Monday, June 30, 2008

Hope as a Corrective Measure

I read an article yesterday talking about how, for all the lip service this election from both campaign in favor of change and a radical shift from polarizing policies and politics, this election has quickly become a grudge match along the same lines as the last several. While the Democratic primary was a reasonably sedate affair, Obama v. McCain went nasty almost immediately after the Illinois senator secured the Democratic nomination and is likely to become notably even more mudslinging by the time it draws to an end in a little more than four months.

For those of us who love a good political fight and are incapable of seeing politics in any other manifestation, this kind of back-and-forth bickering is much in line with our desires and expectations.

For all of the talk of a new spirit of bipartisan compromise and the ability to seek commonality between the right and left, the instant the gloves came off, this too went by the wayside. I personally wasn't surprised that this came to pass but I'm left wondering if stalemate and partisan rancor are the best we can expect from this point forward.

A fellow blogger's recent post reminded me of something quite pertinent to today. He was talking about the idea of hope as a corrective to today's fashionable skepticism, if not outright cynicism. I think post-JFK's assassination, and particularly post-Watergate the times warranted a corrective measure that forced us to get out of an unrealistic, starry-eyed perspective that was rooted in good intentions, not reality.

The problem with this kind of mentality is that it was never meant to be the default lens by which we see the world. So often the metaphorical pendulum swings much too far in one direction, necessitating a polar shift that almost always end up too far in the other direction. Taken to an extreme, this kind of fatalistic defeatism is what has limited voter turnout, participation in politics, and an unwillingness to take much of an interest in the inner workings of government.

It's time to embrace a new spirit of optimism and a communal spirit of cooperation the likes of which many of us have never experienced personally. I am aware in saying this I will no doubt invite many to decry my words as naive and unrealistic, but I'm prepared to bear that kind of criticism. I've seen the role of an individual in government is not a way to skillfully divide us around ideological lines, but a manner by which we find a way to live in peace and harmony. It is not written in stone that humans must fight each other and squabble over every precept by which the direction our society is headed.

If not now, when?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pulp McCain

As seen everywhere.

*I probably should have prefaced my posting of this by saying that I don't agree at all with the presentation, but by the very fact this video exists (and nearly got played on MSNBC) it ought to speak volumes about the kind of crap that gets massive attention and the quality kind of youtubes that never reach mass public attention.

Thanks, Stadium Pal!

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Sunday Morning

I've got a feeling I don't want to know.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

10 Years Ago...

I'm not quite sure what reminded me precisely of Marilyn Manson. Perhaps it's my unapologetic lust for one of his many ex-girlfriends, the B-actress Rose McGowan. Pictured below.

*Yes, she is a redhead. And no, it's not her natural color, but I'll gladly overlook it.

Back in those ancient days of the late 90's, among a certain sub-faction of fashionable social defectives, said entertainer's flare for shameless self-promotion and hyperbole won him massive fame among the dark clothing, overly tatted, and pierced set. Manson hooked into teenage rebellion, open defiance of parental authority, and slaughtered a variety of sacred cows. In an effort to be as patently offensive as possible, Manson hyper-marketed his particularly glossy, cartoonish, and utterly overwrought take on heavy metal. And...(SURPRISE) made a tremendous amount of money in the process. Nothing sells quite as well as being the willful walking incarnation of all things wrong with American society, and for a two or three year period he was the most cited example of the corrupting influence of the entertainment industry on teh youth.

I never completely took the man seriously, though many of my contemporaries did. Among the women who could have easily been voted most likely to have borderline personality disorder or most likely to marry a complete loser, he was the epitome of attractive-- the kind of attractive guaranteed to unnerve adults, that is.

A cursory glance at the man reveals a dubiously talented misfit who like so many before him, managed to transform minimal talent and shock value into wealth and the obligatory fifteen minutes of fame rendered thereof. I remember once I tried to listen one of his albums and found myself unsurprisingly underwhelmed in the process. To this day, I completely fail to understand the appeal. One or two songs were slightly tuneful, though aside from the hype, the costumes, and the hyperbole is an amateur's command of the most basic heavy metal riffs and a massive reliance on studio trickery. Rehashing the kind of sound that Trent Reznor invented and did a far better job of presenting to the record-buying public, Marilyn slid by on an stretch of almost unbroken manufactured controversies.

And, to lay it on thick, a glance at his long history of girlfriends, each of whom fits a fairly unsurprising criteria: a) extremely attractive b) much younger than him shows him to be not that unspectacular a character: self-absorbed, narcissistic, and eager to dwell in a state of fashionable arrested development; Manson's nothing to write home about. Now that he has extinguished the attention of the notoriously fickle American audience, he's nothing more than a middle aged cad desperately trying to seem youthful, hip, and relevant. These days, he's none of the above.

Not Exactly the Soundbyte Candidate, Is He?

(click to embiggen)

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

And down to The American Street, as per usual on Saturdays.

Saturday Video

which goes deep into the past.

"Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" was the B-side to Chuck Berry's 1956 single "Too Much Monkey Business" and in addition reached number five on the R&B charts based on its own merits. Quite wisely for the 1950's, Berry deliberately changed his vocal delivery and intonation with the deliberate intention to sound white and skillfully incorporated white cultural motifs in an effort to reach beyond the scope of "race records", the euphemistic term for black music in those days. This was helped by the fact that he was raised in a middle class household, rare for African-Americans in those days.

I've always loved Berry's playful lyrics and equally playful guitar playing. One of the first artists to synthesize the blues with country music (then called hillbilly), Berry contributed as much to the formation of rock 'n roll as any other artist who can state a claim towards the genre.

He also had a thing for armed robbery, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and tax evasion, but let's not dwell on the negative aspects of his personality, shall we?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Femme Fatale

I was going to save this for tomorrow's American Street posting, but I awoke this morning to find that I have absolutely nothing of worth to denote, much less write about.

And when that happens, sometimes all you can do is just sing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Guns. They're American for the Right of the People to Bear. Can't Take 'Em Away for Enfringement Purposes. Not Never.

Having read through opinions on both sides of today's ruling on gun control, it seems as though recent major decisions passed down by the high court fall in one of two major categories: hard paternalism or soft paternalism. Hard paternalism draws strict lines in the sand, believing that people cannot be trusted to make proper decision in their own behalf.

Soft Paternalism, also referred to as asymmetrical paternalism and libertarian paternalism, is a political philosophy that believes the state can “help you make the choices you would make for yourself—if only you had the strength of will and the sharpness of mind. But unlike 'hard' paternalists, who ban some things and mandate others, the softer kind aims only to skew your decisions, without infringing greatly on your freedom of choice.”[1] The term "libertarian paternalism" is intended to evoke the idea that soft paternalism is an approach to public policy that can be endorsed by libertarians because it does not abridge individual freedom, though most self-described libertarians are firmly opposed to it. Asymmetric paternalism refers to two asymmetries: the policies are designed to help irrational people who are not advancing their own interests while not interfering with the autonomy of those who are making rational, deliberate, decisions. It is also asymmetric in the sense that the policies are designed to be acceptable to those who believe that people behave rationally and to people who believe that people behave less than rationally.

McCain was quick to strike back at Obama's supposedly elitist assertion that people cling to their guns out of a spirit of bitterness. Truth be told, as powerless as people feel these days, I understand how those who feel chronically disenfranchised would covet any rights given to them out of a desire to feel as though they have control of something in their lives. As this country and this world swell in population, and laws become more and more restrictive as a means to desperately assert some kind of control, this kind of stubborn resistance is an understandable response for some.

But unlike McCain, I hardly believe that owning a gun should be equated with solemn reverence, as though many Americans bow their heads in prayer to thank the Lord for a good meal, the blessings that life has bestowed upon them, and the right to carry a deadly weapon. I fail to understand how gun ownership could in any way be some sacrosanct valued commodity. Guns are instruments of death and destruction, no matter how you spin it, and even in a socially acceptable construct, I see little reason to deify them.

Again I am reminded of just how much of a plurality society we are in this country--so many different ethnic groups, races, cultures, mores, and differing ways of life that it's a marvel we can ever agree on much of anything. Gun control works in countries or societies where there is far less of a climate of fear and kind of commonality between citizens the likes of which that have never existed here and likely will never exist on these shores.

