2017 Index

On Hiatus (Christmas 2017)

The Grace and Paul Pottscast will be off-line and not releasing any new episodes until Sunday, January 21st, 2018. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Conversation #27: Social Security, Sartre, and Self-care (December 17, 2017)

This week: Grace has been reading the Seed Savers Exchange catalog and three books of sewing projects: Rip It!: How to Deconstruct and Reconstruct the Clothes of Your Dreams by Elissa Meyrich, The Sweater Chop Shop: Sewing One-of-a-Kind Creations from Recycled Sweaters by Crispina ffrench, and Sweater Surgery: How to Make New Things with Old Sweaters by Stefanie Girard.

We watched part of the dumb reboot of Battlestar Galactica, Galactica 1980.

Our walk of the week was in downtown Ypsilanti, ending in a fine meal at Maiz Mexican Cantina.

We have three discussion topics: Social Security, Sartre, and Self-care for the Holidays. Social Security is under attack, but when liberals defend it they often talk about how they deserve to get “their” money back. Their use of these words show a lack of understanding of how it actually works and make it sound like an ordinary pension scheme. If it is an ordinary pension scheme, then there aren’t a lot of arguments to make about why it shouldn’t be privatized – and the defenders have just helped advance the Republican agenda. In fact, Social Security is much more, a truly socialist program, and its radical agenda is precisely why it works, why it is popular, and why it deserves a fully-informed, full-throated defense.

Then Paul leads a discussion about Jean-Paul Sartre’s thought-provoking essay “Elections: a Trap for Fools,” a radical critique of indirect democracy.

Next, we talk about the necessity of self-care during the holidays, what that means for people with depression and anxiety, how we have tried to unplug from the commercialization of Christmas and teach our children about their Jewish heritage as well, and why Christians might as well concede that their participation in the commercialization of Christmas has ceded it to capitalism, and look for other festivals and holy days to express their faith.

Finally, we respond to some listener feedback. And speaking of self-care, please note that we will be on hiatus, working on the podcast behind the scenes, for a few weeks, returning January 21st.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

Here’s the Seed Savers Exchange site.

Here’s the web site for Maiz Mexican Cantina.

Here’s the restored page about Galactica 1980 from the Battlestar Galactica wiki.

Here’s the recent article from The Atlantic about Social Security.

Here’s a source for Sartre’s essay. Note that this version has some typos that look like optical character recognition errors. I recommend picking up a book with the essay in it via your independent bookseller. If you’re interested in reading more Sartre, as I am, you might consider this book.

Here are a few links relevant to previous podcasts. Here’s what became of the confetti that Clinton’s campaign had arranged to fall in celebration of her anticipated glass ceiling-shattering win. And here’s the famed piece about the “ratchet effect” in American electoral politics.


Conversation #26: Listen Liberally (December 10, 2017)

Are you well-rested, well-fed, well-hydrated, and sitting comfortably? Pace yourself, because this one is really long. Remember, you can always press pause, take a walk, take a potty break, and come back later! First up, Paul reviews Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders. Then, starting at about the 50-minute (00:49:15) mark, he moves on to Listen, Liberal by Thomas Frank, taking us to about 01:25:27. . After a brief break, Grace leads a discussion on the recent trend in the New York Times, administering tongue baths to Nazis and bigots, specifically the profile of Ben Shapiro and the dismantling of said profile by Nathan J. Robinson in Current Affairs. This takes us just past the 2-hour (02:00:33) mark, when we discuss at length some listener feedback we received about Paul’s epic rant in Conversation 24. The whole show clocks in at just under 2 hours and 45 minutes.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

We’re not linking to the New York Times propaganda piece about Ben Shapiro, but here’s Nathan J. Robinson’s dissent in Current Affairs.

Finally, you might be interested in this translation of Jean Paul Sartre’s essay “Elections: a Trap for Fools.” I’d like to discuss the esssay on a future Pottscast. I don’t know if it’s the same translation I have, which is in the compilation We Have Only This Life to Live: The Selected Essays of Jean-Paul Sartre, 1939-1975.


Conversation #25: School’s Out (December 3, 2017)

Today we have a podcast in two parts, recorded separately. In part one, Grace has some thoughts about the controversies over Ypsilanti’s Washtenaw International Middle Academy, and also talks about an article from Psychology Today which discusses the concept of social capital in the fight against bullying in schools. In the second part, Paul talks some more about one of the books that shaped his young mind, T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

Here’s an article from the Ann Arbor News about the school.

Here’s the article from Psychology Today about bullying and social capital.

Note that as far as I can tell, there are three versions of the text of The Sword in the Stone. The 1938 text is the text of the first edition published by Collins. There’s also a 1939 text found in the Putnam and Sons American Edition.

The 1938 text has Madame Mim in a magical wizard battle with Merlyn, featured in the Disney cartoon adaptation, and also features a huge battle scene with Robin Wood. Both of these elements are toned down in the 1939 text.

I think the edition I originally read back in grade school was the 1963 Dell/Laurel Leaf movie tie-in edition, a mass-market paperback with a purple cover featuring artwork from the movie. This version has the 1938 text. I now have a later reprint of that book.

There is also a version of the text from 1958, which is the text White included in The Once and Future King. The actual edition of The Sword in the Stone I recently read to my kids was the 1964 Time Life trade paperback edition with a wrap-around painting of a knight in chain-mail armor, holding a shield; this edition has the 1958 version of the text, even though it was published as a standalone book.

