David Bloomfield Op-Ed: NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza Should Step Up or Step Aside!

Mayor, Carranza Use Brooklyn District To Launch Diversity Plan | News of the Week | thechiefleader.com

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza

Dear Commons Community,

My colleague, David Bloomfield, had a blistering op-ed in the Gotham Gazette calling on New York City’s Schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza, to resign.  Bloomfield comments that Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio are steering the school system to a disaster for the coming school year.  Here is the entire op-ed.

“Unless there’s an unexpected, immediate turnaround, New York City’s public schools need new leadership.

Poorly planned March closures, Spring and Summer distance learning failures, and overwhelmingly confused reopening plans for Fall are evidence of a system in near collapse and the cause of widespread parent and teacher despondency.

This is not all Chancellor Richard Carranza’s fault. He works for a Mayor who has been slow and stubborn throughout the city’s pandemic response, especially when it comes to the schools. But Mayor Bill de Blasio still has a year and a half left in office and our schools need new leadership now. We need a new Chancellor who will stand up to the Mayor, demonstrating managerial decisiveness and instructional vision. Deferring to de Blasio at every turn is a calamity for our children who face a perilous educational future.

Mayoral control of the city’s schools makes the Chancellor’s independence difficult. But Police Commissioner Dermot Shea regularly challenges the Mayor and gets away with it. Education is no less a technical field than policing. Carranza, however, has shown little backbone to chart his own course over the past two-and-a-half years and especially for the past six months. He needs to step up or step aside for a stronger replacement.

There is little chance that de Blasio will remove the Chancellor, a loyal soldier. Some will question changing horses mid-stream. But when the water is rising and the Mayor with the Chancellor at his side are stuck, the only choice is to spur change. So, without new-found independence, it remains for Carranza to leave, allowing new leadership to move us forward.

Carranza’s greatest and most lasting legacy has been calling out our system’s structural racism. He dared utter the word “segregation” when it stuck in de Blasio’s throat. He called for dismantling screened schools. He appointed people of color and women to high positions. No Chancellor in history has been more forceful in their calls for a more just and equal school system.

Those words, though, have not been followed by sufficient action. Here again, perhaps held back by the Mayor, Carranza has not met the moment. He has lagged, rather than led, as a few community school districts made strides improving diversity. Screened schools still promote segregation. Implicit bias training has been overly expensive and of dubious effectiveness. Two reports by the School Diversity Advisory Group have largely been shelved, especially the most significant integration recommendations. Now, inequities accumulate in haphazard reopening plans and budget cuts visited on the most vulnerable. Having broken through on rhetoric, stronger leadership is required to turn verbal commitments into reality.

De Blasio ran out of educational gas with his inspired first burst of effort bringing truly universal pre-kindergarten to New York. But Chancellor Fariña merely reversed Bloomberg-era reforms and Carranza has shown little ability to make strides in either instruction or bureaucratic responsiveness. Many outstanding educators wait in the wings to bring extensive leadership experience, new energy, and independent ideas to our schools. Among them are First Deputy Chancellor Don Conyers, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and ex-Montgomery County, Maryland Superintendent Josh Starr, who all have enviable track records within the New York City Department of Education and could immediately step into the Chancellorship.


If de Blasio can suppress his arrogance and admit he is no educational expert, allowing a new Chancellor to choose his or her own team and set a course outside the political calculus of City Hall.

If Chancellor Carranza has the courage to step up or see that he has brought us to where we are but can go no further.

If we, under new leadership, can reclaim our sense of hope and confidence instead of fear and confusion about this traditional time of renewal, the new school year.”

I would add that there is a good chance that there will be a strike or other significant job action in New York City on the part of the United Federation of Teachers at the start of the school year to add to Carranza’s woes.



Biden and DNC Beats Trump and RNC in Television Ratings!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier last week, The Daily Beast reported that President Trump had one thing on his mind heading into his Republican National Convention. 

The president was telling his closest aides that he was determined to beat his rival Joe Biden in the TV ratings. He was requesting daily ratings for the Democratic National Convention and insisted that his RNC spectacle would demolish their “pathetic” numbers, according to a senior administration official.

In the end, apparently not even all of the unethical pomp and circumstance of a Trump-branded White House as the backdrop of his big speech Thursday night could draw more viewers than Biden’s solemnly rousing speech to an empty auditorium

According to initial Nielsen numbers, President Trump’s speech Thursday night drew 14.1 million viewers across the three broadcast networks and three major cable news networks. That is  three million fewer viewers than the 17.5 million who tuned in to watch Biden’s speech one week earlier.

When those numbers are expanded out across nine broadcast and cable networks, Biden still beat Trump by a fairly wide margin, 23.6 million to 21.6 million.

At 70 minutes, Trump spoke close to three times as long as Joe Biden, whose DNC speech clocked in at 24 and a half minutes. It was the second-longest convention speech in modern American history—after the 75-minute speech Trump delivered at the 2016 RNC. 

Biden’s DNC beat Trump’s RNC across the board on all four nights, starting with former First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech on night one, which drew about 18.7 million viewers compared to 15.8 million for Donald Trump Jr., Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and others on the first night of the RNC. Night two was closer, but headliner Jill Biden still edged out First Lady Melania Trump, 18.6 million to 18 million. 

On night three, Vice President Mike Pence not only lost viewers compared to the previous night but also came in far behind the Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris. While approximately 15.7 million viewers watched Pence, about 21.5 million viewers tuned in to Harris. 

Trump must have had a fit when we saw these ratings.

The above was forwarded to me by my colleague, Frank Delly.



