Thursday, January 31, 2008

Damn Snappy

Ganked from Quaker Dave, over at his place.

Hmm. Except for the "wool over the eyes" comment, that sounds like me.

When I was young
and my heart was an open book

I used to say
live and let live.

(you know I did
you know I did
you know I did)

You're "Master Harold"... and the Boys!

by Athol Fugard

Even though you should have realized it for years, you're only just
starting to understand how bad your society is. It's been keeping some of your best
friends down for ages, and even you have been complicit with this system. When you
make a mess, someone else is quick to clean it. When you need help, someone else is
quick to your rescue. But when they point out injustice, you've pulled the wool over
your eyes. Until now. If you ever need a cast, it will be small.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

An Open Letter


The videos are back. For now!

If they disappear again, my chagrin is back on.


Comrade Kevin


Dear YouTube Fascists/Totalitarians,

I'm not so much annoyed that you removed the three videos I had put up on my website that spread LAUGHTER and HUMOR into an increasingly cynical world.

Oh no. Not at all.

Perhaps I'm just fuming at the premise behind your actions. The theory that somehow media is meant to be controlled, closely regulated, and if need be, removed by the wealthy and the powerful who seek to make the most profit possible. Maybe I'm just, I don't know, ODD, but I would think a video that promotes a show which up until now did not have mass popular appeal would effectively promote and extend interest in said show rather than restricting their access to only those capable of affording expanded cable. Hell, if enough people LIKED your show, someone would realize that the money to be made by catering to the desires of increased viewers would vastly outstrip the desire to force them to pay additional money to subscribe to your channel.

You see, it just doesn't make good business sense to do what you did, YouTube. You may think it does, but it really doesn't. The premise behind capitalism is that expanding markets and not restricting access to a favored few is the key to success. Perhaps you fail to recognize that practices like yours inevitably lead to lowered profits, decreased audiences, and financial ruin. What you're doing has been tried before and it was called NAZISM and STALINISM. I need also remind you that both FAILED.

But that's not how you think. People aren't paying for this so obviously they are getting entertained for free. You're not making money in the short term, you say. You're not getting people to buy the inevitable $50 box set of the first season, you say. They're not agreeing to pay for expanded cable, you say. The masses must conform, you say! It's all about the bottom line, you say.

God forbid you take into account the larger picture.

A Few For the Ladies

Ostensibly, this clip is titled "Lesbian Phone Sex" but I think it works well in the context for all women.

While I'm at it, why not include Lesbian Speed Dating, which is equally funny.

Ah, hell. Three for good measure.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Message from the Past

Yes, the threat from the Tories and the British IS a most pertinent one these days, isn't it?

Those who would support his Majesty George would wish us more taxes and would enslave us, every one. Remember to support the candidate who fought battles to win this country's independence!

Clinton for Vice-President!

*This message was brought to you by the Republican party, circa 1800.

**Is life too weird, or what?

No Guarantees

Hillary Clinton's largely symbolic win last night in the Florida primary raises some crucial questions relating to our flawed primary system. Her victory reminds me that the Clinton machine is a formidable force in underhanded, dirty politics. She claims she can start on Day One. She can certainly start cutting deals in her favor on Day One, has done so, and will continue to do so. Forgive me if I don't sound shocked. This sounds suspiciously like the same song, second verse.

In an effort to draw as many delegates to her side as possible, reports note that she will challenge the legality of the Democratic party's withdrawing delegates from Michigan and Florida, states she both won due to the fact that she was the only candidate who actively sought them. A court battle may ensue and one wonders if legal filings would result in a positive outcome for Senator Clinton. If the law ruled in her favor, one wonders then how delegates would be correctly proportioned, being that all other candidates in the race removed their names except for, of course, Hillary in Michigan--both Obama and Edwards won substantial shares of delegates in Florida. Obama and Edwards have a right to argue that the results of each primary should be null and void since they did not allocate time, effort, and resources towards winning what they considered to be useless elections.

While I disagree strongly with the draconian means by which the Democratic party punished states who attempted to leap-frog each other to get to the head of the primary line, I think that removing the say of millions of voters and effectively rendering their voices inconsequential is contrary to Democratic ideals of one man, one vote. I think taking money or diverting influence away from the state Democratic party of Michigan and Florida, thus penalizing those who put these policies into place is a much more fair solution than effectively rendering the votes of millions of American worthless. The residents of Florida and Michigan who casts their votes in the Democratic primary have a fundamental right to have contributed their say to who will win the party's nomination.

Hillary has been the only Democrat running for President thus far who has spoken out against the DNC decision. Cynically speaking, she has the most to gain from it. Obama has not and Edwards has not. One wonders whether either of them would make a position statement challenging the DNC directly, especially if it is likely that legal motions rule in favor of the plaintiff. Clinton's decision to criticize the decision is risky in that it further inflames the influential movers and shakers of her own party, who one thinks would certainly have had a broader interaction with her as well as much more experience working hand-in-hand with the Clinton campaign.

Now that Edwards has left the race and refused, at least now, to endorse either Obama or Clinton, the race is now even more wide open than it was before. It's an understatement to say that the Democratic contest was a two-person race for months, if not from the beginning, and that Edwards was a minimal factor all along. However, if Edwards threw his support behind Obama and Obama could draw in all of his supporters, he would have a formidable base to challenge her entrenched position, particularly among White female voters, who have thus far mostly turned out for her. The strategy of the Obama campaign since the beginning has been to foster a delegate fight on the convention floor in Denver, which will fall in late August of this year. Tuesday's results will shadow the larger contest and whomever picks up the most delegates by winning states will have a stronger hand.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On the Occasion of Bush's Last State of the Union Address

I'm extremely busy today doing other things, but I wanted to put something up here. I posted this short story/satire/parody up here months ago, long before many regular readers were on board, so I hope you'll enjoy this. I hope you'll find as amusing to read as this was to write. Our long national nightmare is almost over.

Bushonics Speakers Strike Back

The day Lisa Shaw’s son Tyler came home from school with tears streaming down his cheeks, the 34-year-old Crawford, Texas, homemaker knew things had gone too far.

“All of Tyler’s varying and sundry friends was making fun of the way he talked,” Shaw says. “I am not a revengeful person, but I couldn’t let this behaviorism slip into acceptability. This is not the way America is about.”

Shaw and her son are two of a surprising number of Americans who speak a form of nonstandard English that linguists have dubbed “Bushonics,” in honor of the dialect’s most famous speaker, President George W. Bush. The most striking features of Bushonics - tangled syntax, mispronunciations, run-on sentences, misplaced modifiers and a wanton disregard for subject-verb agreement - are generally considered to be “bad” or “ungrammatical” by linguists and society at large.

But that attitude may be changing. Bushonics speakers, emboldened by the Bush presidency, are beginning to make their voices heard. Lisa Shaw has formed a support group for local speakers of the dialect and is demanding that her son’s school offer “a full-blown up apologism.” And a growing number of linguists argue that Bushonics isn’t a collection of language “mistakes” but rather a well-formed linguistic system, with its own lexical, phonological and syntactic patterns.

“These people are greatly misunderestimated,” says University of Texas linguistics professor James Bundy, himself a Bushonics speaker. “They’re not lacking in intelligence facilities by any stretch of the mind. They just have a differing way of speechifying.”

It’s difficult to say just how many Bushonics speakers there are in America, although professor Bundy claims “their numbers are legionary.” Many who speak the dialect are ashamed to utter it in public and will only open up to a group of fellow speakers. One known hotbed of Bushonics is Crawford, the tiny central Texas town near the president’s 1,600-acre ranch. Other centers are said to include Austin and Midland, Texas, New Haven, Conn., and Kennebunkport, Maine.