I should warn readers that all the editions contain the n-word in one or more places, depending on the version (talk about anachronisms!)

The revisions for the 1958 text seem to have come about in part because White could not get the publisher to include The Book of Merlyn, which included some animal transformation adventures for an older Arthur, with anti-fascist, anti-nationalist, anti-war themes. So White took some of the anti-war episodes from The Book of Merlyn and reworked them into the first book.

The Book of Merlyn was eventually published after White’s death, which means if you read all of The Once and Future King followed by The Book of Merlyn, you will find that The Book of Merlyn has some redundant chapters.

If you think this situation, with the various editions, is complicated and doesn’t do proper credit to White, you’re right, especially since the older editions seem to all be out of print. I think the 1938 text of The Sword in the Stone really deserves a new edition, with a nice introductory essay explaining the textual revisions, and an appendix containing the 1939 revisions.

This blog post discusses the different editions.

Finally, in reading up on these revisions, I discovered that the second book in The Once and Future King omnibus, The Queen of Air and Darkness, also had a much different earlier edition called The Witch in the Wood. This is also a shame. I’m probably not going to spend over $100 on a fragile vintage copy in order to read this version – although I am tempted!


Conversation #24: The Democrat Diaries (November 26, 2017)

We recorded this one on November 18 so that it would be ready to go on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Paul’s been working on notes for an epic rant, and had a lot to get off his chest, so this one is mostly Paul, with Grace offering commentary. This rant has been building up for a while: it’s Paul’s response to Donna Brazile’s revelations that Hillary Clinton was in control of the DNC almost a year before the primaries, and using it to allow big donors to vastly exceed the limits on individual donations, and donate up to $660,000.00 instead of $2,700.00.

Why is this important and why does it spell the end of the Democratic Party? And what happens next? To unpack that Paul briefly reviews the history of political parties in America, starting with Washington’s farewell address, and how the parties have changed over time due to realigning elections or insurgencies, either from inside the existing parties or led by third parties, and how the 30- to 40-year cycle of party systems may have come to an end with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Brazile is no hero, but without whistleblowers we have no chance of keeping organizations like the DNC from becoming entirely corrupt Potemkin Villages. Meanwhile, between this new revelation and several old ones, the fundamental hypocrisy of anyone supporting the DNC while criticizing the Republican establishment for corruption is starkly illuminated. The DNC even argued in court that it had no obligation to deliver a fair primary. The upshot is that no one can claim with a straight face that Sanders won the primary fair and square, when there was no impartiality whatsoever, and no one can claim that we should stop trying to re-litigate the election, when it was never litigated fairly to begin with.

There will be no functioning Democratic Party until we have truth and reconciliation in America, and a long-overdue change in our parties, either in the form of a realigning election where the Democratic party dramatically changes, or by a third party supplanting the Democratic party until we eventually stabilize on two parties again. But none of this can happen until we face up to, and take steps to reduce, the distorting power of big money in our elections.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.


Conversation #23: Lightning Round (November 19, 2017)

This week we were overwhelmed with toics, so we chose four and tried to get through them quickly by setting a time limit for each one. How did that go? You tell us. Topics this week: the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore and Franken; a leadership change at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Russiagate; something is wrong on the Internet (and for the love of all that is holy, don’t let your children watch regular YouTube, or YouTube Kids, without close supervision!)

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

James Bridle’s article, “Something is wrong on the internet,” can be found here.


Conversation #22: Trust Your Intuition (November 12, 2017)

We have something a little different this time! Grace’s friend Alice was visiting, so Paul sat this one out and the two of them had a conversation about intuition and how we fail to trust it, especially when propaganda tells us that we shouldn’t. Topics include alcohol and nicotine as medicine, renting versus selling a house, parenting, and surgery.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.


Conversation #21: Hashtag Thanksgiving (November 5, 2017)

In this week’s conversation: Paul has started reading Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders, and recently went to see Thor:Ragnarok. It was too wet, and we were too lazy, to get out for a walk this weekend, but we have an audio clip from last week. And then Grace walks us through a beautiful essay from Bon Appétit magazine about Thanksgiving and the resilience of black families over decades, and how this essay really gets at the heart of all she’s ever tried to say about politics.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

The essay by Rembert Browne, “Thank You God, for Black Thanksgiving,” can be found on Bon Appétit’s site here.


Conversation #20: Equal Time (October 29, 2017)

In this week’s conversation, Paul finishes up Elizabeth Warren’s book A Fighting Chance and talks about the People’s Pledge and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Grace talks about Father Solanus Casey, his sold-out Beatification Mass, and the special panel discussion she attended instead. Then, in the interest of fairness we turn our critical attention away from liberals, and talk about an article from Mere Orthodoxy about how American conservatism continues to fail in actually conserving anything. We finish up with some brief thoughts on George H. W. Bush in the news, and how the Washington Post is now already beginning to lay the groundwork for Hillary Clinton in 2020.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

Our walk of these week will be at County Farm Park.

The web site for Father Solanus Casey, including information about his upcoming Beatification Mass, can be found here.

The long essay by Matthew Loftus, “Conservatism Fails to Act Responsibly,” can be found on Mere Orthodoxy’s site here.

The essay that Loftus references, “The White-Minstrel Show” by Kevin D. Williamson, can be found on National Review’s site here.

Finally, here is the Washington Post’s piece about Hillary Clinton’s electoral prospects if she runs for president again.


