Saturday, April 30, 2005

An important new article

You all know my admiration for Eric Alterman, and his latest article in the Nation reaffirms his position in my pantheon of truth-tellers and analysts. In it, Alterman outlines the Administration's virtually unstopped campaign to undermine and thereby destroy the mainstream media's power to act as a check in the political system. He covers the systemic failure of journalists to act in concert, as well as their almost sheeplike inability to confront power with any sort of consistency or tenacity. What makes the situation worse, though, is that reporters seemingly don't even respect their trade enough to let others in on the sick joke being played on the public; instead, they go through the motions as if they were actually doing their jobs. "Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this war against the media has been the fact that members of the media have largely behaved as if it is just business as usual." And it is here that Smirky and the boys have proven their mastery over the system. By making the press complicit in their campaign of secrecy, lies, and fake news (as Alterman sees it), the Chimp and all his cronies can thereby point to the So-Called Liberal Media's assent/implicit approval of their behavior as proof that they aren't the bad guys they really are. How many times have we heard the phrase, "Even the liberal (fill-in-the-blank with your favorite non-Scaife or Moon-funded rag here) says so"?
This stripping the center (let alone the left) of any honest voice in the media that can be respected by anyone not paying close attention whatsoever, is surely going to be the legacy of this Administration--beyond the tens of thousands of dead people strewn over the deserts in the Middle East, of course. If the New York Times or the Washington Post can no longer be relied upon to dig for any truths, and they have only shown a fitful ability to do so lately, what chance does the average citizen have to learn the facts of any national story in their local paper? Truths are being found and told, but only a pretty highly motivated person can wade through all the crap that's published/aired to find them. Most people have their own daily lives to lead and don't have the time or the energy to devote to sifting through the morass of lies thrown at them on regularly by heretofore trustworthy sources.
It used to be a point of pride that one could say that s/he read "the paper" every day, because by doing so one could reasonably assume to be well-versed in what was going on around the world. Unfortunately, reading the paper now leads more often to complete and utter ignorance of what's really happening. And that's only if one reads a good newspaper! Reading a right-wing rag like Murdoch's New York Post or Moon's Washington Times will convince you completely that up is down and that black is white.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

You know, Smirky, that it's a supply problem, right?

For an ex(?)-oil executive, Smirky sure doesn't seem to know much about how that bidness works. In his speech to the Small Business Administration, Smirky urged somebody (certainly no one who is a member of the SBA can afford to, so I'm unsure who Smirky was really addressing) to build more refineries so as to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. (Find the story here.) Um, Mr. President, you do know that refineries don't actually grow the stuff? That more domestic refineries does not mean more domestic oil? Or maybe ol' Rove and Smirky are trying to hoodwink the public yet again into thinking they actually have a functional plan to do something helpful for the country while lining the pockets of the oil industry! That would be a stunner, wouldn't it?
In the same speech, Smirky also asserted that deregulation is coming to a nuclear plant near you so as to make it easier for companies to gain a license to operate nuclear power plants. Given that nuclear power is nearly anathema to the American public, I'm having a hard time believing that any of this part was on the up-and-up. Most likely, Smirky and the boys decided that they would frame the argument by proposing only 2 choices, knowing full well that almost every American would rather drown puppies than have a nuclear plant move in next door, leaving only the oil option open. I can hear the spot now: "Are you in favor of lower gas prices, or would you rather have your neighborhood become another Chernobyl? Vote yes on Amendment R. America needs more refineries of her own."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Terrorism up; information down