Video: Leon Musk Implantable Brain Chip Demonstration!

Dear Commons Community,

On Friday, Elon Musk presented (see video above) a working demo of his latest technology moonshot, a new kind of implantable chip for the brain. And he did, but it wasn’t with a human subject: Rather, it was with a pig named Gertrude.  As reported by CNN.

The presentation came a year after Musk first introduced his plan for a new kind of implantable computer chip. Last July, he sketched out a vision of a computer chip connected to extremely slim wires with electrodes on them, which would be embedded in a person’s brain by a surgical robot. The implant would connect wirelessly to a small, behind-the-ear receiver that could communicate with a computer. 

Musk says he hopes the implant could one day help quadriplegics control smartphones, and perhaps even endow users with a sort of telepathy. Like existing brain-machine interfaces, it would collect electrical signals sent out by the brain and interpret them as actions.

The demo, which Musk had teased on Twitter by saying it would “show neurons firing in real time” and was mainly a recruiting effort to attract new employees, included more details about the implant Musk eventually hopes to implant in people’s brains. He said the company scrapped the idea for a behind-the-ear receiver in favor of a fully embedded implant about the size of a coin that would be placed below the skull — a plan that sounds more invasive than what Musk unveiled last summer. He showed off a prototype of this so-called Link, which he said would include many of the sensors in your smartphone, such as a six-axis interial measurement unit and temperature and pressure sensors. The device uses Bluetooth Low Energy to communicate with a computer.

The demo also featured the second version of a surgical robot that Musk introduced last July, which is meant to insert the Neuralink implant into the brain.

There have been less than enthusiastic reviews of Musk’s demo mainly because he used a pig instead of a human being but many medical breakthroughs begin with animals such as rats and monkeys.  I believe that Musk or someone else will deliver an implantable brain chip.  The critical question is not whether but when?


Maureen Dowd: Trump’s Children Served Up a Malarkey Buffet at the Republican National Convention!

Meet The Trump Family | Biography - YouTube

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, analyzes the Trump family, especially Ivanka,  and their “malarkey” performances at the Republican National Convention (RNC).  Anyone who has been following Trump since becoming president would agree that the family presented an alternate universe of the Donald.   Entitled, The Princess vs. the Portrait of Trumpworld, Dowd focuses on Ivanka who may be prepping for her own run as president in 2024.  Here are several excerpts.

“The most dramatic tableau Thursday night was not the president’s somniferous speech, but Ivanka’s scorching moment with the Day-Glo-garbed Melania.

After her speech, the first daughter strode past the first lady to greet her father. Melania, who had first smiled broadly at Ivanka, suddenly went stony.

The exchange was particularly loaded given the context: Melania’s former BFF and aide, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, is beginning to dish on her new tell-all about the first lady, which includes accounts of conversations in which Melania mocks Ivanka.

It has been reported that Melania calls Ivanka “the princess” — Trump singled out his favorite child in his convention speech — and Ivanka has reportedly called Melania “the portrait.”

….On Ivanka’s other flank is Don Jr., who was never as favored by their father but who has morphed from family dunce to one of Trumpworld’s most effective battering rams.

…The Trump kids’ speeches could have been given by anyone, they were so devoid of humanizing anecdotes.

Even worse, they were trying to sell a version of Donald Trump that was a total fiction. The plan, with the family and other speakers, was to push the idea that Trump is caring and informed behind the scenes — “colorblind and gender neutral,’’ as Ivanka said at the last convention.”

The entire column is below.  It is provocative, insightful, and sadly true!



New York Times

The Princess vs. the Portrait in Trumpworld

By Maureen Dowd

Aug. 29, 2020

WASHINGTON — As long as the Trumps were hijacking the White House for their convention finale, they may as well have built a golden escalator from the Truman Balcony to the South Lawn.

That way, Ivanka could have made her power move with true Trumpian flair. In every other sense, she went for it. With her blond mane rippling, she was full-on MAGA, shoving the amped-up Don Jr. and fortissimo Kimberly Guilfoyle out of the way and positioning herself as the heir to her father’s political dynasty.

The night was so Borgia, it made sense to end it with opera. (Or they could have just played the “Succession” theme song.)

The old joke that if Trump became president, he’d slap his name on the White House almost came true during the egomania jubilee, when fireworks spelled out the name “Trump.”

Ivanka must realize now that she and Jared can never go back to their life as New York society darlings. So why not double down on Washington and lay the groundwork for a presidential run of her own?

Now that her father has turned the Republican Party into a political machine bearing her last name, she must feel entitled to jump into the driver’s seat when papa is done with it.

Her speech Thursday night was about him but it was also pointedly about “I.”

“Four years ago, I introduced to you a builder …” “Tonight, I stand before you …” “When Jared and I moved with our three young children to Washington, we didn’t exactly know what we were in for …” “I’ve seen in Washington, it’s easy for politicians to survive if they silence their convictions …” “I couldn’t believe so many politicians actually prefer to complain …” “I was shocked to see …” “I am more certain than ever before …” “I’ve been with my father …” “I sat with him in the Oval Office …” “I was with my father when …” “I promised that …” “I said that Americans needed …”

“Four years ago, I told you I would fight alongside my father, and four years later, here I am.’’

Yes, there she was, daddy’s little girl, on her imaginary escalator. The pungent aroma of the S.N.L. Ivanka perfume, “Complicit,” wafted across the lawn on the balmy night. All the dynamics that make Donald Trump’s administration, and the way he runs the country, so chaotic — the backbiting, the warring factions, the grifting, the neglect, the power grabs — were echoed in the family portrait on display this past week.