Conversation #19: “Me Too” Meets “I’m Guilty” (October 22, 2017)

In this week’s conversation, Grace and Paul give an update on what we’ve been reading and watching, including a quick review of the new film Blade Runner 2049, and thoughts on the first half of Elizabeth Warren’s book A Fighting Chance. We talk about today’s hike at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, then tackle three topics: our opposition to the political rehabilitation of George W. Bush, the purges of leftists by the DNC, and the trending “me toos” and “I’m guilties” on social media.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

Here is a review of Elizabeth Warren’s book.

Paul has written a long review of Blade Runner 2049 here.

This review of Blade Runner 2049 points out some of the disturbing ways in which women are portrayed in the film.

Here is the web site for Matthaei Botanical Gardens, the location of our Walk of the Week.

Here is an article from New Republic entitled “Liberals, Stop Applauding George W. Bush.”

Here is the article from The Intercept about the Democratic Party’s reorganization. I failed to mention in our conversation that, per NBC’s coverage, the DNC went of their way to put a positive spin on this that they referred to Marisa Richmond, age 58, as a “millennial.”

Here is a piece from Democracy Now! on Tarana Burke, the activist who started the “Me Too” movement back in 2007.


Conversation #18: And to Think That I Saw It on Water Street (October 15, 2017)

In this week’s conversation, Grace and Paul give an update on what we’ve been reading and watching, including a quick review of the 2016 Marvel movie Doctor Strange, talk about a family outing to nearby Rolling Hills Park, and despite the fact that they are carpet-baggers, dive right in to the recent controversy here, in which a group of four Ypsilanti city officials traveled to China. Why is that controversial? The funding came from a developer who is bidding to build a housing development on city property. MYGA! Finally, we respond to listener feedback.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

The book of paleo desserts is available here.

Here’s Wikipedia’s article about The Compleat Enchanter.

Here’s a blog post from Damn Arbor.

Here’s a blog post from Mark Maynard.

Here’s another article on the International Village development project, from the Detroit Metro Times.

Paul writes at length about the books he’s reading (and other assorted subjects) on his blog The Books that Wrote Me.


Conversation #17: The Great Divide (October 8, 2017)

This was almost the conversation that got away – our first attempt to record it failed completely so we had to do the whole thing again with a portable recorder. Despite that, it worked out pretty well – this is a long one! We begin by talking about what books we’re reading. We then dive right in to the topic of the recent bloody shooting in Las Vegas, and whether there is any hope for meaningful gun law reform in America. And is it crazy to entertain a conspiracy theory about the motive? Then we discuss an article from Current Affairs magazine entitled "How to Heal the Left-Liberal Divide" by Pete Davis. Davis has some good insight into the problem, but is his conclusion accurate? From where we’re sitting, the Democratic Party faithful are doubling down and ramping up there angry, entitled rhetoric, which is not going to serve them well in future elections.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

Wikipedia’s article on District of Columbia v. Heller can be found here.

The New York Times article, “F.B.I. Steps Up Use of Stings in ISIS Cases” by Eric Lichtblau, is here

The Current Affairs article, “How to Heal the Left-Liberal Divide” by Pete Davis, is here


Localism and the Oldest Profession: Grace’s Talk for Front Porch Republic

Grace gives us a practice run of her talk planned for the 2017 Front Porch Republic Conference, to be held September 30th at Hope College, a private Christian Liberal Arts college in Holland, Michigan affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. Grace speaks about motherhood, and how its practice as a profession was part of the structure of American communities.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

Here is the link to Front Porch Republic’s site: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com

Here is the link to Hope College’s site: https://hope.edu

Update: Grace’s Full Talk

Appended is the text of Grace’s talk as transcribed at the event. I’m not sure who transcribed it, but thank you!

So I can only imagine that I’ve been invited to speak here today because I am a practitioner of the oldest vocation, or profession. Parenthood. I mean, where do people think all the prostitutes come from? Do they just emerge, fully formed from a john’s sub-conscience? Seriously though – I am a wife, and mother to seven children, ages 23 to 8 months, and I do this work because I am called to it, and it is the work that I find most needs doing in the place I call home. I don’t want to totally bore you with some sappy drivel about how lovely motherhood is, so I’ll only do a little of that. But I’m going to start with a story, and then I’m going to try and explain why I think my vocation is critical to maintaining a place, and how the changes we’ve seen in motherhood over the last several decades have set the stage for profound changes in how we all live our lives. Also, while I think parenthood is the oldest profession- I’m only going to talk about motherhood. Not that fatherhood isn’t heroic and sacrificial work, it’s just not my work, and I’ll try and stick to what I know.

Some time ago when I was applying to college, I was hoping to be a nuclear chemist, and I wanted very, very much to attend Annapolis (they have a great program). So I asked my father if he could ask a friend of his to write me a recommendation. My father said to me “You know. I don’t think the Navy is a safe place for a woman.” And with that right there- I was outraged. I can barely recall what he even said I was so outraged. But I do remember him saying, “I think you should go to culinary school; you would make an excellent wife and mother.” I was honestly kind of appalled that he would say such a thing, and threw some kind of teen aged tantrum over it. And then I went on to State school without his recommendation, and have yet to regret that decision. A few years after that, I went on to graduate school to study epidemiology – I’d moved on from chemistry – but shortly after I started, I dropped out to – wait for it – raise children. Oddly, I was still not able to see my father’s wisdom, it was another 10-12 years before I put this all together. I was sitting at my kitchen table, poring over culinary school course catalogs when it hit me. And it was not so much an epiphany as like an out of body experience. I was right there, with my 16 year old self, and I was shouting at her “You fool! Listen to him! You know nothing! You’re never going to work for the military, or corporate America, or academia. You’re going to raise children, and you’re going to have a great time!” My father knew me, and saw my vocation better than I did at the time. My gifts were in family life.