The State Department has published an annual report detailing the incidences of terrorism worldwide since 1986, but this year, Smirky's Pet Poodle has apparently decided to cancel the publication. Why? Because the number of terrorist attacks has skyrocketed to an unprecedented level, and that information doesn't fit in too well with the Administration's Vietnamesque declarations that their "War on Terrorism" is succeeding. "According to Johnson and U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the issue, statistics that the National Counterterrorism Center provided to the State Department reported 625 "significant" terrorist attacks in 2004. That compared with 175 such incidents in 2003, the highest number in two decades."
Of course, moves like this are second-nature for this Administration and its cronies. Concealment of important historical and statistical documents, or the suppression of access, are the only means by which these people can continue to escape criminal prosecution for their acts. This shouldn't be any surprise for anyone patient enough, or smart enough, to ignore the smoke and mirrors produced by the Republicans in power. Misdirection, delay (pun unintended, for once),--gee, wasn't the Iraq war justified because of WMDs? Well, we finally have the definitive report on that, and of course, there weren't any--and denial followed by rewording/reconceptualizing (most recently, the choice of the term "nuclear option", originally coined by Trent Lott and other Republicans, now being foisted off on Democrats due to poor reception among the citizenry) are the main weapons the Republicans in power use to completely befuddle most of us. It works, too, thanks to the laziness of the press corps, who can rarely be relied upon to actually dig for any truths, let alone ones that contradict what those in power feed them.
It seems that this tide may be turning, as more and more people (including journalists, which possibly signifies that they finally realize that following Smirky and the gang off sanity's cliff might not have been such a good way to further their careers) are beginning to wonder just what the hell Smirky's cabal is talking about. Social Security "reform" is dying a painful death as Bush continues to attempt to convince everyone he's right, and Frist's drive to change the Constitution isn't playing well either. A glimpse of sunrise?

Monday, April 25, 2005

A good man

My Uncle Wayne died this past weekend. He was a good man. He did an incredible job caring for his wife Betty and helping her raise his kids Donna, Linda, and David, to be caring and kind like he was. They were what most would call a "traditional" family in our country, even by the 1960s/70s. He worked outside the home to provide for them, while it was Aunt Betty's "job" to stay at home taking care of the household. (Of course, we all know now that is the harder of the two careers!) They were incredibly active in their church; Wayne was a handy man with tools and had a vast knowledge of mechanical devices, and Betty was the treasurer for many years. They had a small patch of land where they grew fruit and vegetables for eating and canning to supplement the store-bought food. Uncle Wayne made sure his family had plenty, even if that didn't always mean money. My cousins were rich in all the important ways--they grew up right, as the saying goes, and a lot of the credit goes to the moral and ethical codes Uncle Wayne lived by.
Uncle Wayne was still a country boy from Carolina when he died, in many ways, even though he spent the majority of his life in (progressively less) semi-rural Maryland. He knew the rhythms of the land, and he enjoyed growing and tending his parcel of it. In fact, he tended land that wasn't even his own, at a not-so-little cost to himself. His lot lay next to a proposed street for a subdivision that went unbuilt for decades, meaning that the natural contours of his lot enclosed county property. The county, however, seemingly relied on Wayne to care for this strip of land adjacent to his own, because to my knowledge, no county landscaper or mower ever came out to tend it. Uncle Wayne and his family (and my own whenever we went to visit, which was fairly often) enjoyed the use of this extra land, but they also took great pains to make sure it looked as good as if it were actually their own. To do otherwise, I imagine, would have seemed ridiculous to a man as dedicated to community and propriety as Wayne. It was simply the right thing to do.
And when the county finally came to put the street and the subdivision in, beyond a few inquiries as to whether tending it for 30-odd years amounted to anything official, Uncle Wayne took that in stride as well.
Uncle Wayne developed cancer from long-term exposure to asbestos from the power plant where he worked the bulk of his years. His final year was probably pretty unpleasant, but he faced his fate with a grace and a stoicism that exemplifies both his faith and his nature. The Beautiful One and I were incredibly lucky to see him a few short weeks ago--she for the first, and now, only time--and by all accounts it was one of his best last evenings. He just seemed a bit tired to me (understandably), and the last word I had heard at that point was that the treatments were working. Shortly after our visit, however, he took a dramatic turn for the worse, and he knew that his time had come. He decided that fighting the disease and the cure was too much to bear, and Uncle Wayne prepared to meet, and then met, his end with the quiet dignity he possessed in enormous quantities.
I know his family--my family--will miss him tremendously; he was a source of great strength, knowledge, and best of all, humor. It seems just plain wrong that I will never again eat his barbecue chicken, or play croquet in that huge yard, or listen as he, Aunt Betty, Mom, and Dad play pinochle until late at night, even as the kids schemed ways of convincing them all to let my sister and me sleep over. Uncle Wayne, I love you, and I will miss you. You were a good man.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Library stuff? Here?