The most dramatic tableau Thursday night was not the president’s somniferous speech, but Ivanka’s scorching moment with the Day-Glo-garbed Melania.

After her speech, the first daughter strode past the first lady to greet her father. Melania, who had first smiled broadly at Ivanka, suddenly went stony.

The exchange was particularly loaded given the context: Melania’s former BFF and aide, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, is beginning to dish on her new tell-all about the first lady, which includes accounts of conversations in which Melania mocks Ivanka.

It has been reported that Melania calls Ivanka “the princess” — Trump singled out his favorite child in his convention speech — and Ivanka has reportedly called Melania “the portrait.”

After many tugs of war, Melania has resigned herself to the fact that Jared and Ivanka run the White House. The basic view in the building is that Ivanka has wrestled Melania to a draw.

Wolkoff writes that Melania was so annoyed by her stepdaughter’s attempts to, as she saw it, infringe on her role in planning the Inauguration that she launched “Operation Block Ivanka.”

“Melania was not thrilled about Ivanka’s steering the schedule and would not allow it,’’ Wolkoff writes in a New York magazine excerpt. “Neither was she happy to hear that Ivanka insisted on walking in the Pennsylvania Avenue parade with her children.’’

The Portrait decided to try to exclude the Princess from the portrait — the “special moment” of the swearing-in.

“Yes, Operation Block Ivanka was petty,’’ Wolkoff writes. “Melania was in on this mission. But in our minds, Ivanka shouldn’t have made herself the center of attention in her father’s inauguration.”

On Ivanka’s other flank is Don Jr., who was never as favored by their father but who has morphed from family dunce to one of Trumpworld’s most effective battering rams.

Junior, as Jason Zengerle writes in The New York Times Magazine this week, “is wagering that by going all in on his father’s presidency and the tribal passions it has unleashed, he can claim his own durable place in American politics.” He has come to represent “the emotional center of the MAGA universe,’’ Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, told Zengerle.

The convention speeches from Trump’s other children, Tiffany and Eric, lacked the sort of warmth and affection seen in the sweet and personal video of Joe Biden’s granddaughters.

The Trump kids’ speeches could have been given by anyone, they were so devoid of humanizing anecdotes.

Even worse, they were trying to sell a version of Donald Trump that was a total fiction. The plan, with the family and other speakers, was to push the idea that Trump is caring and informed behind the scenes — “colorblind and gender neutral,’’ as Ivanka said at the last convention.

As W. did at his convention in 2000, Trump offered a panoply of Blacks and Latinos — though some of them have said they did not know they were going to be a part of the Trump convention. With W., you could look out at the audience and see the falsity of it, since the audience was full of white fat cats. Republicans were fortunate that for the first three nights, they did not have an audience of delegates, donors and apparatchiks that would pull the curtain back on the party’s hypocrisy; though you could see a front row of white fat-cat men during Thursday’s speeches at the White House.

With hilarious euphemisms, the family also painted the potty-mouthed patriarch’s outrageous behavior and degrading language as simply colorful.

“We all know Donald Trump makes no secrets about how he feels about things,’’ Melania said. “Total honesty is what we as citizens deserve from our president. Whether you like it or not, you always know what he’s thinking.’’ And that, she said with a straight face, is because he’s “an authentic person.”

Ivanka chimed in: “Dad, people attack you for being unconventional, but I love you for being real.”

It was impossible for this to ring true, given that the president’s own sister was heard describing Trump in secret recordings made by his rogue niece, Mary Trump, as “a brat” and a liar with “no principles.” (Or, as Trump’s children would say, a totally honest people’s champion with strong convictions.)

In New Hampshire on Friday night, the president considered his dynastic possibilities. “I want to see the first woman president also,” he said, but called Kamala Harris “not competent.”

“They’re all saying, ‘We want Ivanka,’’’ he said.


New Book:  “A Black Women’s History of the United States”


Dear Commons Community,

I just finished reading,  A Black Women’s History of the United States, by Diana Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross.  Berry is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, and Gross is a professor of history at Rutgers University. It is an engaging book that documents how African American women put their bodies and souls on the line for the cause of freedom.”  Berry and Gross detail well the contributions of African American women from the age of exploration in the 1500s to the present day.  While I was familiar with many of the women depicted in the 20th century such Shirley Chisolm, I knew little about those in the earlier centuries.  I was grateful to Berry and Gross for filling a gap in my knowledge.   As one reviewer stated:  “It is an essential, important, and fundamental account that is a must-read for anyone to know the history of the United States in its fullest, truest, and most gut-wrenching reality.” 

As an aside, I read this book at the same time I was reading, Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language by Nicola Gardini. While both dealt with history, these two books could not be more different in subject matter and had my head swirling at times.

I have added A Black Women’s History… to my recommended readings in a graduate course I am teaching at Hunter College.  Below is a review courtesy of Long Star Literary Life.



Long Start Literary Life

By Chris Manno

A Black Women’s History of the United States

February 4, 2020


If you think you had a pretty accurate picture of United States history—and I thought I did—this book will make you think again. Because like most, I did not know about significant blind spots, gaps, and omissions in what passed for US history before this meticulously researched and entirely accessible history crossed my desk. After reading this compact yet compelling book, I’m a believer: this is an essential, important, and fundamental account that is a must-read for anyone to know the history of the United States in its fullest, truest, and most gut-wrenching reality.

The focus is United States history—really, North American history, from the start—with the added dimension of black womanhood in all the critical and pivotal waypoints in seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century life on the continent. Black women enduring the early years of US history did so against a daily existence of bondage, disenfranchisement, injustice, and inequality, a crucial part of the colonial narrative heretofore largely ignored by historians.