Bushonics is widely spoken in corporate boardrooms, and has long been considered a kind of secret language among members of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon. Bushonics speakers have ascended to top jobs at places like the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services. By far the greatest concentration of Bushonics speakers is found in the U.S. military. Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig is only the most well known Bushonics speaker to serve with distinction in America’s armed forces. Among the military’s top brass, the dialect is considered to be the unofficial language of the Pentagon. Former President George H.W. Bush spoke a somewhat diluted form of the dialect that bears his family’s name, which may have influenced his choice for vice president, Dan Quayle, who spoke an Indiana strain of Bushonics.

The impressive list of people who speak the dialect is a frequent topic at Lisa Shaw’s weekly gathering of Bushonics speakers. That so many members of their linguistic community have risen to positions of power comes as a comfort to the group, and a source of inspiration.
“We feel a good deal less aloneness, my guess is you would want to call it,” Shaw says. “It just goes to show the living proof that expectations rise above that which is expected.”

Some linguists still contend, however, that the term “Bushonics” is being used as a crutch to excuse poor grammar and sloppy logic.

“I’m sorry, but these people simply don’t know how to talk properly,” says Thomas Gayle, a speech professor at Stanford University. Professor Gayle was raised by Bushonic parents, and says he occasionally catches himself lapsing into the dialect.

“When it happens, it can be very misconcerting,” Gayle says. “I understand Bushonics. I was one. But under full analyzation, it’s really just an excuse to stay stupider.”
It’s talk like that that angers many Bushonics speakers, who say they’re routinely the victims of prejudice.

“The attacks on Bushonics demonstrate a lack of compassion and amount to little more than hate speech,” says a prominent Bushonics leader who spoke on the condition that his quote be “cleaned up.”

Increasingly, members of the Bushonics community are fighting back. Lisa Shaw’s Crawford-based group is pressing the local school board to institute bilingual classes, and to eliminate the study of English grammar altogether. “It’s an orientation of being fairness-based,” Shaw says. A Bushonics group in New England has embarked on an ambitious project to translate key historical documents into the dialect, beginning with the Bill of Rights. (For instance, the Second Amendment rendered into Bushonics reads: “Guns. They’re American, for the regulated militia and the people to bear. Can’t take them away for infringement purposes. Not never.”)

Bushonics activists say they’ll keep fighting as long as there are still children who come home from school crying because their classmates can’t understand a word they’re saying. Lisa Shaw hopes that every American will heed the words of the nation’s No. 1 Bushonics speaker, and vow to be a uniter, not a divider.

“We shouldn’t be cutting down the pie smaller,” Shaw says with quiet dignity. “We ought to make the pie higher.”

Monday, January 28, 2008

Obama, The Speaker

I intended to talk more at length about yesterday afternoon's Obama rally here in Birmingham, but have not had the time to do so until now.

Let me first respond by saying that the sentiment expressed by bloggers like Blue Gal in her Sunday posting is justified, well-founded, and worthy of contemplation. I respond to her and others I have read by saying that had the rest of the country been in the audience and heard the talk that Senator Obama gave, the doubts still present in the minds of many voters would have been quelled. Though the overall tone was optimistic and deliberately hopeful, he did not sugarcoat the truth, either. The crowd of 11,000 which had being churned into a frenzy by occasional feel-good platitudes and a few instances of well-placed humor filed out not singing hosannas of praise or excitedly babbling to one another. Certainly some people were in jovial spirits at the end of Obama's nearly hour long talk, but the overall mood was sobering and contemplative.

The Senator from Illinois' talk was prefaced by nearly twenty minutes of a black gospel choir, belting out praise and worship numbers which gave thanks to Jesus and the Lord above. The point, lest anyone miss it, was that Barack empathically gave his support and his allegiance to the Jewish carpenter we know and love. As reported by Charles J. Dean of The Birmingham News:

Obama came to Birmingham after a visit in Macon, Ga., Sunday morning, where he spoke for about a half hour to about 1,000 people at the interracial and interdenominational Harvest Cathedral. He talked about how he became a committed Christian as a young man in Chicago after rarely attending church as a child.

Now, he said part of his mission as a politician is "to go out and do the Lord's work."

Obama the fighter was in full force, even more so that in his South Carolina victory speech. His speech vascilated somewhere in between the swelling optimism of his Iowa speech and the harsher, more defensive language used in South Carolina. Obama's talk incorporated two full sentences which he, as memory serves, mentioned that though he had deep respect for those who practiced Islam, he was, in fact, a Jesus-loving man who had been a member of the same Christian church in Chicago for the past twenty years. This direct talk countered the recent series of chain e-mails that have asserted otherwise.

In the midst of all this tough talk, however, his reaction does beg the question: what does it matter if Obama was, in fact, a Muslim? Leonard Pitts' latest column addresses this dynamic in some detail. Wasn't this nation supposedly based on the idea of religious toleration and freedom of religion? Do many of the same fears the Clintons have tried to implant in the minds of Americans deserve to be validated by our attention? Do they serve any real purpose?

To his credit, Obama gives a great stump speech. He knows how to work a crowd and interweave policy with pertinent anecdotes and dramatic emphasis. He says everything we've wanted a politician to say for years. For almost every criticism mentioned not just by Blue Gal but by the person on the street and many in the blogsophere, he had a sensible, thorough answer. Now it is up to voters to decide whether his brand of idealism tempered with pragmatism meets their approval at the ballot box. The leadership with whom he surrounds himself will be crucial because he is running against the Washington establish and coming out against it with both barrels blazing.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


May it be known now that interacting with people can be both incredibly rewarding and extremely emotionally and psychologically taxing. I never doubt my motivation for limiting my interactions with people to a manageable level. Introverts like yours truly find themselves absolutely drained when being surrounded by people. 10 opinionated, passionate Quakers + 11,000 screaming people at today's Obama rally = exhausted Comrade Kevin. Combine 1 jilted ex-girlfriend with jilted ex-girlfriend's controlling BFF and this adds a super extra intense component to the mix. Hell hath no fury, readership, even when fury hath no justification.

As of this instant I am too tired to put something extended up on this here blog, so I include the below video as a means to fill up space. Instead of ending on a dismal note please note that the message of this song emphasizes the greater meaning behind everything I went through today.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I Want to Believe

Listening to Obama's victory speech last night tonight I was reminded of this rousing message of 3 April 1968. Forget for a moment the context or shall I say, the prophetic nature of it. What I mean to say is that I'd like to believe what is implied here and that I had the exact same intellectual and emotional response to Obama's similar message of unity and greater purpose.

*For God's sake, don't think I'm somehow assuming this same fate will happen to Obama. He faces these sort of fears among the general population enough as it is. Those incapable of thinking beyond the literal, please do not rush to judgment.


Comrade Kevin.

Saturday Song

Saturday videos are increasingly becoming devoted to attractive and talented female artists.

Polly Jean Harvey, a native of Yeovil, England, has been around since the early '90s and, as such, her musical style has taken many different incarnations over the years. First feminist punk siren, then more melody-driven melancholic, then more upbeat and poppy, her songs uniformly feature consistently strong songcraft and articulate lyrics.

The Democratic Party's Sway Over Black Voters

Leonard Pitts' latest column attempts to delineate why, by in large, people of color do not support the GOP. To many of you reading that sentence, your immediate response might be a roll of the eyes. However, Pitts raises some very interesting talking points that we, as Progressives, would do well to contemplate or at least be reminded.

As a means of introducing my remarks, I am moved to contemplate the perspective of the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Days Saints, the followers of which are known to us as Mormons or LDS (Latter Days Saints). As it is well known, GOP hopeful Mitt Romney is an unapologetic believer. Until the 1970's, the Mormon church's official position regarding all black people could be whittled down as stating firmly:

We're not saying you're going to hell, just that you came from hell.