Criminalizing firearms is not much of a solution since gun ownership and guns themselves have had such an overwhelming role in American society. Legislation alone cannot remove a culture of violence and a culture of self-reliance, of which gun ownership factors into quite neatly. Rail against the decision of the Supreme Court if you wish, but rest assured that in a society with so many disparate groups, getting everything we want is going to be close to impossible.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reconciling the Heart with the Head

Today's 5-4 ruling that rejects the death penalty for child rapists shows the clear divide not just on the Supreme Court, but in American society in large. If we needed any further example of how polarized we are in this country, decisions such as these are more than eager to point it out. If we needed a means to gauge how we have evolved over the centuries, this easily provides it.

This decision also makes a strong case for the need to elect Barack Obama in November. A McCain Presidency would swing the balance of the court ever more resolutely towards the right and undermine reform measures passed by what will likely still be a Democratic-controlled Congress. The majority of American society still favors the procedure, but our appointed and elected gatekeepers have asserted they know better than the rest of us and made the decisions for ourselves. This authoritarian impulse one either embraces as a necessary means of control or rails against as running contrary to the popular will.

Cases such as these test the very premise of the capital punishment divide. They are a direct challenge to death penalty opponents. You don't favor executing adults who kill other adults in cold blood, they argue, but what about adults who rape children, the most defenseless among us? Let's see how committed you are to this premise.

And I, as a recent convert against the practice, find myself with no small degree of ambivalence. There's a part of me who cries for blood justice when I read about offenses like these. Deep within the American psyche is an overwhelming desire to inflict directly proportional punishment upon the perpetrators of one of the most inexcusable crimes one can commit. There's a kind of understood life-for-a-life logic that even a young child can easily comprehend.

Similarly, abortion rights have been severely parsed and in doing so had each individual plank isolated from the whole as a means of calling into question every building block of a much larger established precedent. The scope of Roe v. Wade has been chipped away at over the years, and if conservatives had their way, each subsequent legal challenge will totally emasculate the practice until it is full of so many restrictions and limiting caveats that it is rendered practically worthless.

But back to the death penalty: having grown up in a solidly red state where scorn is openly heaped upon those who would be cowardly enough to not send convicted murderers of human beings of any age to our sanitized gallows, I have to reconcile my heart with my head. Doing so is never an easy task and old habits and convictions do not easily go to their grave.

Those who oppose the Death Penalty often characterize their position on a simple premise: to speak out against the practice is to advance a cause that pushes the human race forwards--it is a triumph of civilized impulse, by which humans step away from the Dark Ages and into a much more rational, reasoned viewpoint. Indeed, I feel the same way, but in saying so, I understand the kind of self-satisfied vantage point provided by those who still staunchly support the death penalty. It makes sense in some kind of primal way.

Those who would oppose war often find their ranks swollen with devoted adherents, that is, of course, until any preemptive attack a la Pearl Harbor or 11 September 2001 transpires. In the immediate aftermath, the clamoring for blood and the desire to even the score overshadows even the most noble intentions.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I'm Set Free

Let me tell you, people/what I've found.

Charlie Black, James Dobson, and the New Democratic Offensive

Often times elections are won and lost not by any forceful show of strength or a resolute offense, but rather by keeping overt miscalculations to a minimum. The office of President has often been won by the candidate who doesn't necessary make the strongest case to the American people, but instead makes the fewest mistakes. So if the first few rounds of the Obama/McCain battle royal reveals anything, it's that thus far the Illnois senator has managed to stay away from major problems on the campaign trail.

Obama has thus far run circles around McCain, who continues to seem old, tired, and out of sync by contrast. The Straight Talk Express looks like a decrepit museum piece, heavily antiquated and seemingly pulled from a completely different era, one certainly not our own. In addition, he can't seem to keep his advisers from saying stupid things. Case in point: Charlie Black.

The most damning thing about Charlie Black's comment that a terrorist attack would clearly benefit McCain isn't its veracity; I believe Black meant every word. Rather, the problem is that it's remarkably similar to Hillary Clinton's Robert Kennedy assassination gaff, which arguably finished off whatever slim hopes she had left to win the Democratic nomination. Translated literally, it sounds as though Black and the rest of the GOP are in full out panic mode, wishing for something as catastrophic as another 11 September as the only way by which the Republicans could successfully capture the Presidency.

It's a deeply hypocritical statement at minimum, considering the same charges were leveled against Democrats. Republican leaders and pundits openly accused their opponents of willfully wishing for major destruction in Iraq as the surest means to secure a Democratic majority in the Congress.

The other major McCain liability is his still lukewarm support among Evangelical Conservatives.

As a person of faith, James Dobson's comments criticizing Obama for his Christian faith don't seem rooted in anything substantive. It is interesting to see the Religious Right put on the defensive instead of the offensive for once, and I am certainly heartened that Obama so clearly extrapolated the views I hold dear. Too long the Religious Right claimed to assert that its interpretation of religion, faith, and doctrine was the sole view. Many of us on the left in our desire to make faith a private matter were all too eager to surrender that territory.

I just wish it hadn't taken decades for a leader on the left to push back and push back hard.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Just Another Politician. (And Your Point Was What, Again?)

Ever since Barack Obama sewed up the Democratic nomination, it has been both frustrating and interesting to see the way the news media has proceeded to chip away at his reputation as a reformer and as a new face in Washington. Some of these issues give me reason to pause, but most I shrug off as part and parcel of any politician running for high elective office.

I can understand why few people are willing to go into the meat grinder of politics. Those who run for elective office can never do much right but are capable of doing practically everything wrong. Political culture thrives on scandal and negative reinforcement, appealing to the part of us biologically programmed to recoil in disgust at the sinister side of human behavior. Every press expose seems to be designed specifically to induce outrage and rise everyone's blood pressure.

The role of lobbyists and money interests in politics is so deeply embedded in the framework that I would frankly be made uncomfortable if any candidate renounced them altogether. I'm not sure how any politician could escape their taint completely. The latest New York Times article that ties Obama to the ethanol industry is one such example.

While I agree that increased ethanol production is no panacea, it does provide a cottage industry and creates jobs. In this day and age, where many traditionally sound jobs in industry have been uprooted to other areas of the world where they are more cost-efficient, ethanol appears to be an effective way to boost employment, or at minimum reduce the unemployment created by the growing recession. It's certainly not a flawless attempt to reduce this country's dependence on foreign oil, but the underlying intentions are good.

Eliminating the graft and corruption that goes along with any industry is easy said, hard to accomplish in reality. And underneath this recent ethanol flap is the peculiarly American deficiency of failing to understand that instant gratification is a product of good luck, obscene wealth, and material excess. It is not a God-given right or entitlement.

Many of us good-government liberals insist that the natural role of regulation and oversight ought to be to aim to eliminate these kind of offenses. In theory, that is how government ought to function, but when compromise, power, and profit meet, the net result is usually far less noble. Reform ought to be a constant process, since for every layer of oversight and regulation we provide, those whose inner motive is purely profit and material gain will push the envelope and attempt to exploit existing loopholes, create new ones, and in the process dare gatekeepers to catch them.

So reform isn't a destination, it's a journey. Furthermore, it's a journey that requires our participation and our attention, else it be rendered worthless.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saturday Video

For every person who has had a Allison in his or her life.

My Aim is True.

It's American Street Day

So that's where I am.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Movie Review

What's always been the most interesting facet of film study for me is in observing the interplay between influences, particularly taking into account the screenplay and dialogue. I'm All Right, Jack is a clever satire and black comedy, true enough, but the most interesting facet of the film is how indebted it is to major works of literature, art, and satire. As a amateur music critic and Anglophile, having now seen the movie for myself, I recognize its impact the upon many of the major rock recording artists of the 1960's and 1970s. This is especially evident when one considers the referential lyrics of many songs subsequently written by British rock 'n rollers, particularly Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks. To wit, the most prominent example that comes to mind of this kind of direct cross-pollination is Roger Waters' straight lift of the title into the 1973 hit "Money."

I'm all right, Jack/Keep your hands off of my stack

Peter Sellers' character, Fred Kite, spouts the pseudo-intellectual phrasings of the stereotypical working-class autodidact labor boss, while pontificating the self-important drivel and populist phrasings of a demagogue, right down to the Hitler mustache and unapologetic Communist leanings. Kite's service board/inner circle includes a man with a pronounced stutter, who has a habit of punctuating important points by means of forceful interjection. This is itself a direct reference to Robert Penn Warren's novel All The King's Men. In that work, one of Louisiana governor's Willie Stark's trusted advisors, a bodyguard with the auspicious nickname of Sugar-Boy, hangs close by the boss and seconds the pronouncement of his boss with the very same decided stammer.