The asymmetrical racial power balance was appalling, the reality of enslavement draconian, and the heartbreaking, unyielding oppression inhumane and soul-crushing. This history restores the historical voice to many courageous, relentless black women who resisted enslavement and colonialism to advocate freedom for their succeeding generations.

The authors chose a unique historical methodology that offers rich detail and layers of research-based narrative, then lets the reader draw conclusions. Rhetorical questions follow the clearly drawn history: How could a black woman feel about herself and her children in the face of rape, murder, denial, oppression, and inhumanity that was the colonial order which persisted for centuries? How would anyone feel—particularly the reader—newly apprised of the atrocity unmentioned or barely spoken of in conventional histories of the United States?

The narrative is heartbreaking mostly, hopeful certainly, and a fitting, long-overdue tribute to the largely nameless, faceless, but powerful and unrelenting black women whose stories leap from the pages of this history. The reader loses the blinders inherent in the typical US history’s narrow account of the inhumanity black women in particular had to bear: their reproductive life was commodified as a saleable labor source by slaveowners. The authors carefully and effectively link this atrocity to another—infanticide—in a way that transcends typical US history and underscores the loss of humanity in a country that tolerated slavery for centuries.

The only troublesome narrative issue I encountered was a question of viewpoint, not history: in chapter three, the historian’s voice is overshadowed by personal bias when the authors intrude in their very well-supported history with a statement regarding enslavement of black people by black people. “This is a difficult history to report,” the authors state, “as many of those who read it will place blame on black people for contributing to slavery.” This forces the history into the background and foregrounds a misplaced, at least in the historical voice, concern over a desired conclusion they wish to induce. But should historians have a rhetorical agenda? And should that overshadow the history itself at any point?

Regardless, A Black Women’s History of the United States is a rich, vital, and must-read addition to basic US history. “African American women put their bodies and souls on the line for the cause of freedom,” the authors tell us, and their thoroughly detailed history foregrounds that reality poignantly, uniquely, and accurately.


Nicola Gardini – “Long Live Latin:  The Pleasures of a Useless Language”

Dear Commons Community,

In high school (1961-1965), I completed a four-year Latin sequence in three years and translated the works of authors such as Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil.  Every night, we were assigned a passage in Latin to read and had to be ready to discuss it the next day in class. For some reason, I took to this exercise and enjoyed the challenge of breaking down the declensions and conjugations that are the basis for Latin grammar.  It was very helpful later on in life especially as I studied other languages namely Spanish and French.  Also the Latin vocabulary provides the roots for many English words.   

About a month ago, I decide to read Nicola Gardini’s Long Live Latin:  The Pleasures of a Useless Language.  Gardini is a professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at the University of Oxford and knows his subject well.  In this book, he shares his deep love for Latin and tries to make the case for why it is still important in modern times. He focuses on its beauty, organization,  and logic. I found it full of insights into language in general and it kept taking me back to my high school days.  Anyone who has ever studied Latin, will find Gardini’s treatment a deep yet fun read.  For those who haven’t studied Latin, it will be tough going.  Below is a review that captures a lot of this book’s essence.



National Review

Why Study Latin?

By Diane Scharper

Oxford professor Nicola Gardini urges people to read and study Latin. He believes that Latin is the antidote for the modern age, which seems transfixed by the spontaneous, the easy, and the ephemeral.

His new book, Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language, argues that Latin combines truth and beauty with the timelessness of art. People should study Latin for all the reasons people should read literature.

In his Confessions, St. Augustine (354–430 C.E.) “placed the learning of Latin under God’s purview,” Gardini writes. Augustine believed Latin drew a child closer to God, “the truest truth.”

Gardini argues that Latin contains the logic and precision of math. He uses Caesar’s De bello Gallico as an example of language trying to “re-create the world mathematically and geometrically, its sentences organized according to precise cause-and-effect relationships.”

The syntax of Latin stimulates logical reasoning, Gardini says. Its morphology jogs memory. Most important, Latin is the language of civilization. “The western world was created on its back. . . . Inscribed in Latin are the secrets of our deepest identity.”

According to Gardini, those secrets are concerned with the power of words to enhance thought. Words, he says, are humanity’s greatest gift, and literature heightens the value of that gift. Referencing Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Gardini says that Latin is able to link the smallest blip “to the cosmic order, which . . . invests all with . . . a profundity that stretch[es] beyond the terrestrial.”

Early on, Gardini discusses Nicolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) and his warmly felt connection to Roman literature. Author of The Prince and the father of modern political theory, Machiavelli, Gardini says, occasionally took a break from politics and read the Latin classics.

As Machiavelli describes it, he didn’t just read, he encountered the authors of these ancient books: “I speak to them without inhibition,” he wrote in 1513 to a friend, “and [I] ask them the reasons behind their actions; and in their humanity, they reply.”

Machiavelli’s approach evidently inspired Gardini, who crafts each chapter so that it feels like an encounter. Offering numerous personal anecdotes from his own life, Gardini’s writing is warm and conversational yet scholarly.

His text considers the form, style, purpose, influence, and themes found in the works of these authors; quotes liberally from their work; and offers Gardini’s own translations while noting the rhetorical devices and figurative language appearing in the original Latin.

Calling his book both an ode and an essay, Gardini defends Latin from those who consider the subject superfluous. He is especially drawn to Latin’s poetic qualities and frequently comments on the musicality of the language with its figures of sound as well as its metaphors, which he says have an almost magical effect.

