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I just have threads of ideas, but I want to get them out, write them down, and look at them. Something like an outline.

I’ve been thinking about human rights. It seems to me that there is a big difference between what might be considered “rights” in the classical Western sense – liberty, property(?), justice – and “rights” as the word is increasingly used, particularly in developing nations, to refer to material necessities – sufficient food, clean water, etc.

It strikes me that it is very dangerous to confuse the two.

I would argue that rather than clamor directly for the latter, it is more important to demand the former as the means of obtaining the latter. If one argues directly for the latter, one encounters several problems. The existing state apparatus might capitulate, and the result is often a state of patronage/dependency/dole/welfare which engenders contempt in those who pay and resentment in those who receive along with hosts of perverse incentives and poisonous inversions of pride. Or rather than capitulate to demands, the state might answer them with increased oppression, and the result is war, each side fighting for its own interests. Right demands might, and the principle at play is power and the ability to wield it. Or, more commonly, a combination of the above – bread and circuses to buy out the majority of the public and silent, virulent repression of those voices that still resist.

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waterfront park

I finally composed myself enough to say, “It’s just so typical of this city: pour millions of dollars into creating a tacky conversation piece that appeals to the affluent while neglecting the actual function of a central public library, which is to provide a service for everyone.” This was substantially calmer than my initial reaction to any mention of the Seattle Central Library, which is to sneer and spit words like “tasteless” “pretentious” “nouveau riche,” to bewail the decline of public space and common good. The people who claim to love this aesthetically confrontational parking garage are the people who never use it but buy all their reading material from cafes and bookstores. No warm or comfortable place in this city but it must be paid for. The most beautiful spaces are in private neighborhoods.

This weekend I observed men, women, and children with clothing neat and new and clean and weather-appropriate, the understated affluence of Seattlites who must be prepared, at any moment, must be prepared for the possibility of an impromptu hike. I wore my own boutique-bought coat and three-inch heels, shivering in my knee-length skirt as cold, wet winds gusted through the corridor of extravagant storefronts. Chuckling at my own hypocrisy. To think about everything all the time, it’s a sort of madness.

I was on my way to a play written by a disillusioned proto-socialist. I was struck by the way fiction can do such concise work of conveying complex ideas. Amazing how much more sophisticated the picture is when presented in music and dialogue than when broken down and reassembled into… sociology, gender studies, philosophy, economics. (Woyzeck, the schizophrenic soldier, accusing and demanding: “What did he pay you?!” Deliciously black comedy: what did he pay you?)

Local food. Local clothing. Local entertainment.

I think that there is great opportunity in Seattle, currently being more or less wasted. There are artists who have some taste and little money and bourgeoisie who have a great deal of money and deplorable taste. I think that Seattle is ripe for cabaret – raucous songs and bitter satire.