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Monday, April 30, 2007

Yeah, George - It's All About You

George Tenet's unhinged interview on 60 Minutes last night has been garnering an appropriate amount of criticism all around the blogosphere, and his book is being protested by former intelligence officers, so I guess that this post is just piling on. (Crooks and Liars has the video here.) But the biggest thing that struck me during the first half of the interview, which focused on 9/11 and domestic terrorism, was just how personal Tenet took the terrorist threat. At first blush, and certainly in his mind, this comes off as a man passionately concerned about the citizens of his country. Such zealousness should be applauded, right? However, as he expounded - almost tearfully - on his fingers-in-the-dyke heroic acrobatics to prevent attacks on domestic soil, another message quickly came through.

This guy wasn't concerned with American lives. This guy was, and is, concerned with how a successful attack would make him look. This I can understand at a certain level - you want a professional to be motivated to some degree by what might end up on his resume - but this guy has been out of the job for nearly three years now and he still sounds like he is desperately trying to turn around an exit interview. It was "me," "me," and still more "me."

This take was further reinforced in the even more pathetic second half of the interview, where he "cleared up" the infamous "slam dunk" mischaracterization. Somehow he got it into his head that it would be much more palatable for us to know that he wasn't saying that the existence of Saddam's WMDs were a "slam dunk," but rather that he could put together a "slam dunk" Powerpoint sales job for the American public. (This came of as especially dissonant after he, the head of the CIA, insisted that he really believed that bio and chemical weapons were really there. The head of the CIA, for fuck's sake. Oh yeah, the Soviets were going to get us too, remember?) More "professional concern" there - toadying up to the Chief Executive.

What was he thinking, telling us this stuff?

Because the White House went after him so hard after the house of cards began to tremble, I've really never harbored too many bad feelings towards Tenet over this whole Iraq debacle. I mean, if Dick Cheney wants to throw you under the bus, you can't be all bad, right? But, boy, he managed to cut through that fog with last night's desperate bleating.

You'd've done better just keeping your trap shut. I hope the book money is worth it for you.


Update: Oh, and by the way - the CIA and any other "intelligence" bureaus need to be just shut down. All they ever do is churn out credible-sounding talking points to buttress whatever the aggression-of-the-day the Executive has a hankering for. Just stop it.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Music To My Ears

This is the kind of fresh air that I long to breathe:
Recently, my Dad sagely observed to me in a telephone conversation, "None of this is new. I’ve seen all this stuff before. All politicians are full of it. They’ll always be full of it. That’s life." Perhaps. And when it comes to life and politics, my Dad, like many Dads is a human oracle of experience and wisdom. But I remain optimistic because within this morass of deceit, a counter-culture of truth is emerging.

As our institutions and the mainstream media fail to deliver the truth, a hunger for reality is expressing itself among the people. Hence, we have the ascendancy of blogs. It’s undisciplined and irreverent out here. One has to be a discriminating consumer among thoughtful bloggers and those who are simply rhetorical bomb throwers. But there are golden nuggets of truth among ordinary people challenging elites about their destructive lies, disinformation and exploitation.

I'm with you, Rob.

Kucinich Again

Dennis Kucinich was interviewed by Bill Maher - watch the video here (thanks, again, to Mike's Blog Roundup.)
It is worth noting that Dennis Kucinich is considered crazy by the mainstream media. That indicates that he's a rational man who says what he actually believes.

I would extend that further and say that it indicates the sad state of the American electorate (although, I noticed quite a warm reception from Maher's audience.) This man has the sanest and most hopeful worldview of all of the candidates for the Presidency, and we're just not there yet. And we simply don't have the time to "get there." This is an emergency, and if we spend any more time "getting there," the opportunities lost will be globally catastrophic.

For those of you who do "get it," I implore you to get out there and change one mind.

Update: By the way - supporting a long shot like Dennis Kucinich, in this instance, takes absolutely nothing away from the Democrats' chances at the White House next year. Whoever percolates up to be the nominee will, I'm sure, easily win - barring something unimaginably extraordinary happening. Now, it would be different if he weighed in as an independant after the primaries, and we wouldn't want to "Nader" the 2008 race by diluting votes. But it would be refreshing to see a healthy run during the primaries by Dennis. Hint.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Trust Fund Babies

I couldn't help but highlight this little irony:
Bush and his advisors are fifteen-year-old trust-fund babies in the bodies of mature men and women. They never have had to face, on a deep and personal level, the consequences of their actions; their mommies and daddies (and/or the friends of their mommies and daddies) have always been around to bail them out. Now the kids may resent this, and may even try (as Bush has tried for all his life, with his rejecting of the advice of his daddy's friends in the Iraq Study Group being just his most recent bit of adolescent rebellion) to pretend that they don't need their parents' or their parents' friends' help, but they wouldn't be where they are without it. As befits their eternal immaturity and combined dependence on and rebellion against their parents, their political philosophy is nothing more than a raised middle finger to everything that is espoused by anyone who might try to make them operate under any sort of restraint.