Studying Latin, Gardini says, taught him the importance of discrete sounds and syllables. It showed him “the importance of musical language, the soul of poetry.” Words he used every day began “disassembling in my mind and swirling around like petals in the air,” Gardini writes in a nod to poetry

Gardini suggests that his book is for a general reader—especially for young students. But it’s hard to imagine many young students from the U.S. responding well to the “critical and aesthetic genius” of a writer like Horace (65 B.C.E.–8 C.E.) or to his Ars Poetica, excerpts of which Gardini translates and discusses. As Gardini observes, “There’s nothing easy about Horace’s Latin, even when it’s dictated to by occasion.”  Yet Horace’s advice for poets would resonate in today’s university writing courses: “Poetry is like painting: some things catch you / more if you stand in front of them, other things from a distance.”

The book is somewhat hard to follow because Gardini doesn’t present his material in chronological order. The authors don’t appear as they would in a history of Latin literature. Instead, he shows them in media res, in what he calls, “linguistic instances, . . . as examples of what Latin has gained at a certain moment . . . and handed down to its long—and still living—tradition.” But this is a quibble with an important and informative book.

Currently, Gardini teaches Renaissance literature, which he describes as heavily dependent on Latin. Given that college semesters consist of approximately 22 classes and that Gardini is a visiting professor (at Oxford University, Columbia University, etc.) it’s conceivable that this book, which contains 22 chapters (each focusing on one writer or one quality of Latin), was inspired by a syllabus that he created for a Latin literature course.

Latin, as Gardini points out in the early chapters, is used in science, law, and formal documents—and in religious worship, which is where Gardini first heard the language when his mother recited the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and other prayers. Gardini, though, doesn’t appreciate church Latin as much he does literary Latin, which is the focus of this book. He emphasizes the influence that Latin literature had on figures as diverse as St. Jerome, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Castiglione, Dante, Milton, Nietzsche, J. D. McClatchy, Margaret Atwood, and others.

Gardini is passionate about his subject and tends to be wordy. Wishing to inspire passion in his readers, he repeats himself several times, each time becoming (metaphorically) louder. He seems fond of alliteration and points out that this figure of sound as well as repetition were favorites of Roman poets. He seems to prefer the Roman poets over its prose writers.

Gardini begins with a discussion of Old Latin authors, mentioning the playwright Plautus (250–184 B.C.E.), whose comedies influenced dramatists through the ages including William Shakespeare (in The Comedy of Errors), George Bernard Shaw, and Bertolt Brecht. Gardini also notes that Cato the Elder (234–149 B.C.E.) produced a vast body of work, but only a farming manual, De agri cultura, survives. Gardini considers the work the beginning of Latin literature and an influence for “the giant Virgil” and his Aeneid.

Poetry, Gardini says, represents the human word at its finest, and in a chapter on Virgil’s Eclogues, Gardini argues that the word “umbra,” meaning “shadow,” is “the most beautiful word in the Latin language.” In the word, he says, “the semantic and emotive ambivalence of Virgil’s Latin finds its most eloquent symbol.”

Gardini admires the poet Catullus (87–54 B.C.E.), considering him to be one of the greatest influences on Western poetry. Today, only 116 of his poems survive, including “The Death of Lesbia’s Sparrow,” which Gardini calls “one of the most celebrated texts in Western literature.”

Although Gardini mentions the inspiration of goddesses, the only woman quoted here is Sappho, whose poetry influenced the father of Latin (and all) poetry, Ennius (239 B.C.E. –169), who is noted for the epic poem Annales. Gardini calls Ennius “the linguistic conscience” of Latin poetry.

“Of all the ancient writers,” Gardini says, Seneca (4 B.C.E.–65 C.E.), “the Stoic philosopher, is the one who has most taught me how to live.” Gardini uses as testimony excerpts from Seneca’s Letters to Lucilius. For example: “All we are surrounded by is one and it is god; and we are its allies and its limbs.”

“Virgil [(70 B.C.E. to 19 C.E.)],” he continues, “moves me; Tacitus [(56 to 120 C.E.)] draws me toward cruelty; Lucretius [(94 to 52 B.C.E.)] sends me whirling and drifting and sinking; Cicero [(106 to 43 B.C.E.)] has me dreaming of perfection in all—thought, speech, behavior. Seneca teaches me happiness.”

Looking at Cicero, Gardini notes that Petrarch considered him “the supreme father of the Latin language.” Cicero’s Latin, according to Gardini, is “self-describing and self-analyzing”; it debates and speculates while thoroughly examining every aspect of a discussion. Cicero disdained excessive imagery but appreciated the just-right metaphor—“stimulating our imagination and engaging . . . our senses, particularly our vision.”

Above all, Cicero advocated clarity of expression, as can be seen in his advice to writers and orators: “Oratio . . . lumen adhere rebus debet.”

Or, as Gardini translates it, “Language must shed light on things.”


Several hundred former aides to President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain endorse Biden for president!

More than 100 former staffers of Sen. John McCain endorse Joe Biden

Dear Commons Community,

NBC News and ABC News are reporting that several hundred former aides to President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain announced yesterday that they are endorsing Joe Biden for president.

“Given the incumbent president’s lack of competent leadership, his efforts to aggravate rather than bridge divisions among Americans, and his failure to uphold American values, we believe the election of former Vice President Biden is clearly in the national interest,” they said in a letter.

As president, Biden would lead a comprehensive effort to contain the coronavirus in the U.S., they said.

Some of McCain’s former aides who signed the letter include Mark Salter, the senator’s former chief of staff; Christian Ferry, who was deputy manager for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign; Joe Donoghue, the senator’s former legislative director; and Mike Murphy, a GOP political consultant who was a strategist on McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.

