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Truth: Handle with Care

1.29.2004

(Ethics, Politics, and Conspiracy Theory)

The resource of bigotry and intolerance, when convicted of error, is always the same; silenced by argument, it endeavors to silence by persecution, in old times by fire and sword, in modern days by the tongue.

-Charles Simmons

Dennis Miller says his new show will be "Ed Asner free." Ed has been a target by the right for decades. His vitriol in attacking the right-wing politics fuels equally vicious attacks that don't stop short of trying to paint him as a one fond of the likes of Castro and Stalin.

Of the latter, his comments were distorted by Kevin McCullough so dramatically that I find his latter retraction hard to believe. The damage is done. Some sites still quote the lie.

Of the Former, MSNBC's site doesn't turn up any transcripts so the only source is a right wing site and they seem to favor fudging the facts.

Hays, executive vice president of the Cuban American National Foundation, an organization dedicated to fighting for democracy and human rights in Cuba, believes Castro's personal mystique may be blinding the celebrities to the harsh realities of life in Cuba.

"You have to remember that Fidel Castro is a cult leader, much along the same lines as Jim Jones or David Koresh. He's a megalomaniac with a messiah complex and people go and fall into his orbit," Hays told CNSNews.com.

He believes otherwise rational individuals can "lose all context of reality" in Castro's presence.

"People turn into lovesick rock groupies when they get into his presence. This is the impact that cult leaders have on people," Hays added.

Furthermore, he insisted, celebrities should not be praising Castro when they don't understand the situation in Cuba.
Filmmaker Saul Landau, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker who produced four separate documentaries on Castro's Cuba for PBS and CBS, including a 1974 CBS documentary with Dan Rather, thinks Hollywood's assessment of Cuba reflects reality.

Landau rejects the idea that Castro is duping celebrities.

"How the hell is he duping them? They've got two eyes, they've got two ears," he told CNSNews.com.

"Cuba is the king of all of Latin American countries," Landau said.

He believes Hollywood stars have seen the truth in Cuba.

"You don't have millions of homeless people in Cuba, you don't have 42million people who don't have access to medical care," Landau said, comparing Cuba to the United States.

Cuba outperforms the United States "when you talk about the right to food, the right to shelter, the right to a job, the right to a retirement," according to Landau. These issues are "less than rigorously enforced in the U.S." he added.

Landau also believes Castro's detractors have exaggerated his human rights abuses.

"I have not seen any evidence that he is a sadistic monster or a brutal dictator," he explained, adding that he has little regard for Cuban American refugees.

-Mark Morano, Critics Assail Fidel Castro's 'Sickening' Grip on Hollywood Celebs

The article goes on to cite Gloria Estefan and Andy Garcia. They both escaped from Cuba and are bewildered by other celebrities that give Castro (like Miller does to Bush) a free pass.

It's one thing for people like Ed Asner to be charmed into believing Castro and another to construct quotes to smear him. I trust certain sources concerning Cuba.

I don't give anyone a free pass.

During 1993 and 1994, when Clinton had the "advantage" of a Democratically-controlled Congress, Emperor Bill abandoned his pledge to consider offering asylum to Haitian refugees, he reneged on his promise to "take a firm stand" against the armed forces' ban on gays and lesbians, and he backed away from his most high-profile campaign issue: health care. While "enjoying" a Democratic House and Senate, Clinton signed NAFTA and GATT, increased the Pentagon budget by $25 billion, fired Jocelyn Elders, dumped Lani Guinier, bombed Iraq and the Balkans, renewed the murderous sanctions on Iraq, and passed a crime bill that gave us more cops, more prisons, and 58 more offenses punishable by death. After presiding over the much-hyped Republican "revolution" in 1994, Slick Willie continued to march in lockstep with his corporate owners. The next two years of foreign policy provided us with more bombs and more sanctions over Iraq; covert support for war criminals in Haiti; a tightening of sanctions against Cuba, Iran, and Libya; and the overt support of a corrupt Boris Yelstin. Domestically, Clinton continued his assault on the working class by delivering a telecommunications bill further narrowing the already laughable parameters of public debate. As a final slap in the face of the "liberal" wing of his party, Clinton signed the welfare repeal bill. Also during the Clinton/Gore years, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was signed into law (April 24, 1996). This USA PATRIOT Act prequel contained provisions that Clinton himself admitted "makes a number of ill-advised changes in our immigration laws, having nothing to do with fighting terrorism." This unconstitutional salvo did little to address so-called terrorism but plenty to limit the civil liberties of anyone-immigrant or resident-who disagrees with U.S. policies, foreign or domestic.