Now, I find it funny that I could modify this paragraph thusly:
The college protest youth movement are fifteen-year-old trust-fund babies in the bodies of mature men and women. They never have had to face, on a deep and personal level, the consequences of their actions; their mommies and daddies (and/or the friends of their mommies and daddies) have always been around to bail them out. Now the kids may resent this, and may even try (as the hippies try all their lives... adolescent rebellion) to pretend that they don't need their parents' or their parents' friends' help, but they wouldn't be where they are without it. As befits their eternal immaturity and combined dependence on and rebellion against their parents, their political philosophy is nothing more than a raised middle finger to everything that is espoused by anyone who might try to make them operate under any sort of restraint.

No disrespect to Phoenix Woman intended - I agree completely with her analysis. I just found it funny how consistently the roots of ideology are embedded in nurturing soil. I mean, this argument against the liberal movement of the '60's was actually very pervasive amongst the tut-tut class.

Of course, the real difference is that the hippies were, and are, on the right side of the argument. Again, Big Love to Phoenix Woman.

Haboob Over Phoenix



As I type...

Yet Another Dick

Oh yeah. Go watch this pathetic video over at Crooks & Liars. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is bleating on the Senate floor about how frustrated, frustrated he was during the runup to the war because he couldn't tell the American people how they were being misled. You see, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the poor dear was sworn to secrecy and so he couldn't whistleblow tell the public that the other Dick was lying all over the Sunday morning press shows.

Fuck that. You should have done it, even if you were going to have to serve some time in prison, which I highly doubt would have been the result. You see, Senator, when mayhem and death are on the line, you do the right thing. Sorry, your whiny CYA speech didn't do it for me, sir.

This is what passes for "leadership" these days.


Update: Someday I'm going to work up a post on this whole "secrecy" thing and back up an assertion that it is inherently corrupting and only marginally useful in the business of government. National Security Act? That scam is the worse thing ever to have happened to the republic.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Corrosive Cynicism (Change One Mind)

The irrepressively wordy Glenn Greenwald (because, you know, I am just so succinct) has a post on Beltway cynicism and its attendant lack of comprehension of people who actually care about things.

He makes an interesting and plausible case that the sniffy sophisticates above us not only consider "reasonableness" to be of the highest value, but that they also consider actually believing in things to be unhinged behaviour (OT - I want to preemptively point out that my use of the word "believe" here has absolutely nothing to do with my philosophical takedown of belief. Here I use it as shorthand for doing the right thing in the face of known facts).
...when Feingold stood up and advocated censure -- based on the truly radical and crazy, far leftist premise that when the President is caught red-handed breaking the law, the Congress should actually do something about that -- the soul-less, oh-so-sophisticated Beltway geniuses could not even contemplate the possibility that he was doing that because he believed what he was saying. Beltway pundits and the leaders of the Beltway political and consulting classes all, in unison, immediately began casting aspersions on Feingold's motives and laughed away -- really never considered -- the idea that he was motivated by actual belief, let alone the merits of his proposal.

That's because
they believe in nothing. They have no passion about anything. And they thus assume that everyone else suffers from the same emptiness of character and ossified cynicism that plagues them. And all of their punditry and analysis and political strategizing flows from this corrupt root.

That is exactly right and it's worth going over there and reading, even if it is characteristically wordy ;).

I bring it up here because Glenn's analysis so very well reflects my own experiences with people. While he focuses on the cocktail-weeny pundit circuit, I find it very true as well with so-called "moderates" down here amongst us hoi-polloi. While the thuggish and unreflective right are a problem, they are at least walking cautionary tales to the thoughtful - you, too, could look like a knuckle-dragging mouth-breather, after all. "Reasonable" people, however, are probably the biggest danger to the enactment of transparent, effective and moral public policy.

I can't tell you how many times during spirited discussion, when my blood was well up and my outrage on display, that I have been marginalized by versions of "Oh, well, it would be nice if things were that way, but they're never going to change," with thoughtful bobble-heads all around. You know - nutty Petro is just too naive to understand the wisdom of practicality and realpolitik.

We live in a noosphere, and whether or not you grok the more esoteric theories which have grown out of that simple fact, it must be acknowledged that we live in an environment which is fundamentally driven by human thought. We are also primate mammals, and reflexively we care about what our fellow humans think. There is a constant check and re-check of the zeitgeist going on, for this is how societal coherence is achieved. If we didn't care what others' opinion of ourselves was, well, it could be bedlam (I of course am waiting for that evolutionary leap in consciousness - The Hundredth Monkey Effect - where such considerations become beside the point, but I am here being "reasonable" myself and reluctantly acknowledging that we are, as a whole, not there yet.) However, cohesiveness would be absolutely paralyzing if we do not remain open to the possible as well. Cynical dismissals along the lines of "that's just the way things are" are corrupting perversions of our natural tendency towards group-think.

I love debate. Or, more precisely, I love honest expositions of principle and morality, and I enjoy contemplating and discussing how these virtues may come to flower in general society. Much as I should know better, I am always stunned anew when I see an unprincipled and indefensible cynicism, posing as sophistication, take the last word in these conversations. Once I am marginalized as the naive dreamer, group-think takes over and the "wise ones" all go back to business as usual, satisfied that all that fruity hard-thinking stuff that Petro is obsessed with is completely unnecessary and there's no need to hurt their brains any longer with foolish "possibilities." Oh, and hey, did you see the game last night?