African-American were denoted as mud people, thus naturally inferior to members of other races. Thus far, this is pretty much the underlying assumption of recent GOP policies towards the Black community. Certainly, as Pitts mentions, historically, the Republican party was the party of Abolition, Emancipation, and expanded freedoms for Black citizens. Abraham Lincoln faced considerable opposition within his own party when he proposed Emancipation and especially found his strategy challenged during the Civil War. The Radical Republicans who opposed him when he ran for office a second time in 1864, and then came to power after Lincoln's assassination, criticized the pace of the war and feared that proposed reforms did not go far enough. They felt that Lincoln's conciliatory approach towards the rebellious South was too generous and wanted to impose harsh punishment.

Needless to be be said, those times are not our own. It is also of note that yes, the Democratic party was also the party of segregationists like George Wallace and Lester Maddox and the Ku Klux Klan. Times changed drastically as did party ideology, particularly from 1964 onward. It is a fallacy of thought to think that the Democratic party has held any particular uniform notions anymore than the Republican party has. Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights reforms effectively handed Barry Goldwater a majority of the Southern vote in the 1964 election, a harbinger of times to come. Even before then, in 1948, Harry Truman's insistence upon a Civil Rights plank being instituted in the official party platform thrust several Southern Democrats out of the convention in protest, forming their own Dixiecrat party in protest.

I would take Pitts a step forward when he, echoing Britain's Viscount Palmer, argues that we ought to have no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. Interests vary from group to group and region to region but the party who best represent our concerns ought to hold our support. Allegiance goes beyond a D or R. Pitts is correct when he states that conservative ideology versus progressive ideology is a much more objective picture of truth. Over the course of history, those of us who champion equality at the expense of division have at times been known by different names or have found a different alphanumeric character to denote our party allegiance.

Thomas Jefferson, in his first Inaugural Address sought to address this matter directly. He said, and I quote, at some length:

During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good.

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety.

But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Turn for the Personal

I deliberately try to keep myself, meaning my personal life, out of this blog. The deeper purpose of Comrade Kevin's Chrestomathy is to showcase my political and spiritual views. Sometimes, however, I feel inclined to reveal to that personal part of me who is more than merely strong opinions, reason, logic, and wordly perspective. Today I'd like to take the time to reflect upon how far I have come in my life. Today I'd like to simultaneously note my progress and touch upon my failings.

The Bible says, "As you sow, so shall you reap".

God had some powerful lessons to teach me and to his credit, He did not sugarcoat them. There are reasons why I am twenty-seven years old and blessed with a rapidly thinning hairline and the beginning signs of grey around my temples. His purpose in doing so, I firmly believe, was to teach me humility and to deflate my ego. In younger years, I was a much more selfish person. I was much quicker to judge and far more inclined to lose my temper. I believed, foolishly, that the best way to change minds was to inflame and to offend. As a result of this, several people in my past kept me at arm's length and distanced themselves deliberately to avoid contact.

To blame their response soley on my illness would be, somehow, evading responsibility for my actions. Sickness alone might explain why I acted as I did; it might explain why I reacted so irrationally, so incautiously, so hurtfully to others. However, it does not excuse them. I was wrong and as such I paid the consequences. I know what it is like to agonize, to feel contrition, to be overwhelmed with guilt, sorrow, and shame. I know the crushing sensation of isolation and the pain caused by standing alone in my contrary opinion against a mass of others who disagree strongly and collectively seek to devalue and destroy my argument. Often, I did all of these things to myself. I hold myself to blame.

I never pander for anyone's sympathy. That is not my nature. Perhaps I ask to be understood to a greater degree, but coaxing a desired response based on purely self-gratifying, self-serving motives is not my greater goal. I have made a connection now between how I was then and how I am now. Looking back on how I was in my past I realize now the ways by which individuals in crisis and in emotional turmoil are inclined to respond. As such, I am far more compassionate now, far more empathetic now, far more understanding of their motives and their actions. More than punitive punishment, this lesson in tough love was the greater reason for my suffering. This was the most fundamental lesson to be pulled from what I experienced. Let it be said that I have listened and I pray I never forget it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Future Predictions for November

George Will raises some interesting points in his latest column. (Again, reading this may require you to register to view The Washington Post).

Predicting the outcome of the Presidential election this far in advance is a dubious science, one that resembles placing a bet on a race horse based on Vegas odds and most-likely scenarios. I find it interesting that even op-ed writers on the right are backing Obama over Clinton. To an extent, this is not surprising considering the conservatives' mutual distaste of her and everything for which she stands. What is, however, surprising is that they would back a candidate with such obvious liberal stances on the issues that many GOP supporters find intolerably offensive. Perhaps the underlying assumption is that as electing a Democratic president grows increasingly more and more likely, it's best to pick the lesser of two evils. Indeed, Obama is a difficult candidate to dislike and thus we are are disinclined to criticize him for advancing an agenda so deeply rooted in that secretly optimistic part of us.

Will's commentary takes a swipe at John Edwards, which to me is not warranted by the facts. Let it be known that I have never been comfortable with Edwards, particularly raising doubts as to his overall intelligence, political ability, and manner of presentation. As a skeptic, I have to admit that his performance in the South Carolina debate was strong, admirable, and persuasive. His role as peacemaker between a bickering Obama and Clinton makes me ponder whether he could bring that same kind of diplomacy to the table that has been so sorely lacking in the past seven years. Edwards' populist rhetoric certainly sounds good and caters to the desires of those of us who feel increasingly slighted and pushed aside by the wealthy and the powerful. However, the nature of the office requires an immense skill at reaching across party and ideological lines to form compromises. Without it, nothing gets accomplished except for gridlock and standoff.

Obama harps constantly on the idea of building unity that goes beyond party and the partisan divide. Edwards up to now has criticized strongly the very people whose support he will need to govern effectively. Collectively, our spite and hatred towards the elite has grown more and more venomous. The times in which we live make this an attractive viewpoint and one in which are we are in good company. However, like it or not, these very people have most of the chips on their side and will not willingly give them up. We can rant and rail against our enslavers from now until the end of time and not accomplish a thing in the process. Our capitalist system is based on economic inequality and though we have a duty to temper the excesses of the wealthy and powerful, as well as hold them accountable for their actions, we cannot deny their existence, either. They set the context and the rules of the game; true compromise and consensus must incorporate them. Even if we wanted to leave them out altogether, we could not hope to succeed.

We may challenge the notion of hierarchies and make light of the rapidly shrinking gap between the haves and the have nots. We may attempt to find strategies which extend basic freedoms and economic means to those of us who do not currently have them. We may even wish to level the playing field, so to speak, and distribute wealth more equally among every citizen. However, in striving for all of these noble goals, may we not forget that what we want accomplished requires us to work hand-in-hand even with sworn enemies. Alternative theories and philosophies designed to establish a truly egalitarian society quickly found that the same power dynamics and structure of the old regime re-established themselves, albeit it different ways.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, but we also hold to be self-evident that though we may be created equally, we are not equally graced by wealth, intellect, work ethic, morality, education, luck, or opportunity. Individuals have basic rights but they also have the right, within reason, to shirk their responsibilities as citizens. Lest you feel that I'm advancing some tired old "pull oneself up by one's bootstraps" argument, I am not. What I am, however, saying is that it benefits us greatly to take into account that our ideals must be tempered by the reality of our surroundings. Furthermore, we can effectively expand fairness for all but we cannot make people act in their own best interest or reach their highest potential without their own personal commitment to improving themselves. The American Dream, as espoused, reveals that hard work and devotion to duty should directly correlate to success. It makes no other promises.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Truth of the Clinton Legacy

Eugene Robinson and I usually agree on most subjects. Yesterday's column (viewing it may require you to register to view The Washington Post if you haven't already) addresses the Clinton legacy and particularly the behavior of one former president with the first name of Bill.