A couple articles in the 4/15/2005 Library Journal caught my eye. Gabriel Morley's "Five Things Right, Five Wrong" details how Morley's first 6+ months of librarianship have proceeded. Morley is the director (fresh out of L school!) of a medium-sized system in Louisiana, and this short piece is engagingly written. Morley clearly has a grasp on where he wants to take his library, and his approach to the challenges he's faced so far demonstrate his ability to tackle the real world issues facing all of us. I applaud his hands-on approach to the simple problems of clogged drainpipes, and his helping out at the circ desk exemplifies my long-held and -practiced belief that managers need to be on the front lines, even if only occasionally, to maintain a toehold in reality.
The second article, Marianne Rogers' "Operation Rover", shows the dangers and pitfalls in implementing the idea of moving reference librarians out from behind the desk. One of the libraries in my area has a librarian who likes to "rove", and Rogers' supposition about what happens back at the desk when one librarian leaves is proven 100% accurate there. Her description of a rover who interrupts a patron's search for materials on domestic abuse is, frankly, quite frightening (or should be, to anyone who ascribes to the ethics of this profession). If these kinds of issues can be addressed/avoided, roving librarianship could be one method of lessening the intimidation many feel in coming to the reference desk. Given the state of most libraries' budgets, however, at least the first concern won't be going away anytime soon . . .

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Back in the saddle

Wal-Mart is apparently baring its anti-labor teeth again, by opposing legislation in Maryland and New Jersey to force employers to provide health insurance for its workers. Wal-Mart claims that the legislation is merely a sham designed to scapegoat the company for the country's health care woes, since the bill would only affect Wal-Mart (in Maryland, at least). The only reason that's true, of course, is that only Wal-Mart is profitable enough to employ the number of people needed (10,000) to trigger the proposed legislation. Oh yeah, that and the fact that Wal-Mart is notorious for its lack of a decent employee health plan. What gives the lie to Wal-Mart's defense of itself in this matter is that they are fighting the bill as it exists, rather than seeking to sponsor a similar bill with a lower employee threshold, which would thereby also include Wal-Mart's competitors. Daily kos has a verrry interesting take on this here, where he ingeniously proposes enlisting Wal-Mart in supporting a universal/national health care system funded not by employers, but by the government. Brilliant!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The best news. Ever.

Well, network TV has finally reached the lowest depths of self-reflexive programming. No, they haven't decided to air a "Kill the President" reality show where CBS employees compete to decide a winner who gets to gun down Smirky the Chimp. (C'mon, guys--it'll be a runaway hit!) No, they haven't begun airing live executions presided over by "CSI" executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer (yet). No, they haven't even begun showing actual strip shows featuring failed "Amazing Race", "Big Brother", and "Survivor" contestants. What we have here instead is the event of a lifetime. Two actual TV-born celebrities will be shown getting married on camera for CBS. Rob and Amber Mariano got married last Saturday in front of God (maybe), their family and friends (presumably), and a full television crew (as we will see soon)! I'm sure there will be plenty of promos for this full-scale assault on good sense on the other quality CBS programs like "Listen Up" or "Amazingly Perfect" (yes, those actually are real CBS shows!), so tune in now . . .