What about the environment...allegedly Gore's domain? In 1996, David Brower, former president of the Sierra Club, penned a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled, "Why I Won't Vote for Clinton." In this piece, Brower offered a litany of Clinton-sponsored moves, which utterly smashed the public image of Bill or Al Gore as "pro-environment." Some of these crimes include the passage of the salvage logging rider, the signing of the Panama Declaration, the continuation of the use of methyl bromide, the weakening of the Endangered Species Act, the lowering of grazing fees on land, subsidizing Florida's sugar industry, weakening the Safe Drinking Water Act, reversing the ban on the production and importation of PCBs, and allowing the export of Alaskan oil. These, and other proud Clinton/Gore accomplishments, have led Brower to declare that the dynamic Democratic duo had "done more harm to the environment in three years than Presidents Bush and Reagan did in 12 years."

-Mickey Z, A brief history of the Democrats: Some perspective for the 2004 elections

For every nugget of truth, like Kerry's voting record, it seems to be tied to a lie.

John Kerry, A.D. (After Dean), attacks President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act as "one-size-fits-all testing mania." Worse, according to Kerry, "By signing the No Child Left Behind Act and then breaking his promise by not giving schools the resources to help meet new standards, George Bush has undermined public education and left millions of children behind." The funding charge is a canard — overall spending on education under Bush is up 65 percent — but it gives Kerry a way to join the Dean-led assault on the act, which he voted for — enthusiastically.
-

Rich Lowry, Kerry vs. Kerry: Running against his record

Rich deliberately deceives here. Even if education spend went up 65 percent, which begs for citation, the No Child Left Behind Act is underfunded and doesn't give "schools the resources to help meet new standards."

The truth is not sacred to either party. The only candidate that seemed above lying has been snubbed into obscurity. I want to believe that whomever is picked to run for the Democrats will be better than Bush even though I don't trust any of the top contenders. Bush has been reckless in his spending and in the process veered off the conservative course. His dedication to making his friends rich has payed off "in an unprecedented $137.9 million" campaign war-chest.

That's a lot of money to maintain the mirage that major faults and corruption in the Bush administration are nothing more than the delusions of "conspiracy theorists."

Just before his death, James Jesus Angleton, the legendary chief of counterintelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency, was a bitter man. He felt betrayed by the people he had worked for all his life. In the end, he had come to realize that they were never really interested in American ideals of "freedom" and "democracy." They really only wanted "absolute power."

Angleton told author Joseph Trento that the reason he had gotten the counterintelligence job in the first place was by agreeing not to submit "sixty of Allen Dulles' closest friends" to a polygraph test concerning their business deals with the Nazis. In his end-of-life despair, Angleton assumed that he would see all his old companions again "in hell."

The transformation of James Jesus Angleton from an enthusiastic, Ivy League cold warrior, to a bitter old man, is an extreme example of a phenomenon I call a "paranoid shift." I recognize the phenomenon, because something similar happened to me.

Although I don't remember ever meeting James Jesus Angleton, I worked at the CIA myself as a low-level clerk as a teenager in the '60s. This was at the same time I was beginning to question the government's actions in Vietnam. In fact, my personal "paranoid shift" probably began with the disillusionment I felt when I realized that the story of American foreign policy was, at the very least, more complicated and darker than I had hitherto been led to believe.

-Michael Hasty, Paranoid shift

It's not that the truth is out there or whether or not we can handle it, but if we'll know it when we see it.


American Liar

1.22.2004

(Ethics)

I am charmed with many points of the Turkish law; when proved the authors of any notorious falsehood, they are burned on the forehead with a hot iron.

- Lady Mary Montague

This is a crossover entry to today's quickies selection. It's mostly about how lying is becoming more imbedded within our culture.

Not only are the monetary incentives to cheat often enormous, the penalties for doing wrong are frequently negligible or nonexistent. White-collar crime is rarely severely punished (former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow's recent 10-year sentence notwithstanding). No one will be socially ostracized for stealing cable service -- as 10 percent of Chicago households do, according to one study -- or pirating music online. In high schools where students compete fiercely for admission to the Ivy League, teachers and parents often turn a blind eye to academic fraud.

-Laura Secor, Measuring morals

Coincidence?

Like many critics of rational-choice theory, Frank trains his attention on what is known as the prisoner's dilemma. Two people are separately informed that they must choose to either cooperate with their unseen partner or defect. If both cooperate, both receive $2. If both defect, neither receives anything. If one cooperates and the other defects, the cooperator receives nothing, and the defector receives $3. The rational choice -- the one that affords the possibility of winning $3 rather than $2 -- is to defect, but experimental subjects cooperate nearly as often.

Frank's studies show that people base their choices on what they think their partners are likely to do. And with a little bit of exposure to one another, his subjects predicted fairly accurately who would cooperate and who would defect. That accuracy increases the better we know each other. It is not irrational to cooperate -- in fact, some 75 percent of Frank's subjects did so -- if the chances are pretty good that we have chosen our partners wisely.

But Frank uncovered a curious exception to this cooperative spirit: his own peers. He hypothesized that economists would be more likely to defect, because rational-choice theory would lead them to expect others to behave selfishly. Sure enough, when he conducted the same experiment with undergraduate economics majors, 60 percent defected.