Now what I did not understand at the time, and I think is frequently misunderstood, is that raising children is honest, demanding, work with dignity. There’s housework, but this is less about that and more about the work of making a home. When the housework gets backed up by life, I like to remind my husband that I am a home maker, not a house keeper. (one you marry, the other you pay.) And this is demanding, intellectual work. Now, I’m not here to convince anyone of that, but rather to highlight why I (and apparently many people) consider a vocation to homemaking… a bit of an insult. People think it’s about cleaning toilets and wiping bottoms. Now that happens – and there is certainly dignity in those details – but that’s not what the job is; the job is to make a place worth coming home to. CS Lewis describes homemakers as having the “ultimate career” and that “all other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”

Forty years ago, this job was very different. I recall my mother sometimes walking me, other times (when I was late) driving me, to school in her hair rollers and sometimes a bathrobe. She was not the only woman dressed this way. I’d often see moms in rollers gathered at the back of a station wagon complaining about the price of beef. But usually, I walked myself. I also attended half day(!) first grade in the afternoons because many six and seven year olds were not ready to be at school for a whole six hours. While I was at school she would do the shopping, run errands, and on Wednesdays we’d go to G. Fox and Co. downtown, and get our hair done. Most days though, I was released on my own recognizance to ride my bike, dig in the back yard, eat cookies at Mrs. Hall’s house, blow my allowance on novelties and harass my little brother, and later sister. My mother’s work was mostly invisible to me… and I don’t think she would have described what she did as “parenting”.

I contrast that with the fleet of minivans I see idling at my parish’s elementary school on a weekday afternoon. It’s a very different vibe. What, really has changed? The critical change I see, is the mass exodus of mothers into the paid work force, and the emptying out of our neighborhoods for the day. That exodus seems to have reshaped how we raise children and view childhood, how we care for our elderly, how we eat… even I think, how we do business. I submit, it has made our communities fundamentally less resilient.

Consider the “Free Range Parenting” so-called “trend”. I think what Lenore Skenazy describes, used to be called “raising children”. But our ghost-town by day neighborhoods are places we perceive to be unsafe, and so we’ve adapted a behavioral expectation to address the perceived danger: we now expect children to be supervised at all times by a responsible adult – and that is a herculean task. Poor mothers bear the brunt of social scorn for violating these new norms. Or consider my gruff, odd tempered elderly neighbor that I’ll leave unnamed: most folks would today describe him as a candidate for a memory care facility. In my neighborhood, he was just walked home by a mother, or grandmother, or even an older child. Or consider the way we eat now: who prepares the food we eat and how; how often families are able to eat meals together? Much of that labor has been outsourced to save precious time at home for two working parents, and sit-down group meals are weekend treats for many families, and for still other families – gathering for a meal happens only on holidays. Lastly, I want you to think about our contemporary start-up culture. It would seem that start-ups are springing up in every corner of the economy- but in fact, we are at a 40 year low for start-up ventures. Now. You might say, “C’mon Grace. That’s a bit of a stretch. How could a mass exodus of women from the neighborhood cause all of that? There are so many other factors to consider.” I suppose it’s true that correlation does not equal causation; I don’t entirely mean to imply that it does. However, if we look at the communities, and segments of society where children still roam the neighborhood all afternoon – it’s the places that still have women- mothers, grandmothers, aunties – in the houses, and in the garden. Those are the places where the highest number of elders age in place. Those are the families that have the least processed food, eaten together. And by an overwhelming margin – the families that can afford a parent to stay home, are the families that can start a business; the communities still populated during the day by women, are the ones where those start-ups thrive. And let’s not end our perspective with our own society: if we look at modern industrial cultures where the most women stay in the neighborhood – Japan for example – children are expected to run errands for the family alone, at five years of age. Swedish mothers routinely leave their infants on the sidewalk while the stop for a leisurely coffee. Alone or with friends.

Now, I don’t want this taken as some kind of an anti-feminist screed. One hardly thinks of Japan or Sweden as sexist hell-scapes. I suppose you could see it that way. But I’m not saying that all these awful women abandoned their children to daycare and the public school system, and ran off to get jobs for the hedonistic fun that comes with a 9-5. Hardly. These were economic decisions. We all know the numbers. Many families struggle to make the budget work without two paychecks. And it’s a bit of a trap – after childcare – you still have barely enough to get by. This wasn’t about hedonism – it was about paying the bills. And those realities are tempered by our policy. We decided some time ago not to make pro-family policy. And I’m not talking about culture war stuff. I’m talking about the tax incentives, and wage policy that make personal decision the stay in the neighborhood – also the decision that makes the most sense in Japan. I’m talking about the welfare policy that pays mothers to stay home with their children in Sweden. The question is not whether we’re going to make tax and wage policy, or whether we’re going to make welfare policy. We’re going to make some kind of policy; will it be pro-family policy? Or will it push women into the workforce that would rather not be there? Will it empty our neighborhoods every day?

For further reading – because I find there is always a test- I’d like to encourage you to look up Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes, and Third Ways by Allan C. Carlson. And I encourage anyone considering Motherhood to take the plunge. It’s great work if you can get it.