Monday, April 18, 2005

The dust is all in your head, Michael

I have heard of Michael McGrorty for awhile now, mostly from other librarians and readers of his blog. According to his blog, he has given up on his dream to become a librarian, and in a series of statements from his latest blog entries, his passing from my profession is hardly to be mourned. (I tried to comment on his blog directly, but the server that hosts his blog seems to not want me to!) McGrorty says he loves libraries and librarians, but I have my doubts that he ever really wanted to become one, given that he doesn't seem to have been willing to risk much to obtain the degree necessary. In a long-deleted entry, he explained that one of his final papers was rejected by his school for not being properly written, and that this was going to potentially threaten his attainment of the MLIS.
As someone who has toiled for years in the academic world, both to get my Ph.D. (and it will happen, honest!) in US History, and the MLIS, I know how frustrating it is to have to conform one's mindset and writing style to someone else's possibly limited agenda. I can guarantee anyone out there, though, that McGrorty faced nothing too severe that he shouldn't have succeeded. He simply didn't want it bad enough. McGrorty's program is one of only 2 available in this area; I went to the other one, and lemme tellya, Mikey, you wouldn't have lasted a quarter there without making an accommodation to the academic style. You had to submit 2 final papers? We had to write 2-3 papers every quarter, all to that same standard, almost all of them 25 pages or so in length, in addition to class participation and all the stuff you probably excelled at, just to make it to the final evaluation process.
McGrorty seems to have decided that maintaining his comfort and illusions about what constitutes librarianship was more important than actually doing what was necessary to join the profession; what kind of librarian would he have made, given that level of commitment? In his 3/25/2005 entry, he says that his "library" is separate from "library school" or "library jobs": "That library is mine; it has always been mine. It is that library that I write about, the one I have wished to work in; it is the one I went to library school looking for." What on earth is he really saying here? That he went to school not to learn about the profession as it exists outside his mind? He has the air of someone who's been rejected by a lover, as he talks about how he has to move on, but in the same entry he boasts about how much money he might make at his first non-library job: "The position I’ll be interviewed for next week pays about what you would get to be director of an average-sized public library system. It has a good deal of responsibility attached, which is not unusual for that sort of work." As opposed to what a librarian is charged with, Michael? What did you think you would do as a librarian, anyway?
His 4/6/2005 entry leads off by stating that he didn't enjoy library school, as if that is a relevant observation. I hate school just as much as you do, Michael, I can assure you, but I bit the bullet and finished what needed to be done, just as I will write that darn dissertation and get my next history degree. What I won't do, however, is compare the content and style of my graduate study to child's play: "Now that I think about it, it has mostly all seemed like kindergarten, but with larger chairs as the years passed." This is not some cute turn of a phrase. It is offensive to any of us who engaged in junior high, high school, college, or grad school with any level of seriousness at all, let alone those who are employed as teachers/professors.
McGrorty's arrogance apparently isn't confined to slighting other people's chosen professions, either. In his 4/8/2005 entry, he purportedly upbraided some seemingly well-meaning child who had the audacity to compliment him on the quantity of his reading with this condescending line: “Son, if you don’t let yourself get flabby you can do the same at my age. Put down that GameBoy once in a while and check out the new books section.” Michael, this poor unsuspecting "kid" was at the library already! Think about that for a minute, ok? If all our patrons were as "supportive" as you think you are, we would have to work twice as hard as we do already just to undo the damage some crank like you is causing out there!
His latest entry, though, from 4/17/2005, takes the cake. In it, he decides the most appropriate metaphor for loving to read is heroin addiction. "I have always felt that books were to me like the addict’s needle: full of a substance which reached deep into a part of the mind, a place that nothing else could touch or influence.It is not so much an effect different in degree but in kind altogether." Ick. Thanks, Mike, but I'd prefer not to have anyone think of books as being akin to junk, and librarians, by extension, as pushers.
Yes, McGrorty shows affection for public libraries, but only to the extent that they fulfill his desires as a patron, which is ok as far as it goes. But his lack of understanding about the profession of the people who maintain his beloved library seems to have gone unchallenged by his two years in school: "I must confess that the reason I went to library school was more in the way of understanding the system and its operators than anything else.I thought they must possess some secret, something essential that I might discover and come away with.In the end, I found that it was nothing more than a set of skills set atop the same understanding of the library that I kept; half of me was a librarian all along." Excuse me? If a "set of skills" is all you learned from your MLIS program, you must not have been paying very close attention. Granted, I know the program you attended does not focus as severely as the one I did on, for example, larger policy issues, or on academic concerns such as information theory, but for someone who was as supposedly plugged in to the profession as you tried to be, I would have thought you would have sought that out in your readings and writing.
I'm not convinced by your blog that you understand anything at all about libraries, and especially librarianship. It's nice that you have great experiences at libraries, but it sounds to me like the only reason that's the case is that the library is a place where you can get free stuff to feed your habit.
If you must, you can find McGrorty's blog here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The dead rich get richer?