It is extremely critical that people be infected with possibilities. No meaningful change in society will take place "top down" - that is a medieval paradigm which we should be long past entertaining, but it is the prevailing one. All change happens from the ground, the street, the people. Even when we are organized with ostensible hierarchical authority structures, the truth is that all government happens by consent. Even dictatorships disappear without so much as a whimper if "the street" has had it with the despot. It is what people accept as real, as "the way things are," that shape our relationships and our society.

It is easy to make the argument that I am tilting at windmills by giving a shit enough about the world around me that I am constantly engaging in ostensibly fruitless and distracting discussions (Tucker Carlson to Jon Stewart: "What's it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?" Stewart: "If I think they are.") But my counterargument is consistent with my view of how human society is structured.

The most valuable important thing any thoughtful person can do is to change just one mind.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Draw Your Own Conclusions

Draw your own conclusions (thanks again, Nicole Belle at C&L.)
Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
5. Harass citizens' groups
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Go on, read it. Feel the chill.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dickwatch

I am glad to hear that Vice President Richard Cheney's blood clot problem seems manageable.

Now, please go vote to impeach the Dick.

It's the right thing to do.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Psychotic Liberal Has A Point To Make...

...and I agree with him. Fuck Tivo.
At work, we go into the break room for coffee or water, and we hear people talking while TV is on about something else they saw on TV, and their eyes dance back to the screen over and over while the only topics they talk about are what they saw on TV.

[snip]

So fuck Tivo.

Fuck television.

Oh, and the kicker? Since November I've lost almost 30 lbs, and The TechnoBabe has lost almost the same. Talk about getting closer, uh huh. Could we have done that sitting in front of the TV?

Finally, hundreds of thousands of dead people, American and Iraqi, would be alive today if nobody watched TV. Bush couldn't have sold the lies without the tube.

On the other hand, I suspect that Crooks and Liars well uses it, much to the benefit of those of us who don't watch TV. I certainly appreciate the archiving of the absurd and the mendacious.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Woes Of Complex Societies

A few years ago a read a book by Joseph A. Tainter - The Collapse of Complex Societies. This was released in 1990, and its relevance has not diminished a bit. As a matter of fact, world events are at such a pitch right now that I feel that its insights and admonitions are comprehensible and digestible to an ever-widening swath of awakening people. So I'd like to talk about what I took away from this work and how it gibes with what I am seeing today. My observations will be mostly limited to my understanding and interpretation, of course, and, while I feel I pretty much agree with the data presented there, I in no way wish to imply that Dr. Tainter's conclusions would be the same as mine (though they might.) So, read the book if you don't mind a little down-and-dirty archeology-speak.

(Dr. Tainter has also contributed to a more recent - 2003 - book, Supply-Side Sustainability, which looks like a fascinating read as well.)

From the jacket:
Any explanation of political collapse carries lessons not just for the study of ancient societies, but for the members of all complex societies in both the present and future. Dr. Tainter describes nearly two dozen cases of collapse and reviews more than 2000 years of explanations. He then develops a new and far-reaching theory that accounts for collapse among diverse kinds of societies, evaluating his model and clarifying the processes of disintegration by detailed studies of the Roman, Mayan and Chacoan collapses.

The theoretical insights of the book and the case-studies the author examines together raise a whole series of new and important questions about the direction and future of all industrial societies...

Indeed.

First, what is a "complex society?" I would define it as a society which has devolved into a multitiered strata of class division, with its attendant specialities and interdependencies. In short, what we are experiencing in the "First World," and what developing and Third World countries are apparently aspiring towards. This is more popularly expressed as "evolution" rather than "devolution" - I hope by the end of this essay it will be clear why I chose the latter characterization.

History is littered with the debris of collapse and, as members of a contemporary complex civilization, we naturally do our forensics on these past societies with an eye to the survivability of our very own, with an ear for useful cautionary tales. Dr. Tainter points out something very interesting, however - only complex societies leave archaeologically detectable detritus that can be unearthed and studied. What that means is that we are myopic about what constitutes proper society and civilization. We can only study failures. It is pointed out that for all of the thousands of years of history recording Man in his civilizations, there is a far vaster periods of time when human beings lived successfully without erecting these Leviathions. What would such a society look like, what does Man look like when he is actually living in a successful, sustainable, indeed natural, fashion?

Well, we don't know much about that. Besides the fact that these societies leave little in the way of artifacts to be examined, we have long characterized peoples who have not developed complex technologies as "primitive," and have typically murdered, enslaved, or tainted these Earth peoples with the decadent lifestyles our cultures bring. They are rarely consulted in any way other than in a paternalistic, anthropological fashion which is inherently dehumanizing. (One exception to this led to Native American influence in the crafting of the United States Constitution, a rare example that grew out of Enlightenment-era thinking.)