My early criticisms of the Obama campaign involved his unwillingness to make light of the truth of the Clinton years. Make no mistake, I was not encouraging Obama to resort to dirty tactics or to smear the name of Bill Clinton, rather that I wished he'd point out the facts of the matter. They are often damning enough. Though Robinson does not state this, Clinton's centrist governing style acquiesced and conceded to the demands of a Congress hostile to him, which passed a massive Welfare Reform Act in 1996, a piece of legislation which bears his signature. This bill did more to negatively impact the entire Black community as a whole and yet it strikes me as deeply ironic that Bill is somehow perceived as the "First Black President".

As Robinson does note, increasingly blustering invectives from former President Clinton directly attacking Obama do cheapen his legacy and effectively remove the luster. The past seven, soon to be eight years of George W. Bush's horrific time in office have many of us longing for better days. However, let us not allow nostalgia for some supposedly golden age to taint our perception of the truth. Clinton's two terms in office accomplished some good things, certainly. However, what we have learned in recent times is that much of the economic prosperity of those times was largely illusory and on paper. Corporations grew, profit was made, but to what ends? I assert, and I assert strongly that business which functions without a few crucial regulations has a tendency to exploit workers in pursuit of profit and to take financial liberties based on greed, rather than sense. Thus is the drawback of a truly Laissez-faire capitalist system.

Obama's strategy thus far has been to take the high ground and rely on the power of suggestion and implication rather than overt volleys. At the time, I believed this was a philosophy doomed to fail, since politics as it has been defined over the years resorts to direct full-frontal assaults and the American people often fail to grasp the full impact of any idea unless it is clearly spelled out for them. Obama himself, through his own actions, may not be changing minds or the political landscape, but Bill Clinton's attitudes and angry responses may effectively be doing Obama's work for him, and in a much more effective manner than the Senator from Illinois could ever hope to do personally. If that was the intention of the Obama campaign from the beginning, then I tip my hat to those on his staff and to the candidate himself who were all forward thinking enough to devise such a ingenious strategy.

I also agree that Ronald Reagan was a transforming political figure in American politics. I disagree with the nature and scope of many of Reagan's transformational policies, but by saying it in that manner, Senator Obama merely stated the obvious. Our current President Bush has "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not" as well, and decidedly not for better. That's no different than saying that Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed the trajectory of this country to a degree few of his predecessors or most Presidents since then have come close to accomplishing. The quotation does not state whether the reforms these Presidents made were essentially good or bad, just that they were substantial and that they occurred. When you get right down to it, the impact of policies is often far more substantial and meaningful then their quantity. Quantity of change does not always correlate to quality of change. Indeed, getting a few things done 100% correctly may be far more important and desirable than massive, sweeping, broad innovations that inadequately attempt to fix a totality of problems.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Revolutionary Momentum

Last night's Democratic debate in South Carolina and the worries of the country both reflect a profound sense of pessimism at the state of the American economy. Today's stock market woes indicate that, at minimum, we have officially entered a period of at least mild recession. This news comes as no surprise to many. To what degree and how long our monetary woes will be in force no one can say for sure. Indeed, I have read many different perspectives on the nature of this growing crisis and no one seems to know how best to address it.

Today's news makes a decided impact upon me, leaving me feeling deeply ambivalent. A study of history will reveal that all revolutions and revolutionary changes occur only in times of economic turmoil. The very issues we bloggers have been lauding and trumpeting in the face of an, until now, unbelievably apathetic populace may very well find some large degree of support among all members of society. We might find our ranks swelling now if catastrophic financial panic grips this nation. The irony of many is that it is only now that we are collectively hurting in ways we may not yet even fully comprehend--only now the necessary reforms we have been demanding for months, if not years, may come to fruition.

Change is the underlying leitmotif of this election and on the hearts, minds, and lips of most of us. We may very well yet see reform, and reform to a degree that has not been seen in years. Cynics will discount this statement and have good reason for doing so. I admit openly that there is a part of me which has learned to distrust the increasingly unproductive and self-serving manner in which our government has functioned for quite some time. The masses are clamoring for reforms and relief and whomever is elected President will hear these cries reverberating from people of all incomes, backgrounds, and walks of life. He or she must take care to take into account past mistakes, vow to not repeat them, but also formulate new solutions to address our changing times.

I am also reminded that this country was founded upon ideals and ideas. The United States of America as a concept was itself the product of a group of Enlightenment-era leaders who formed something unprecedented in human history. What they wrought should always be seen as a great social experiment, one formed by flawed human beings with the best of intentions. Any idea, any ideal, any proposal composed by mortals will be inherently imperfect and insufficient. That is our very nature. Though we strive to find a state of governmental perfection, it is highly unrealistic to expect that we will ever reach it. Our best efforts sometimes prove disastrous in the end and unforeseen consequences befall even visionaries. What we will be dealing with for the foreseeable future will be something both as old as humanity itself and new and unprecedented; it will test the parameters of the idealistic notions upon which our society is based. May our guesses, schemes, theories, and suppositions prove to be the correct ones. May we understand also that if they are not, this may not be any fault of our own creation, but the merely the way of the world.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Remembering a Mortal Man, Not a God

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life, deeds, and impassioned rhetoric should serve as an inspiration to all of us. Through non-violent resistance and skillful diplomacy, he ushered in massive positive change. His life and accomplishments are proof positive that one person can make a difference to a great degree. Else we feel powerless, disenfranchised, and limited by what we can do in our lives, we can look to the life of Dr. King and draw a sense of hope and optimism. In these skeptical, cynical times, such attitudes are often in short supply. However, let us not forget on this day of reflection that the man deserving of a holiday to commemorate his numerous positive accomplishments was just that: a man.

Over the years, we have learned that approximately one-third of King's doctoral dissertation at Boston University was plagiarized, though apologist scholars have attempted to redefine the definition of the regrettable practice and thus excuse it by saying that the sections of the paper supposedly copied from another source are in keeping with Black folk preaching traditions. As a teacher, I am encouraged to draw a very fine line about plagiarism and adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards those who engage in it. To me, plagiarism is flagrant cheating and offenders receive a zero score on any paper where I detect it. I wonder if we were discussing someone other that Dr. King that we would be as forgiving. In this day and age of where punitive solutions and resolute punishment are massive temptations, if Dr. King were anyone else would we be so willing to look past this sort of behavior?

Evidence of his womanizing and marital infidelity have been revealed from a variety of sources, some of them, like J. Edgar Hoover's intrusive and illegally zealous FBI surveillance, clearly designed to discredit him. Others with much less of a motive to detract from his legacy have stepped forward, most notably close King associate Ralph Abernathy, to propose that King engaged in sexual relations with women other than his wife Coretta Scott. In recent memory, particularly in reference to the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, the conduct, attitudes, and prevailing opinions of many prove that more than a mere handful of Americans find conduct like this morally objectionable. Still, may I also point out how many marriages end in divorce and how many men cheat on their spouses?

However, in our desire to find fault, let us not forget that King was a mere mortal. Like every human being, he had flaws and imperfections. In our desire to lionize him and set him up high above us as the moral champion he was, may we never fail to remember that he was just as imperfect as the rest of us. My ultimate motive in pointing this out is to provide a complete picture of his life, NOT to lessen the impact he had upon our country, nor to criticize his legacy. In my opinion, it makes me feel more comforted, not less comforted, to realize that one of the greatest leaders of the Twentieth Century struggled with many of the same issues we face in our own lives. The complete King was riddled with complexities and paradoxes very much in keeping with the nature of human existence. To see him on godlike terms is, in my opinion, to miss the point altogether. Hear the good news! A person, even a person with problems and weaknesses CAN make substantial change in the lives of millions. That, to me, is truly inspiring.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Art and Chaos Day

Let's release the pressure valve a tiny bit today and go in a different direction. I'm taking a break today from serious matters and instead including a special double feature. Not only do you get a performance video, but also you get a few pictures of the minute amount of snowfall we received here yesterday morning.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Saturday Video

Fiona Apple's first album, Tidal, came out when I was in high school. Its literate lyrics and the admittedly physically attractive artist who wrote them grabbed my attention upon first listen. Ms. Apple was the thinking man's alternative artist, albeit one who gave off a decided vibe of angry, troubled bad girl. Look but don't touch, say I.

