Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ruy Teixeira on Bartels's 'working class'

Teixeira's analysis of Larry Bartels's paper (PDF) brings up the same issue as Christian_Left did in his comments to my previous post, but adds details about the prevailing definition of 'working class' and how the demographics of Bartels's 'working class' match that definition. The recent Teixeira post contains a link to a May 7 post wherein he recapitulates his reasons for defining the working class by the absense of a college degree, defending that definition (somewhat tentatively) against the criticism of Chris Bowers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Party identification and education, 1972-2002

More data from the National Election Studies Guide.

The first chart shows how respondents of the NES surveys identified themselves according to a 7-point scale of partisanship, from 'Strong Democrat,' to 'Independent,' to 'Strong Republican,' or simply 'Apolitical.' Note that these data go back to 1952, whereas data presented in the previous post on ideological identification went back only to 1972.

The next chart simplifies matters somewhat by showing responses to a 3-point scale of 'Democrat,' 'Independent,' or 'Republican.' Again, the data goes back to 1952.

The chart below shows linear trends in 3-point scale party identification. Note that to make the data on party ID easily comparable to that on ideological ID, this chart goes back only to 1972, not 1952.

Finally, recapitulating the presentation on ideological ID, here are charts of the trends in party identification among the different education demographics groups. Comparisons between the fortunes of the Democrats and Republicans are easier when the data for each demographic group is considered separately.

This first chart looks at party identification among college graduates and post-graduates:

Working our way down the educational ladder, here is how party identification has broken down among NES respondents who have some college, but no degree:

High school graduates who have no college:

And finally, respondents who have some grade school or high school, but no high school diploma:

To me these charts represent some problems for the Thomas Frank thesis that Democrats have lost elections because they have conceeded their working class base to backlash conservatism. Democratic identification has decreased since 1972 in all educational groups except among those with no high school diploma. Not good for the Dems but hardly evidence of a particular errosion of their support among the working class (if you choose to define 'working class' by education level). Moreover, where Dems have seen loses and Republicans gains, Republicans seem to be having more success attracting independent voters than they are taking away from the Democratic base.

[Update: Frank's thesis pertains to loss of Democratic support among the White working class. The data presented here is not limited to that group, and so can only serve as background for evaluation of Frank's contention.]

Of course, one need not accept the NES data as the final word on the subject. Indeed, one large flaw in the percentages presented here is that I've not given the N of the educational groups. Those numbers can be found here, however, for those interested in reviewing them. The more statistically sophisticated might also quarrel with the way NES has weighted responses. These issues are beyond my grasp, sadly, but if you want to argue with the NES, information on their weighting methods can be found here.

While readers are digesting all these charts, I will be away from my computer until the weekend at the earliest. But after that, I will post more information from the NES, and, of course, respond to any comments.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Education level and ideological identification

Here is a chart-o-rama, courtesy of numbers from the National Election Studies Guide.

These data pertain to survey questions asked of voters during elections from the years 1972 to 2002. The self-identification question, with slight variations in some years, asked respondents "When it comes to politics do you usually think of yourself as extremely liberal, liberal, slightly liberal, moderate or middle of the road, slightly conservative, conservative, extremely conservative, or haven't you thought much about this?" The first chart shows how respondents broke down by each category:

Voters with very strong ideological commitments--identifying as either 'extremely' conservative or liberal--have been and remain fairly small sections of the electorate. More voters recently (especially since 2000) identify as 'conservative,' but the 'liberal' category has seen growth as well.

These trends become more apparent when the liberal and conservative voters are grouped into only two categories, regardless of the strength of their liberal or conservative feelings. (Ignore the numbers after the data labels in the key--they don't refer to the actual category numbers.)

The linear trends of the same data show the changes even more clearly:

Conservatives have increased considerably, but those increases seem not to have come at the expense of liberals. The number of voters identifying as liberal has, in fact, increased, though at a markedly slower rate than increases in conservatives. The greater numbers of conservatives appear to be drawn from the ranks of middle-of-the-road voters and those who hadn't previously thought about their position on the ideological spectrum.

