Rout of the Rebel Angels, by William Blake

A Dog Starv'd

A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
      -- William Blake,
     "Auguries of Innocence"

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why Be Liberal? (1)

Fundamentals first: be liberal because you already -- irreversibly, fundamentally, biologically -- are liberal.

What happens at the cellular level as we go through life? Cells mutate. They grow, divide, multiply. They consume, they excrete; breathe in and out; become other cells, which become other cells, which hook up with yet more cells and become something entirely different.

And when we die? It all stops. That's not the result. It's the REASON we die. Death, at a cellular level, is indistinguishable from stasis.

Everyone wants to attain* comfortable, stable levels of activity. Everyone -- especially nowadays -- longs for yesterday, or the day before, or a day ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Like the scorpion's sting, nostalgia is in our nature, up here in the thin air at the top of Maslow's pyramid. So go ahead. Relax. You don't have to change everything, all the time.

But when we completely stop changing we don't go happily along from one day to the next, each tomorrow indistinguishable from each today which differs not at all from every yesterday. No. To stop changing, we must stop eating (to eat is to change one form of matter into another, or into raw energy). We must no longer sleep, for that is a change in state from consciousness to the alternative. And if we stop changing while asleep, we don't wake up.

When we stop changing, we die.

Conservatives, especially when operating in full-bore legislate-morality mode, often declare themselves as crusaders on behalf of life. Bullshit. They deny life itself.

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* Note that that verb attain implies that you've made progress. Onward and upward, eh? And then when you get on and up, then what?




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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Misread Signals

The biggest long-term problem with the events of September 11, 2001, it turns out, wasn't the shock to the American psyche. It wasn't -- you may be surprised to learn that I believe this -- that it dragged us into a war on the political-philosophy-which-isn't that is terrorism.

No, the biggest, most outrageous, maybe the most cataclysmic* problem with 9/11 was that we, collectively, learned the wrong lesson:

A wake-up call, yes. Reveille. But it wasn't calling us to a War on Terror -- that is, on bullshit of a particular kind. It was time for a War on Bullshit of all kinds.

By now? We're waaaay overdue.

_______________________

* The jury's still out on that one.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day, Yes. But...

...also Magna Carta Day.

From today's issue of The Writer's Almanac:
On this day in 1215, King John of England put his seal to the Magna Carta, one of the first historical documents to state that subjects have rights beyond the power of their rulers. The right to a trial by jury and the right of habeas corpus, which prevents one from being unlawfully imprisoned, have been extrapolated from the Magna Carta. King John was more or less coerced into agreeing to the document by a group of barons who were upset at his disastrous and costly foreign policy. Although actually a reactionary move by the barons to insure their feudal rights, the Magna Carta took on symbolic significance as one of the earliest instances of the law possessing greater authority than the king. "Magna Carta" means "great charter" in Latin.
Wow. We've come so far, haven't we?!? [IRONY OFF]

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sinking Ship?

Sinking frigate, by bas3lin3 of sxc.hu
Hillary's time may have come and gone, although she and her spokespeople deny it by the minute.

Various pundits (per the NY Times) are declaring the primary race all but over:

“I think there’s an increasing presumption tonight that Obama’s going to be the nominee,” Chris Wallace, the Fox News host, said to Karl Rove, President Bush’s longtime political guru, who is now a Fox News analyst....

A posting on the DailyKos Web site included a mock memo to Mrs. Clinton titled, “To-Do List Before Dropping Out.”

Speaking on CNN, David Gergen, a former adviser to several presidents, including Mrs. Clinton’s husband, said, “I think the Clinton people know the game is almost up.”

Stating it more bluntly, Bob Franken, the political analyst, told the MSNBC host Dan Abrams shortly after 2 a.m. Eastern time, “Let’s put it right on the table: It’s over. It’s over.”

And it picked up again on the major morning news programs in a devastating cascade of sound bites for Mrs. Clinton and her campaign.

Bob Schieffer on the CBS News program “Early Show”: “Basically, Maggie, this race is over.”

George Stephanopoulos on the ABC program “Good Morning America”: “This nomination fight is over.”

Matt Lauer on the NBC News program “Today”: “Good morning, is it over?”

The commentary was punctuated by some brutal morning newspaper headlines: "Toast!” blared The New York Post; “Hil Needs a Miracle” declared The New York Daily News.

Meanwhile, Maureen Dowd does the give-with-one-hand, take-with-the-other routine:

In his memoir, the legendary Elia Kazan wrote about directing Vivien Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” While he did not think that Leigh was a great natural actress, he was impressed that she would crawl through glass to get the role right.

Hillary Clinton may not be a great natural politician, but traveling across the country on her own Bus Named Desire, she has crawled through glass to get the role right...

Hillary is less Blanche than Scarlett. “Heaven help the Yankees if they capture you,” Rhett told the willful belle at the start of her rugged odyssey.