Expanding the Debate on Universal Health Care

Thanks to a mention at Crooks and Liars, this site received over five hundred hits on Thursday. I am awestruck. The influx of traffic created many new visitors and some fantastic comments. Welcome, newcomers! As a result, I am going to take the opportunity today to expand my post regarding practical solutions to universal health care.

As an astute reader pointed out, the Massachusetts plan mandates that every resident of the state purchase coverage from a private carrier, else be fined. That is not what I propose at all; that system is hardly fair. Rather, I believe our government should mandate through legislation that every resident of this country be granted medical insurance. No exceptions. The responsibility, then, rests on the government, not the individual. In an effort to offset costs, some amount of payment should be expected most U.S. residents, but the amount owed should be based on household income and financial means. Taken this way, paying for coverage would resemble the co-pays we provide to insurance carriers for doctor's visits and for prescription drugs. People living below the poverty level would pay little to no additional cost for their coverage. Those who take in higher rates of pay would, of course, pay more into the system.

Responding directly to one of my comments, I am not afraid of socialism, either. However, as I said in my previous entry, if our country's finances were in better shape, a truly socialist system would be more feasible. As it stands now, the money has got to come from somewhere and simply raising taxes alone would not be a sufficient way to cover the additional expense. Our government is trillions of dollars in debt, and even if you dramatically raised the tax rate of the wealthiest of the wealthy-- the top 1% of all earners--the effect produced would be only a drop in the bucket. Furthermore, doing so would encourage the super-wealthy to take their money elsewhere and particularly to other countries where their rate of taxation would be much lower.

Bringing down health care costs by expanding coverage to everyone as well as encouraging competition in providers would bring down costs across the board. The pharmaceutical industry, in particular, charges exorbitant prices for prescription drugs. Those of us unfortunate enough to not have adequate health care, or any at all for that matter, know that a thirty day supply of medication for one particular drug can run upwards of hundreds, occasionally thousands of dollars. When one considers that many individuals must take more than one medication to treat chronic conditions, monthly expenses for prescription drugs alone total several hundred, if not several thousand dollars a month. That is inexcusably wrong.

The flaws in socialistic medical system before have been exhaustively noted. For example, the National Health System (NHS) in the U.K. provides decent baseline coverage for every British citizen, but those who can afford to pay for private care out of pocket often do so. It is easy to understand why. NHS employed doctors do not have the same financial incentives to stay abreast of changes in their field or to treat patients with the same quality of care as doctors in private practice. Doctors in private practice are often more skilled and better qualified. The NHS schedules every procedure and illness, particularly operations, on a priority basis and based on severity. Anyone who has ever spent hours waiting in an emergency room knows this extremely well. A heart attack patient would be seen far sooner than someone with a case of strep throat. Beds are scheduled by priority as well, and the wait time is often lengthy. Those requiring non-life threatening surgeries often wait weeks, if not months, to receive an open slot.

So long as the capitalist system is maintained by this country, it would be unrealistic to expect otherwise. Any socialistic system runs directly at odds with capitalistic models. Financial incentive and profit is the engine that drives our economy. No matter how many layers of government oversight or legislative mandates we add, problems like these will arise. Baseline coverage for everyone is a much more feasible outcome.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Pursuit of Change

The undercurrent raging in this country at the moment is that of change. Democratic candidates and even some Republican candidates have picked up on the consensus feeling of the nation and have incorporated populist rhetoric into their stump speeches and campaign proposals. Most likely, whomever we elect will make changes to the status quo, but questions always remain: To what extent will he/she be successful? What will be the nature of this change? Will the change made be beneficial or harmful in the long run? Will change on any large basis be accomplished, or will its scope be far more modest? Will change be made at all?

An appropriately analogy I would use regarding these matters is that of steering a battleship. The craft is so massive, so heavy, so immense in size that turning it around is an endeavor that happens only with great force and the process itself occurs quite slowly. The larger the country, the larger the battleship. Our government, as most of us are aware, has never been willing to adopt reform in as timely as fashion as we would like. Indeed, the larger we grow in population, diversity, and in sheer scope, the larger our battleship grows in turn.

We are collectively frustrated when reforms do not happen soon enough or in rapid succession to each other. I hear evidence of this from many bloggers. We note a problem or a social injustice. We propose a solution. We note many problems. We proposed many solutions. We are frustrated when government either turns a deaf ear to our concerns or proposes solutions that are insufficient or ineffective. We then feel powerless and disenfranchised.

Change is needed. Social justice is a valid concern. Reform is a necessary component that must be implemented to address changing times. However, we could learn from history in this regard, particularly by contemplating the French Revolution. Then, as now, the population clamored for change. The government responded. Changes enacted in that period were frequent, radical in scope, and quick to take effect. Instead of improving conditions for the French, their country instead plunged into turmoil. After ten years of chaos, the ultimate result produced by all of this modification was the establishment of a dictatorship under Napoleon Bonaparte, which absolutely defeated the purpose and stated goals of the Revolution.

Instead, let us understand that slow, steady, constant change is the best process. None of us will get 100% of what we want accomplished in the next several years, even with the combination of a Democratic majority Congress and a Democratic president. Mistakes will be made. Efficiency will suffer. A few important matters will be dealt with if the elections in November come out in our favor, but I would strongly caution getting our hopes up or expecting too much. In saying this, I am not defending the Pelosi/Reid approach of surrender and acquiescence, rest assured. I do want to see strong legislative stances and more than empty promises. However, knowing how government functions, particularly ours, I know that we should take care to keep things in proper perspective.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Practical Universal Health Care

The government run health insurance program in place now, Medicaid, is woefully insufficient in a modium of ways. Run individually by the states, it often finds itself running budget shortfalls. The coverage for prescription drugs is adequate, but hardly sufficient. I know this just from personal experience. In an effort to cut costs, doctors are forced to prescribe lower cost alternative drugs. If a doctor persists in prescribing a higher cost medication, he or she must show evidence that a patient has tried and failed to obtain adequate results from these lower cost alternatives. To wit, additional paperwork must be filled out in that situation, else Medicaid will refuse to cover the expense.

Beyond prescription drug coverage, it is insufficiently set up to cover visits to doctor, dentist, and other specialists. Those who rely on Medicaid for their base coverage are required to visit one particular clinic, wait in line, have their needs addressed by a priority basis, and are often treated by mediocre physicians who have little financial incentive to improve themself or do an adequate job of treating their partients. Medicaid pays out at such a low rate and often so delinquently that many physicians, particularly psychiatrists and psychologists, simply will not take it. This same phenomenon is evident for other specialized fields.

Medicaid is difficult to obtain, first of all. Receiving it requires a person to fill out exhaustive paperwork, satisfy a multitude of requirements, and jump through a vast number of hoops. Even then, doing so is no guarantee coverage will be granted. The system is so convoluted and overly complicated that many people who need Medicaid are summarily denied coverage simply because they do not have the acument, knowledge, and persistence necessary to be able to properly apply for it. If this were a matter of providing ID at polling places, activists of all shades would be jumping up and down decrying this system as racist and unfairly discriminatory.

The best first step towards universal health care, in my opinion, is to mandate that all people be covered. The state of Massachusetts has put this requirement into place. Doing so would open up the floodgates and create competition among health care providers/insurance companies. As it stands now, the market is dominated by only a handful of big names, who dictate price and keep costs artifically high. If insurance was expanded to all American citizens, competition and growth in the industry itself would bring costs down to reasonable levels and lower premiums for all of us. The free-market capitalist approach may be the best means by which we are able to circumvent the demands of the health care industry and the powerful lobby which controls it.