Conversation #16: We Call Them “The Aristocrats” (September 24, 2017)

Paul has a nasty summer cold, but he’s brought three articles to discuss: an editorial from The National Review about Civil War Monuments, a take from The Outline on Megan McArdle’s breathtakingly tone-deaf take on the Grenfell Tower Fire, and a report from the Guardian about how Obama is now taking $400,000 speaking fees from the financial and health care sectors. Then Grace leads a conversation about how so-called liberals, including Obama, have aligned themselves with the elites, and why. We do in fact have hereditary dynasties in the United States, but because they aren’t codified in law and the structure of our government, it’s harder to talk about them. Why did the Democratic Party faithful, in the 2016 election, align with right-wing elites? Many liberals saw the ugliness of America for the first time in this election, and so were vulnerable to appeals to fears. The other ways of effecting change – populism and popular revolution – are scary by comparison. And so back to the subject of Antifa: a collective to respond to a threat of racial violence, which has been recently slandered as morally equivalent to armed white ethno-nationalist groups on the attack. Philosophically, if you understand the function of the police, you must understand the need for Antifa, which does for the marginalized what the police won’t. Finally, we talk about how the marginalized often don’t have the privilege of using non-violent resistance in their own defense.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

Here’s Jay Nordlinger’s take on the Confederate Monuments: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/451399/seeing-confederacy-clear-terrible-issue-monuments-and-all

Here’s the piece by Alex Nichols on Megan McArdle: https://theoutline.com/post/2303/megan-mcardle-has-a-lot-of-bad-ideas

Here’s the piece on Obama from The Guardian: https://guardian.ng/news/obama-begins-lucrative-turn-as-wall-street-speaker/


Conversation #15: Defining Our Terms (Continued) (September 17, 2017)

Grace has brought notes this time, to help her remember the list of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – the things that to her, embody “living in protest.” Then Grace and I go back to the topic of our old conversation #7 from 2013, included in this feed a few weeks ago: we’re once again defining terms. What do political terms like conservative, liberal, left-wing, right-wing, communist, socialist, and capitalist really mean? How have the meanings of these terms changed, how have their meanings been misinterpreted, and how have they been weaponized? Grace came armed with notes, but as usual Paul wants to follow every tangent.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.


Conversation #14: In Verrit Veritas? (September 10, 2017)

Hey guys, we even did some preparation this time! Grace has given last week’s topic further thoughts and prayers, and came armed with notes. Paul sat down and let the million poop-throwing monkeys in his head bang out an essay. He spent a full ninety minutes on the piece and boy, does it show! In this conversation, Paul starts things off with remarks about Verrit, the new web site for Clinton supporters, and why it is both much less, and much more, than it seems. Grace chimes in now and then (how can you tell when Grace is being sarcastic? Her mouth is open). Then, Grace picks up with a followup to last week’s topic, and we discuss how to “live in protest,” and the spiritual side of political protest and dissent, while Paul does his best to deflate any emerging seriousness. In Verrit Veritas? Hell, no! But you become what you meditate on, so choose wisely, and memento mori!

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

This piece from Salon discusses Clinton’s “airing of grievances” book tour: http://www.salon.com/2017/09/09/a-tale-of-two-leaders-of-the-left-new-books-by-bernie-sanders-and-hillary-clinton-emphasize-their-differences/.

The complete text of Paul’s essay is appended.

In Verrit Veritas?

I first heard about Verrit when Clinton re-tweeted an announcement about the launch of their web site. Actually I don’t follow Clinton on Twitter, so what I really noticed was Keith Olbermann responding to her. Clinton tweeted:

I’m excited to sign up for @Verrit, a media platform for the 65.8 million! Will you join me and sign up too?

Olbermann responded:

Madame Secretary, I think your account may have been hacked.

The link that Clinton shared was to an article on a new web site. The headline of the article is “Introducing Verrit: Media for the 65.8 Million.”

So I’ll just quote a few of the rah-rah text from the article:

65,853,516 Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, giving her a decisive popular vote victory over Donald Trump.

So Imma stop right there and point out: I hear this a lot. But even if that number is strictly accurate, which given my level of confidence in the election process seems unlikely, it’s just a fundamental fact that winning the popular vote does not guarantee winning the election. So right off the bat we see this ongoing meme about the election result: it is somehow illegitimate, there is some fundamental unfairness, or it says something about the outcome.

But we’ve seen this before. In 2000, Gore pretty clearly won the popular vote, although the exact totals including Florida are disputed, becase the recount was not allowed to proceed. My point is that even in the election of 2000, where there were blatant and obvious dirty tricks at work, including a very suspicious ballot design, and a one-off, extremely partisan Supreme Count decision, winning the popular vote entitles you to exactly nothing, and continuing to trumpet it may make her supporters feel better, but to the rest of the country just makes them look like they are endlessly re-litigating the election.

The Verrit article continues:

The Clinton coalition remains strong and engaged. #StillWithHer is a widely-used hashtag that reflects a mindset and a mission: to fight for a future where love trumps hate, dignity overcomes division, equality and justice defeat extremism and bigotry.

Comma splice aside, I just want to point out that I think these slogans: “with her” and “still with her” are very telling. We know from stolen e-mails that the Clinton campaign debated a list of eighty-four different slogans. Among them were “Rise Up” (rejected), “Keep moving” (rejected), “It’s about you” (rejected), “Move ahead” (rejected), “Progress for people” (rejected), “Your future. Her fight” (rejected), “A fair shot and a fair deal” (rejected), “Getting ahead together” (rejected), “Progress for all” (rejected), “Building tomorrow’s America” (rejected), “It’s about you. It’s about time” (rejected).