-Laura Secor, Measuring morals

So on those occasions where our education system doesn't fail and those that make it to college decide to venture into economics, we can rest easy with the knowledge that only 60% tend to favor grabbing as much as they can. They'll fit right in with the bully tactics of their politician friends. Those politicians that are really good have a chance to be a celebrity CIA thug fighting the spread of democracy abroad and telling people the right time to "shoot the motherfucker."

Dennis Kucinich, who ran as the "principled" candidate of a "new politics" similarly betrayed those idealists who had given his protest candidacy unexpected millions of dollars when he cut an "old politics" last-minute caucus deal asking his supporters to vote for John Edwards. Pro-Kucinich caucus-goers were completely discombobulated by this alliance against nature, as could clearly be seen on C-SPAN. A furious former Michigan Democratic County Chairman, a labor pol who'd been planning to vote for Kucinich, e-mailed me: "If Kucinich thinks so little of progressive ideals that he throws his lot behind a pro-war, pro-Patriot Act candidate, then why waste my vote to send a message, when voting for Kucinich no longer sends a message? Perhaps Kucinich needs some trial lawyer money in the upcoming congressional election." Kucinich's decision can only be explained as a venting of spleen against Dean for having "stolen" the anti-war constituency the Ohioan imagined was his. The result: Kucinich has inevitably engendered cynicism about electoral politics among his legions of young, first-time activists.

-Doug Ireland, Iowa's Lessons

So maybe John Edwards intimidated Kucinich or maybe he was too scared to even get near Dean.

But what is the common thread here? Is it Econ 101? They did all go to college. Maybe they took some business classes too. What if they went to a different kind of college?

There's been a lot of rotten people who've gone to a lot of rotten schools in the history of the world and a lot of them went to this school. But a lot of them have gone to Harvard Business School and a lot of other places.

-Wesley "There is no indication [depleted uranium] causes any trouble" Clark on the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Maybe Clark's denial of the danger of DU and SOA are as exaggerated as The Tuskegee study. Maybe it's just another example of certain media types drfudging facts for a few dollars more.

Maybe this is just another case where I am being unreasonable in my expectations of others. We can't all be like Jesus.

Jesus' life didn't go well. He didn't reach his earning potential. He didn't have the respect of his colleagues. His friends weren't loyal. His life wasn't long. He didn't meet his soul mate. And he wasn't understood by his mother. Yet I think I deserve all those things because I'm so spiritual.

-Hugh Prather, Spiritual Notes to Myself

Maybe I'm being a bit silly by being annoyed that people are paying attention to that Sim guy for pushing himself into insanity to finish Cerebus. I mean, the guy advocated spanking your wife if she disobeyed. Sure, this is America (or Canada-whatever) and it should be a point of constitutional pride that the guy is not in jail.

Is trying to write one story for 30 years a recipe for disaster? Is it like trying to figure out what quality is? Maybe we've fallen short on the moral scale because it's a lonely road.

When it comes to trying to find out the deeper order of the self, nothing, Emerson said, beats poetry. The true poet is able to communicate his intimations of order with living words-words that "would bleed," Emerson says, if you cut them. Poetry, he argued, "unlocks our chains," and the "poets are thus liberating gods." A master poet like Shakespeare is a supreme "translator of things in your [own] consciousness." Notwithstanding "our utter incapacity to produce any thing like Hamlet and Othello, see the perfect reception this wit, and immense knowledge of life, and liquid eloquence find in us all." Shakespeare, Emerson said, "saw the splendor of meaning that plays over the visible world; knew that a tree had another use than for apples, and corn another than for meal, and the ball of the earth, than for tillage and roads: that these things bore a second and finer harvest to the mind, being emblems of its thoughts, and conveying in all their natural history a certain mute commentary on human life."

-Michael Knox Beran, Self-Reliance vs. Self-Esteem

It should be noted that poetry's attachment to truth bears a price.

I think, unlike other work, being a poet is a culturally demeaned occupation. It's not the kind of thing I'd use as a pick-up line. Saying you're a famous poet is tantamount to saying you're a famous croquet player.

-Christian Bök

If even lust is being given a different thrust these days, why worry about lying? It doesn't even make the seven deadly sin list (anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth). Yeah, Yeah, there's The Lord of the Lie, but people lie all the time. Parent's lie about Santa and kids lie about having homework. Politicians are assumed to lie for votes and salespeople are assumed to lie for a living. Polls are supposed to account for lying mathematically. Lying is everywhere. So why try to be different? Doesn't it just lead to loneliness? Isn't life hard enough without having to be honest all the time?

You tell me, "Life is hard to bear." But why should you have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the evening?

Life is hard to bear: but do not pretend to be so delicate! We are all of us fine sumpter asses and she-asses.

What do we have in common with the rose-bud, which trembles because a drop of dew lies on it?

It is true we love life; not because we are wont to live, but because we are wont to love.

There is always some madness in love. But there is always, also, some method in madness.
Yes, I know your danger. But by my love and hope I beseech you: do not throw away your love and hope!

You still feel noble, and others still feel your nobility, though they bear you a grudge and cast evil glances. Know that the noble one stands in everyones way.