The House of Representatives is considering making the repeal of the estate tax--what the Republicans have taken to call misleadingly the "death tax"--permanent. This is a fiscal and political travesty of the highest order, as noted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report. The estate tax, which at its highest peak only affected the very wealthiest of people (estates under $1 million were exempt even before Smirky was given the keys to the Empire, thereby affecting only the top 2% of all Americans anyway, according to voluminous places, but I found it first in this LA Times article from 2000), was hardly designed to be punitive, even if the estate holders were stupid enough not to have made arrangements to gift away and donate the bulk of their holdings before dying.
My biggest problem with repealing the estate tax, among many, is that it rewards the wrong people--already rich heirs and heiresses. These people have already been given tremendous advantages in life due to the accidents of their births; in our capitalist society, the best of everything is only available to those who can afford it. Schooling, medical care, cultural events, and most of all, the time to indulge one's appetites for anything--good or bad--can be had by these fortunate sons and daughters. That some of them turn out to be spoiled beyond repair is not my point, however easy it would be to simply point to MTV's show "Rich Girls" or Paris Hilton and sigh disgustedly. If these men and women are incapable of achieving their own fortunes after having received society's bounty from birth, why should we then allow them to sponge off their dead parents' money for the rest of their lives as well? It's not as if the after-tax remainder of any estates over the eligibility limit is chicken feed; who really needs that much money to live a decent life? Leaving one's wealth to one's children is a nice gesture, I suppose, but wouldn't it be nicer to have left them with the desire to better the world regardless of their economic status?
Our nation was built with the understanding that inherited wealth and inherited stature was inherently corrupting, hence our Constitutional lack of a monarch or any peerage. (Remember that from elementary school history or civics classes?) Why do Republicans want there to be one now? Or is this just another example of selfish greed nakedly exposed for what it is and sold to the vast majority (to whom this kind of wealth is only a dream) as being somehow unfair? What is unfair is that this estate money, made fairly--or, even worse, not--from the work and sweat of many, many more people than who benefited from it during the owner's lifetime should never see it put back into the economy in any productive manner at all.

Opening Day and more

My Sportsbuddy buys about 200 tickets to Dodgers' Opening Day every year. He doesn't pay for them, but he makes all the arrangements, buys deli sandwiches for all, and hosts a tailgate pre-party that is enjoyed by one and all, even though like me, Sportsbuddy hates the Dodgers. Yesterday's game was like so many of the others for us. Our team (whoever is playing the Dodgers; this time it was the Giants) will take a lead, hold it, but at the last possible moment, completely fall apart. Just like yesterday. Even when the Giants scored 5 runs in the first inning, Sportsbuddy and I knew, deep down inside, that it wasn't to be. Even when the Giants recaptured their 5-run lead in the 6th inning, we knew it wasn't going to happen. We've been to countless dozens of games, usually involving the Reds (my actual rooting interest in MLB), where the collapse is painful, almost always predictable in occurrence if not method, and mind-blowingly stupid.
Side note: our favorite Reds collapse at Dodger Stadium occurred some years ago, when Tony Perez was managing. (In fact, this one single game caused his dismissal less than a week later, if I remember correctly.) The Reds had a tenuous lead going into the late innings when the starting pitcher got into some trouble. Perez (one of my all-time favorite Reds players, by the way) brought in his relievers, who were pretty good back then, to try and seal the game. At the crucial moment, a rookie by the name of Henry Rodriguez came to the plate; he had yet to get his first major league hit in about 8 tries. The situation of the game was such that there was no reason not to pitch to Rodriguez--other than the fact that he was left handed and the pitcher was right handed, which plays into one of those strategic truisms that managers love to use as reasons to do something in moments of crisis, since for the most part, left-handed batters hit right-handed pitchers (and vice versa) for a higher average than if both players are lefties (or righties). The next batter happened to be a righty, so Perez decided to intentionally walk the rookie-without-a-major-league-hit to get to the veteran Cory Snyder. Sportsbuddy and I were both aghast and furious, and of course, Snyder crushed a double off the wall; gameoverDodgerswin.
We've seen it all at Dodgers Stadium. A Reds outfielder brought in for defensive purposes who, on his first play, slips when chasing a fly ball resulting in a triple; gameoverDodgerswin. Called third strikes on either Eric Davis (a great player for a long time) or Barry Larkin (ditto) to end games more numerous to count. The most unlikely crap, all the time, and yesterday was no different. Yeesh.
On the same infuriating level, The Beautiful One and I were watching the Amazing Race last night when the WeHo boys (and if you are watching, you know of whom I speak) uncorked another beaut. Anybody who's been watching should have been expecting something; when these guys landed in Johannesburg, South Africa (one of the largest cities on the African continent), one of them immediately remarked, "Wow, I thought there'd be camels and chickens everywhere." (This show allows everyone in the US to see what the term "Ugly American" is all about!) The remark on last night's show while on a rickshaw ride in Ashbagh India was much stranger, if potentially no less offensive: (and this is a direct quote, referring to the people lining the streets) "I wish I had things to throw at them."
Now, I'm not sure what to make of this. I'm hoping against hope that whichever of the two guys said this meant that he wished he had some sort of useful items to give to the poor by means of donations, but the statement probably should stand on its own. "I wish I had things to throw at them." Good job, fellas!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Book review--The Corruption of American Politics