Another question which develops while reading this book is: Is it really valid to look at these collapses as "failures," or are they merely a natural consequence of erroneous approaches to survival? Can we look ourselves in the eye and admit that perhaps we are the stupid ones? I would submit that we are, and it's high time we get it right this time, because this complex civilization is global now, and its ruination will have far greater impact than past failures (well, tell that to the residents of Rome or the Lowland Maya.)

Let's look at some the problems of complex societies. This will by no means be exhaustive - there's plenty more where they came from - but they will serve.

Division of labor. This is generally touted as a good thing, but what are the consequences of dividing skills amongst different classes of people? Well, for one thing, as a society becomes more and more complex, the individual becomes less and less capable of surviving without the support of the society. What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, any system has a fixed amount of energy within it, and the ever-increasing transactional costs that are incurred take away from other use. Thus, it requires more and more energy input for each marginal "jump" in complexity.

A simple example is the automobile. While this product is already the product of a complex society, there was a time when they were simpler, so it can serve as an illustration. There was a time when the maintenance of an automobile could be accomplished by any sufficiently fascinated teenager, or at least by the guy down the block. Now, even auto mechanics are reliant on hundreds of invisible specialists who have no idea what each other are doing. No one person can understand, let alone build, a modern automobile.

Division of labor, again. From a humanistic point of view, this unavoidably causes class divisions. Complex societies require slave labor. Whether it takes the form of ownership of human beings in overt bondage or in creating a class of service labor beholden to the weekly paycheck, in complex societies there will always be those at the "bottom" of society, and this corrupts those who are "making it," as they must, as a simple psychological defense against guilt, invent all sorts of reasons why other people "deserve" their fates. This creates no small tension in the system, and violence inevitably results - another corrosive energy-waster in the system.

Attenuation of responsibility. As societies grow more complex, and there is more and more specialization, there is a numbing of the senses as regards to resource utilization and environmental destruction. I mean, after all, is it really my fault that the groceries I bought last week contain literally pounds of materials which are going straight into the trash? That I participated in a process where thousands of gallons of oil were involved in filling that shopping cart? Can I help it that I was born and raised in an environment where everybody's doing it?

If one looks with clear eyes upon the current situation, one can see that even the most fervent and eco-centric people living in our complex society face a problem which is more than daunting. It is, frankly, impossible to not participate in the destruction of resources and environment. It is the system itself which drives the individual today, and all of the hand-wringing and recycling in the world will have a negligent impact as long as the complex society stands. Paging Mr. Gore...

Resource dependency. With complex societies, there is inevitably a one-way relationship with the "resources" of the Earth, and that way is consumption. Consumption until depletion, then collapse. Period. And anyway, what do think would happen, given our current behaviour, if tomorrow the Perpetual Motion Machine were invented and schmoos walked the Earth? I think there's a fair chance that we would only continue to overpopulate the planet until, well, collapse again. Just look at how it has exploded this last 150 years with just oil.

The combination of resource dependency and attenuation of responsibility leads to another inevitable horror, resource wars. The despicable and bloody occupation in Iraq is only the most visible manifestation of the bloodshed over resources that has perpetuated for many decades now. That it is so visible now is only an indication of just how close to the coming collapse we are. Or rather, we are actually witnessing the collapse itself.

I want to stop with the negativity at this point and revisit the point that a collapse is not really a bad (or good) thing, just an inevitable consequence to bad solutions for living. And the root of that is in our mind, and that is very good news. It is not some "law of nature" "out there" which forces us into some inevitability, it is our own minds. We choose how we wish to live. By "we" I mean mankind, the people on the ground. One of the reasons that we are trapped within our paradigm is that we have adopted a mindset that we must develop good policies and social structures to "solve" the problems we face. However, that is the behaviour of a complex society. A complex society cannot solve problems which are created by the very existence of the complex society itself.

So Tim Leary was right. "Tune in, turn on, drop out." No, I am not kidding.

One of the reasons characters like Leary are so quickly derided is that there are a great many "haves" who are in thrall with our complex society, and they wish mightily that it will all work out. It will not, but the fact of the matter is, in any complex society it is always the beneficiaries who are understandably in feverish denial. Just as "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act" (Orwell), so too are those treated as subversive who try to walk away from the complex society. They are ridiculed at first, but if the message begins to absorb itself into the popular imagination, well then they are regarded as dangerous. Yes, Timothy Leary was a theatrical bombast, but he was on to something and had a tacit sense of the need to express that something outside of the structure of society.

This is real, people, and we are real, too. There is a solution to this, but it cannot be divined by committee or protest. The solution can only be come upon by looking, really looking, at your life. Go stare at that shiny metal box in your driveway? How does it really contribute to your quality of life? Do you really own it, or does it own you? Look up and down your street. How much money, which you have to get by getting into said shiny metal box every day, is spent due to the soft tyranny of lawns and property value? What extraneous personal motivations do you harbor without examination, which further increase your dependence on the shiny metal box to get more money?

As I incrementally simplify my life - nothing too radical, baby steps - I become more and more aware of the simpler pleasures of life, pleasures which are ironically ripped away from us as we try to adapt to this unnatural, complex, society. Even as you decide perhaps that this is the life for you, and you would not walk away from it willingly, remember this...