To the good, also, a noble one stands in the way: and even when they call him a good man, they want to push him aside.

The noble man would create the new, and a new virtue. The good want the old, and that the old should be preserved.

But it is not the danger of the noble man that he might become one of the good, but that he might become a blusterer, a scoffer, or a destroyer.

Ah! I have known noble ones who lost their highest hope. And then they slandered all high hopes.

Then they lived shamelessly in brief pleasures, only lived from day to day.

"Spirit too is lust,"- they said. The wings of their spirit are broken; and now their spirit crawls about, and defiles what it gnaws.

Once they thought of becoming heroes; now they are libertines. The idea of the hero offends and troubles them.

But by my love and hope I beseech you: do not throw away the hero in your soul! Keep sacred your highest hope!-

Thus spoke Zarathustra.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra


The Search for Meaning in American: Part 2

1.19.2004

(Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Eschaton)

We are as forlorn as children lost in the wood. When you stand in front of me an look at me, what do you know of the grief's that are in me and what do I know of yours. And if I were to cast myself down before you and tell you, what more would you know about me that you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell.

-Franz Kafka

In the search for meaning we are bombarded by the multitude of messages competing for our attention. In the case for war we weave through the complex and cold calculus of body counting to convince ourselves that one way ultimately leads to less pain, suffering, and death. Down this road all manner of judgements are laid out for the dissenters, warmongers, pacifists, crusaders, and fanatics. Ad hominems rise in regularity like Sunday hymns turned on their heads and perfected by preacher pundits.

In Part 1 I expressed some concern over the mixing of marketing know-how into religious proselytizing and politics. I wondered if the packaging of Jesus played into the glaring discrepancy between George Bush's claim that Jesus is his favorite philosopher and George's actions. This prompted me to open up my copy of the New Testament, which is translated from the Latin Vulgate, revised from the Challoner-Rheims version, and edited by Catholic Scholars as The Confraternity Revision of The New Testament.

It starts in the usual way with St. Matthew who begins with a lot of boring talk of begetting before he gets into the myth of the Holy Spirit impregnating Mary. After talking about the family running around until settling in Nazareth there's this huge gap in the story. Not a word even hints as to a reason for this omission. Suddenly Jesus is all grown up and bumps into John the Baptist. Everyone knows growing up is an awkward stage in life that involves experimentation. Did Jesus experiment as a teenager? There are plenty of stories of people taking a heap of drugs and thinking they're Jesus. When Bill Hicks took his "heroic dose" of Psilocybin mushrooms he lay down in a field and thought, "I love everything."

"You have heard that it was said to the ancients, "thou shalt not kill'; and that whoever shall kill shall be liable to judgement. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; and whoever says to his brother, 'Raca [empty-headed],' shall be liable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, 'Thou fool!', shall be liable to the fire of Gehenna. Therefore if thou art offering they gift at the alter, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee, leave thy gift before the alter and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Come to terms with thy opponent quickly while thou art with him on the way; lest thy opponent deliver thee to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Amen [Hebrew for "surely"] I say to thee, thou wilt not come out from it unit thou hast paid the last penny.

-St. Matthew 5,21-26

That seems well and good, but it's not reflective of Bush's admiration of capitol punishment and his intolerance of opinion, which is revealed in how he doesn't read newspapers and doesn't think "...that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots." Why? "This is one nation under God."

"You have heard that it was said to the ancients, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' But I say to you that anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

"So if thy right eye is an occasion of sin to thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is better for thee that one of thy members should perish than that thy whole body should be thrown into hell. And if thy right hand is an occasion of sin to thee, cut it off and cast it from thee; for it is better for thee that one of thy members should be lost than that thy whole body should go into hell.

It was said, moreover, 'Whoever puts away his wife, let him give her a written notice of dismissal.' But I say to you that everyone who puts away his wife, save on account of immorality, causes her to commit adultery; and he who marries a woman who has been put away commits adultery.

-St. Matthew 5,27-32

Bush putting John Ashcroft in charge of cracking down on Internet pornography and how he is investing in marriage propaganda fits in this sense. The next part about discarding parts of your body that you think are evil sound like where the Evil Dead movies drew inspiration from. It doesn't make much sense to me. How does an eye, hand, or toenail sin? That sounds so insane. The last bit about "putting away" wives sounds sexist (which seems OK to Bush, but maybe he has an excuse). Clearly, Jesus is not perfect, but a product of his more misogynistic time. That doesn't stop him from demanding perfection.

"You have heard that it was said. 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and shalt hate thy enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do that? And if you salute your brethren only, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do that?
"You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.