So how is education related to ideological self-identification? These charts break down conservative and liberal voters according to education level:

Conservative voters have increased in all educational categories, though the slope of the increase is steepest for voters who have had some college, but no degree, and those who did not finish high school. Liberals have lost ground among all educational groups except those who did not finish high school, where they show slight gains. Liberal declines have been steepest among those with some college but no degree, yet the slope of those losses is nearly identical to that of losses among college graduates.

Coming next post: data on party identification (as opposed to ideological identification) and education.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Observing the Center for Moral Clarity

This is a somewhat rambling post, but there have been a few things lately that I wanted to discuss, and I have crammed them into a single post even if they are only vaguely related.

The link in the title of this post will take you to a nice article by Bill Berkowitz at Working For Change about the conservative Christians seeking to dominate the Ohio Republican party. And today Ohio, tomorrow who knows where the Patriot Pastors will next focus? At the center of the movement (with its own Center for Moral Clarity) is a 10-12 thousand-member non-denominational church. I have to admit that I've never really understood the appeal of these mega-churches. Though I don't count myself as a terribly religious person, I have been in the past, and I can certainly understand the appeal of religion, and of a traditional church. But being part of a congregation numbering in the thousands seems more like being a groupie or a fan at a rock concert than being at church. Anyway--I wonder if the Ohio church's push for theocracy (a term they themselves use to characterize what they advocate) is typical of the mega-church movement. If so, that's scary. Though on the one hand I think that mass movements like this tend to burn themselves out--see the long list of fallen charismatic leaders from Billy Sunday to Jim Baker--I'd bet that these more infamous cases are just the most visible (and most volatile) points of a larger, more sustained movement in the suburbs and ex-urbs of America.

Somewhat related is a paper by Larry M. Bartels, "What's the Matter with What's the Matter with Kansas?" (You can download a 600K PDF of the paper here.) Bartels takes a look at statistics on White voters' behavior over the last 30 years or so to test Thomas Frank's thesis that the Democratic party has lost the allegiance of the White working class. That thesis is not supported by the statistics, he says, showing that "[W]hile it is generally true that Democratic presidential candidates have lost support among white voters over the past half-century, those losses have been entirely (and roughly equally) concentrated in the middle- and upper-income groups, and have been partially offset by *increasing* support for Democratic candidates among low-income white voters" (14).

I'm not sure if the White middle- and upper-classes that Bartels shows becoming more conservative are the same people flocking to ex-urban mega-churches (indeed, the Ohio church featured in the Berkowitz article seems to focus on African-Americans), but certainly in Ohio in 2004 it was the suburban and ex-urban Republican vote that provided critical support for Bush.

Although I find Bartels's paper pretty convincing, I don't necessarily agree with his advice to the Democratic party. He pretends, as any scholar giving a conference paper will, to not be giving advice at all. But he concludes by saying that the statistics "suggest that 'recruiting affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues' may not be such a 'criminally stupid strategy' on the part of the Democratic leaders (Frank 2004, 243). Indeed, it may be a testament to the success of that strategy that affluent white voters have not become even more markedly Republican..." (33). As Bartels admitted in a Summer 2004 article, the strategy he envisions is essentially a short-term one, summed up in the pragmatic, if amoral, advice "here is my game plan. First, win. Second, govern. Third, win again. Fourth, keep at it." A significant problem with this advice, however, is that with the exception of the two (Perot-influenced) Clinton wins, is that it hasn't worked, and Dems have lost ground in congressional and state elections as well as presidential.