It will walk away from you.

Monday, April 16, 2007

This Is What I'm Talking About

In March, I had a post about a courageous 19th century Speaker of the House, and issues of fear and courage. at The BRAD BLOG, Stephen Heller discusses his own experience as a whistleblower and, however daunting the consequences he suffered, he offers this (go read the whole thing - emphasis mine):
I was surprised to find within myself the courage to stand up and risk jail and financial ruin in the name of American democracy and clean elections. I exposed, at great risk to myself, information that threatened the integrity of our republic. I am now a convicted felon, but my head is held high. I am a patriot, an American, and a man. No one - not Diebold, not Jones Day, not the District Attorney - can take that away from me.

So for those of you who have seen or someday will see evidence of government or corporate corruption, join me. Expose it. You'll help pay the cost of freedom. You'll feel like a true American patriot.
That's a feeling that can't be bought, and it can't be beat.

That's what I'm talking about. That existential feeling that comes from doing the right thing no matter what the feared consequences:
What is the worse thing that can happen to you? What, if anything, are you holding back from doing, or standing up for, in order to avoid this possible eventuality? Is there a consequence you avoid at all costs, a terror which keeps you from being a meaningful member of the human community?

There are, sadly, far too many people in this country (and elsewhere) who do just that. One is tempted to remind them that the
actuality of a feared consequence is far less uncomfortable than one imagined afore. While this is a stone cold fact, it nevertheless will have no purchase on those who are in the grips of their own imaginations.

To steal a popular advertising hook... is it in you?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

You, Too, Can Be A Deconstructionist...

Framing The Debate

From FDL Book Salon:
Most importantly however, each point has a means by which ordinary individuals, not empowered by privilege or power or position, can effective mold, shape, and when need be shatter, the frame that boxes their vision, and the vision of those around them. He analyzes the word power of the Republican Revolution from the perspective of frame – how Newt used words which were just barely on the acceptably neutral side of negative, allowing small negative impressions to create a larger picture.

"Liberal" As Cachet

I'm not namin' names here, and I'm not going to dwell long on it, but I've seen it firsthand and I could just weep with frustration and despair. There are some fair weathers "liberals" out there who are really just doing what they normally do - adopt what they sense are the prevailing winds of what "everybody else" is thinking. I mean, it's nice to see the zeitgeist shifting and all, but sheesh... I have a particular individual in mind who knows what the talking-point description of "liberal" is, has adopted those talking-points (which, ironically and not incidentally, largely consist of how the right has been disparaging said liberalism), and then continues to engage the world from the framework put forth by the right - only this time as an aggrieved "adversary." (No, not you, Q-Man.)

Example: "I'm really glad that they are finally resisting Bush and trying to end the war. But what do you think about leaving our troops stranded with insufficient funding?"

I really wish people took time out to think and be self-aware.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Go Iacocca!

Lee Iacocca has a new book, Where Have All The Leaders Gone?. Check out this excerpt over at Borders (via Crooks and Liars - all empheses in original except where noted):
Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course."

Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

[snip]

...You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have.

My friends tell me to calm down. They say, "Lee, you're eighty-two years old. Leave the rage to the young people." I'd love to—as soon as I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention.

(Good luck with that, Lee. Seriously.)
Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them—or at least some of us did. But I'll tell you what we didn't do. We didn't agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn't agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that's a dictatorship, not a democracy.

And don't tell me it's all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That's an intellectually lazy argument, and it's part of the reason we're in this stew.
We're not just a nation of factions. We're a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together.[last emphasis mine]

He then goes on to series of paragraphs, expounding on these declarations:
A leader has to show CURIOSITY.
A leader has to be
CREATIVE, go out on a limb, be willing to try something different.
A leader has to
COMMUNICATE.
A leader has to be a person of
CHARACTER.
A leader must have
COURAGE.
To be a leader you've got to have
CONVICTION—a fire in your belly.
A leader should have
CHARISMA.
A leader has to be
COMPETENT.
You can't be a leader if you don't have
COMMON SENSE.

Heh - well Mr. Bush, I guess 1 out of 9 ain't bad. Wait, yes it is. And CONVICTION is a gimme, since it matters what your convictions are. Escorting the world to the Apocalypse doesn't count.

Anyway (from this excerpt), this book, like his others, probably reads just like you'd think a CEO would read - a little stiff and patronizing when he serves his advice. But he does still have the megaphone, and at his advanced age it's good to see he's got his eye on the ball and ready and able to swing [what, the megaphone?]


Especially since we lost one America's greatest elders Tuesday, Kurt Vonnegut. I began reading his books in about the sixth grade (the sci-fi aspects of his stories grabbed my youthful attention), and there is no doubt in my mind that they helped form my own iconoclastic nature.

Cranky K

I always loved it when Krishnamurti got testy and impatient:
Krishnamurti: Many among you have beliefs in something or other, and they come here year after year, I do not know why. Let them keep to their temples, Masters, play with them, have a good time with them, but don't waste your time and mine here. You know what I think of all that. I am completely out of all that, as they all lead to power, prestige, position, security. But that is what you want; so have it then, chase, go after it.