Elizabeth Drew has made a cottage industry of her insider insights of the White House political scene over the last 20+ years or so. She has been mostly supportive of the Democrats and the Clintons throughout the period, but apparently she had had enough by the time The Corruption of American Politics came out. Between Clinton's messy affair with Monica Lewinsky and his apparently unseemly control of the PR machinations of the press room, Drew seems to have resigned herself to writing Corruption in a fit of pique. Not that she should be blamed for this, I think; Clinton screwed up both his presidency and the Democrats' chances to retake Congress for awhile yet, most likely.
The book itself chronicles the failed attempts by Fred Dalton Thompson in the mid-1990s to pass some real bipartisan campaign finance reform bill from his Senate seat and also the failed impeachment of Clinton. Drew's thesis is that the levels of intransigence and partisanship rose exponentially in Congress during these two battles, and that both sides can be blamed, since both sides had much to lose if a true reform act was ever actually passed. The use of the term "corruption" in the book's title, therefore, is functionally intentional; this term has historically been used specifically to describe the effects of money on the political process, and this is her story. Thompson is at center stage, and he comes across as honorable and sensible--the last of a dying Republican or Democratic breed, according to Drew.
As good as "Corruption" is, however, it suffers from what any journalistic endeavor must--Drew's comments are bound in the time when it was published. 1999 was perhaps the last possible date one could have written a book like this one, which is fairly balanced in its criticisms against the Republicans or the Democrats. If one were to try to write a similar history post-2000, one would be pilloried by the Radical Right for suggesting that any blame for any ill winds be laid at their feet, and Drew would certainly never be allowed to step foot in a Republican White House again. Indeed, her latest work, a booklet that covers the Radical movement to raise the partisanship bar yet again through Smirky's (and Rove's, and Rumsfeld's, etc. etc. ad nauseum) disdain for compromise or intelligent dissent, points in a less forgiving manner to the Right's motives and hypocrisies. One suspects that if Drew had waited only a single year to analyze the "corruption" she witnessed while writing this book, the villains in it (who include some of the current crowd: DeLay foremost among them) would look a whole lot more Republican . . .

Friday, April 08, 2005

Is the Left bereft?