A different version much the same flawed advice is given in a new paper by William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck of the Third Way Project. (You can dowload a PDF of that paper from the Third Way web site.) Their 1989 paper, "The Politics of Evasion," was widely seen as a manifesto for Clinton's triangulation strategy, and the "Politics of Polarization" is meant to inspire more Clintonesque candidates in the next election cycle, and to warn the Democratic party against tilting too far to the left. The Galston and Kamarck paper, however, offers at best contradictory advice to Dems: they want candidates who "stand for something," aren't afraid to talk about cultural issues, and who can sound tough and credible on national security. But the paper is devoid of specific policy recommendations or governing principles other than to say that Dems should move to closer to those views already held by most Americans. In short, they want a candidate who stands for whatever polling data tells him or her to stand for. Reaction to the paper from leading political web logs has been fairly mixed, but most readers seem unimpressed (see, for example, this from Paul Waldman, and this from Mark Schmitt).

Getting back to mega-churches, I would like to know how the growth of the mega-church movement fits with Bartels's finding that the middle- and upper-class White voters who have been moving to the Republican party still remain fairly liberal on social issues. Perhaps I am wrong in thinking that many mega-church goers are middle- and upper-class Whites, or perhaps the mega-churches are more diverse on social issues than those in Ohio profiled by the Berkowitz article, or perhaps White middle- and upper-class mega-church goers can feel personally more liberal on social issues yet still attend very conservative churches.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More on Faith and Patriotism

"Christ speaks of compassion without boundaries ... Flags are about separation, assertions of superiority and aggression. The whole notion that loyalty to country is connected to one's religious faith is totally bizarre and unjustified."
-- Stephen Kolbasa, commenting on his recent dismissal as Catholic school teacher
(quoted in WCBS news radio report)

Although I identify myself with a Protestant version of Christianity, I have to declare my strong support of former Catholic school teacher Stephen Kolbasa, who was recently fired from his job for refusing to permanently display a national flag in his classroom. I first saw this story on my favorite news and views website,, which has reprinted a brief article on Kolbasa's firing that originally appeared in The Progressive.

Intrigued by the story, I decided to dig a little deeper. I discovered that Kolbasa has a long record of peace activism in Connecticut. His deep and abiding commitment to a socially engaged form of faith reminds me of an anti-nuclear event I attended with my sister several years ago, at which people of many different faiths who were dedicated to lives of activism. Many of them lived in near poverty and the amazing lack of materialistic goals really impressed me. Throughout the multi-day event, the participants all slept on a Catholic high school gymnasium floor. Many of them were part of the Catholic Social Worker movement, which (as I understand it, and I may even be getting the name wrong) promotes simple living and dedicating one's life to activism against war, violence, injustice, and inequality. But there were also Protestant like us, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, etc.

Learning more about Kolbasa also led me to an intriguing website that maps the vast field of nuclear missile silos in the sparsely-populated Great Plains grassland area where Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska come together. This is one of my favorite parts of the world, and it is shocking to see how many weapons of mass destruction cover the landscape there. It makes something abstract like the U.S. nuclear capability somehow more tangible and frightening. I've driven by a few of these silos while driving the gravel backroads, but it is something else to see them all mapped out.

I say all of this as an American citizen who deeply loves the United States: its beautiful landscapes, its diverse people, its small towns, its backroads, its countryside, etc. To me, patriotism is a huge moral problem but loving my country is part of who I am. (Loving the current government and devoting myself to idolatrous symbols such as the flag are not part of that, however!) I believe that my love of my country is utterly contingent on my own life story and is not a claim that America is better than any other country or that the lives of my fellow Americans have any more value than others (as, for example, the intense public concern over U.S. casualties in Iraq while glossing over the much greater number of deaths of Iraqis suggests). Having lived overseas before and now again, I can say that there are good and bad things about every country. Americans are not unique in their "love of freedom" or their commitment to democracy. We have much to learn from other countries, and they have much to learn from us. I will always, however, have a special place in my heart for the people, places, and ideals that form a part of who I am as an American. But I also believe that God is working through places and people all around the world, not just in the USA--and like Stephen Kolbasa, I cannot countenance mixing my Christian faith with nationalistic symbols.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Die Fogelgrippe