Trump and McCain frequently clashed, including over efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

This endorsement, the latest in a string of GOP statements of support for Biden, comes two days after the two-year anniversary of McCain’s death from brain cancer.

Earlier this week, than two dozen former Republican Congress members backed Biden for president, and at the Democratic National Convention last week, several other Republicans endorsed the former vice president. They included former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former eBay and Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and former Rep. Susan Molinari of New York, who was among those on the list the Biden campaign released Monday.



Republican National Convention:  Day 4 Takeaways!

Republican National Convention, Day Four: Live Updates

Dear Commons Community,

I watched parts of the Republican National Convention last night.   I could not watch it all given it was the first night of the new semester and my online class on Major Issues in Contemporary Education that ended at 9:30 pm. Also Trump’s closing speech (70 minutes) went on far too long and became a rather boring spectacle. Below is a recap of the highlights of the evening courtesy of several media outlets and compiled by Yahoo News.



President Donald Trump took center stage on the final night of the Republican National Convention and delivered a speech that sought to assure voters that despite more than 180,000 COVID-19 deaths and a badly damaged U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, he had made good on his promise to “make America great again.” Like incumbent presidents before him, he also spent much of his speech laying out his proposed agenda for a second term. He saved plenty of time to attack Joe Biden, the man hoping to succeed him in the White House.

Here are several key takeaways from day four of the RNC, whose theme was “America, Land of Greatness”:

Flouting coronavirus guidelines, Trump delivers defiant acceptance speech

In a defiant speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination that went on for more than an hour and contained 5,600 words, Trump repeatedly mocked his opponent and trolled his political enemies.

Gesturing to the White House behind him, an unprecedented setting for a political convention speech — and one that Democrats say was in violation of the Hatch Act — Trump chided the opposing party. “The fact is, I’m here,” he said. “What’s the name of that building? But I’ll say it differently. The fact is: We’re here, and they’re not.” His crowd of nearly 1,500 supporters, seated closely together on the White House South Lawn, cheered the insult.

“Joe Biden may claim he is an ally of the light, but when it comes to his agenda, Biden wants to keep us completely in the dark,” Trump joked at another point. “He doesn’t have a clue.”

In some respects, Trump’s entire speech felt like a protest against the social-distancing restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus, which he has been chafing under for so long. His campaign issued a statement Thursday saying it was following “strict protocols.” It did not specify, though, which protocols were being followed, and many in the audience did not wear masks.

Like the speakers on the RNC schedule this week, Trump painted the choice between him and Biden in stark and absolute terms. “This election will decide whether we save the American dream, or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny,” he said, as protesters outside the White House leaned on car horns and blew vuvuzelas in the background.

When he did speak about the pandemic, the single biggest threat to his chances of being reelected, Trump depicted a string of successes. Nevertheless, the United States has reported far more cases and deaths from the virus than any other country.

“We developed, from scratch, the largest and most advanced testing system in the world. America has tested more than every country in Europe put together, and more than every nation in the Western Hemisphere combined. We have conducted 40 million more tests than the next closest nation,” Trump said. “We developed a wide array of effective treatments, including a powerful antibody treatment known as convalescent plasma that will save thousands of lives. Thanks to advances we have pioneered, the fatality rate has been reduced by 80 percent since April.”

He did not mention that the head of the FDA recently walked back earlier remarks in which he seemed to endorse Trump’s positive assessment of the promise of convalescent plasma. Recent results have apparently yet to show the results the president has claimed.

The president was much more comfortable attacking Biden and the liberal Democrats he portrayed as controlling his rival.

“How can the Democrat Party lead our country when they spend so much time tearing down our country?” Trump asked at one point. He also quipped, “Joe Biden’s agenda is made in China. My agenda is made in the U.S.A.” Biden, meanwhile, has also called for an increase in American manufacturing.

As to Trump’s agenda for a second term, he made a long list of pledges, some of them difficult to square with reality. Trump promised to expand charter schools, hire more police officers (something that in fact falls to local jurisdictions), ban “sanctuary cities” and bolster the manufacturing sector. He said he would reduce taxes and regulations “at levels not seen before” and create 10 million new jobs (although the country has lost millions of jobs during his first term, thanks to the virus).

Also on his list: to strike down terrorists, appoint more conservative judges (which would be more difficult if the Democrats were to retake control of the Senate) and to protect Medicare and Social Security (which are threatened by his own spending proposals). Meanwhile, he said he would protect medical coverage for preexisting conditions (despite his administration’s lawsuit to kill the Affordable Care Act), expand oil drilling and land the first woman on the moon.

The central message of the convention and of Trump’s speech was that Biden is not, in fact, a moderate Democrat, but a radical “Trojan horse” controlled by people intent on tearing the country to shreds.

Standout speaker Ann Dorn

One standout moment at Thursday’s convention came courtesy of Ann Dorn, the widow of a retired St. Louis police captain who was fatally shot by looters in June amid unrest after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

It was a deeply personal speech.

“Violence and destruction are not legitimate forms of protest,” said Dorn, her voice breaking with emotion as she recounted how her husband, a retired Black police captain, David Dorn, 77, was killed. “They do not safeguard Black lives. They destroy them.

“I relive that horror in my mind every single day,” she said, often close to tears. “My hope is that having you relive it with me now will help shake this country from the nightmare we are witnessing in our cities and bring about positive, peaceful change.”

Her speech was undeniably powerful, offering a graphic illustration of the consequences of lawlessness that Republicans at the convention had warned about all week.