Basically, anything that sounded progressive or populist was rejected. For a little while she was appearing at events with the printed slogan “Fighting for us,” but that seemed to disappear. We ultimately got “Stronger together,” which was a pointed repudiation of Trump’s “I alone can fix it,” and “I’m with Her” (note: not “she’s with me,” and most pointedly, the opposite of “I’m with him,” that is, Sanders). In any case, not inspiring.

The Verrit introduction goes on:

Hillary Clinton faced relentless vilification, imbalanced media coverage, and foreign propaganda, yet still attracted more votes than any presidential candidate in history except Barack Obama in 2008.

That’s actually damning with faint praise. Every year the voting population is larger, so even if each winning candidate got the exact same percentage of the vote election after election, this would be trivially true. And in fact it’s actually false, because Barack Obama got 65, 915,795 votes in the 2012 election, beating Clinton’s 2016 number by 80,279 votes.

So why am I doing this nitpicking fact-checking? Well, it’s because it gets at the whole notion of what Verrit claims to be. Reading on a little bit:

With the essence of American democracy at stake, 65.8 million people saw through the lies and smears and made a wise, patriotic choice. But they continue to be marginalized and harassed. Verrit’s purpoe is to become their trusted source of political information and analysis; to provide them (and anyone like-minded) sanctuary in a chaotic media environment; to center their shared principles; and to do so with an unwavering commitment to truth and facts.

So, to me this represents something interesting. It’s a news and opinion source not even specifically tied to a party, or to an ideological movement, or to courting a particular demographic, but explicitly part of the cult of personality around Clinton herself.

It interests me also because they’re doing a sort of Potemkin cryptography. Verrit posts appear in the form of images with quotes on them, and each image has at the bottom a little box that says something like “Verrit.com authentication code: 0443117.”

When I first saw this I thought “oh, interesting – they’re using cryptographic algorithms to try to fight fake news.” I thought maybe each meme image from Verrit was digitally signed, or maybe there was a chain of authentication. What that means is that I thought maybe if you see a Verrit image “in the wild” on social media, you could validate it cryptographically. There are different possibilities there and I haven’t really put my computer scientist hat on for very long, but what I initially imagined is that you could save the image, and go to the Verrit web site, and upload it. Verrit could then tell you, using a message digest algorithhm or a digital signature algorithm, “yes, this is a Verrit image and it has not been altered.” There are algorithms for doing that, for embedding a watermark or adding a digital signature that could be validated against Verrit’s key.

Another thing I thought is “oh, that’s neat, maybe they are using a blockchain algorithm to prove a chain of custody.” I’m not an expert on blockchain algorithms, and I think this would require some technical support from other social media sites that hosted Verrit images, but I imagined that maybe this would let you click on a Verrit image and see that it was validated to come from Verrit, then to Facebook, then maybe to Twitter, and at each step it has been authenticated.

It turns out that Verrit does none of those things, and the idea is that if you see a Verrit meme in the wild, and you are suspicious of it, the idea is that you can go to Verrit and type in the verification code. Not copy and paste, because it’s in an image, but transcribe it. And then Verrit will take you to the post with that verification code. But there’s not actually any technology at all behind guaranteeing that the image itself hasn’t been faked or altered, besides you looking up the number and verifying by hand that the headline on the post matches the text on the image. I’ll come back to that.

So the next thing I thought was “well, hey, at least they are trying to play the role of a fact-checker. So they must be using footnotes and documentation for their statistics, like for example Clinton’s popular vote total.”

But that is also too much to ask, apparently, because if you look at the site, you see an awful lot of posts that look like this. Verrit authentication code #0443120: “Hillary Democrats are the Heart and Conscience of America.”

That article cites some tweets, and then claims:

Hillary Democrats are the heart and conscience of America. They cast a vote for compassion, inclusion, justice, and equality – the values that made America great. It is a travesty that they continue to be treated with disdain and disrespect.

The article notes Clinton’s endorsement, then goes on:

The response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic among Clinton’s voters, with hundreds of thousands of site visits, comments, social media follows, signups, emails, etc. It validates the purpose of the platform, a place where the shared interests, values, and aspirations of 65.8 million Americans can be centered, free of harassment and hate.

Verrit was met with an entirely predictable response from Clinton’s detractors: rage, abuse, bullying, mockery.

I’ll skip ahead a bit, but it goes on:

The effort to silence and invisibilize Hillary Clinton and her voters continues unabated since the 2016 election. In fact, if the frenzy over Verrit’s launch is any indication, the hostility has intensified. But that won’t deter us from serving the needs and aspirations of our community, no matter how desperate the attacks.

And now I want to take a moment to talk about epistemic closure and the paranoid style in American politics.

For a while now it’s been commonplace, among contemporary so-called Conservatives, to demand the pedigree of any opinion or information source and reject it, if it doesn’t have a conservative imprimatur. In fact many times I’ve tried to counter some ridiculous meme on Facebook with an article, and been told, essentially, “I can’t accept anything in that article; it comes from a liberal source.” On particular friend actually used some kind of a site where he plugged in the articles I was linking, and the site would give him a rating on some kind of conservative-ometer. So he wasn’t willing to look at the facts, or the argument, at all, if it didn’t come from a source vetted as sufficiently conservative.