-St. Matthew 5,43-48

No pressure there! Loving your enemy sounds dandy and that whole non-violence thing worked great for Ghandi. Other than getting murdered it worked marvelous for Martin Luther King Jr. and Steve Biko. I guess they followed Jesus to the end. It's an end that sounds good when Jesus says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth." He later follows with, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Somehow "meek" doesn't even enter into the Bush equation and what seems to be missing in the coverage about protesters to Bush showing up at MLK's grave is that it's an empty gesture to a man that gave his life for non-violence from a man lied for violence. So it's not damned if you do and damned if you don't. It's damned if leaving wreaths is all you do.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it... Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

If we take out the lying, the poor diplomacy, the no-bid contracts of war profiteering, the complete lack of post-war planning, and the denial of the risks of depleted uranium then there's still the good intention of free Iraq from Saddam.

The opposite of good is good intentions.

-Kurt Tucholsky

Maybe Jesus recognizes the limits of his conception of justice when it comes to things like sex. After talking about how he is not out to destroy the old law, in 5, 20 he says, "For I say to you that unless your justice exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."

There is no way to suppress change... not even in heaven; there is only a choice between a way of living that allows constant, if gradual, alterations and a way of living that combines great control and cataclysmic upheavals.

Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World (found at)

Like Erasmus, I don't think that Jesus wanted us to abandon peace when confronted by murderers and rapists, but you can't turn the other cheek after the murderer shoots you in the first one. He did not resist arrest and told Peter "Put back thy sword into its place; for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword. [26,52]" He didn't even stop his own execution, but is that merely because he knew it to be his destiny? What of those sick he cured? We they not destined to be sick? What about killing one to save 20 or other morally convoluted situations?

Moral questions can get quite complex when framed for peace. The war frame is more like setting up a Gordian Knot cutting business that makes ends instead of looking for them. Our own emotions may cloud our reason and make us persue revenge that perpetuates the problem. Emotions enable people to gloss over the inconsistencies of ideology on either side.

Thus avowedly antihumanist ideas have been increasingly breaking the surface of public discourse after 9/11--whether as the open advocacy of imperialism by Robert Kaplan or the "new racism" that justifies itself not on the basis of the "cultural" or "natural" superiority of the West but according to "unabashed economic egotism" (Welcome 149). Yet such appeals to brute, naked force and amoral national interest run counter to the value system of Christian morality (underscored by the title of Kaplan's book) that informs mainstream American society. It is instructive here to refer to Zizek's account of ideology, the function of which is to "combine a series of 'inconsistent' attitudes" inclusive of sentiments of both assent and critique, so that the "obscene unwritten rules" which sustain power may prevail over the public Law (Plague 75, 73). Ideology is thus a way to "have one's cake and eat it," providing unity for heterogeneous and contradictory positions, such as believing in the existence of a Christian God and a moral universe while approving of tyrannies and massacres in developing countries as the necessary conditions for one's own peace, security, and economic well-being.

-Peter Yoonsuk Paik, Smart Bombs, Serial Killing, and the Rapture: The Vanishing Bodies of Imperial Apocalypticism

When not feeding emotions, the Christian ego is fed an end of the world fantasy series written as speculative fact that dismisses the idea of ending war and cooperative world government as a lie of the antichrist.

The apocalyptic of Left Behind, by contrast, is uncoupled from any concrete demand for social justice, and in fact advocates a political stance that opposes peace, especially in the Middle East, on principle, for the very reason that the Antichrist will dangle the vision of international harmony before a gullible globe as an irresistible lure for setting up his one-world government. Indeed, such humanistic ideas as religious tolerance, the rule of international law, and nuclear disarmament are all exposed in the novels as being ruses of the devil.

The categorical rejection of working for peace as playing into the hands of the Antichrist results less in the active embrace of war as a means of achieving concrete foreign policy objectives than in a viewpoint which greets the outbreak of wars as confirmation that the Millennium is near. The readiness to approve of wars as fitting into the workings of a divine plan would make this brand of twenty-first-century American millenarianism an ideological partner, albeit a volatile one, to the neo-imperialism of the second Bush administration.

-Peter Yoonsuk Paik, Smart Bombs, Serial Killing, and the Rapture: The Vanishing Bodies of Imperial Apocalypticism

This puts Pat's support in a different light, but I haven't found any outright connection with Pat and Eschaton ideas. Though his statement reeks of antinomianism.

We have more than the doom-sayers repeating John the Baptist's cry, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." We have those that simply believe that Satan guides certain prominent figures.

So when our born-again president refers to Osama bin Laden as "the Evil One," he is not dealing in metaphor or analogy, even assuming he is capable of such things. Rather he is addressing his co-religionists in a not-so-secret code. "That makes perfect sense to a born-again believer," Ellis says. "Evil, like God, is One. So you can say, and believe in, an 'Axis of Evil,' because you know that the person who is giving the orders to bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and the leader of Iran and the leader of North Korea is, of course, Satan."

Ellis also believes that the current belief in Satanic evil (and the Saddam-Osama linkage) is connected to 20th-century right-wing fantasies about the Illuminati, a Jewish-run conspiracy that aimed at taking over the world, often through the United Nations, an international banking consortium or some other nightmarish force. "You did not have to believe that the members of the Illuminati all belonged to the same ideology or ethnic group," he says. "Some would be communists, some would be alleged liberals, some would be terrorists. But they would all be working together in the same diabolically inspired plan."