And heaven help the Democrats as they try to shake off Hillary. On top of her inane vows to obliterate Iran, OPEC and the summer gas tax, she plans “a nuclear option” during her Shermanesque march to Denver. Tom Edsall reported on The Huffington Post that the Hillaryites will try, at a May 31 meeting of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee, to renege on their word and get the Michigan and Florida delegations seated. Addressing supporters here, she urged the counting of the Florida and Michigan votes, noting “it would be a little strange to have a nominee chosen by 48 states.”

“It’s full speed onto the White House,” she said...

It’s hard to believe that this Hillary is the same Wellesley girl who said she yearned for a more “ecstatic and penetrating mode of living.” What would that young Hillary — who volunteered on Gene McCarthy’s anti-war campaign; who cried the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed; who referred to some of her “smorgasbord of personalities” in a 1967 letter to a friend as an “alienated academic,” and an “involved pseudo-hippie”; who once returned a bottle of perfume after feeling guilty about the poverty around her — think of this shape-shifting, cynical Hillary?

She’s so at odds with who she used to be, even in the Senate, that if she were to get elected, who would voters be electing?

Obama is like her idealistic, somewhat naïve self before the world launched 1,000 attacks against her, turning her into the hard-bitten, driven politician who has launched 1,000 attacks against Obama.

As she makes a last frenzied and likely futile attempt to crush the butterfly, it’s as though she’s crushing the remnants of her own girlish innocence.

I don't know if the race is a lock for Obama, but Clinton's frenzied rear-guard (and back-office) defense actions look tacky as hell. They don't strike me as "scrappy" or "tenacious" -- they strike me as desperate.

The capper for me came this morning when I caught a brief CNN interview with spokespeople for both candidates. Clinton's, Howard Wolfson, was presented with this fairly pointed question: If you work the numbers, even if you assume that Clinton wins the remaining primaries with a 65-35 margin (extremely unlikely), there is no way she can win the nomination. So why stay in the race?

I didn't work the numbers, but from Wolfson's response -- effectively, "We can still win! People continue to vote for her!" -- I gather they're not in dispute. What really turned me off, though, was Wolfson's slightly more precise justification for staying in the race. I can find neither video nor transcript at the CNN site, but in general it went something like this:

Another reason for the Democratic Party to select Senator Clinton is all the polls showing that Obama voters are more likely to vote for Clinton than vice-versa. Clinton supporters are very loyal.

"Loyal" my sweet patootie. If Clinton supporters wouldn't vote for Obama in a general election, either by not voting at all or voting for McCain, they're not "loyal." They're clinically nuts.

Update, 2008-05-08: The Times's Nicholas Kristof covers this issue today, in a column headlined "The Too-Long Goodbye":

The most terrifying numbers for Democrats in Tuesday’s exit polls should be those showing how many of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are planning to vote for Mr. McCain in November.

In Indiana, only 49 percent of Clinton voters said they would cast votes for Mr. Obama in November if he were the nominee; in North Carolina, the figure was 47 percent. In both states, a majority of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters said that they would either vote for Mr. McCain or stay home.

Like I said: nuts. And to the extent that the Senator from New York doesn't disavow this kind of talk from her supporters, she's the biggest nut of all.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Smart No More

Let's talk about stupidity -- political stupidity.

Maybe "stupidity" is too harsh a word. I certainly don't mean the charming, they-probably-meant-it-as a joke naivete of whoever named the group which recently conducted a peace vigil here in North Florida, Tallahasseeans Who Believe It's Time to Come Home. Right, that group: the one whose acronym spells out Tallahasseeans Who BITCH.

No, this is a different -- more insidious -- sort of willful ignorance.

The cliché used to be that conservative Republicans were the hard-headed pragmatists and realists who spoke with their brains. Democrats were squishy bleeding hearts who spoke viscerally and simply didn't understand how the real world works.

These days, the cliché has been inverted.

What got me thinking about this was an email message I recently received. It was an email which evidently originated, in the way of most politically inclined email, from an unknown someone in the dawn of prehistory. (He probably painted it on a cave wall.) Not all the names in the chain of recipients had been snipped as the message made its way through the Internet's population. I recognized many of them as those who in the past circulated other emails extolling the folk wisdom of commentators like Mr. Limbaugh and Ms. Coulter.

So I was surprised to read through this message and see that former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca seemed to have many of the same ideas as those familiar names did.

And really, it was a masterpiece of invective along the lines of the tirade from the fictional Howard Beall in the movie "Network": I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!

The title: Where Have All the Leaders Gone? It took to task big business. It reamed Congress, and (as the expression goes) tore a new one for politicians in general. It even -- whoa! -- referred to "some bonehead on Fox News."

