar as competing for Wild Cards goes. (The West could break the hearts of East Coast fans by taking all of them.) The Astros are both defending World Series champions and the class of the division, especially after stealing Abreu from the White Sox. No one can match their pitching. Javier, Urquidy, Valdez, and Garcia might sound like a Latino comedy act, but you won’t laugh when you face them. I hate the Astros, but Altuve, Brantley, Bregman, Tucker, Pena, and the rest are simply formidable. 


Will the Angels finally get Trout and Ohtani into a postseason? They’d better, or Ohtani will be gone. As always, though, the rest of the lineup fails to inspire unless you think Renfroe and Ward will duplicate last year’s numbers. Rendon was a bust and headlines a most-likely-to-be-dumped list. The pitching staff will frighten no one. Think 33-year-old Anderson will go 15-5 again? Nah!


If the Angels falter again, it’s back-up-the-van time and the door opens for the Mariners. Seattle, though, is another team that’s as likely to induce tears and cheers. If Ray or Castillo get injured, anyone reading this can try out to become a Mariners pitcher. The lineup will either be solid or have more holes than a fishing net and I wouldn’t be surprised either way. Julio Rodriguez is a fine player, but the Jays are good at evaluating talent and they shipped Teoscar Hernandez out of Canada, which makes me think they know something.


The Rangers would be my pick for the most surprising team in the division, if the pitching holds up. I wouldn’t hold my breath for deGrom to say healthy or Perez and Heaney to be more than mediocre. I like Semien, Seager, and Garcia but there are big holes in the lineup. All of which is to say, the Rangers could easily go from promise to a see-you-in-2024 team. But they won’t finish last.  


The Athletics are shedding players and salaries like Gypsy Rose Lee in cleats. They are playing for one thing only: attracting few enough patrons to move the club to Las Vegas. It will be a good year if they lose fewer than 100 games. Without looking, name an Oakland starting hitter or pitcher. Exactly!