As a scholar and historian, Ellis is inclined to believe that religious manias, both of the Christian and occult varieties, inevitably burn themselves out. Organized religion and the folk-witchcraft traditions, he suggests, balance each other out in the long term in what he calls a "Luciferian dialectic." But as the witch trials of medieval Europe and colonial Massachusetts, the Red Scare of the 1950s and the Satan panic of the 1980s also indicate, these moments of ecstatic belief can also produce fervent persecutions of dissidents, heretics and perceived enemies of all kinds.

-Andrew O'Hehir, How Satan is propping up Bush's war on terror

Meaning is given to life by way of taking a side against the eternal (or at least until the Rapture) struggle against Evil. This fight requires a stricter form of government and reduces the need to understand the world. It becomes a simple good vs. evil dichotomy. But if it's evil that we are fighting, then why aren't we assembling crack teams of exorcists to infiltrate terrorist cells to drive the demons out?

The modern view makes possession by evil a permanent matter, like the vampires (tangent: What is it with Garlic?) of From Dusk Till Dawn, or that some are born bad as the title Natural Born Killers suggests. Perhaps the large popularity of the The Lord of the Rings films is due to it's reassuring message of a clear evil threat and it's pessimistic attitude towards progress through industry. Tolkien began writing the trilogy during World War I, which was thought to be the end time too.

One holdout among the evil fantasy fatalists is Lost Boys use of the vampire myth. Killing the head vampire would result in a cure to everyone he had infected. This hope is what made Saddam's capture important and is what makes Osama's capture even more so.

The need for things to follow neat and tidy plot endings is not limited to those of religious belief. Terence McKenna developed his Timewave Zero Eschaton with a little help from his psychedelic friends. The fractal wave of time and novelty confronts humanity with the end of our human level of consciousness that can't cope with the explosion of information. I feel that humans are well insulated from information to avoid such a catastrophe and that perhaps the fractal model should be a Koch Snowflake. After all, the existence of novelty does not directly translate into a person's knowledge of it, but we are free to travel the fringes of the flake as far as we can. I have a hard time taking Terence seriously (I don't understand why The Invisibles got the attention it did either. It is merely Grant as trickster). Terence believed that the internet was a "global mind" when it's more like a global computer that's incapable of thought and may only achieve a false mental mimicry.

If the confidence man is one of America's unacknowledged founding fathers, then instead of saying that there are no modern tricksters one could argue the opposite: trickster is everywhere. To travel from place to place in the ancient world was not only unusual, it was often taken to be a sign of mental derangement..., but now everyone travels. If by "America" we mean the land of rootless wanderers and the free market, the land not of the natives but of immigrants, opportunity and therefore opportunists, the land where individuals are allowed and even encouraged to act without regard to community, then trickster has not disappeared. "America" is his apotheosis; he pandemic.

- Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes the World

Perhaps most Americans have been tricked into their worship of competition and then starved of information that would enable them to see the faults of markets so free of compassion. Why is it that more are not asking why we don't invest in peace even though we claim to love it?

Rather than accept the criteria of merit being used in this society, usually derived from elevating the needs of the corporations for a certain kind of worker into some kind of transcendent value for everyone, we argued that the wrong things are being valued and measured. We argued that society needs a New Bottom Line of love and caring, ethical/spiritual/ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation. We said, "Create institutions that value these characteristics, and use them as the criterion for definitions of efficiency, productivity, and rationality, and you will find that those talented in this way are more evenly distributed across class, sex and racial backgrounds." We currently reward people who can serve narrow technocratic enterprises, when we should be rewarding those who are best at developing a more loving, ecologically sane, spiritually aware, community-oriented world-- those who will build a saner society for us rather than the kinds of people who are currently getting into the elite colleges and being told that they have proven their merit. What was needed, we argued, was to change the criterion of merit.

But there was yet another dimension to what we discovered. People have a deep hunger for a different kind of world than the one we live in. Most people, we discovered, are not like those portrayed daily on television and the movies--ruthless self-seeking maximizers of their own advantage who don't care about anyone else. Instead, the picture is more complex. Most people have a kind of dual consciousness, or two voices in their head. One is a voice that very much wishes to live in harmony with others, cooperating with others, receiving and giving recognition to others. There is in most of us a deep yearning for a world based on love and caring, generosity, social justice and fairness, ecological harmony and peace. Most people wish to make a contribution to building this kind of world, and feel that their lives have meaning to the extent that they can do so, either on a personal or a communal level. They desire lives that have this kind of meaning, a meaning that transcends the dynamics of the competitive marketplace and connects them with a higher purpose for their lives.

Yet there is also another voice inside almost everyone: a voice that speaks in the name of their parents and teachers and the larger society, which tells them that these desires are "unrealistic" because the world is actually structured in accord with a ruthless struggle for power and money, and that if they don't develop within themselves the personality traits and skills to succeed in this struggle that they will find themselves getting screwed by others who are ruthlessly pursuing their own self-interest. Cooperation and love, they are taught, are beautiful ideals best left to church, synagogue, or mosque, but in the real world they will encounter most people driven by self-seeking needs and they had better do the same.