My pulse rate rose. Was I witnessing an exciting dawn of clear-headed thinking? Er, no. I was witnessing another cloudy day along the occluded front which passes for way too much right-wing "thinking."

See, while Chairman Lee did in fact write all those things -- they're from the first pages of his 2007 book by the same title -- they're not the ONLY things he wrote in those opening pages.

Carefully excised from the original are (hold your breath) all references to the President.

For instance, the message includes this quote: "On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes."

In Iacocca's book, those two sentences were followed immediately by:
Where was George Bush? He was reading a story about a pet goat to kids in Florida when he heard about the attacks. He kept sitting there for twenty minutes with a baffled look on his face. It's all on tape. You can see it for yourself. Then, instead of taking the quickest route back to Washington and immediately going on the air to reassure the panicked people of this country, he decided it wasn't safe to return to the White House. He basically went into hiding for the day -- and he told Vice President Dick Cheney to stay put in his bunker. We were all frozen in front of our TVs, scared out of our wits, waiting for our leaders to tell us that we were going to be okay, and there was nobody home. It took Bush a couple of days to get his bearings and devise the right photo op at Ground Zero.
I don't know about you, but that is what I call incisive commentary. It sure boosted Lee Iacocca in my esteem. And it's only one of the many passages naming Bush which were likewise stripped from this email message.

What a shame that someone -- an unknown someone, to be sure -- decided that the President needed to be shielded from Iacocca's inconvenient opinions.

What a shame that that someone decided his original correspondents' fragile sensibilities needed to be shielded as well.

And what a shame that none of those correspondents, all down the line, took it upon themselves to actually look into the veracity of what they had swallowed but simply passed it along, clucking their tongues.

What a shame that this is what passes for political wisdom among too many people. None of those I know in the addressee list, by the way, is the least bit stupid. They're engineers, attorneys, business owners, government officials. They're nice people, to boot. People with loving families, with senses of humor.

But man: present them with a political issue and their wits just abandon them. Taking -- it must be said -- their hearts with them.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Great Old Protest Songs Never Die, They Just Recycle (Over and Over and Over Again)

"Eve of Destruction," says Wikipedia,

is a grave warning of imminent apocalypse, and considered by some to be the epitome of a protest song.

Oh yeah. It's all that, and then some.

On one of public TV's recurring orgies of '60s-music-driven pledge drives, last night I caught Barry McGuire (now 40 years older, of course) performing it in a voice which, if anything, is even more drenched in an agony of disillusion than in the original recording. (Time does some things right, especially to some singers' voices.)

The Wikipedia article linked above includes a 30-second sample -- not much. I'll try to give you a little more later, when I'm at a desktop better equipped for audio processing. For now, here are the song's lyrics:

Eve Of Destruction
(as recorded by Barry McGuire, 1965)

The eastern world it is explodin',
violence flarin', bullets loadin',
you're old enough to kill but not for votin',
you don't believe in war, what's that gun you're totin',
and even the Jordan river has bodies floatin',
but you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Don't you understand, what I'm trying to say?
Can't you see the fear that I'm feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there's no running away,
There'll be noone to save with the world in a grave,
take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy,
but you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin',
I'm sittin' here, just contemplatin',
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
handful of Senators don't pass legislation,
and marches alone can't bring integration,
when human respect is disintegratin',
this whole crazy world is just too frustratin',
and you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China!
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama!
Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space,
but when your eturn, it's the same old place,
the poundin' of the drums, th pride and disgrace,
you can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace,
hate your next-door-neighbour, but don't forget to say grace,
and you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Aside from some of the dated references (Red China, four days in space), the sonofabitch holds up pretty well, doesn't it?

Truth be known, it's a little depressing to consider how readily the content still fits. Are the problems that intractable? Can so many people see, so easily, what the problems are in the first place, be so committed to fixing them, and yet be so incapable of breaking the old patterns?

This is one of the most important things fueling the Obama campaign's success. I have yet to make up my mind about him, 100% (I was an Edwards fan). But the harping by critics on what they deem an inappropriately style-over-substance appeal misses the point. That point is: Enough. We've had enough.

I don't say his opponents should roll over and let him take it without a fight, but I am saying they're supremely misguided. If their cynicism masquerading as "hard-nosed practicality" and "realism" comes to triumph over Obama's strange amalgam of charisma and goose-bumping rhetoric and plain old hope, it's a safe bet you'll see "Eve of Destruction" pop up its desperate head in another couple-three-four decades.

Update 2008-03-23:
Here are samples of the first 90 seconds of Maguire's original recording, in .ogg and .mp3 formats. The samples include the first couple of stanzas.



Flash audio player:



Google Gadget:

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hi·a·tus [hahy-ey'-tuhs] –noun, plural -tus·es, -tus

Took a break from writing here for a few months, obviously, but for the best of reasons: to write elsewhere.

Lord knows, I haven't stopped thinking about all this stuff though...

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