Single-payer universal coverage, as proposed by candidates like Dennis Kucinich contains a multitude of problems. How to fund it without substantially raising taxes is the first concern I have. If our financial situation at the moment was more sound, stable, and robust then raising the money would not be nearly as much of a concern. However, now that we have trillions of dollars of debt, particularly to foreign nations, are involved in a war in Iraq that is a financial drain, and have begun to move into a period of recession, our options in that direction are growing ever more increasingly limited. American borrowing power has suffered over the years and our ability to borrow more money from other countries is reaching its maximum limit. The more we borrow, the more the dollar is devalued compared to the rest of the world's currency and the more inflation we create in our own monetary system.

Socialized medication makes a convincing argument and certainly I would entertain it if I knew the particulars of how those willing to implement it would put it into action. However, systems in place in the United Kingdom and Australia have proven to be immense money drains and whatever approach is considered will need to take into account the failings of both of those systems in formulating a new plan. A modified capitalist/socialist system, i.e. The New Deal, may be the best alternative. I would certainly entertain any and every plan if it made sense and could be accomplished without creating more problems in the long run.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy

Comrade Kevin has two jobs now and just started job two today. This is why his posting is late today. He begs for your forgiveness. Enjoy the song.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Personal Theology Quiz

What's your theological worldview?
created with
You scored as Modern Liberal

You are a Modern Liberal. Science and historical study have shown so much of the Bible to be unreliable and that conservative faith has made Jesus out to be a much bigger deal than he actually was. Discipleship involves continuing to preach and practice Jesus' measure of love and acceptance, and dogma is not important in today's world. You are influenced by thinkers like Bultmann and Bishop Spong.

Modern Liberal




Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Classical Liberal




Roman Catholic


Neo orthodox


Reformed Evangelical




The Generational Divide

Despite the recent spat concerning both racism and sexism in the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, I read an article this morning that dares to looks beyond those accusations to the ultimate truth. Entitled "Tossing Out the Race Card from the Deck", written by Tom Moran of The Newark, New Jersey, Star Ledger, it illustrates how the issue of race-based politics has evolved over the years. I am very glad we are having this kind of reasoned, rational conversation on this issue instead of the same old pointlessly divisive argument that does little to address the problem and everything to stir up old hatreds.

A year or so ago, I attended a political debate held for local city council elections. The city of Birmingham has for years been comprised of a majority African-American population and as one would expect, most of the candidates themselves were people of color. A woman a only a few years older than me was running for one of the open council seats and I couldn't help but notice a decided difference in how she chose to present her candidacy. By contrast, the candidates of a generation before us trotted out the conventional line of thinking which pits White against Black.

When I pulled her aside privately, we had a chance to speak at length. As she said to me,

You and I are younger. We understand that it isn't about Bull Connor and fire hoses anymore. Times have changed. People have changed.

This has been a long time coming. Only with the arrival of Obama on the political landscape and his viability as an electable candidate have the majority of Americans realized aware that the same politics of racial division are no longer applicable. No one doubts that racism still exists, but it has taken on different permutations than in the past. Economic inequality is arguable the most potent example of contemporary racism and as such, it needs to be addressed in a much more diplomatic, broader context that unites us rather than separates us into factions. As Moran notes, merit, not race, will be the deciding factor in who becomes the Democratic nominee for President in 2008.

Gloria Steinem argued in a column written for The New York Times that, as she put it, "gender is a far more restricting force in American life" than race. I see her point, but the reality is far more complex than that. Discrimination in any form is not always so cut-and-dry. If it were, then we as a society would be better able to address the matter and combat it properly. The problems that face humanity as a whole present challenges that cannot be solved by simple, easy solutions. They are contextually broad and as such resolving them requires the input of everyone, white or black, male or female, rich or poor.

Ignore the Oppression Olympics. Ultimately it matters little whether sexism or racism is a bigger challenge. Electing the best candidate for the job is far more important than superficial banter. We need not get distracted from the true purpose of an election, which is to select the person who can do the best job and be the best steward of our trust. So long as there are people, there will be inequality and oppression.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Arnold Layne

Today is the first day of the quarter, so I am teh busy with classwork. I hope a new performance video will suffice for something more substantial.

The song is an early Pink Floyd cover, "Arnold Layne". This, the group's first UK single, was a moderate hit in England, though it went largely unnoticed in America at the time of its release.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Religion as Instrument of War

There is no provision [in Islam], however, for preemptive strikes. Wars of aggression are immoral and forbidden. Wars to spread the teachings of Islam are also not permitted. But seventh-century Islamic warfare was never justified on the grounds of building an empire or even spreading Islam. Mohammed did not want to convert Jews and Christians, since they were already believers in the one God. Islam teaches respect for the revelations of other prophets in other groups.

-From Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky

The above paragraph flies in the face of the anti-Islam rhetoric and propaganda which found increasing favor after 11 September 2001. The current administration would have us believe that surely since the terrorists who attacked our country were Muslim, so then all of Islam is a religion based on war and violence, not peace and diplomacy. Although it tacitly concedes that extremist Islamic radicals are the problem, not the religion of Islam as a whole, the American government implies strongly that Islam does advance a fundamental willingness to wage war. The concept of jihad is the most cited reason that backs up this assertion. Surveying the facts of the matter reveals otherwise.

In the thirteenth century, Muslims became the enemies of Islam when Mongols, who had converted to Islam, invaded and sacked the Islamic cultural center, Baghdad, in 1258. In the midst of the Mongol disaster, a brilliant young Sunni named Ibn Taymiyah, sometimes known as Shaykh-al-Islam, started writing the first of what was to be 350 works on Islamic law. To him, jihad meant violent warfare, and he insisted that it was the obligation of all fit males to fight. It is Ibn Taymiyah who is quoted today by Osama bin Laden and other "Islamic militants."

Christianity and Islam both have been co-opted by the state as a means to consolidate power and make money. Both religions are, at their core, designed to derive common purpose among people, not to divide. Unfortunately, however, in an effort to wield power and generate profit, their founding principles have been used as justification to wage war. Neither Jesus nor Mohammad taught that war served as any means to an end. Rather, the blame rests upon subsequent political leaders and theologians who added self-serving militaristic components on top of original teachings, inserting precepts which fully contradicted the original intent of each faith. There is wealth to be made from division and the forces which keep us apart have a vested interest in keeping us separate and at odds with each other.

I find it distressing that defenders of free speech and open religious expression have not bothered to frame their arguments in these terms. The true teachings of Islam are often misunderstood by Westerners, even religious liberals. Addressing the vast amount of misinformation that exists in public discourse would be an effective way to fight prejudicial attitudes. The key, then, would be to reframe the debate and focus upon what we have in common, rather than what divides us. Many Christians themselves are unaware that their faith was never designed to be used as an tool for violent expression. Neither are they aware that their true enemies are not members of other faiths, but people in positions of power with ulterior motives of greed and evil.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

An Abiding Sense of Something

David Greenberg's column in today's Washington Post attempts to answer why Obama has attracted hosannas of praise and few detractors who have criticized his relatively unsubstantial policy agenda. I admit that I would like to see some definitives from his campaign rather than feel-good rhetoric about political compromise and national unity that although it appeals to the hopeful side in all of us, sacrifices specifics for vague notions of change. The American peoples' desire for reform and our desire to rid ourselves of politics as usual has given him the ability to tout such things without a great degree of criticism, but at some point in the near future, I recommend strongly that the tone of his discourse shifts to specific remedies that would effectively address the multitude of problems we face in the months and years to come.

I've noticed a few critics on the left have attacked him for reinforcing stereotypes as "The Good Negro", the stereotypical virtuous black character played to perfection by Sidney Poitier in a variety of movies. Any minority group finds itself unfairly scrutinized and uniformly judged to a hyper-critical degree. I would argue that Obama has to walk a tightrope in which he must be careful to not seem too black for a white audience and too white for a black audience. This sort of conundrum applies not to just a minority group per se, but to any representative of a demographic that has been historically under-represented in politics. Hillary Clinton has found herself a victim of this sort of perspective as well, since she is the first woman to run for President with a serious chance of winning the office. She must take care to not seem too masculine else her inherent femininity suffers in the process, but also be cautious not to seem too feminine else she be criticized for weakness.