Quite unlike many films that sometimes overreach in an effort to be a laugh riot, I'm All Right, Jack is a relatively droll affair. Nor, like many contemporary satirical films, does it resort to gross caricatures that by way of overstatement let the audience in on the joke. Though certain sections are indeed amusing, it's downright disconcerting how close to the truth and eerily plausible are the characterizations of each and every role, all players in a vast game built upon distrust and fear. The cynicism and fatalistic view advanced by the picture has dated not in the least with the passage of time and runs in tremendous contrast to the deliberate fantasies and romanticized clap-trap that passes for reality still churned out by studios on a constant basis. The best satire lets no one off the hook and never can be dismissed as partisan propaganda, even artfully presented propaganda.

The character of Stanley Windrush, a kind of naive ignoramus much in keeping as Voltaire's Candide, cuts through the crap and in the process doing so, demystifies the inner workings of the system. That it takes an idiot savant to reveal the conditioned inanity of pointed dysfunction reveals much about the kind of perverse, self-serving stalemate that passes for business as usual. No one comes off smelling like roses by the end and in the process, everyone's hands are shown as bloody, no side more than another. Selfishness and personal gain reign supreme and any utterances to the contrary are shown to be little more than window dressing that unskillfully disguise the sordid reality.

Yet, what is most striking to me is the mutual sense of paranoia shared between labor and management. Though both of them are being played for suckers by the top brass, and are little more than pawns being skillfully manipulated by upper-level elites with the sole purpose to produce the most profit for the highest up, neither side understands this. Nor would they likely admit to it even if they had indisputable knowledge to contradict their previous assumptions. The supreme irony is that management and organized labor both exist in conflicting parallel universes, but neither of them fully understand the true nature of the game. Due to the presentation, it's difficult to feel any kind of sympathy for anyone, least of all the working class.

At its outset, one almost expects this film to be the traditional paeon in black and white to the virtues of socialism and collective unity, but in keeping with the title of the film, everyone is obsessed only with material gain and personal profit. What is more, the insanity of the workings of the system supersede sense and any altruistic duty to one's fellow person. Voltaire ended Candide by insisting that actual works, productivity, and actions speak far louder than ceaseless philosophical ruminating to no apparent end. It's a damning critique of intellectualism but also a cautionary tale that making idols of our views, no matter what our station may be, is the quickest way to ruin.

It's fashionable in liberal circles to espouse wholehearted, full-throated support for labor unions and to not neglect to invoke the names of agitators, provocateurs, and stirring historical figures in doing so. However, one might do well to understand the kind of willful incompetence and ridiculous conflict between management and labor that fueled anti-union sentiment and in doing so did much to destroy its power. In the end, it's never as simple as us versus them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Quick Note

Dear Readership,

Due to the fact I will be entertaining company for the remainder of the week, posting will be sparse until the first of next week.

Thanks for your understanding!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Democrats' Different Strategy

Al Gore's endorsement last night in Detroit drew a fresh batch of sharp parallels between Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy and played up Gore's environmental credentials. This, in and of itself should come as no surprise to anyone. Prior speeches have seen the Senator from Illinois bill himself as a cross between Abraham Lincoln and JFK, with a smattering of other Democratic superstars thrown in for good measure. In a different candidate, I'd see this as empty chest-pounding, but Obama's earnestness and charisma make this characterization seem plausible.

One also can't help but notice that Obama's massive rallies have the character and the makings of a sporting event, right down to the cheering, chanting, and booing the opposing team at all the right moments. Gore and Obama both had to interrupt their speeches once or twice to set a somewhat unruly crowd straight a few times. Clearly both enjoyed the intensity of the rally, and the degree of passion and enthusiasm that the people in attendance felt strongly.

The strongest point in the roughly fifteen minute endorsement speech occurred when Gore invoked a litany of complaints and condemnations against the Bush administration, all bookended by the phrase, "Elections matter". Additionally, Gore also made a point to directly label Obama "young", effectively a direct challenge to the McCain campaign, who has been eager to paint him as naive and inexperienced. This struck me as unusually bold and taking the fight to the GOP, rather than the other way around.

Gore shot back, as if to say, "Yes, he's young. And so what?"

I give Obama all the credit in the world for going on the offensive and forcing McCain to play defense. For years, the strategy of whomever the Democratic nominee happened to be seemed to be a kind of hypervigilant damage control and an almost obsessive effort to draw in as many of the traditionally Democratic voters as possible, seeking not to offend any of them along the way. Walking on eggshells is a rather uninspiring method of leadership.

For starters, it's a weak negotiating point which has contributed to years of Republican victories. Many Americans would rather pick strong and wrong rather than weak and right. This in and of itself is one of the many miscues which led to John Kerry's defeat in 2004. The contrasts between that election and this one are so marked that four years ago seems like some distant parallel universe. Perhaps this time around, with the tide having turned so strongly against the Republican party, such a clearly ramrod and forceful strategy seems less risky. If this degree of putting the fight to the opponent had been utilized by prior Democrats, one almost wonders if more Presidential elections would have turned out for the party.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Limitation of Conventional Wisdom

Since September of 2007, I've kept close tabs on the latest poll numbers. It's been interesting to see the ebbs and flows of the Presidential race, particularly after Hillary Clinton gave her concession speech two Saturdays ago. As has been firmly established, the election in November will be close, which is why I practically dismiss off-hand (while hoping them to be true, of course) the first few pronouncements that have come in the form of deeply speculative stories---delivered in a tone of cautious optimism, each of which give Obama's election in November an air of inevitability.

We've seen inevitable candidates before, and as I recall, said inevitable candidate ended up in second place rather than as the presumptive nominee, hence the reason I'm inclined to not pay these accounts much mind. Meanwhile, it seems as though a mild bounce, post-nomination, is the best Obama apparently will receive now that the American people and, in particular, Clinton supporters have had time to digest the reality of the situation.

I consult polls, and polling data, as many of us do, as a means of trying to gauge the impact of public sentiment. Unlike many people, I hold strong political opinions, and I decided for whom I was going to cast my vote long ago. Those of us who swim in activist, political circles often end up inadvertently in a bubble of commonality and similar thought, so I know I can't often trust my fellows and close associates to provide any objective pictures of how the rest of the country reacts, processes, and responds to the fight now shaping up between Obama and McCain.

Even as early as it is in this general election campaign, and still two months from each party's convention/overblown pep rally, I wonder who out there still hasn't pretty much decided which candidate will receive their vote. The polarizing environment of recent elections, if still in force, and I have no reason to doubt otherwise, would dictate that most voters have made up their minds and made them up firmly.

The series of media driven nontroversies is perhaps my deepest annoyance--the latest of which is the hand-wringing, overblown, over-theatrical "Will Clinton Supporters Come Home to the Democratic Party?" These manufactured crises makes me wish there was not a school of thought based completely on hyperbole. These efforts are designed merely to attract ratings share and demographic profiles, but one wonders at which point manufactured reality becomes public perception.

And I can't help noticing how staid and relatively perfunctory the race has become now that the Democratic primary race has concluded. Is the lesson to be learned that Democrats do drama best?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reactionary Wartime Policy, Then and Now

The recent 5-4 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. U.S. is rightly seen as a victory for those who oppose the hard-line stance of the Bush Administration. While some believe the decision was merely a corrective to re-establish the role and the scope of the Court, this case also encapsulates a microcosm of popular opinion. It was also the most recent measure by which the court sought to curb the authority of the Executive branch, which has taken liberties the likes of which have not been seen in years.

Sadly, many people cease to understand the logic of putting terrorist suspects on trial at all, and the most hawkish of them feel as though they should have been summarily executed on the battlefield in a "shoot first, ask questions later" fashion. Even John Kerry infamously modified his stance against capital punishment by adding a caveat that the death penalty would never be used, except, of course, for terrorists. It had the feeling of an awkward pledge tacked on for purely political reasons, and it's one of the reasons Senator Kerry did not win the Presidency in 2004.

In making their decision, the justices certainly were aware of the gross inequalities and suspension of basic civil liberties perpetuated by the Woodrow Wilson administration during World War I. Arguably, these reactionary measures were far more intense, evasive, and unfair than anything proposed by the current administration. Yet, what must be added is that the policies of ninety years ago set an unfortunate precedent that the current gang of thieves now in office were more than eager to emulate in their own administration.

The Wilson administration suppressed dissent, now officially branded disloyalty. For reasons of their own, private interests helped shape a reactionary repression that tarnished the nation's professed idealistic war goals.