Despite comments from reliable friends that the bird flu ("Die Fogelgrippe" in German) is being over-hyped, I'm coming back to the subject AGAIN today. I am sensitive to the cynicism induced by the current U.S. government's tendency to promote a culture of fear, both to further its nefarious schemes and to distract attention from its misdeeds (Plamegate?) And it is true that events like disease pandemics are notoriously unpredictable. However, it is worth noting that most of the hype has NOT been coming from the Bush Administration in this case, but from public health professionals. It seems much more like the pre-Katrina warnings of inadequate flood protections, when Bush and his cronies were actually late to the game, not promoters of mysterious (and often bogus) terror alert levels. This is for real, I have come to believe, and it has ample historical precedent. (Reliably left-wing Mike Davis, who recently published a book on this, agrees with me--or, rather, I agree with him given his much longer interest in this subject!)

I can approach this subject from several angles, all of which are underplayed in the individual-preparedness-dominated coverage of this threat: For starters, what is the humane response? More specifically, for believers like me, what is the Christian response? For intellectuals, what is our response based on our reading of relevant fields such as environmental history and the history of medicine? And for social-justice minded progressives, what is our response to this threat based on our convictions about the equal dignity of all people everywhere?

Let me roll all these perspectives into one brief list of big issues, which I hope can help focus the debate:

1. Poverty and Inequality: If a world flu pandemic hits, the most vulnerable will be the poor, as always. Yet much of the U.S. media coverage has focused on OUR OWN lack of preparedness--most specifically our government's relative negligence in stockpiling drugs to treat the bird flu--which may affect even our wealthy and middle class people. But what about the poor people of the world? Is it even remotely conceivable that people throughout much of Latin America, Africa, and South Asia can afford treatment? And who within the U.S. will suffer most? Those living in concentrated poverty, almost inevitably. We need to think about these issues, not as some kind of throwback to early 20th-century stigmatization of poor people (or those of a particular racial or ethnic group) as having poor hygiene or being sources of disease, but in recognition of the complex interdepency of all people and the need for special attention to the suffering of the most vulnerable.

2. Long-Distance Environmental-Economic Systems: If environmental history has taught us nothing else, it has shown us how truly dependent modern, industrial society is on complex webs of worldwide human-nature interconnections to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, give ourselves energy sources, etc. As many commentators note, we may not be able to stop a flu pandemic, but we can certainly prepare to deal with the secondary effects when our supply chains are disrupted. Rugged and self-reliant as we Americans like to view ourselves, our life-sustaining systems of provisioning nowadays are more fragile than ever before in a world pandemic situation, dependent as they are on just-in-time delivery of natural objects and their processed forms for our daily survival. How will we feed ourselves? Our neighborhoods? The least fortunate among us?

3. Political Opportunism: As I suggested in my last post, my other big worry is that Bush could be preparing to use a flu pandemic for his political advantage, projecting himself as a strong leader in a time of crisis. We know, of course, that his preparation for such a crisis has been terrible by comparison with other countries in the world, and that he has ignored persistent warnings until very recently, but no matter. (Didn't seem to hurt him on 9/11, did it?) But I really do believe that we need to be ready to respond with informed opposition when Bush proclaims that he needs to annul posse comitatus (thus allowing U.S. troops to operate at Bush's whim on American soil), repress civil liberties, or whatever. And, of course, we need to avoid letting a bird flu crisis give Bush a free pass on the many other brewing and real scandals that he and his cronies are facing. Because after all, this is not about "winning" in politics as if it were a sporting event. This is about holding a government accountable so that it will become more competent over time and better be able to deal with crises such as disease pandemics in a responsible way.