Michael Walzer's latest article in Dissent makes the argument, in so many words, that the Left/Democratic party is caught in a post-Communism hangover. While we've been trying to hang onto our gains over the 50 years prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Right/Republican Party mobilized itself as the party of ideas and conviction. Republican certainty of ideology has persuaded the electorate that the Republicans know how to address social issues, while the Democrats, even though they probably represent values more closely aligned with the majority of the people in this country, seem to flounder in a morass of self-doubts. As Walzer puts it,"ideological uncertainty and skepticism about all-out solutions to social problems have migrated to the left." The actuality of the situation, ironically, is that the Democrats on the left have become the party of values, while the Republicans luxuriate in their arch ideological simplicity. In short, they have had a plan and we have not.
Walzer's answer is that the Left must recall a different heritage than the one they have been utilizing (and losing with since 1980, for the most part), that of Cold War Liberalism. Walzer argues instead that the Left would do better to hearken back to the very beginnings of the New Deal and its consonant anti-fascism. In their haste to co-opt Walzer's argument, some Radicals might instantly jump on this phrase and point out this Administration's similarities to a neo-fascist state, Walzer declines to address that possible parallel, focusing instead on the external threat of Islamic fundamentalism as the proper target of his proposed anti-fascism.
It is here that I think Walzer makes a mistake. He seems to be suggesting that by accepting the notion that Islamic fundamentalism is completely incompatible with Democracy, the Left can re-energize the populous to accept their vision for social justice. In other words, by vilifying Islam, the Democratic Party can convince the public that it can also address the national security issues that clearly propelled Smirky and all the other Republicans into office since 9/11. I would argue instead that the evidence points to the conclusion that the voting public believes so strongly that only Republicans can keep us "safe" that they would even elect someone like Smirky the Chimp, regardless of his obvious incompacity and proven mendacity. Smirky's re-election is the punchline to Karl Rove's joke on all of us, courtesy of the palpable fear pervading the nation that Walzer notes throughout his article.
I don't think appropriating Republican fear-mongering is the answer for the Left, or even the Democratic Party (and there is a big difference between the two, a distinction Walzer neglects to make clear). That ship has sailed and right-thinking (pun intended) Republicans are the only ones they will let onboard. We should instead make our bones by convincing the public that we have better answers than ones in fashion 70 years ago (as Walzer wants it), or 40 years ago (as the Democrats have been trying to have it), or even 25 years ago (as the Republicans are having it).
The world is much more complicated now than it was in any of those periods of our history, even within our own borders. We must begin by admitting that we shouldn't rule the world, even if we can, because that isn't even remotely the principle the United States of America was founded on. We are supposed to be setting an example for the rest of world to aspire to, not cram our vision down everyone else's throat by virtue of the fact that we are stronger than anyone else. In that direction lies our doom and our destruction, and it's happening right before our eyes. Our arrogance will prove to be our fatal flaw, if we let it . . .

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

What's on the teevee

The Beautiful One and I were watching a new documentary mini-series on Sundance Monday night--The Staircase--which is a nifty look inside a murder investigation as it unfolds. What was even more fun, though, was what followed it this past Monday. Stoked, which portrays the rise and fall of a mid-1980s skate punk named "Gator" Rogowski, is comprised wholly of interviews with Gator's friends, cohorts, lovers, managers, and Rogowski himself. Now, skaters are not known for their eloquence, but there is one guy in this film, Jason Jesse, who virtually defines the stereotype of a surfer/skater, in that he shows little regard for grammar, diction, or intelligibility at all. Lest you think me a language elitist, though, let me add that I think this piece (which describes an overseas problem the declining Gator had with his dietary desire) is sheer poetry, in as close to word-for-word as I can get:
"Threw a total f#*king tantrum because he couldn't get fresh broccoli. Just eat f#*king corn dogs; who cares?"
See what I mean? Brilliant. I thought Jesse was a complete zero, but he certainly saved his best stuff for last.

***Spoiler (kinda) Alert***

The movie is actually a bit of a downer; Gator's skating style quickly loses its popular appeal and his life starts spinning out of control due to overindulgences in drugs and (oddly) being Born Again, both of which lead to his nearly conscienceless murder of a two-night-stand lover. Stoked is a pretty good insider's look into the skate culture of north San Diego County, directed with a light touch by Helen Stickler. Great soundtrack as well!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Book review--Reaganism