Liberals have often mocked them for that sort of behavior, just as they’ve mocked liberals for being excessively “politically correct” and demanding “safe spaces.” And of course I’m uncomfortable with this idea that you would pre-screen the arguments you’re exposed to, which is one of the reasons I find things like Facbook’s screening of people into “red feeds” and “blue feeds” very pernicious and disturbing – especially given that it isn’t clearly “opt in,” with big obvious knobs to let you know that this is happening, and adjust it as you prefer.

But I’m telling you now – although I think Verrit is pretty laughable and will ultimately fail, I’m very disturbed that it exists, and I’m even more disturbed that Dear Leader Clinton would endorse it. I think this is a pretty clear example of conservative/libertarians being dead right about the liberal tendency towards fascism.

Epistemic closure has a technical definition in informal logic, but it has come to mean, in political thought, the idea that one can, and some do, knowingly inhabit an echo chamber of like-minded people, holding opinions similar to yours, and deliberately exclude or distrust any information or opinion originating outside that bubble.

What Verrit does is to create a bubble not around an ideology or party, but around a personality. And to me this is far more disturbing than the idea that someone is just a relentless Fox News listener or Dittohead.

There is no technological fix to fake news and epistemic closure, because fake news is shared and believed by people who want to share and believe it. Epistemic closure happens when people want a safe, closed space that reinforces their beliefs. There are technological tools that could be used to help validate sources and open bubbles for people who seek to climb out of them, but Verrit does nothing whatsoever along those lines.

Already there are sites up that will let you create a fake Verrit meme. The first one I created read:

Liberals are responding to the way the right has locked itself into a closed epistemological bubble by… locking themselves in their own closed epistemological bubble.

This meme had “Verrit.com authentication code: 0192889.” If I put that number into the search window on the real Verrit web site, it comes back with nothing and says “we can’t find the verrit you’re looking for. Try searching again!” But that wasn’t really the point, because I can share the fake one just as widely as someone else can share a real one.

So what does Verrit really do? I was joking to Grace about it, saying “do you want to have a Ministry of Truth? Because this is how you get a ministry of truth.” It’s extremely Orwellian, complete with two-minute ritualized hatred projected daily towards Bernie Bros.

I think that evaluating your sources, relentlessly, and seeking sources outside your bubble, is a very important and relevant thing to do. I have nothing but contempt for people on the conservative side who seek out only writing and opinion that strengthens their confirmation biases. And of course I have to admit that I often am guilty of this, and we all are, despite my best efforts to read, or at least skim, across the political spectrum. Doing that regularly is one of the biggest reasons that I can’t place myself sqarely on a single one dimensional liberal/conservative axis.

A reasonable person might think that this is frightening, but not really important, because it represents a small minority of dead-enders. And that is true in a sense. Clinton has only a 30 percent approval rating in the most recent polls, lower than Trump at 36 percent.

But I think it is important, because a lot of those who are #StillWithHer are quite powerful and influential people. If they get on board with Verrit and Dear Leader Madame Secretary’s grievance tour, they are essentially engaging in an act of political escapism, reading only fan fiction about the world. Looking at the claims in Clinton’s new book, it’s clear that she is essentially continuing her campaign of grievances. It seems to be a Festivus for Democrats, an airing of grievances. But unlike Festivus, which is supposed to be for the rest of us, this is a campaign for the few, convincing themselves that they are for the many.

There’s a saying that goes “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” I’ll leave it to the reader to decide what kind of mind he or she possesses, and wants to cultivate.


Conversation #13: Dude, Do You Even Protest? (September 3, 2017)

Grace and I discuss protest, using as a jumping-off point Nathan Heller’s book review article from the August 21st issue of The New Yorker. We start off a bit incoherently, cherry-picking some points made and quotes included from the books Heller is reviewing, before settling on a real critique of the author’s actual take on the issue, which is surprisingly vacuous. Nevertheless, questions of whether and how to protest, and whether it is effective in the modern era, still interest us, so we try to come to grips with them. Along the way Grace and I recount a little bit about our own histories of activism and dissent, in marches, on picket lines, and in our work, and try to answser the question “you criticize a lot of other people about their politics – but what are you doing to make a difference?”

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

The full text of Nathan Heller’s New Yorker article is available here (at least it was when I wrote this).


Summer Rerun: Conversation 7: Defining Our Terms (April 16, 2013)

In this rerun originally posted in 2013, Grace and I take a walk on a spring day and define some political terms; among other things, we talk about how modern conservatism is really just mean-spirited liberalism.

Topics discussed: Mr. Talky-talk; the eggs are piling up; at least the kids don’t have lead poisoning, ha ha ha sob; WIC food; health coverage; 3 inches of rain; conservatives as mean-spirited liberals; Grace talks about the conservative and liberal traditions; freedom and responsibility; you don’t actually want a conservative amount of sex or a liberal amount of arsenic; what a truly liberal food safety net would actually look like; neoliberalism; packaged and processed food; quantity over quality; the opposite of elitism; insistence on quality as a fundamentally conservative value; a clean diet for the rich and processed starches for the poor; CSAs; cow’s milk; breastfeeding; there is no low-fat goat’s milk to be found in Saginaw county; it’s not about calories; eating whole foods; juices; the WIC rationale; what a truly conservative food safety net would actually look like; someone stole our rocks and our trash can; the modern year-round CSA; driving a market; the WIC training class at Wal-Mart; Grace’s homework assignment; learning the basics; I’m not ungrateful; life skills; nobody should be grateful for toxic garbage; giving your first fruits; what we’re really grateful for; it’s not a gift; our social investments and what we get back from them; investing in skills; getting our teenager launched; education in Belgium; dignity written on our butts; investing in people; Barack Obama has a student loan to offer Paul.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.