For a really good analysis of the bird flu situation, which deals nicely with my issues #1 and #2 (but carefully stays away from #3), see this link I got from the bird flu blog that I recommended on my previous post. Skim lightly through the first few points (although frustrated union organizers might take some of the analysis to heart) and on to some of the later points, which address issues from a less individualistic and less medical-solution-obsessed point of view than many other commentators. Hope this helps stimulate some thought and debate.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Times distancing itself from Miller?

It looks like the New York Times has finally published a comprehensive story on the Judy Miller's involvement in the Valerie Plame affair. The long piece by Don Van Natta Jr., Adam Liptak and Clifford J. Levy is accompanied by a long piece by Judy Miller herself, recounting her grand jury testimony and her conversations with 'Scooter' Libby, Dick Cheney's aide. It seems to me that the Times, the editorial page of which was stalwart in its support of Miller's refusual to testify to the grand jury, is now cutting Miller loose. The story by Liptak et al repeats in various ways the theme that Miller was a pushy, independent reporter, who did what she wanted (and apparently continued to publish) regardles of her editors' efforts to rein her in. What's also apparent is that Miller went out of her way to protect Libby. Her initial refusal to testify was based on her feeling that waivers granted to her by Libby were not genuine, or that she was being "signaled" by Libby's lawyer to remain silent. Only after a personal conversation with Libby, in which Miller says she "cross-examined" him about his sincerity in granting the waiver, and recieved an answer in the appropriate "tone of voice," did Miller agree she was able to testify. Her account of her conversations with Libby shows that he discussed Valerie Plame with her on at least a couple occassions, but Miller still maintains that it was another source, whom she cannot recall, who spoke of Plame by name. Oddly, I think, there is nothing in the Liptak et al story about Miller's 'discovery' of notes she had originally failed to share with the federal prosecutor.

I'm anxious to read what more informed Times watchers at Editor and Publisher and Ariana Huffington make of this latest episode in the Plame-Miller-NY Times affair.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Bird Flu Hype: Maybe We Should Worry

With limited time available for blogging, it is hard to decide what to write about these days. Part of me is tempted to ruminate about the forthcoming Plamegate bombshells. Another part of me wants to keep hammering (apologies to Tom DeLay, whose scandal would normally be juicy but seems overshadowed these days) at Bush's morally outrageous opposition to banning torture by the U.S. (Can we be seriously debating this?) And then there's the recent polls showing greater support for Bush's potential impeachment than for Clinton on the eve of his actual impeachment. And the Supreme Court Part II (I already wrote about that). And the appalling way that the Katrina aftermath is unfolding. And then there's the earthquake in Pakistan. And, of course, the lingering issue of global climate change and its potentially catastrophic impact on people all over the world, which is looking more and more ominous all the time. And the list just goes on and on.

But I've decided not to link to websites on any of those issues, important as they all are. (Any reader can undoubtedly find good material on all that stuff by doing a google search, or looking at The Nation, or What I want to use my blog entry for today is the Bird Flu Hype. People here in Europe are starting to get worried that it is showing up in Turkey and Romania. (My fellow bloggers overseas: Do people in China talk about this issue a lot?) I've been trying to figure out if the hype is justified, and I'm starting to get the sense that it is. Just after I spent some time trying to learn more on the internet, I got one of's periodic e-mail missives, arguing that we should replace the political hack that Bush has placed in charge of public health emergency preparation (FEMA redux, I guess). Charmed by this coincidence, I followed the source links from there and explored beyond them and the best place I found to summarize the latest developments on Bird Flu is another blogspot blog,

Despite the political hack angle (and my outrage at Bush's ludicrous and ominous suggestion the other day that military quarantine is the best way to prepare), this issue seems lot less juicy than some of the other things going on. But I want to ponder for a minute how insignificant some of the Bush scandals might seem if this thing really does start to get out of control. (I'm not saying the scandals are at all insignificant, but just that a flu pandemic might be like a Hurricane Katrina that hits the whole world, immediately dwarfing everything else.) I really am scared that Bush is President when this whole thing might erupt, given his evident incompetence at dealing with anything and everything that really counts. And I want to raise some questions: How can we prepare to respond to an influenza pandemic? How can we sort out real solutions from Bush's inept or nefarious schemes? Is there anything we can do? I'm thinking here more from the social action rather than the individual preparedness side. How can we advocate for justice issues and ferret out the Administration's likely duplicity if the pandemic hits and widespread public fear along with it? I'm not saying that nobody in the Administration has any actual good ideas, but I am skeptical (given our experience with 9/11) about how we will handle the aftermath if a true crisis hits.