Congress rushed to stifle antiwar sentiment. The Espionage Act provided heavy fines and up to 20 years in prison for obstructing the war effort, a vague phrase but "omnipotently comprehensive," warned an Idaho senator who opposed the law. In fact, the Espionage Act became a weapon to crush dissent and criticism. Eventually, Congress passed the still more sweeping Sedition Act of 1918, which provided severe penalties for speaking or writing against the draft, bond sales, and war production and for criticizing government personnel or policies. Congress emphasized the law's inclusive nature by rejecting a proposed amendment stipulating that "nothing in this act shall be construed as limiting the liberty or impairing the right of any individual to publish or speak what is true, with good motives, for justifiable ends." Senator Hiram Johnson lamented, "It is war. But, good God...when did it become war upon the American people?"

-The American Journey

Though the policies of the Bush administration arguably are not as restrictive as those stated above, this current bunch hasn't made any pretense in covering its tracks. Its belligerent attitude towards those who call its over-reaching actions into question is to bully them into a state of submission, often labeling them unpatriotic and implying heavily that they are treasonous and eager to give aid and comfort to American enemies.

In the end, the government was primarily responsible for the war hysteria. It encouraged suspicion and conflict through inflammatory propaganda, repressive laws, and violation of basic civil rights, by supporting extremists who used the war for their own purposes...this ugly mood would infect the postwar world.

In time, we will see the impact of the younger Bush's policy, with the perspective only hindsight can provide. I hope the miscarriage of justice perpetuated by these goons does not inspire subsequent leaders to destroy basic rights under the pretense of waging war and seeking justice under the law.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My Sentiments Exactly

(Click to embiggen)

Saturday Video

There goes the fear again.

Addendum: "There Goes The Fear" was recorded by Doves, another in a series of British rock bands I adore. The album from which this is pulled, The Last Broadcast, is well worth the investment.

Where It's At

The American Street, certainly.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Old Versus New Is the Real Narrative

After the fireworks of the Democratic primary, this week in politics appeared rather mundane and routine. Case in point: the battle over economics and tax code semantics, which as waged by both campaigns over the past several days, produces little more than yawns. Regarding this issue and this pitched battle, each party's well-trod talking points are, if not older than dirt, certainly not any younger. Even for activists on both sides, playing tit-for-tat with dueling tax systems and the labyrinthian language of said systems is a maddeningly dull fight that only someone with a master's degree in economics could relish.

What we all might be able to agree upon is that neither candidate--neither Obama, nor McCain, scored a slam dunk in this first round of head to head skirmishing.

When McCain has been criticized for being old and out of touch, this isn't a covert swipe at his age as much as it is that he often comes across as inarticulate and unrehearsed in a public forum. If Presidential politics are at least in part a public relations battle, McCain ultimately comes in at a distant second. Last night's Faux News pep rally town hall meeting was clearly scripted to benefit a candidate who often seems stilted and awkward despite trying desperately to appear otherwise, and who seems to need training wheels to make sure the man driving the Straight Talk Express stays between the yellow lines.

If possessing the common touch is a qualifying factor that we deem necessary for those who would seek the highest office in the land, then both candidates still have a ways to go before they reach it. Obama's eloquent speaking style at times still seems a touch coldly detached, though powerful in its scope and impact. By contrast, McCain often gives the impression of a man trying far too hard to come across to his audience as warmly personable, friendly, and funny. In reality, John McCain is a wise-cracking smart-ass whose real gift for humor is firmly within the realm of mean-spirited and sarcastic. If I were he, I'd let the real McCain shine through, no matter what poll numbers, staff directives, and punditry might indicate otherwise.

The true narrative in this go-round is how public perception dictates the conventional wisdom, and in this regard, McCain trails tremendously. The media, as a reflection of American society, loves the next big thing and appreciates an early clue towards its new direction. When Bill Clinton burst onto the scene sixteen years ago, he enjoyed the same kind of media honeymoon as benefits Obama today. Back then, in those ancient days of 1992, Baby Boomers had finally captured the Presidency, and the symbolism of a changing of the guard was an apt sentiment to describe the ethos of the times. A generation eager to romanticize its youth and mythologize its struggles had finally secured its deepest ambitions.

Now that the Baby Boomers are far closer to retirement than to middle age, Obama's rise perfectly encapsulates a completely different generational mindset. A resistance and outright hostility towards Baby Boomer complacency inertia is the rallying cry of this generation, who turn a skeptical eye towards its parents' generation and is quite eager to explode the myths and expose the harsh reality of its supposed triumphs.

Furthermore, the Obama campaign, particularly in its deft utilization of modern technological advances, namely internet grassroots organization, has found an audience never before available to any candidate. I am not nearly as thunder-struck as many are in Obama's ascent to candidacy. Progressives have always sought to seem on the cutting edge and the inevitability that one day the Democratic party would embrace a certain pronounced freshness and a new way of conducting business is, in my opinion at least, an inevitability rather than a quirk of fate.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Flying Lessons

Individual Rights Versus Collective Unity

The new batch of rumors swirling around Obama are characteristic of the attacks upon a candidate whose personal dealings and personal life are still unknown among large segments of the electorate. I myself had to bone up on the details of his life by doing my own reading on the subject and I certainly encourage others to do so if they'd like a truly well-rounded picture of the Illinois senator. In saying this, I wish more of the electorate would take a far more active role towards responsible citizenship; one hopes the activist example set by Obama and his passionately devoted supporters will encourage more towards similar pursuits

My hope, also, is that the Obama campaign itself will thoroughly understand that many people will not be similarly inclined towards this degree of hyper-focus, due to time constraints, families, demanding occupations, and otherwise selfish pursuits.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out yesterday on Race for the White House, Americans by in large are not joiners. Historically, when threatened with high taxation, infringement upon personal liberties, and being sent to fight in foreign entanglements, we can be coaxed to collectively rouse ourselves and protest en masse, but this is not our default setting. We'd mostly like to be left alone and left to our own pursuits.

Our fear of a strong centralized government and the mere existence of the tenth amendment reveal how difficult it is to get Americans to think collectively rather than individualistically. But as evidenced by high energy costs, our individualism may prove to be our undoing. Living in a world of niche marketing and everything-to-everyone consumerism is forcing us together in ways that may make many uncomfortable.


It is rather notable that, as has been mentioned prior, Obama's policies aren't being attacked nearly to the degree that his personal associates and supposedly close friends are. I'm wondering what that reveals about whom. Does Obama simply not have the kind of revealing flaws that can be easily exploited by his enemies, forcing them instead to attack even the people who are, at best, tangentially allied with him?

If so, then one wonders if these are increasingly desperate attempts to fend off what could very well be a resounding Obama victory. Conspiracy theories aside, I wonder who or what entity broke the Reverend Wright controversy. I am aware of who exactly broke the so-called bitter controversy, though my focus now turns to why and what allegiance this reporter is allied. It's difficult to discern who is under whose payroll and what their precise motives are, aside from personal gain and profit.

A few die-hard Clinton supporters are now heaping invective upon Obama, Froma Harrop being a notable example, but arguments such as hers resort to the age old tactic of splitting hairs when strongly substantive critiques would better serve readers. Fortunately, voices like hers are in the minority.

In the meantime, the mainstream media has eagerly showcased alarmist headlines in an effort to cater to fear and worry. Blaring messages that are rooted in yellow journalism rather than reality, they are designed simply to create controversy where none exists. One hopes most Americans can see past these transparent attempts. What is perhaps the most telling about today however, is the tremendous deluge of information that constantly inundates us from all sides. The media's manner of coping with this new facet of American life is to often scream loud enough to be heard over the din. The shrillest, shrewdest news often gets heard while any number of more tame facts often are submerged beneath the surface.

Getting us to think as one voice and not a plurality of disparate voices will be a major challenge facing us in the near future and beyond. I don't pretend to know how to accomplish this goal but I do trust in American innovation and technical advance to best guide us in that direction.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

There Is No Time For Cracking Up (Believe Me, Friends)

The Verve's album Urban Hymns came out when I was seventeen, selling millions of copies by riding high on the success of the song "Bittersweet Symphony". It seemed the perfect companion to the way I was feeling at the time---washed ashore, depressed, melancholic, self-destructive, eager to romanticize away my misery the way only a teenager can do. The demise of Britpop seemed fitting. It was as if both of us had hit the skids and simultaneously lost our previously upbeat swagger.