This is virgin territory we are traversing and with no established precedent, neither a minority, nor a female candidate is quite sure of the path that lies ahead. Nor, really, are voters themselves completely certain of it. Elections have been won and lost based on a variety of factors. Each cycle has its own dynamic and the rules of politics find themselves under constant revision. What no one questions is that we are all in for a very interesting, very competitive race. That may be the only definitive answer we can expect for the next several weeks.

Saturday Song

Radiohead's breakthrough album OK Computer, released in 1997, redefined alternative music. Its melodic, but extremely unconventional rock is skillfully combined with idiosyncratic lyrics that resemble the unholy combination of a left-wing political treatise and a 50's science fiction story. A commercial and critical success, it set the tone for the music of the next ten years. Radiohead arguably has never bettered this release but, then again, few groups could. This song, "No Surprises", was one of the last songs from the album to be released as a single.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Blue Jeans

I'm taking a break from politics and serious stuff today to post a video of me performing. This is a cover of a Blur song, taken from the 1993 album Modern Life is Rubbish.

Tomorrow I will be posting over at The American Street. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another in a Long Series on Safe Logic

Yesterday's post talked about how I wasn't going to even entertain theories regarding how and why Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, won the New Hampshire primary. Let it be known I intend to abide by what I said. No amount of spin will convince me to jump in with both feet. The only reason I'm citing the below is that it goes along well with what I have been saying. When solid facts do not easily explain unforeseen outcomes, then personal bias often fills the void.

Froma Harrop's column
entitled "New Hampshire Women Heard Enough Insults" is the latest example that seeks to make sense of the major media, pundit, and pollster faux paus that happened on Tuesday. Draw whichever conclusions you want to draw. I seriously doubt few people, male or female, would be defending Hillary Clinton today if her campaign was still in self-destruct mode. Our criticisms have little do with the fact she has no Y chromosome as much as they have do with our dislike of her very nature. We have had no reason to like her as a person. Though she made some efforts to change large-scale perception of her personality, these seemed as calculated and politically motivated as the rest of her.

Perception is often reality, love it or hate it, and no one understand this better than a politician. Personality goes a long way and Hillary's polarizing nature has won her enemies on both the right and the left. Personality matters, as I said, but also authenticity matters to the voting public. Contrary to what Harrop argues, many women could run on a platform based on ideals of bipartisan compromise, optimism, and nationwide unity. Hillary could not, because no one would take her seriously if she did. It stands contrary to the very nature of who she is as a politician.

Not that the unfortunate human tendency to kick a person when we perceive him/her to be down is commended, but if blame is to be assigned, Hillary herself should be responsible. Every candidate who has run for President this election has also run into a firestorm of criticism. The wording of these critiques has been different, but the implications are always the same. If Obama falls flat as a candidate, he will be criticized for his youth, his inexperience, and his idealistic message. If Clinton falls flat, she will be taken to task for her strategy to align her message based largely on political trends rather than personal conviction.

The sort of mean-spirited commentary to which humans often resort has many forms, none of them positive. To think that somehow any female could receive savage treatment from the media and the public at large based on her gender alone reveals a short-sighted understanding of human nature. Beating up on politicians might as well be the national sport. As special objects of our derision, they can do little right and a vast amount wrong. It goes along with the territory. Anyone in a position of authority will find himself or herself criticized from a variety of different angles and in a variety of different ways.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Joke's on Us All

Forget it. I'm not going to propose any sort of pet theory as to why Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama last night, despite the mainstream media having crowned Obama the heir apparent in the past several days as well as predicting the imminent demise of the Clinton campaign. Suffice it to say that rumors of her death were greatly exaggerated. The fact of the matter, and the only one I accept without a massive dose of skepticism, is that the media got it wrong, dead wrong, as did all the polls. As such, I find myself increasingly inclined to discount any justification pollsters, pundits, and columnists alike might propose today and in the days to come to explain why this happened--and especially be wary before entertaining notions like "gender gap" or "the Hillary crying effect", for example.

Both the Iowa caucus results and the New Hampshire primary results are hardly any objective indication of national sentiment or trend. As much as we might like them to be otherwise, they are merely the numerical results of how two individual states cast their votes. What was true for Iowa was not true for New Hampshire, and vice versa. What was true for Iowa and New Hampshire may not be true for South Carolina, Nevada, Michigan, or the United States of America. The lesson, among many of last night, is that it would greatly benefit us all to stop jumping to conclusions or rushing to judgment until we have cold, hard facts to support our assertions. This is a trend I notice not just in the media but in our society at large. Until the polling gets underway and the votes are cast, all we have to go on are dueling theories. These days, everyone wants to get ahead and proclaim that they were the first to have it all figured out well beforehand, rendering the process itself a mere formality. The voters determine the course of elections, not any of these so-called experts.

I admit that I was just as suckered by the same so-called conventional wisdom that had Obama as the front-runner and Clinton's campaign in tatters. I will be much more careful in future before I let any sure thing dictate my personal point of view. Let it be known there is a long, hard fight ahead in the Democratic primary and anything else anyone proposes is just speculation, pure and simple. The other large lesson I pulled from last night is fresh reminder of the nature of what might be called idolatry of intellect. Namely, that there are serious limits to human knowledge and we would be wise to remind ourselves that for all we claim to know, there still exists a vast amount of which we are largely ignorant.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Good News for People Who Like Bad News

The temptation to focus on the wealth of bad news which is easily available to each of us whenever we wish it is a particularly strong temptation amongst those of us who blog. Indeed, the world will always be full of negativity, regrettable circumstances, social injustice, wars, and abuses of power among many so long as we channel our attention in that direction. It might not do us any harm at all in thinking about world events with a different perspective.

Allow me, if you would to provide a personal anecdote from my own life to illustrate what it is I mean. Last night, I finally got a chance to look at the textbook assigned for the U.S. History class I will be teaching and, as any good teacher would, I read through the first chapter that will be assigned for my students. Having developed a skeptical viewpoint towards all things over the course of my life, I have to say that I went into the endeavor expecting to be disappointed. After finishing up with the text, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

The field of history, I am glad to report, has made some very positive strides in the recent past. The press reports the advances made by science and medicine on a nearly dayly basis, while neglecting the progress made in other disciplines. Tremendous advances have been made in historical scholarship, particularly in the direction of veracity, rather than mythology. I have to tell you that I almost feel cheated, by comparison. The version of history I read and I'm sure many of you read is shockingly insufficient, not so much wrong as it is incomplete. In times past, large gaps in the historical narrative were neglected, crucial events were not linked together in a cohesive nature, and the same conventional explanations for complex matters were proposed. It is no wonder students were confused in the process. It is no wonder that history appeared distant or completely unrelated to the events of today. I'm not sure whether to blame lazy scholarship or that better sources of information have become more readily available.

History, the record of the past, has no bias to left or right, conservative or liberal. It simply is. Truth ought to be independent of spin or political bias. We know that history has often been hijacked to suit the agenda and ulterior motive of the powerful over the years. In reading through the chapter, I happily report that whomever wrote the material did well to make a point to avoid politicizing. History in its pure form is a far more pragmatic reality than we might even realize.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Beyond the Presidential Race

The rest of the country appears to be waking up to the notion that Barack Obama has a fantastic chance of capturing the nomination of his party and, dare I say it, even the Presidency. The latest New Hampshire polling numbers would certainly indicate this at least. On the other hand, thanks to DCap's excellent recent post on the matter, I know now to cast serious doubts as to the veracity of polling data, as from my reading I know it now to be often tremendously overrated, far from objective, and frequently meaningless. Allow me to take a different tact altogether in today's post because the Presidential race is not what I'm seeking to address today. ___________________

The issue thus far flying well under the radar and unreported by any large scale concerns the majority status of the next Congress. The Democratic-led 110th Congress has been largely ineffective, has passed modest reforms, and above all has failed in its elected purpose, which was to pull our troops out of Iraq. Would a Democratic victory in the Presidential race translate to the preservation of its status as party in charge of both legislative bodies? Could it add substantial gains beyond its precarious one-seat Senate margin and less-than-overwhelming majority in the House? Or, has its strategy of conceding to President Bush the majority of his demands to proven to be its ultimate undoing?