Questioner: How to be free from all these things?

Krishnamurti: How? You don't want to be free from all this; if you wanted, you would step out of it. So, please don't ask me "how"; I am asking you something entirely different. How little you pay attention! I am talking of the new mind, not the mind which says, "How am I to get somewhere?" The new mind does not come from a mind that is seeking achievement, wanting to be free. The new mind does not come through discipline. The new mind does not say, "How am I to be free?; it bursts into that state, it explodes. I am showing you, I am pointing out to you how to explode with your whole being - not gradually, not when it suits you occasionally, not when you are thinking of something else, not when you have a little time for this, not when you have spent all your life in going to your work and earning your livelihood. I am suggesting that a mind that is aware requires that the mind must enquire into your ambition, your desire for power, prestige, position, the way you treat people; how you crawl on your knees when you meet a big man, your desire for security, a job, position. See the structure of all this, be aware of it. And when you are totally aware of it, you are out of it in a flash, it has dropped out.


See my Living Religion I: On Belief.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dennis Kucinich!

Damn, I wish the guy wasn't so marginalized. The "conventional wisdom" is that he's a lefty nut. Well, he's not. MoveOn.org has hosted a virtual town hall on Iraq today with the major Dem primary candidates, and I have to say the most unvarnished intelligence came from Dennis. He's a stubborn visionary with a healthy worldview, and he sure would do this country, not the mention the world, some good.

Imagine - withdraw the occupation, put U.N. troops in place to stabilize during a rebuilding period, provide reparations for the aggrieved population, kick out the contractors and give the Iraqis the jobs in rebuilding, engage in regional diplomacy from the position of having repudiated force as an option for the U.S. Oh, and give the Iraqi people their oil back.

Sadly, the more mainstream, corporatist candidates will bury him.

Update: Chris Dodd sounded pretty good, too.

Update II: Is it ironic that the two "majors," Clinton & Obama, are also the most obfuscating (especially Hillary?) Or is it inevitable? Unless Al Gore steps up, one of these two is most likely to be our next President. Not. Good.

Monday, April 9, 2007

He'll Get The Trains Running On Time

Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake has a great post, Deconstructing Rudy (love the title,) in which she calls him out on his fascist nature. She also does a great job shining a flashlight on the psyche of the authoritarians:
More than anything, the wingnuts want to win. They want to stomp dirty fucking hippies into the ground, and Rudy offers them their best chance. They can intrinsically sense that he is a true, foaming fascist and there is no contortion of logic so painful that they will not eventually make it in order to embrace the opportunity to come out on top.

Yep, that sounds about right.

Actually, the main point of Jane's article is the mysogeny of the right and the disingenous way in which the "anti-abortion" issue is used - so, while I wanted to highlight the above, you should head over and read the whole post.

The Christian Schism

The Institute for Progressive Christianity posts an article by Linda Hodges which appeared in CrossLeft's webzine. Now, I am not a Christian (and neither was Christ, for what it's worth), but Ms. Hodges does a great job breaking down how Christianity is seen through the lenses of liberalism and conservatism, and so it is a useful read with plenty of opportunity for thought experiments.
A schism is occurring within every religious faith tradition in this country. Faith communities are splitting along conservative and liberal lines, each claiming to be truest to “the faith” while declaring the other to be anti-Christian and false. In reality both are Christian as both liberal and conservative worldviews can be found in the Bible. Together their stories comprise a written journal of our religious ancestor’s many varied experiences of the sacred. The question becomes, which path do we wish to follow. Which path leads to the kind of life we want to have?

Linda Hodges is fair to both sides of the question (a bit too fair if you ask me) before coming down on the side of liberalism, compassion, progressivity.

I balk at the above quote, however, which poses it as "what kind of life we want to have." I can certainly say that I prefer her reading of Christianity (quoting Marcus Borg):
For Jesus, compassion was more than a quality of God and an individual virtue: it was a social paradigm, the core value for life in community. To put it boldly: compassion for Jesus was political. He directly and repeatedly challenged the dominant sociopolitical paradigm of his social world and advocated instead what might be called a politics of compassion.

But my preference for this is not enough for me. After all, the bedwetters amongst us prefer authoritarianism - for all too obvious emotional reasons - and preference itself is value neutral.

No - I must move beyond my preferences and see what actually makes this human experiment successful. And, as inconvenient developments in our world are displaying with relentless dispassion, it is an experiment. Which means it could fail. So, it is what works that concerns me, and for me what works can only be the truth. The truth, not some human-created lattice, which is what authoritarianism is. Compassion, on the other hand, is a reaching out towards what is not a product of self-directed thought, a gesture to the greater reality of which we are merely a part.

Authoritarians, for all of their talk of submission to a greater God, are really placing Man at the pinnacle of reality, with this God as a proxy, a mere talking-point. Acknowledging the reality that we are subsets of, and participants in, a greater reality is an intelligent humility which will shatter the prison of our thought-created lattice.