The American music industry, as it is apt to do in times of musical famine, had resumed producing a variety of flash-in-the-pan one hit wonders while scrambling to find the mythical next best thing. Grunge had played itself out with the demise of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and much of the rest of the Seattle scene. No one wanted to admit that the music produced currently simply didn't live up to the high expectations produced by the roaring success of the first part of the decade.

Across the pond, meanwhile, the dreariness of Radiohead and its ilk had washed over to most of the big groups. Britpop had died away and now in its place a kind of defeated, druggy space rock reigned supreme among the top acts. That same year, Blur released a self-titled album that aside from one anomaly, Song 2, was dark art rock at its finest. Oasis, a band I was never that keen on to begin with, had reached the point where high expectations and heavy cocaine usage met, and produced a tremendously lazy and tuneless album named Be Here Now.

Being there with them was the last thing I'd ever wanted for myself. So, at any rate, the perfect compliment for the way I was feeling then was this beautiful downer of an album. I fancied myself a younger incarnation of Richard Ashcroft, before I realized that Ashcroft was another tormented musician and in addition to being a major depressive, was a tremendously heavy drug user to boot--the kind of which it is best to observe from afar but never seek to emulate in one's personal life. In retrospect, Ashcroft was my age now, twenty-seven, when he wrote and produced most of these songs. I've come a long way since then and apparently grown up far faster than many of my contemporaries have.


When morning breaks
We hide our eyes

and our love's aching
Nothing's strange

It was in our hands
from 6 to 10

It slipped right out again

There'll be
no better time

There'll be
no better way

There'll be no better
day to save me

Save me
Yeah, save me

I hope you
see like I see

I hope you see
what I see

I hope you feel
like I feel

And the world
don't stop

There is no time
for cracking up

Believe me, friends

'Cause when freedom comes
I'll be long gone

You know it has to end

There'll be no
better time

There'll be
no better way

There'll be no better
day to save me

Save me

Yeah, save me
Yeah, save me

I hope you see
what I see

I hope you feel
like I feel

Someone to stand
beside me

Weeping willow
The pills under
my pillow

Weeping willow
Pills under my pillow

Weeping willow
The Gun under
your pillow

Weeping willow

The Bumpy Ride Ahead towards Mass Transit

This morning I read a fascinating article which discusses both the impact of high gasoline costs and in particular its massive impact upon mass transit services. The column serves as a gentle cautionary tale to those of us who have been pushing if not outright chiding our fellow citizens to give up their love affair with the automobile. I recognize now that doing so, for many people, will resemble a bad divorce rather than a clean break with the past.

It's downright fashionable in progressive circles to ride a bike to work, take the bus or subway rather than drive, and to strongly advocate both while looking down one's nose as those so barbaric not to see the world in the same way. So count me as among those who have always thought SUVs, Hummers, and pickup trucks are, were, and will always be vulgar accessories which perpetuate image at the expense of the great harm they cause to the environment.

At the moment I do not bemoan four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline. I know that something this drastic and draining upon the pocketbook and the individual consumer would be the only way we'd see some change in the direction of conservation. Neither am I so naive as to assume that the transition would be wholly smooth.

The economy of this country, particularly after the post-World War II boom was designed around the automobile. While some cities, mostly in the northeast established excellent mass transit system at the turn of the last century, whole cities, Atlanta being the most notable example I can think of off-hand, were designed in the era of disposable income and booming finances--they were modeled completely on the mobility and the rugged individualist credo many think are somehow owed to us on the basis of being Americans. Public transportation and urban sprawl simply do not compute.

In this society where we expect every problem to be minor, short-lasting, and quickly reconciled, we are going to see some major kinks in the system. So many people drove to work, school, or just about everywhere else that cities never put the money into public transportation. City systems catered only to the lowest of the low income residents and, chronically underfunded, often ran deficits and were constantly on the verge of bankruptcy. One glance at the monstrosity of inefficiency known as Amtrak will reveal the need for massive reform and the money to put these changes into effect.

The article further emphasizes that with less drivers on the road, so too will decreased tax revenue result. An immensely ingrained habit as personal automobile transit has been incorporated into almost every walk of life and has been this way at least since the mid to late 1920s, when Henry Ford's Model T put the car in an affordable price range for almost every American.

We aren't just fighting against simple economics when we denigrate the traditional role the automobile has had for the last ninety years or so, we're fighting against historical precedent and economic structure, and these are not addictions we put aside easily.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Carter Comparison (And Why It Doesn't Wash)

John McCain and the Republican party have returned fire against Obama's blistering attacks, and the latest volley of grapeshot again reveals much about the candidate and the increasingly weakened organization of which he is the presumptive heir. Yesterday McCain unleashed the most offensive epithet in conservative circles that can ever be uttered: the Carter comparison. For this fear bomb to be detonated so early into the general election, one wonders whether this is a sign of a no-holds-barred fight between both men or a kind of desperation to put Obama away as quickly as possible.

One also wonders if this strongly worded attack allows us to peer into the mentality of frustrated conservatives. As was noted on MSNBC's First Read this morning, Republicans may be finally warming to the notion that George W. Bush is their party's Jimmy Carter.

Indeed, his name will be anathema to Democrats for the next several years, at minimum. But I disagree strongly with First Read's assertion that people may not remember the impact of the Carter presidency. The GOP has built a kind of doom and gloom laden romantic mythology about the Carter years, because it easily sets the stage for their hero, Ronald Reagan. And it keeps their stock futures high.

According to the persuasive fantasy encouraged by GOP propaganda, which still circulates as fact, Reagan arrived on the scene as the metaphorical brave knight in shining armor, rescuing this country from the excesses of an exceptionally incompetent administration, economic woes, and excessively high interest rates. This kind of narrative fantasy caters well to our desire to see good overcome evil and to have a Cecil B. DeMille ending: grand, sweeping, and ultimately happy in conclusion.

Carter's presidency was an ultimate failure and he was a poor commander-in-chief, certainly. And though many do not remember his administration, the center-right has kept alive the memory of his administration because it strikes a dramatic contrast between the Carter years and the subsequent eight years of Reagan, who despite his detractors, was still an overwhelmingly popular President.

If any candidate who ran for President as a Democrat this year reminds me of Jimmy Carter, it's John Edwards, not Barack Obama. Edwards, a southerner with an aw-shucks persona, a flair for populist rhetoric, and not much in the way of substance underneath it all is the more apt comparison. But even this comparison is largely superficial.

I can understand why McCain would invoke the name of Carter--it's just smart politics and it's a sure-fire get-out-the-vote tactic that has served the GOP well for the past twenty-eight years. One wonders, however, if this comparison has long outlasted its purpose. It will be effective to some degree or another, but its target audience, the aging demographic of Reagan Democrats are not the monolithic voting bloc they once were.

And neither should one should underestimate the frustration bubbling underneath the surface, namely that we continue to be mired down in a war in a faraway land with end date in sight. While it might be arguably more stable in Iraq in the past few months, it cannot be overlooked that the Iraq war has become a money drain, which devalues our currency and increases our economic woes substantially.

All of these factors combined will make even the Carter comparison not enough to put McCain in office.

Monday, June 09, 2008

His Head Did No Thinking, His Arms Didn't Move

Some of these songs have to be greatly abbreviated because of the inability to add studio techniques and effects in a live take.

This is one such occasion.

For those of you who play, chords are thoughtfully provided.


The black and green scarecrow, as ev'ryone knows,
Stood with a bird on his hat and straw ev'rywhere
He didn't care
G Am G A
He stood in a field where barley grows

His head did no thinking, his arms didn't move,
Except when the wind cut up rough and mice ran around
on the ground
G Am G A
He stood in a field where barley grows

The black and green scarecrow is sadder than me
But now he's resigned to his fate's, 'cause life's
not unkind
He doesn't mind
G Am G A
He stood in a field where barley grows

The Powers That Be

A month ago, I plowed through the late David Halberstam's 1979 book which shares the same title as the subject of today's journal. It reveals the manner by which the events of the world and their ultimate journalistic impact are dictated by a handful of influential people. Particularly the book reveals the means by which a few notable persons' own unique prejudices, peculiarities, biases, and opinions dictate the nature of the news we receive. Though heavily dated in sections, The Powers that Be is an instructive read inasmuch as it reveals the basic building blocks of how the system was set up and the methodology by which print journalism, television journalism, and radio journalism were interwoven. With the rise of the blogs, much of the system has been obsoleted, but it's still instructive to contemplate what came before in shaping what will come to pass in the future.