“How did we get to this point where so many young people are so callous and indifferent towards human life?” she asked. “This isn’t a video game where you can commit mayhem and then hit ‘Reset’ and bring all the characters back to life. David is never coming back. He was murdered by people who didn’t know, and didn’t care, that he would have done anything to help them.”

At the same time, Dorn’s decision to tell her story at the RNC did not sit well with her two stepdaughters.

“We know his wife is a Trump supporter, but he was not,” Dorn’s daughter Debra White told the St. Louis American. “He frequently said they were not able to talk about politics because they were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. I know he would not want his legacy to be for his death to be used to further Trump’s law-and-order agenda.”

Giuliani rails against Black Lives Matter

Giuliani, never one to pull his punches, declared: “If Biden is elected, along with the Democrats who are unwilling to speak out against this anarchy, then the crime wave will intensify and spread from cities and towns to suburbs and beyond.”

He did, however, go even further than many other Republican speakers this week, portraying Biden as a pawn of “Bernie, AOC, Pelosi, Black Lives Matter and his party’s entire left wing.” The inclusion of Black Lives Matter with the GOP’s list of usual suspects was noteworthy, and Giuliani went on to elaborate a theory implicating antifa, the umbrella term for left-wing groups that sometimes engage in street brawls, in a more sinister conspiracy.

“It seemed for a few brief shining moments like Democrat and Republican leaders would come together with a unified proposal to reduce police misconduct,” Giuliani said. “This possibility was very dangerous to the left. They had a president to beat and a country to destroy, and although a bipartisan coalition agreeing on action against police brutality would be very valuable for the country, it would also make President Trump appear to be an effective leader. So, BLM and antifa sprang into action, and in a flash, hijacked the protests into vicious, brutal riots.”

Twice in his speech, Giuliani conflated Black Lives Matter with antifa.

“The single biggest signal to encourage wanton lawlessness was surrendering a police headquarters to criminals in Minneapolis,” he said. “From then on BLM, antifa and their criminal co-conspirators were in charge.”

Giuliani closed his remarks by saying, “Mr. President, make our nation safe again.”

It’s a theme Trump touched on at a different RNC. In his GOP acceptance speech four years ago, Trump had pledged that in his first term: “Beginning on Jan. 20, 2017, safety will be restored.”


David Brooks: Trump and the Politics of “Mean World”


Dear Commons Community,

Last night, the Republican National Convention (RNC) came to a close with a lot more vitrol coming from the likes of Rudy Guiliani and Donald Trump.  They represented what David Brooks termed a “mean world” in his New York Times column this morning.  Brooks compared the performances of the Bidens and Trumps over the past two weeks as:  “The Biden family is emotionally open, rendered vulnerable by tragedy and driven by a powerful desire to connect. The Trump family is emotionally closed, isolated by enmity and driven by a powerful desire to dominate.”  Unfortunately, Brooks sees “the mean world” as coming to dominate Washington politics.

Brooks concludes:

“The upshot of the mean world war is the obliteration of normal politics, the hollowing out of the center and the degradation of public morality. Under the cover of this souped-up, screw-or-be-screwed mentality, norms are eviscerated, truth is massacred, bigotry is justified and politics turns into a struggle to culturally obliterate the other side.

Joe Biden is going to have to take on this widespread anxiety about personal safety by insisting that the real source of danger is Trump’s chaotic incompetence and that Trump’s mean world extremism is corrosive to the social order. When the social order dissolves, people suffer.

Biden could point out that disorder from left and right will only accelerate so long as Trump is in the White House. He could make clear that compassion is not weakness, that the toughest thing is to stand in a hailstorm of hatred and insist on kindness and consideration.

In a civilized society law and order is not established with a bullying jackboot. Law and order is established through the calm, regular enforcement of decency, so people across society behave like stable, honorable human beings.”

Brooks entire column is below.  It would be good for Joe Biden and his camp to read it carefully.



New York Times

David Brooks

August 28, 2020

Trump and the Politics of ‘Mean World’

I’ve been thinking about the two families we’ve encountered over the past two weeks.

Occasionally this week one of the female members of the Trump family would struggle to stick her head above the muck of her family’s values and display some humanity. But Donald, Don Jr. and Eric showed no such impulse.

Trump family values are mean world values. Mean world syndrome was a concept conceived in the 1970s by the communications professor George Gerbner. His idea was that people who see relentless violence on television begin to perceive the world as being more dangerous than it really is.

By the 1990s it was no longer violent programing that drove mean world culture, but reality television. That’s an entire industry designed to give the impression that human beings are inherently manipulative, selfish and petty. If you grow up watching those programs, or starring in them, naturally you believe that other people are fundamentally untrustworthy.

These days mean world culture is everywhere. It’s a siege mentality. Menace is everywhere. We’re on the brink of the cataclysm. This week’s Republican convention was a four-day cavalcade of the mean world alarmism.

Mean world thrives on fear and perpetuates itself by exaggerating fear. Its rhetorical ploy is catastrophizing and its tone is apocalyptic. The Democrats are not just wrong, many speakers asserted this week, they are “subverting our republic,” abolishing the suburbs, destroying Western civilization and establishing a Castro-style communist dictatorship. The Democrats, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida said, want to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.”

The St. Louis couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey are the team mascots of mean world. They see Black Lives Matter protesters walking past their mansion and decide they’re in the middle of a race war. They come out waving their guns.

Mean world transforms people. When Kimberly Guilfoyle appeared on the Charlie Rose Show in 2004 with her husband at the time, Gavin Newsom, now the governor of California, she seemed eminently normal and kind. But now she’s playing by mean world rules and at the G.O.P. convention she seemed like a bellowing lunatic.