I finished reading Reaganism, by Walter Williams, today. It is a very persuasive study of the decline of democratic impulses in our federal government since 1980. What makes this valuable is that Williams defines this decline by showing the attendant rise of plutocratic governance, comparing our current situation to that of similar episodes in American history (The Gilded Ages of the late-19th C. and the Roaring 20s.) Williams notes 5 forces contributing to the assault on what he has defined as "Madisonian representative democracy":
Reaganism, with its antigovernmentism, its market fundamentalism, its belief that individual and family pure self-interest should guide behavior, and its embrace of national myths that together have made it the nation's dominant political philosophy and fostered a powerful ideology of the right;
Big-money politics, fueled by the growing maldistribution in income and wealth, which has filled the huge campaign war chests of reelection-fixated politicians in order to buy access and influence in Washington;
The information explosion, which has yielded increased levels of information overload, incorrect or misleading information, and distorted commentary;
The media, which have become profit driven and failed to provide enough sound political information and analysis to inform the American people about the major policy and political issues of the day; and
The American electorate, which has failed to fulfill the obligations of citizenship because of its lack of sound political information and knowledge and its unwarranted confidence in its capacity to select good candidates and understand policy issues.
Sorta covers it all, doesn't it? Williams' arguments are well-supported by endnotes ranging from graduate-level American history texts such as Gordon Wood's massive Creation of the American Republic to relatively non-partisan polling and governmental data to newspaper articles. What I found most useful in Williams' book was his historical perspective; the destruction of our political landscape can be laid at the Reagan Administration's doorstep, due to its persistently negative attacks on our federal government itself. Once the populace was seduced into thinking that any government was bad, it became an easy sell to lower taxes and (more invisibly) services. In that climate, only those rich enough to do without public services are served by the stripped-down plutocracy. Williams allows for regenerative influences as well--after all, we came out of our earlier plutocratic eras--but unfortunately, this modern version of anti-government seems to be more pervasive and pernicious, as witnessed by our current Administration's willful destruction of whole agencies and our national economy to boot. Meanwhile, most of the populace is seemingly too disinterested, bored, or selfish to realize that without the ideal of a common good, no democracy can survive, including our own. We are not immune to what befell Greece, or Weimar Germany . . .

Read this article!

Just a quick note now; hopefully some more later. A brilliant discussion of what can possibly go wrong with any current demonstrations or protests can be found here.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Not news

AP put out a news item yesterday stating that "sometimes" Republicans must put aside their "belief" in states' rights to support federal governmental intrusions, as in the Schiavo case. This is, of course, not news at all; most Republicans abandoned any pretenses they might have had favoring states' rights once they gained power in Congress in 1994. In 2000, let us never forget, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the vote-counting should continue and the Republicans protested to the national Supreme Court (and won, unfortunately), even though at no other time in our history had the Supremes claimed jurisdiction over a state's election laws. Now that they firmly control all the branches of the government, however, they've just gotten more obvious and arrogant in trying to have it both ways. Does anyone actually still think that the Republicans in power have any intellectual or political theory integrity? Their two central ideologies--evangelical (messianic in the case of Smirky the Chimp, at least) Christianity and anti-New Dealist, pro-business, social Darwinism--override any other potential considerations when Republicans assess the positions they take on any issue.
These are valid, if ruthless and offensive to many, political platforms on which to stand. The problem is that the Republicans in power are not honest about these stances: clearly they feel/know that if they came clean about their true goals, the majority of their support among the non-wealthy would evaporate overnight. Every poll ever taken shows that a vast majority of Americans support the New Deal programs/agencies that still exist (mainly Social Security, the FDA, and to a lesser extent, the FCC), as well as those Great Society programs that were passed in the 1960s (Medicare/Medicaid, Head Start) in order to flesh out our meager federal safety net. Opposing these programs openly would be politically suicidal, so Republicans instead pay lip service to them while working to gut them from behind the scenes. In the short term, the Bush Administration has underfunded these agencies (all the while, Bush has naturally proclaimed his unyielding support for the beneficiaries) in each federal budget passed. In the long term, the exploding deficits Bush has foisted off on the public threaten the very existence of all "non-essential" services in a cynical attempt to overspend our government into insolvency.
It's not states' rights that are being threatened by these dishonest clowns, it's the rights of every American alive and yet unborn that are imperiled.