Sorry for the long and rambling post...I'm trying to sort out some of this in my own head, and I'm hoping that by raising the issue, perhaps others may have some wisdom to add in.

Great Piece from Lewis Lapham

Posting simple links to other websites is not usually my idea of a quality blog entry. But let me celebrate my newfound ability to access and post on Lumpenlogocracy from Beijing by recommending this fantastic essay by Lewis Lapham. It was published in the October edition of Harper's Magazine, but you can find the full text at the site linked to in the title. Posting a link to an essay about incipient fascism in the United States from a country still dominated by fascism seems a fitting way to mark my unexpected (and probably temporary) access to my own web log.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Supreme Court, Round II

Back in July, I wrote in my blog entry about the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts, arguing that the Democrats should put up a fierce fight, which of course they largely did not do. I also cited a Republican friend of mine who claimed that Roberts, who was at the time "merely" a replacement for associate justice O'Connor, might later be nominated for Chief Justice, should a vacancy occur. I had not previously heard that suggestion from anyone else, so I posted it in order to pass on this little tip. Of course, I did not relish the thought of Roberts becoming Chief Justice, but I thought it an interesting idea that might reflect some thinking inside the G.O.P.

Since my friend's supposition has amazingly come true, I decided to query him again about the latest nomination of Harriet Miers to fill the O'Connor vacancy. His reading of this situation does not give me any comfort. He expressed amazement that some Democrats seem to be accepting the nomination. In his words: "I have come to believe she is a right wing religious Christian fundamentalist who will happily vote with Thomas and Scalia for the next 25 years." do you like that! Well, I can't say that this friend talks to the President personally, but he does have a some connections to the Party at the state level and seems to have a fairly good pulse of the thinking within the GOP establishment. So take that for what it's worth.

I would like to shift the terms of the debate, however. The mainstream media usually frames Supreme Court nominations as battles over cultural wedge issues, most prominently abortion. Thankfully, they are not completely ignoring the crony angle on this one. But I wish the entire debate would shift towards a new terrain entirely: Executive Power!

To me, this nomination is about executive power. Can an unpopular sitting President appoint someone within his very inner-most circle, whom no one would have considered a qualified contender beforehand, to a lifetime position on the highest Court in the land? And it is more than that: This is about executive privilege over the long run too. You better believe that many cases will come before the Supreme Court about what the President can and can't get away with vis-a-vis the Congress (or We the People). Torturing detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo? Secret wiretapping powers for "national security"? All the documents still remain classified? Congress can't know who was on that Energy (or fill in the blank) Task Force? Unlimited war powers? At least one columnist has even suggested, plausibly in my opinion, that Bush may be in big legal trouble quite soon and may need close, trusted allies on the Court who will help him out. Of course, it takes five justices to render a decision, but don't forget that Bush did muster that exact number (including O'Connor!) when the Supreme Court selected him as President in 2000. With Miers, Bush can be certain that swing seat stays with him on matters of executive power and privilege.

Let me also remind everyone that this is the SECOND (at least) time when a major Bush II appointment has been made, in which the person leading the President's search team ends up recommending him/herself. Does anybody remember the first? Yes, that's right: Vice President Dick Cheney. I was always amazed that the media did not hit harder on that one when it happened. Talk about power hungry. Talk about sucking up to Bush and making him think you love him in order to get the job yourself. Just don't forget that Cheney effectively appointed HIMSELF vice president. And now, perhaps, Harriet Stier will get away with choosing herself as Supreme Court justice. Yes, I know, Bush makes the final decision, but does anyone in the room think he is not susceptible to influence from sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear (the major theme of how Bush has made his decisions)?