Liberalism in a political sense, of course, often falls victim to ideological thinking, and this I too reject. However, its greatest strength is what is criticized by the right as its greatest weakness: openmindedness ("weakmindedness") and the willingness to reevaluate the status quo ("no values"). (These are virtues insofar as they are not infected with a thrall to any ideology which may have borne the status quo.)

It is for this reason that I can with some reasonableness characterize myself as a "liberal" - but I have no ideology which pins me there. It is important to remember that nothing is sacred - unless all is sacred.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

What Christy Said

Music to my ears:
Would that everyone would have realized earlier: the only thing to fear is fear itself.

I am an American, I refuse to sit back and quake in my chair, waiting for someone to strike. I will be damned if some crazy terrorist — or some smarmy political operative — is going to silence me, or frighten me, or make me do anything other than live my life to the fullest in my own way every day. To do otherwise is to hand over control of my life and my thoughts to someone else — and that is about as unAmerican as it comes. Everything else is counterproductive to the notions of justice, liberty and freedom. Try keeping that in mind, folks in the media and in politics, would you?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Tyranny ALWAYS Has An Expiration Date...

...it's just hard to pin it down exactly.

But, by Dubya, Gandhi was right. Well, at least the character that Ben Kingsley played in my favorite movie was:
Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always.
This report from ChangeToWin.com reveals that the proles are waking up (h/t Nicole at C&L)[emphases mine]:
Economic conditions for workers are deteriorating so dramatically in the new American economy that an overwhelming majority, nearly 70 percent, now say that basic security - not opportunity - is their number one concern, according to a new survey released today. The finding is a stunning reflection of the anxiety, anger and demand for action rising in Working America in the global economy. Among the other key results of the poll of 800 non-supervisory workers:

  • Nearly 80 percent of workers, both college and non-college alike, no longer believe the next generation will be better off. Nearly half think their children will be worse.

  • Nearly 80 percent of workers view multinational corporations as too powerful, and have driven down wages, eliminated health care and retirement security, and disregarded labor laws.

  • Nearly 70 percent of workers feel that government doesn't take action to rein in greedy and unethical behavior by corporations and CEOs.


  • Full results are available on the Change to Win Web site.

    The survey indicates workers see few opportunities for good jobs while they face the financial insecurity of rising health care costs, the elimination of pensions, the outsourcing of jobs, and wages falling behind living costs. But in addition to the concerns, it also showed that
    workers are remarkably united in their hopes, ideas, and solutions for the future on the critical issues of the workplace, a consensus that remains intact regardless of age, gender, geography, ethnicity, country of origin, and education.

    As I said at the pub last night - the peasants have pitchforks.

    Wednesday, April 4, 2007

    Dickwatch

    They're having a bit of a guffaw-fest over at Crooks & Liars:
    Lawrence Kudlow wrote a column a while back saying he hoped President Bush asked Vice President Cheney to run for president in 2008. It was a fine idea then and it still is — not because the current field is particularly weak, but because Mr. Cheney is so much more experienced and shrewd a figure, one who could help settle some of the arguments about the Bush years in favor of Mr. Bush.

    This is just too funny to respond to - I'm sure the Democratic Party would love it, though. As for "[settling] some of the arguments of the Bush years" - I could do without the prospect of Dickie wielding the First Shotgun...

    Tuesday, April 3, 2007

    Calculated Policy

    Will Bunch over at Attytood (thanks, Nicole):
    ...thousands more will die for the same BS, so that one party can gain some electoral votes in 2008 by branding their rivals "the party of surrender," rather than take responsible steps to do what's right, politically expedient or not.

    By the same token, I hope that thousands more will not die so that one party can gain some electoral votes in 2008 by keeping their rivals branded as the "party of incompetence" by taking half-hearted measures which only pretend to end the occupation, thus keeping it fresh in the minds of voters, come ballot time.

    There, But For The Grace Of God...

    Via Mike's Blog Roundup,Tom Engelhardt has a post over at TomDispatch that features an article by Chip Ward, former assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System. It poignantly discusses the sad options we, as a society, offer the dispossessed among us. Specifically, he highlights the sad reality that our public libraries have become unintentional proxies for social welfare.

    Before I talk about that, I would like to mention the homily to which the title of this post refers:

    "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

    This phrase is mostly used as a sort of statement of compassion, of identification with the less fortunate. Here it is again, deconstructed:

    "I am not like the Other due to an external circumstance which defines our difference. I am not responsible for this difference, so it is therefore a foregone conclusion, which will not change unless that external circumstance deems it thus."

    No truly compassionate person would, of course, sign off on the latter, deconstructed, version - yet they will say the former. What they mean by that, they would say, is more along the lines of:

    "My fortune could change at the whim of Fate, and for that reason I emphathize with the unfortunate and feel a responsibilty to help them when I can."

    Yes, but I would counter that the distinction - that between "I" and the "Other" - remains. That "whim of Fate," "external circumstance" or "grace of God" is a psychological trick meant to dodge the real truth of the matter, which would be better served with:

    "There, go I."