No one knows for sure, but what cannot be doubted is that the American people are, by in large, absolutely furious with the so-called leadership of Pelosi and Reid. This degree of anger is felt similarly among a large cross-section of voters, which includes the traditional liberal base of the party, Democratic-leaning independents, and moderates. In retaliation, many otherwise solidly blue voters may vote for independents this go round, or vote instead for any candidate who promises substantive change, regardless of his or her party affiliation. As such, even against a weakened Republican party, Democrats still stand a very real chance of losing the Senate, though losing the House is unlikely to occur.

The deeply fractured GOP may see many of its traditional supporters stay home this cycle, which is the only real chance I see that Democrats have in adding to its 2006 gains. Evangelical voters who have finally found their champion in the person of Mike Huckabee might be far less inclined to vote for John McCain, even a McCain who has taken a much stronger conservative stance than in 2000. One line of thinking claims that, much like Reagan's overwhelming victory in 1980, a Democratic victory in November would have the added benefit of giving several Democratic legislators the ability to ride the presumptive victor's coattails into office. This, of course, presumes that whomever wins the nomination also captures the Presidential election by a substantial majority, which conventional wisdom states will be a tall order to accomplish. Indeed, the last Presidential landslide was in 1984, nearly twenty-five years ago. The best case scenario of 2008 for Democrats might be akin to Clinton's 1996 re-election, which though it was a resounding win, was hardly an overwhelming one.

This much is clear, a Democratic President with a GOP controlled legislature would face gridlock on a massive scale. Furthermore, it should also be said that many Americans, suspicious of any government with an overly ambitious inclination and afraid of the consequences of any party with firm control of both branches, prefer the logjam of a divided Executive and Legislative branch. Should Obama win in November and face a hostile legislative body, his agenda would be severely compromised in the process. Idealistic rhetoric of change aside, he would find his term of office a largely frustrating one, and be able to get few matters of substance passed.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Pleasantly Inconsequential, At Least

If you needed a quiz to help you decide the right candidate to support before now, I'm pretty sure you're not an active blogger. This poll was apparently made before Biden and Dodd left the race. The results of this come as not much shock to me, nor will they be to you if you decide to indulge yourself.

92% Mike Gravel
91% Dennis Kucinich
88% Chris Dodd
87% John Edwards
87% Barack Obama
84% Joe Biden
83% Hillary Clinton
77% Bill Richardson
35% Rudy Giuliani
21% Ron Paul
21% John McCain
18% Tom Tancredo
16% Mike Huckabee
14% Mitt Romney
7% Fred Thompson

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

Elmer Gantry, a Critique

Sinclair Lewis' 1927 satirical novel, though it has dated some over the years, still speaks powerfully to us all. It particularly speaks to those of who who ponder the intersection between power and belief. The protagonist is a largely amoral, narcissistic, manipulative opportunist. That he also happens to be a minister is due to the fact that he finds the profession a much easier manner of accomplishing his aims and insatiable desire for self-aggrandizement. Through the character of Elmer Gantry, we are asked, among many other things, to contemplate whether religion as an institution is a success or a failure.

Those of us who have a more liberal, open-minded conception of theology often find ourselves caught in between two contradictory viewpoints. One argues passionately that religion, of any sort, despite its urgings to the contrary, is merely a means of control, merely a method to preserve the status quo. It keeps the powerful in positions of authority, and the poor in its proper place of subservience to those higher up the food chain. This view of religion justifies its existence by heavily disingenuous means that reference high minded ideals of servitude, grace, and salvation. The other argues just as passionately that the role religion plays can be powerfully positive, providing hope and comfort to many believers. It concedes that the abuses which occur are due not to the system itself, but rather ought to be blamed squarely upon human nature, particularly the desire for power and acquisition. In this same line of thinking comes the tacit assumption that the masses need some sort of control, some set of moral guidance--else they be inclined to commit crimes against people, property, or both.

One of the strengths of Christianity, indeed the reason I am a Christian, is because of its promise of forgiveness for sin, provided one admits to them and resolves to reform his or her behavior accordingly. Sincerity is the key sentiment, and one I think Lewis himself could get behind. Thus, as is often the case, the massive amount of criticism Lewis faced from Evangelicals after the book was published rather missed the point altogether. Elmer Gantry holds a kind of reverence for the spiritual purity of purpose, idea, and those who practice what they preach. Rather, its most scathing condemnations are directed towards hypocrisy in general, particularly towards those whose true behavior completely contradicts the nobility of their message. This is no different for politicians than it is for pulpit-pounders.

Lewis puts most of his criticisms in the person of questioning minister Frank Shallard, whose role as Doubting Thomas seems to mirror also the author's personal feelings on the matter.

But the essential query is: Did Jesus--if the Biblical accounts of him are even half accurate--have a particularly noble personality, and were his teachings particularly original or profound? You know it's almost impossible to get people to read the Bible honestly. They've been brought up to take the church interpretation of every word that they read into it whatever they've been taught to find there.

We have this sort of argument today, particularly regarding the nature of the historical Jesus and how it has been shaped by church policy and denominational differences. This passage also underscores the argument of whether people are capable of forming their own opinions or need to have these opinions spelled out for them. The classical liberal belief, which dates back to the Enlightenment, states that knowledge is power and the attainment of it is the means by which freedom of thought can be attained. What has not changed in ninety years time--Evangelicals then and now argue that most people are incapable of living in a world other than one rigidly painted either purely black or purely white. They would argue that the masses must be controlled and that most people are either incapable on an intellectual basis of perceiving a reality of metaphorical shades of grey, or would be incapable of responding in any responsible manner to it.

Though the inherent message of Fundamentalism has not changed, the means of presentation, however, has. Gantry was a man ahead of his time, clearly willing to resort to unorthodox tactics to attract membership, and, it must be added, increase his own power and influence in the process. His sermons were more akin to the clever sales pitch of a skillful salesman and he had no qualms about advertising his message in a similar manner. I can't help but notice how even Fundamentalist Christianity, which in the early part of the last century doggedly clung to long-since antiquated viewpoints such as the evils of dancing and Catholicism, were among the first to adopt many of Gantry's tactics in a concerted effort to grow its numbers. They were among the first to incorporate rock instruments, non-traditional liturgy, so-called "contemporary" worship styles, and elements of secular culture to keep people in the pews.

It has become fashionably in many circles to argue that we have lost our moral foundation in this country. The ironies in that statement are many, but the one that jumps out most at me is that this same familiar refrain is no new creation, nor realization. Elmer Gantry himself used it as a sure-fire method to drag people out on Sunday morning. Fundamentalism, by its very nature, always paints itself as under attack. If it had no enemies, it would certainly feel compelled to create them to serve its own ends. The difference between then and now is that it has, for better or for worse, embraced advertising and capitalism as a means to ensure its survival.

Somewhere, Elmer Gantry is smiling.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

I had every intention to post something eloquent, thought-provoking, and ultimately meaningful up here today. However, I often have to work within the confines of my illness and for some reason an extreme amount of sedation decided to be today's limiting factor. Rather than grouse about it, I will accept it as best I can and return to bed immediately after I finish this post. The day wasn't a total wash; I got out and about in nature and got some much needed exercise in the process.

Enjoy the pictures. As soon as I finish putting these up, I am headed back to bed.