It's fashionable these days to lash out at the media for its failings and in doing so to attempt to crack the code by which its supposed uniform agenda revolves, just as it is fashionable to formulate conspiracy theories and interject intrigue into the major policy decisions of our government.

Print journalism in particular is scrambling to find a toe-hold. Newspapers are losing more and more ground to electronic sources. Evolve or die ought to be the message of twenty-first century mass communication, and woe be unto those who stubbornly cling to the way things have always been. They will be the first to go broke.

So having attempted to set up my observations, I turn towards the present day with several questions, knowing full well I may never find sufficient answers for them so long as I stand outside the world of the mainstream media. I know history is in the making this election cycle, but the question I always come back to is to what degree the media runs off of some mutually agreed upon meta-narrative or to what degree its very functionality resembles a kind of chaos theory. Is there a method to the madness, or is it some combination of the unexpected and self-fulfilling prophecy?

Who is the puppeteer who pulls the strings? Who is the man behind the curtain? I am not obtuse, so I reiterate again my understanding that media narrative is driven by forces well beyond an outsider observers' sphere of knowledge. And in saying that, I recognize that it's easy to over-estimate the ghost in the machine or the unsettling fact that human error and human ego might well dictate its successes as well as its failures. And one often wonders who are the movers and shakers who decide which stories are fit to print and which would circumvent the course and means by which the rough narrative and direction of this and any other campaign would turn.

Yet, I think about how many people simply do not question the validity and the truth behind the information they are fed. We are a more skeptical society than we were in decades past, but many people do not have the cognitive abilities or the knack to see the inherent bias even in supposedly impartial texts. Every sentient being has a sense of skewed perception and favoritism, despite frequent urgings to the contrary; every writer plays favorites to some degree or another. One doesn't need a college degree to understand this.

Historians, novelists, pamphleteers, and scholars have effectively in times past taken hold of the events that transpire in any important happening and eagerly twisted them around in the direction they believed was best suited for public consumption. It's a paternalistic, but often selfish viewpoint that presumes that "we know best" while undercutting any conception of free will. And I have certainly done my part, too, and do not apologize for it. Though we may deny it, there's an authoritarian side to many of us which runs contrary to the romanticized ideal that provided enough education, people will be able to make the proper, informed decisions to keep American society healthy and functional.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Guilty Pleasure

A Seasonal Offering

The Perils of Playing It Safe

As has been noted in the media and all over the blogosophere, whether we like it or not, this country is still solidly center-right in political orientation. The United States is a far more conservative country than many of us would wish. The conventional wisdom politically, throughout recent history has been to run Democratic candidates for elective office that are dull, dry, and lacking much in the way of a substantive personality. The theory behind it is that that lest any potential Democratic leader smack the least bit of that horrific label, liberal, his or her true leanings ought to be obscured underneath a multitude of weakly presented policy statements and lukewarm personal opinions that almost beg the audience not to take offense to them.

This is why, as Hillary Clinton noted in her speech yesterday, out of the last ten Presidential candidates, only three have been Democrats. It's a commentary upon the political makeup of this country and the erroneous strategy of the Democratic party in elections prior to this one.

In times such as these, pundits, historians, intellectuals, and amateur politicos alike look back into the past to attempt to latch onto some prior example that might best guide our understanding. Having surveyed forty-three prior Presidencies, I cannot easily make a comparison to politicians prior when I take Barack Obama into account. Nor can anyone, really. He is a totally new animal and despite having written two books, one of which a revealing personal memoir, Obama remains largely mysterious.

It is obvious he wants to point us all, by means of comparison, towards Abraham Lincoln, a candidate who mostly closely resembles his tall, gangly physique and his admittedly limited experience on a large scale in national politics. The comparison is apt at least superficially, but what one must take into account is that Lincoln benefited greatly in his first election in 1860 from a regional split in the Democratic party. Obama does not have this advantage, but what is true enough is that he will face a weakened opposition party in danger of losing its shirt to a degree it has not in forty-four years.

What I find most interesting is how this election cycle has dictated the political landscape for both parties. Not wishing to lose the Executive branch along with the legislative, the GOP has nominated perhaps its most liberal candidate, save Ron Paul. However, McCain is, in many ways, one of its weakest candidates in an overwhelmingly weak slate of contenders the Republican party leaders trot out for this election cycle. This in and of itself is quite telling.

If Obama is to be elected, there is a certain amount of pandering to the center he must do. This may not please many of us unabashed progressives, but in order to win there is always a certain amount of pandering necessary. It's just part of the game. What we Democrats almost always object to is the degree by which our candidates have totally forsaken our interests in the process of seeming appealing to the most voters possible. This stance is not a particularly inspiring one, and it relegates our candidates to seem as though they have nothing resembling so much as a spine.

Periodically, the base of either party will capture the nomination. Our latest Executive branch disaster ran as a moderate centrist Republican, but ended up governing as a borderline reactionary. The roles have seemingly reversed. With the political climate and polarities seemingly due to switch again, the nomination of Obama does not surprise me as deeply as it does so many. One hopes it will translate to his election in November.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Reintroducing Ethical Politics, One Candidate at a Time

Kudos to Senator Clinton for her most eloquent endorsement of Senator Obama, but I think there's a certain degree of the metaphorical Emperor's New Clothes going on here. Don't get me wrong, I know we'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt and the ability to revive her image, but do not forget that Senator Clinton gave only one classy, inspiring speech out of a thousand that were dry, dull, unimaginative, and more than a few that were offensive to the her opponent, the party itself, and the American people. That this speech happened to be her final official act and a marked change from her previous conduct in a grueling campaign should not supersede her previous acts.

Before anyone can label me as sexist, in saying this, let it be known that there are any number of female Senators, Representative, Governors, and elected representatives who I would gladly give my vote to if they ran for President. No one except for a few misguided chauvinists would ever dare denote even one of these female candidates as a bitch. And, to make it further plain, in saying this, let me make it clear that Hillary Clinton would have gotten my vote in November if she had become the presumptive nominee. I wouldn't have felt good about it, but I would have voted for her in spite of my numerous reservations.

She wouldn't have been the first women I have ever voted for, either, and certainly not the first who has received my vote when seeking a high elective office.

What disturbs me is that there is some disconnect in this society which assumes that any strong woman will seemingly automatically be called a bitch by default. In turn she receives a social acceptable crutch and a pass to behave in a manner that is neither endearing, nor classy, nor acceptable. The strongest women are those who need never have their regrettable and offensive conduct excused as "being strong and assertive".

Moreover, I can think of many talented men with regrettable personal conduct, Bill being one, who many people are eager to excuse as some kind of charming rogue. I have never forgiven Bill for acting ethically sleazy and particularly in his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. While this conduct was certainly nothing I would consider to be an impeachable offense, it did nonetheless denote him as a person of at best dubious ethical standards.

Obama, by contrast, is a gentlemen, which seems to be a dying profession but one which I hope is revived by his good example.

The Clintons' ego and hubris did them in at the end, and let us not forget that no matter how gracious and conciliatory a speech she gave today, it was given on her terms and her terms alone. Only the Clinton ego would transform a rather routine matter, albeit a historically important occasion into the press spectacle it was today. By contrast, when Gore conceded, I didn't see him bothering to go to the trouble to corral the press, make some dramatic lasting statement about the historical impact of his run, and in doing so get a cheering section of a few thousand of his supporters to provide an amen corner to underscore his main points.

Yes, this speech today has gone far to revive her image. Yes, it's obvious she wants to be Vice-President or better yet, to reserve her right to run again for President at some future time. But, pomp, circumstance, and pagentry aside, what I was struck with mostly is the complete self-centered narcissism of Team Clinton, which shouldn't be forgiven just by a good apology to the American people or a concession to the presumptive nominee, Senator Obama.

It's That's Time Again

And away I go to The American Street.

Saturday Song

Television grew out of the CBGB's New York late 70's scene, the same one that spawned Blondie, The Ramones, and Pattie Smith. Though largely unknown in the United States, they found massive chart success in the UK. Fusing together punk and minimalist new wave, Television pointed the way to post-punk, alternative, and beyond. Verlaine described their sound as a rawer, more punk-oriented Moby Grape

Guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd* played sparse, interlocking, jerky parts, defying the convention of a true "rhythm" or "lead" guitarist. Never is this more in evidence then in the title track of their best album, Marquee Moon. The Velvet Underground influence is pronounced as is the impact of Krautrock groups like Kraftwerk and Neu!.