The implicit argument of the Republican convention was that Joe Biden is too old, or soft, or compassionate to survive in mean world. He’ll cower before rising crime rates. He’ll get pushed around by the hard left. He’ll get swallowed in the maelstrom. “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” is how Mike Pence put it.

This is the Republicans’ strongest argument, especially if murder rates continue to soar and if Portland and Kenosha-style mayhem becomes commonplace this fall. Democrats have foolishly allowed themselves to be portrayed as the enemies of policing. There’s a lot of fear floating around America right now, available to be exploited by someone.

But let’s also be clear about what the real threats are. In many ways this election is about two rival versions of threat perception. It will be won by whichever party more persuasively identifies what we should fear.

Yes, there have been disgraceful scenes of far left physical and verbal brutality, which get magnified on Twitter. The far bigger threat, however, is that we have a president too busy fighting a culture war to respond to a pandemic and an economic crisis, or even to perform basic governance. What part of 180,000 coronavirus dead does Donald Trump not understand?

The larger threat is that we’re caught in a polarization cascade. Mean world fanatics — on the left and right — are playing a mutually beneficial game. Trumpian chaos justifies and magnifies the woke mobs on the left. Woke mobs magnify and justify Trumpian authoritarianism on the right.

The upshot of the mean world war is the obliteration of normal politics, the hollowing out of the center and the degradation of public morality. Under the cover of this souped-up, screw-or-be-screwed mentality, norms are eviscerated, truth is massacred, bigotry is justified and politics turns into a struggle to culturally obliterate the other side.

Joe Biden is going to have to take on this widespread anxiety about personal safety by insisting that the real source of danger is Trump’s chaotic incompetence and that Trump’s mean world extremism is corrosive to the social order. When the social order dissolves, people suffer.

Biden could point out that disorder from left and right will only accelerate so long as Trump is in the White House. He could make clear that compassion is not weakness, that the toughest thing is to stand in a hailstorm of hatred and insist on kindness and consideration.

In a civilized society law and order is not established with a bullying jackboot. Law and order is established through the calm, regular enforcement of decency, so people across society behave like stable, honorable human beings.


Professional Sports Want No Part of the Violence and Racism in America – NBA, WNBA, MLB, and MLS Postpone Games as Players Protest Jacob Blake Shooting!

Black Lives Matter: NBA walkout sparks historic sport boycott in US; Osaka withdraws, tennis halted

Dear Commons Community,

The National Basketball Association’s playoffs came to an abrupt halt last night after players boycotted scheduled games to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by a white police officer.

What began with a boycott carried out by a single professional basketball team quickly spread across the league and the rest of the sports world, with two other NBA games and two Major League Baseball games called off as additional players joined the cause.

The Milwaukee Bucks were supposed to play the fifth game of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday afternoon, but Bucks players refused to leave the locker room for the start of the game. After initially warming up in the arena, players for the Magic walked off the court before the scheduled tip-off. With other teams reportedly planning similar boycotts in upcoming games, the NBA made the decision to cancel Wednesday’s entire slate of playoff games.

“Some things are bigger than basketball,” Alex Lasry, the Bucks’ senior vice president, said in a statement. “The stand taken today by the players and (the organization) shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100 percent behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.”

Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Blake was shot in the back at point-blank range at least seven times on Sunday afternoon, is about 30 miles south of Milwaukee. The small city has been wracked by violent protests in the days since Blake’s shooting, culminating in the destruction of several businesses and the deaths of at least two people.

The Milwaukee Brewers, a Major League Baseball team, canceled their game on Wednesday evening in order to protest Blake’s shooting. Other baseball teams are reportedly considering boycotting games as well.

The WNBA and MLS also cancelled games that were scheduled for last night.

NBA players and coaches have spent the past few days speaking out about Blake’s shooting. On Monday, Chis Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder—who also happens to be the president of the NBA Players Association—used a postgame interview to share his thoughts on what had taken place in Kenosha on Sunday.

“It’s not right. It’s not right,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the country. Sports—it’s cool, it’s good…but there are the real issues we have to start addressing.”

And on Tuesday night, it was Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers who focused his postgame news conference on how police violence against black Americans has been politicized.

Shortly after the Bucks-Magic game was postponed Wednesday, superstar Lebron James weighed in on Twitter.

When the NBA restarted its season after a months-long COVID-19 disruption, the league allowed players to wear pre-approved political statements on the back of their jerseys. Many players have opted to wear expressions supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and other statements calling attention to police violence towards black Americans. The court where the NBA is playing all its playoffs games—at the Walt Disney World resort near Orlando, Florida, inside a so-called “bubble” to protect against the spread of COVID-19—is painted with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.

On Wednesday, those sentiments jumped beyond what the league likely intended. Adrian Wojnarowski, an ESPN reporter covering the NBA playoffs, wrote on Twitter that the players’ boycott caught team owners and league officials by surprise. “This is a pivot point for the NBA and professional sports in North America,” he wrote.

It remains to be seen what will come of Wednesday’s boycott, or whether the protests will disrupt more games in the days to come. Already, the incident has demonstrated how much power professional athletes have to call attention to issues that stretch far beyond the arenas and playing fields. In 1968, some of the NBA’s star players discussed a similar boycott in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., but couldn’t stir up enough support to make it happen.

Times have clearly changed. But as professional athletes made clear on Wednesday, they have not changed enough.

Joe Biden has commented (see video below) on the Jacob Blake killing and asked for the country to “unite and heal.”  We have heard practically nothing from Donald Trump on Jacob Blake during the three nights of the Republican National Convention.