    That is not deconstructable, and is therefore a statement of truth. It is not deconstructable because it is a statement of completeness, consisting of only one element. It may seem to consist of two elements ("the Other," and "I"), but that is merely thought dividing itself so that it may appear, which it invariably must do. Being able to intelligently observe contradiction-revealing-truth, to bask in it, is the essence of the aporetic oscillation. (The truth being revealed here that we are all one, and the contradiction is that we are not in the same skin.)

    If one were wont to do a thought experiment (and I implore the reader to do so, right now), then an honest turning about of the two different phrases in the mind bring about two distinct psychologies. The unity of the latter phrase is shattered by the intrusion of a mythical external circumstance, and eases one into the inevitable descent into classicism, elitism and other meritorious philosophies. For, regardless of how compassionate one fancies oneself to be, one is limited to "helping" the Other with this division. There is none of the sheer urgency which arises in the mind when there is complete identity with the fate of the Other - it becomes an emergency in which there is no hesitancy in action. There is no need for "setting policies" or debating social expenditure in the "most efficient and compassionate" ways possible.


    That said, I would like to turn now to Mr. Ward's gutcheck of an article (please read the whole thing, it is essential):
    ...Welcome to the Salt Lake City Public Library. Like every urban library in the nation, the City Library, as it is called, is a de facto daytime shelter for the city's "homeless."

    [snip]

    "Homeless" is a misleading term. We have homeless people in America today, in part, because we have no living wage, no universal healthcare, disintegrating communities, and a large population of working poor who can end up on the street if they lose one of their part-time jobs, experience an illness or an accident, or have a domestic crisis.

    I would add that underpinning all of this is our reverence for the idea of a meritocracy. Those who fail in our society fail for a "reason." Our only mutual responsibility is to provide opportunity for success, and the best we, in our compassion, can do is "help" those have come up short. Meanwhile, it is perfectly OK to go on about our main concern - to be "successful."

    Chip goes on to describe in great detail many of the special problems and challenges that not only plague the homeless, but also those that plague society - us - by the presence of these unfortunates - just as if it were the other side of a divinely-minted coin.

    Let's jump right to "our" inconveniences:
    Paramedics are caught in the middle of this dark carnival of confusion and neglect. In the winter, when the transient population of the library increases dramatically, we call them almost every day. Once, when I apologized to a paramedic for calling twice, he responded, "Hey, no need to explain or apologize." He swept his arm towards the other paramedics, surrounding a portable gurney on which they would soon carry a disoriented old man complaining of dizziness to the emergency room. "Look at us," he said, "we're the mobile homeless clinic. This is what we do. All day long, day after day, and mostly for the same people over and over."

    Sanitizing Gels and Latex Gloves: Plying the Librarian's Trade

    The cost of this mad system is staggering. Cities that have tracked chronically homeless people for the police, jail, clinic, paramedic, emergency room, and other hospital services they require, estimate that a typical transient can cost taxpayers between $20,000 and $150,000 a year. You could not design a more expensive, wasteful, or ineffective way to provide healthcare to individuals who live on the street than by having librarians like me dispense it through paramedics and emergency rooms. For one thing, fragmented, episodic care consistently fails, no matter how many times delivered. It is not only immoral to ignore people who are suffering illness in our midst, it's downright stupid public policy. We do not spend too little on the problems of the mentally disabled homeless, as is often assumed, instead we spend extravagantly but foolishly.

    It is almost universally accepted that if we did more in the way of preventive work - be it in health care or safety nets for that percentage of us who will always fail to measure up to universal standards of "success" - it would cost the public less money than is currently being spent. If we did not slavishly embrace the idea that a meritocracy is the best of all possible worlds, then, for those who oppose "entitlements" as "disincentives," there would be no intellectual platform on which to stand. "Incentive" and "disincentive" are the language of "success" and "failure," and a repudiation of the fundamental responsibility we all have for each other.

    I say this because, while I agree that we need to develop these preventive policies and safety nets, they will always be inadequate as long as each and every one of us continue to measure ourselves against each other. As long as our social narrative is all about bettering our "standard of living," we continue to demonize those who are not "contributing." If we were all able to discover contented living without a craven addiction to ultimately unsatisfying pursuits of wealth and security, then there would be a lot of space for us to attend to our real needs. Concerns about whether a person is being disincentivized from "pulling his load" by taking "entitlements" would simply vanish.

    There will always be a percentage of people who can not or will not take care of themselves. The totality of us can absorb them without patronizing admonishment or vilification. As for those who will not (as opposed to can not), I say that they, too, have lessons for all of us.
    And the police aren't happy about their role either. Cities are responding to such problems with mental health courts and the like for sorting out the mentally disturbed from other prisoners. Salt Lake City now has a model program, but nationally there is a long way to go.

    According to the Department of Justice, there are about four times as many people with mental illnesses incarcerated in America today as under treatment in state mental hospitals. Some jails devote entire wings to the mentally ill.

    There you have our society's final solution to everything - incarceration. This may be expensive and stupid, but the way we have conceived society, thus far, ends up putting anyone who is not "making it" in jail. After all, they deserve it for not sucking up and playing along.