*Thanks to an astute reader for the correction!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Sexism's Sour Grapes

It is a temptation for any minority, or any historically persecuted and downtrodden group to play the guilt card. Nothing trumps substantive discussion and debate more than introducing the sordid and the regrettable facets of human behavior. Nothing keeps demigods in power more easily and induces self-flaggelation in those who would listen to its counter-productive manipulative power. Nothing is quite as disgusting a spectacle as seeing people who clearly look to be offended in any and every situation no matter how innocuous it might be because it serves their cause.

In this day and age where we are too afraid of having an honest conversation about much of anything and instead have to dance around the elephant in the room, it's time for some simple honesty.

There have been women here on earth far longer than there has been conflict between races. Thus, sexism is highly interwoven into our societal framework. This is why I give second-generation feminists some benefit of the doubt when I hear all of their arguments as to why sexism played a part in this Democratic primary. Like many men, I seek to understand, though I often see smoke and mirrors and envy in the place of any genuine slight and discriminatory behavior. The few instances of overt sexism are never justified, but feminist activists should take care to know how to pick their battles.

In this world where perception determines ninety percent of reality, I would encourage Hillary Clinton supporters now currently licking their wounds to revise and reform their conduct. This is an excellent chance for a new generation of feminists to rise up and dismiss the stereotype that feminists are little more than man-hating, screeching harpies with a constant ax to grind.

It's often instructive to turn the mirror towards any activist and reveal how many of us out here must appear to the world.

This is often how any activist appears to the general public. And certainly when I get off on one of my tirades I have encouraged eye-rolling and light-hearted gibes. Self-reflection is a trait that would do us all well to emulate, since irony-deficiency syndrome, not racism or sexism, is the real natural enemy of any socially conscious liberal.

Better Days

A little time, a little trouble, a better day.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Reviving the Social Gospel

At the turn of the last century, many reform-minded religious leaders advanced the social gospel as a means of responding to the often-exploitative transition of a largely agricultural economy to a largely industrial economy. We have been for the past couple decades going through similar times of great transition. We have, slowly but quite inevitably moved from the industrial to the information age; as with any change, we are caught between competing theories and overwhelmingly paralyzed by factionalism.

John McCain referred to this dynamic in part today while he spoke in Florida. While addressing the major leaders of that swing state's press, he proposed clear-cut specifics, which have been famously lacking in Obama's rhetorical flourishes. It was a shrewd, smart tactical move: much of the personable, off-the-cuff charm of the moderate McCain of eight years ago was clearly evident. One wonders how Obama will respond to this in his own speeches.

What must be noted is that this time around we have two reform-minded individuals running for the highest office of the land. Both of them believe that government has a decided role in regulating our free-enterprise system, but they differ greatly in its application on a wide scale. Obama advances a more classic government-as-savior perspective while McCain is more cautious about regulating big business. Today McCain proposed point-by-point examples where he believes reform measures would best suit the American people. Pointing out the flaws in legislative earmarks and proposing to make needed changes to an antiquated passenger airline system were the two strongest instances outlined that jumped out at me today.

Change and reform run nearly synonymous now that we are in a minor recession, involved in an unpopular war, stuck with an incumbent President no one wants in the White House, and being forced to cut back on our expenditures in general.

So, having identified the political dynamics that face us come November, I propose we consider a new social gospel.

Here the definition for those unaware...

...part of an emerging liberal movement in American religion. Scholars associated with this movement discredited the literal accuracy of the Bible and emphasized instead its general moral and ethical lessons. As modernists they abandoned theological dogmatism for a greater tolerance of other faiths and became more interested in social problems.

It provided an ethical justification for government intervention to improve the social order. Scholars in the social sciences also gradually helped turn public attitudes in favor of reform by challenging the [strictly] lassiez-faire views of social Darwinists and traditional academics.

-The American Journey

After the Reverend Wright controversy, Obama denied that his planned reforms were any kind of resumption of the social gospel, but he did make note in The Audacity of Hope about the failings and overall unfairness of the social Darwinism often advanced in our society, even covertly, as some kind of cynical wisdom. Obama advances smarter government and I doubt even McCain would disagree that his proposed reforms advocate much the same thing, although certainly McCain's would be applied far differently.

What I bring light to in this post is my contention that we need a revival of some degree of altruistic moral principles applied to a nation desperately in need of a new direction. In these times where the religious left has often overwhelmingly endorsed secularism and in the process unintentionally emasculated itself, we must not be afraid to step on toes. We must not forget the example of those who came before, but we must not be merely content to embrace a kind of seen-it-all, done-it-all inertia. We have been running in place basking in the nearly-dead embers of battles previously fought for too long.

If Obama's rise to power reveals anything it reveals how merely cleaving to the old ways of conducting business are no guarantee of its inevitable success. We have trod in place for too long. We may argue over the methodology but we cannot afford to lose what stature we have left.

The Evolution of Participatory Democracy

In these skeptical, borderline cynical days we have a tendency to overlook the reality of what has transpired before. Sometimes scholarship outright fails us, leaving out helpful details that would guide us towards a greater understanding of the truth. I've unearthed some interesting facts that help explain why we are where we are today.

In these times, where we'd rather spin out the merits of our candidate and blacken the reputation of our opposition than advance a common dialogue, it's helpful to know how politics and politicians have been influenced by reforms and reform measures. Some of these have helped and some of them arguably made the system worse. Voter turnout is one such metric which is rather revealing.

It is fashionable to decry low voter turnout as symptomatic of a broken system, and these arguments are not without merit. Yet, it is overly simplistic to simply condemn those who do not turn out on Election Day as shirking their civil responsibility. If only it were that easy. Often there is nothing new under the sun and while history might not necessarily repeat itself, the old motifs of human conduct and human comprehension do often find themselves at play.

In the 1876 Presidential election which pitted Rutherford B. Hayes against Samuel Tilden, voter turnout was as high as upwards of 80 percent. Yet, within fifty years it had slacked off to barely 50 percent. The reasons why are many, but I will attempt to highlight a few of them.

1. State legislatures established restrictive laws that disenfranchised many undesirable voters, namely blacks and poor whites. Threatened by the populist movement which sought to unify both races as a means to challenge the status quo, the powers that be acted decisively to nullify and restrict the voting rights of many citizens.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 restored the franchise of many, but it didn't completely remove the feelings of helplessness and fatalistic frustration that had built up over the years as a result of being powerless and deliberately written out of the equation.

2. A remarkably close balance prevailed between the two major parties. Democrats and Republicans had virtually the same level of electoral support, one reason why they worked so hard to get out the vote. Control of the Presidency and Congress frequently shifted back and forth. Rarely did either party control both branches of government at once.

-The American Journey

For nearly forty years after the Civil War, neither party had control of the government. With the failure of William Jennings Bryan and the Silverites in 1896, the Democratic party was effectively destroyed. The Republicans ruled essentially unchallenged until 1912. The party of Jefferson didn't completely revive itself until the ascent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, but it took a massive catastrophe, The Great Depression, to re-establish the party.

3. Competition for the attention of an increasingly distracted and satiated electorate is another big reason why voter turnout has declined over the years. In the late 1800s, elections were often the sole means of entertainment at a time where other options were severely limited. Nowadays we have all sorts of ways to pass the time and a multitude of demands upon our time and our focus.


Attitudes like these typify the sort of damned if I do, damned if I don't mentality that keeps people away from the polls.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Which McCain Will We Face?

Now that the Democratic nomination for President has been decided, it is up to us to define and frame John McCain in his proper context. And, by contrast, those of us who have read up on Obama's biography and are knowledgeable about the candidate himself would do well to incorporate the sizable volume of information about Barack that has been in the public domain for a good long while.

McCain presents himself as a wise, Grandfatherly type but the reality is that he comes across as dull, charmless, stilted, and heavily scripted. His temper lies barely restrained beneath the surface, showing to the world that he is a deeply angry man, proud, moody, and heavily caustic in personal dealings. Those traits are understandable considering he was physically, emotionally, and psychologically tortured for five and a half years as a prisoner of war, but I am not sure I would favor them in a President.

Now that we have five months of arms, fists, knees, and elbows in front of us until the general election, McCain seems eager to reintroduce to the American people his 2000 persona. However, he has tethered himself to George W. Bush's foreign policy, particularly in Iraq, so the rough marriage of McCain 2000 versus McCain 2008 is not a particularly deft meshing of the two. That is perhaps the Republican nominee's greatest weakness.