-Rabbi Michael Lerner (A member of the The Tikkun Community), Closed Hearts, Closed Minds

A search for meaning is found in your connections with others. Only then can you see the mirror of doubt, hope, humor, love, and despair of living that is missing from solitude. In the same way, no nation can hope to stray into solitude and survive. When looking to other nations, one must not see them as merely resources of oil or cheap labor, but equal partners of an increasingly smaller planet. Let's put the heart back in the homeland.

I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it—our life—hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly.

But let all this threaten to become impossible for ever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! If only the cataclysm doesn't happen this time, we won't miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.

The cataclysm doesn't happen, we don't do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of ordinary life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn't have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.

- Marcel Proust

Maybe there is no End, but we should always have the thirst for life that it's coming brings us. Maybe the story of the Gordian Knot is that we make ends of the endless in order to cut through the brainless beat of nature and in so doing carve our own destiny and meaning.

I'm sorry Mr. Jackson

1.11.2004

(Philosophy, Politics, Jacksonians)

It has been a while since I last decided to untangle the twisted logic of the eject!³ guy. This time it is about the notion that we need to listen to the Jacksonians. He starts out by pointing to this article that den Beste worships.

The first principle of this code is self-reliance. Real Americans, many Americans feel, are people who make their own way in the world. They may get a helping hand from friends and family, but they hold their places in the world through honest work. They don't slide by on welfare, and they don't rely on inherited wealth or connections. Those who won't work and are therefore poor, or those who don't need to work due to family money, are viewed with suspicion. Those who meet the economic and moral tests belong to the broad Middle Class, the folk community of working people that Jacksonians believe to be the heart, soul and spine of the American nation. Earning and keeping a place in this community on the basis of honest work is the first principle of Jacksonian honor, and it remains a serious insult even to imply that a member of the American middle class is not pulling his or her weight in the world.

-Walter Mead

He's trying to impress upon us the idea that Jacksonians are about honor. Self-reliance is a great idea, but it is used as a wedge against the poor. The irony of their ideas is that being poor is the fault of the poor and that welfare rewards them for doing nothing rather then keeping them from starving (let's just skip my ideas on how welfare should do more as far as education, etc.). There's irony in how inherited wealth is met with suspicion, but they favor erasing the estate tax.

Jacksonian honor must be acknowledged by the outside world. One is entitled to, and demands, the appropriate respect: recognition of rights and just claims, acknowledgment of one's personal dignity. Many Americans will still fight, sometimes with weapons, when they feel they have not been treated with the proper respect. But even among the less violent, Americans stand on their dignity and rights. Respect is also due age.

-Walter Mead

Ah yes, defending honor via violence is a sure sign of a good upbringing. Honor and glory are linked and since glory is not confined by morality it allows the honor bound to act quite viciously.

While "Jacksonians are civil libertarians, passionately attached to the Constitution and especially to the Bill of Rights" this does not include the first amendment and speech that offends someone's cherished honor. And that respect for age seems to come short of cutting Social Security or Medicare checks. It's like "honoring" troops by pushing for war.

The second principle of the code is equality.

-Walter Mead

You can see this expressed by the paragraphs that open this essay. Jacksonians believe that everyone should be killed in war. Civilians should not be counted out of the body counts. Of course, he recognizes the "nativist" (racist) origins of the movement that suggest it's only the equality among white, middle-class Americans that is important and that "free, white and twenty-one" as a "sentiment is as true as it ever was."

The third principle is individualism. The Jacksonian does not just have the right to self-fulfillment—he or she has a duty to seek it. In Jacksonian America, everyone must find his or her way: each individual must choose a faith, or no faith, and code of conduct based on conscience and reason.

-Walter Mead

This seems all right, doesn't it? The problem comes when recognizing that individualism has its limits in the community.

Independent and difficult to discipline, they have nevertheless demonstrated magnificent fighting qualities in every corner of the world. Jacksonian America views military service as a sacred duty. When Hamiltonians, Wilsonians and Jeffersonians dodged the draft in Vietnam or purchased exemptions and substitutes in earlier wars, Jacksonians soldiered on, if sometimes bitterly and resentfully. An honorable person is ready to kill or to die for family and flag.

-Walter Mead

So an individual must bend to whom the government decides we must war with. Courage in taking a stand for your principles regarding what justifies war is frowned on because it is honorable to be ready to kill for threats to "family and flag" even though you don't think those threats are valid. Confidence in their ability to know the truth like the guilt of a suspect enables them to embrace state murder as well as use deadly force "to defend family and property." It is why we have the word "idiotarian." For those they deem without honor, are like "feral beasts" and this makes it easier to bomb them all to oblivion. Jacksonians are quite tribal in this sense.