Conversation #12: America’s Confederate Monuments (August 20, 2017)

Grace and I discuss America’s Confederate Monuments. What is the context in which these monuments were put up? What is the conservative take on coping with the recent anti-monument insurgency? What was the state saying when it backed the erection of these monuments, and to whom? What would a contemporary Civil War monument look like? What should be done with these statues? And when it took years to get Confederate flags taken down from state houses, why does it seem like this is now happening all at once?

At one point, I mentioned the descendants of Sherman. I was actually thinking of the descendants of Stonewall Jackson.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

This is the article in The National Review that suggests conservatives may best serve their long-term goals by doing nothing about the Confederate monuments:

There is no need to join in with the vandals and the iconoclasts, even if we sympathize with some of their good-faith reservations about Confederate memorials. But to the extent that the iconoclasm here mainly consists of local authorities making democratic decisions about the disposition of public property, there is a case for political quietism in this matter.

Here is an article on the “lost cause” myth.

Here is an article on the history of the Confederate monuments.

Here is another one.

And yet another one, about the statues in Baltimore.

Robert E. Lee opposed building Confederate monuments.

Stonewall Jackson’s Great-Great-Grandsons called for the removal of Confederate monuments.

This is a link to Corey Brettschneider’s book When the State Speaks, What Should It Say? How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality.


Hot Take: The Events in Charlottesville (August 13, 2017)

We are better suited to getting to the bottom of things, rather than staying on top of things, but we wanted to record a few quick comments on the breaking news story from the rally and counter-protests.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.


Conversation #11: White Working Class (August 6, 2017)

In this episode we discuss the book White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan C. Williams. Along the way we talk about the persistence of class, class signifiers, economic class as a proxy for race, personal bigotry versus structural racism, work as identity, and how to (and whether to) try having conversations across class barriers.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

Here is the Cracker Barrel post Grace mentions, by Ijeoma Oluo:

https://medium.com/@IjeomaOluo/facebooks-complicity-in-the-silencing-of-black-women-e60c34434181

A few weeks ago, I (Paul) wrote up my thoughts on White Working Class. You can find those thoughts in my blog post here (scroll down a bit to find the review):

https://thebooksthatwroteme.blogspot.com/2017/06/a-cooling-off-period.html


It’ll Be Just Like Starting Over (June 15, 2017)

Grace and I are reviving the Grace and Paul Pottscast. After two years of chaos and crazy commutes, things are settling down, just a bit. I have unpacked my microphones, set up a little space for recording, and started making some test files. I will try to apply what I’ve learned about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, so at least at first, my rule for producing these will be “it’s good enough.” I can’t promise a consistent schedule. Our baby girl is having surgery in just a few weeks and caring for her will be our first priority. But we will get something out!

Flashback: Permaculture, Hügelkultur, and our Saginaw Garden

To get started, I’m going to link to a podcast episode I recorded on June 15, 2014. I think this is one of the best of our old conversations. For one thing, Grace does most of the talking!

In this episode, we spoke about our gardening projects at our house in downtown Saginaw, Michigan, where Grace worked to apply permaculture principles to create an urban food jungle. Here is the original description of the episode:

I managed to get a little time with my wife in the garden. In this conversation she gives me an audio tour and explained what is actually in our garden beds, and in the process elucidates the application of permaculture principles to a home garden, and why it looks to the untrained eye like we’re just growing a lot of weeds.

The summary for iTunes has the following text:

A walking tour of our low hügelkultur beds and this year’s new raised beds; winter’s survivors; our weeds; wild and cultivated strawberries, groundcherries; lettuces; dill; never be tilling; always be mulching; eating living food; leeks; tomatillos; willow; garlic scapes; purslane (pigweed); vitamin C and calcium sources from the northeast; how nature mulches itself; two kinds of clover; our deciduous tree nursery; collaborating with nature; let’s see who shows up; smoothies without compromise; training your system to taste natural sweetness; water catchment; cosmos; plantain; annuals for nitrogen fixing; sunflowers; open-source zucchini; radishes; daikon; peas; cucumber; plants to climb and shade each other; nasturtium; considering a beehive; bee balm; mason v. honey; transplanted volunteer tomatoes; hazelnuts; almonds from California; doing things as our budget allows, with salvaged wood; sunflowers and potatoes don’t like each other, but maybe the peas can mediate; a big kale party; the potatoes that didn’t make it; onions; swiss chard; marigolds; thinning plants; carrots; a closed source zucchini; more lettuces; beets and beet greens; remembrance of growing seasons past; getting our neighbors involved; a typical city lot; a lot of food in a small area; feeding our kids the healthiest food we can find anywhere; Michigan’s right-to-farm laws, and their evisceration; Michigan, agricultural powerhouse; Michigan and Ohio wines and beers; hellish monocultural farm-scapes; many kinds of blueberries; a cross between rasberry and blueberry; our flower-shaped flower bed; thyme, lavender, oregano, mint, feverfew, and pink lemonade blueberries; a quick sprint through the flower beds; parenting success days; my favorite person in the whole world; don’t judge us by the height of our grass; kill your lawn; little apples; many thanks to Frank.

How to Listen

You can find the MP3 file here.

The Podcast feed is here.

The Podcast channel on YouTube is here.

More Information

Hügelkultur

Permaculture