As was pointed out ad nauseum eight years ago, McCain's personal hero is Theodore Roosevelt, a man who himself was not the most gifted campaign speaker, but whose vigor on the stump and in his life nearly redeemed his rhetorical failings. But McCain is no TR. Roosevelt's stage presence and politics-as-theater posturing are not in evidence with McCain. TR was a showman of the Barnum and Bailey school. McCain's lacks even this quality. When he tries to seem magnanimous he comes across as smugly condescending, as was in evidence in his speech in New Orleans last night.

We often fail to see the humanity in our politicians and this election is one such occasion that we simply cannot let flash-bulbs, soaring rhetoric, and the Emperor's New Clothes get in the way of seeking the truth. Politicians often build whole personas around themselves, seeking to emulate their own personal heroes, but their skill in mimicry is not always solid or skillful. We often do not appear to want our candidates to pass as actors or actresses, feeling that movie star good looks and rock star qualities are the domain of entertainers, not our elected representatives.

Having delved as much into our candidate as I could, I am left puzzled. Obama's heroes are vast but are probably known only to the candidate himself. I get a feeling they are much more a synthesis of different figures than a purely navel-gazing perspective of the sort favored by his GOP opponent. The past versus the present is a time-honored leitmotif in this business and the upcoming election will expose that divide far more profoundly than in almost every other campaign in American politics.

When the debate comes down to new versus old, Obama certain wins on more than just style.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Time Marches On

And For That I Thank You

If Today Ends the 2008 Democratic Primary...

then what have we all collectively learned from this exhausting ordeal?

We've looked at the electorate from a variety of different lenses and perspectives. We've analyzed every possible demographic to a ridiculous degree. We've wrung our hands in fear that this party will not unify. We've decried certain voters as racist, some as sexist, some as hopelessly out of touch, and seen both how far we have come and how far we have to go.

The precedent established by this primary makes me wonder if subsequent Presidential primary cycles will be this intensive and long-lasting. Was this just a response to an overwhelmingly unpopular sitting President or a harbinger of things to come?

I am reminded of Woodrow Wilson's speech about Democratic principles, given in New York in September of 1912. Certain elements of this speech are dated and no longer relevant to today, but many essential elements are applicable to the current day.

Namely, I make light of the first two paragraphs, which articulate a feeling of deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. Wilson's erudite, patrician tone made an impact in its time and speaks at least to me today.


We stand in the presence of an awakened nation impatient of partisan make-believe. The nation has awakened to a sense of neglected ideals and neglected duties to a consciousness that the rank and file of her people find life very hard to sustain. That her young men find opportunity embarrassed and that her older men find business difficult to renew and maintain because of circumstances of privilege and private advantage which have interlaced their subtle threads throughout almost every part of the framework of our present law.

She has awakened to the knowledge that she has lost certain cherished liberties and wasted priceless resources which she had solemnly undertaken to hold in trust for posterity and for all mankind, and to the conviction that she stands confronted with an occasion for constructive statesmanship such as has not arisen since the great days in which our government was set up.

There never was a time when impatience and suspicion were more keenly aroused by private powers selfishly employed, when jealously of everything concealed or touched with any purpose not linked with the general good or inconsistent with it, more sharply or immediately displayed itself. Nor is the country ever more susceptible to unselfish appeals or to the high arguments of sincere justice; these are the unmistakable symptoms of an awakening.

There is the more need for wise counsel because the people are so ready to heed counsel, if it be given honestly and in their interests. It is in the broad light of this new day that we stand face to face with great questions of right and of justice, questions of national development, of the development of character and of the standards of action, no less than of a better business system--more free, more equitable, more open to ordinary men, practicable to live under, tolerable to work under--or a better fiscal system whose taxes shall not come out of the pockets of the many because of the pockets of the few, and within whose intricacies special privilege may not so easily find cover.

What is there to do? There are two great things to do. One is to set up the rule of justice and of rights in such matters as the tariff, the correction of the trusts and the prevention of monopoly, the adaptation of our banking and currency laws to the very beauties of which our people must put them, the treatment of those who do the daily labor in our factories and mines and throughout all of our great industrial and commercial undertakings as they should be treated in a civilized politic, and the political life of the people of the Philippines for whom we hold governmental power in trust for their service, not our own.

The other thing, the additional duty, is the great task of protecting our people and our resources, and of keeping open to the whole people the doors of opportunity to which they must, generation by generation, pass if they are to make conquests of their fortunes in health, in freedom, in peace and in contentment. In the performance of this second great duty, we are face to face with questions of conservation and of development, questions of forests and water powers, and mines and waterways, and the building of an adequate merchant marine, of the opening of every highway and facility, and the setting up of every safeguard needed by a great industrious expanding nation.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Feel Like I'm Flying

Feel like I'm flying,
I'm dying to say
"Want you forever and easy"

Be where you are,
where I want you to stay
Don't you know

what I'm saying?
Believe me

Feel like I'm falling,
it's all I can do

Lyin' and dyin' is lonely
Deeper and darker,
no way to forgive

No way to believe
what you told me

No way to believe
what you told me

Way to believe

Kings in their castles
wound up in the wine

Drinking their confidence daily
Wish I could be into
that peace of mine

Wish I could be into crazy
Wish I could be into crazy
Wish I could be...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

We're We're Headed

So get used to it.

The Coming Oil Wars.

On American Leadership

My conception of Quakerism has always placed a premium on the tenet of the Ministry of all Friends.

I'm old school, I suppose. I have seen firsthand the problems created when one central leader proposes to speak on behalf of all church members and gathered believers.

When it comes time to select a leader, any leader, particularly in a congregational setting, often no one gets exactly the minister they'd like. There's a rough kind of compromise often hollowed out between members and the demands often placed upon any leader in a such proceeding.

So it is that today I wanted to comment a bit about this dynamic, as we see it heavily in play in the Democratic primary for President.

"I'll preach to the joys of wine and drink"--that is the kind of drunken, lying prophet that you like.

These the words of the prophet Micah.

The people liked the false prophets who told them only what they wanted to hear. Micah spoke against prophets who encouraged the people to feel comfortable in their sinful lifestyles. Preachers are popular when they do not ask too much of us, when they tell us our greed or lust might even be good for us...But a true teacher of God speaks the truth, regardless of what the listeners want to hear.

In searching through a college history textbook I found an interesting addendum to the text.

Labeled "Why Great Men Are Not Chosen President", it was written by Lord James Bryce of Great Britain in 1888. As I read over it, I was reminded of how little the European perspective of our chief executives has changed over the years. And certainly the Chief Executive of our country has more than a few similarities to the Chief Executives we set up to represent us in our gathering places.

American politics and government were subjects of great interest to Europeans. Accustomed to monarchs, prime ministers, parliaments, and efficient civil service bureaucracies, they found perplexing the decentralized American system of federalism, the emphasis on localism and laissez-faire, and the popular frenzy and organizational thrust of partisan politics. Nothing was more fascinating than the character of American political leaders, who seemed to Europeans to be consistently unimaginative and dull. As one noted, "the only thing remarkable about them is that being so commonplace they should have climbed so high."

"Europeans often ask," Bryce observed, "how it happens that this great not more frequently filled by great and striking men?" This seemed particularly puzzling given that the United States boasted of an open society which rewarded ability, not one bound by the hereditary distinctions of aristocracy.

Most important in explaining the absence of "brilliancy" among American presidents, Bryce ventured, was the political system of the United States, with its party-dominated politics and its limited government.


In America party loyalty and party organization have been hitherto so perfect that any one put forward by the party will get the full party vote if his character is good and his "record", as they call it, unstained...

Even those who admit his mediocrity will vote straight when the moment for voting comes. Besides, the ordinary American voter does not object to mediocrity. He has a lower conception of the qualities requisite to make a statesman than those who direct public opinion in Europe have. He likes his candidates to be sensible, vigorous, and, above all, what he calls "magnetic", and does not value, because he sees no need for, originality or profundity, a fine culture or a wise knowledge...

After all...a President need not be a man of brilliant intellectual gifts. Englishmen, imagining him as something like their prime minister, assume that he ought to be a dazzling orator, able to sway legislatures or multitudes, possessed also of the constructive powers that can devise a great policy or frame a comprehensive piece of legislation. They forget that the President does not sit in Congress...submit bills nor otherwise influence the action of the legislature. His main duties are to be prompt and firm in securing the due execution of the laws and maintaining the public peace.

Eloquence...imagination, profundity of thought or extent of knowledge...are not necessary.

This was his take, over a hundred years ago. Have we changed much since then?