Okay, back to the main point: This nomination is all about personal loyalty to Bush, period. If the right-wing gets a fundamentalist abortion-killer, then that's just icing on the cake for them. At a time when everyone seems to be attacking Bush and G.O.P. power brokers are ducking for cover from scandal after scandal, this is about circling the wagons and appointing someone as close to home as possible. Someone who can defend Bush's imperious ways on the Court. Someone who, the White House chief of staff has claimed, has no agenda other than Bush's. No wonder even many Republicans are nervous.

This is about separation of powers. Some people might think "we could do worse", although given the nominee's closeness to Bush, it is hard to believe she is not pretty far-right conservative. But I say, that doesn't even really matter at this point. Do we want the Executive and Judicial branches to remain separate from each other, checking and balancing? Or do we want to allow Bush to round out the Supreme Court with one of his closest friends and allies, the same exact one who helped him cover up how he wiggled out of service in Vietnam? Do we want an independent legal mind, or do we want an agent of Executive Power?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Blogging from Berlin (again!)

I am a regular reader of The Nation on-line (I can't bring myself to subscribe to the print version ever since my disappointment with their lack of coverage of Dennis Kucinich's campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2004), but I rarely read the art and literature review articles. I made an exception this time, though, since the particular piece of art being reviewed--Berlin's center-city Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe--is located only a few short blocks from where I work. In his review, Arthur C. Danto expresses some disappointment with the final result, a grid of gray concrete blocks of varying height. Designed by Peter Eisenman (and standing across the street from the new U.S. Embassy under construction!), the memorial is "minimalist" to the extreme, evoking a great emptiness. Here is an official website with some good photographs of the memorial...the domed building in the background is the Reichstag, the German parliament building rebuilt after unification.

I often pass by this memorial on my way to the sprawling Tiergarten (large center city park) for a run in the late afternoon. Always there are groups of tourists, exploring around the "steles" (as Danto calls them, more knowledgeable than me about sculpture/architecture terminology), sometimes with children playing on them. The fact that one portion of the square dips down significantly in elevation creates, at least for me, a strong evocation of the feeling you get at the Vietnam Veterans memorial in Washington, D.C. The similarity between the two events--the senseless loss of life on a large scale--perhaps makes such a connection appropriate. In a way, then, even though Danto seems displeased by the lack of specificity (telling the particular stories of people) in the memorial, I actually find it a good result. It manages to transform a very specific memorial to one of the greatest atrocities in the history of the world into something more universal.

Now, some people won't like that at all, and I can understand the desire to have something even more specific about the murder of Jews in the Holocaust in Germany's capital. (Just think for a moment how well it would go over in the U.S. if we created a memorial--no matter how minimalist/abstract--to the murdered American Indians victims of U.S. expansion right in the heart of the city, or perhaps even memorials to the slaughtered Vietnamese or Iraqi victims of American aggression...) So I think it is right and appropriate that the memorial bear the name of a specific act that is important for the Germans reckoning with their own history. But at the same time I like the possibility of recognizing the common bonds of all humanity and the universal evil of senseless violence and suffering.

On a related issue, especially for those Americans who believe "it can't happen here," please see a must-read report on the atrocities committed by agents of our own government. At the moment, senseless acts of brutality are still on a relatively small scale (compared to the Nazis), but I was raised to believe that Americans do not believe in torture. If you don't want the U.S. government torturing in your name, speak out against it now! I especially appreciated the call by Ray McGovern for religious leaders and people of faith to stand up against torture. These are not just a few isolated incidents. This is widespread and it has been happening over the past few years. We must stand united as Americans against this shameful stain on our national conscience (do we still have one?)