The absolute and even brutal distinction drawn between the members of the community and outsiders has had massive implications in American life. Throughout most of American history the Jacksonian community was one from which many Americans were automatically and absolutely excluded: Indians, Mexicans, Asians, African Americans, obvious sexual deviants and recent immigrants of non-Protestant heritage have all felt the sting. Historically, the law has been helpless to protect such people against economic oppression, social discrimination and mob violence, including widespread lynchings. Legislators would not enact laws, and if they did, sheriffs would not arrest, prosecutors would not try, juries would not convict.

-Walter Mead

This ironic fear of immigrants is counter-productive. Another irony is Mead making a connection to Jacksonian ideas of equality and the actions of Martin Luther King.

Yes, the Pentagon should spend its money more carefully, but let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. Stories about welfare abusers in limousines and foreign aid swindles generate more anger among Jacksonians than do stories of $600 hammers at the Pentagon.

-Walter Mead

We are all against waste, but holding up the lie about "welfare queens in limousines" against real waste (slightly inflated) is obscene. But to actually address the complexities of confronting corruption is not a strong point of Jacksonian thinking.

The profoundly populist world-view of Jacksonian Americans contributes to one of the most important elements in their politics: the belief that while problems are complicated, solutions are simple.

-Walter Mead

Complexity is met with distrust (The eject!³ guy's other post expressed a strong hatred to deconstructionists). They seek the simple and sheltered life because, "it is certainly true that the Jacksonian philosophy is embraced by many people who know very little about the wider world." They favor their "set of beliefs and emotions" over ideology. This is why humanitarian relief and activism in foreign policy is rejected in favor of realpolitik.

An American foreign policy that, for example, takes tax money from middle-class Americans to give to a corrupt and incompetent dictatorship overseas is nonsense; it hurts Americans and does little for Borrioboola-Gha. Countries, like families, should take care of their own; if everybody did that we would all be better off. Charity, meanwhile, should be left to private initiatives and private funds; Jacksonian America is not ungenerous but it lacks all confidence in the government's ability to administer charity, either at home or abroad.

-Walter Mead

It's kind of hard to understand how they can believe "countries should take care of their own" while being against welfare, but it's because they have the worst opinion of government.

Career politicians are inherently untrustworthy; if it spends its life buzzing around the outhouse, it's probably a fly. Jacksonians see corruption as human nature and, within certain ill-defined boundaries of reason and moderation, an inevitable by-product of government.

-Walter Mead

So since the complexities of controlling corruption elude them, they view it as inevitable. They also think that the outside world will remain "anarchic and violent." Earthquake suffers in Iran would not see anything from the US government. This also makes it easy to justify killing foreigners to ensure that our way of life continues without even the slightest stutter. "The atrocity propaganda about alleged Iraqi barbarisms in Kuwait did not inspire Jacksonians to war," but threaten to slow down our economy through oil and it's time to roll!

But the fun side of the Jacksonians is their Old Testament viewpoint of the world.

No matter how much money we ship overseas, and no matter how cleverly the development bureaucrats spend it, it will not create peace on earth. Plans for universal disarmament and world courts of justice founder on the same rock of historical skepticism. Jacksonians just tend not to believe that any of these things will do much good.

In fact, they think they may do harm. Linked to the skepticism about man-made imitations of the Kingdom of God is a deep apprehension about the rise of an evil world order. In theological terms, this is a reference to the fear of the anti-Christ, who, many commentators affirm, is predicted in Scripture to come with the appearance of an angel of light—a charismatic political figure who offers what looks like a plan for world peace and order, but which is actually a Satanic snare intended to deceive.

-Walter Mead

Who can argue with this logic? Don't you know that Satan's coming for you? Do what the good book tells you to! They truly are the party of the paranoid.

They are also the most vicious in war. Though they proclaim honor, I don't see any when they are in favor of destroying villages, destroying the food supply, and killing civilians in order to destroy the will of the enemy.

The only reason Jacksonian opinion has ever accepted not to use nuclear weapons is the prospect of retaliation.

-Walter Mead

For politicians, dealing with Jacksonians is a perilous enterprise.

The United States cannot wage a major international war without Jacksonian support; once engaged, politicians cannot safely end the war except on Jacksonian terms [unconditional surrender].

-Walter Mead

This fear of the Jacksonians, according to Mead, is an asset to our foreign relations, but whether or not this fear actually maintains our alienation from other countries is not addressed.

It may also be worth noting that the images of American propensities to violence, and of the capabilities of American military forces and intelligence operatives, are so widely distributed in the media that they may actually heighten international respect for American strength and discourage attempts to test it.

-Walter Mead

I'll move on to "THE SLEEP OF THE JACKSONIANS (AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT)."

Like the last time I looked at this guy's writing he can't help, but drool over the few fanatics on the web that support his delusions before getting into it.

[then]

Sometimes it seems like half of what I learned this past year have come from the comments section after each of these essays – and when I say half, I mean, the good half.

One of the things that makes the current political debate so rancorous is that we do a lot of talking past each other, because the old labels no longer seem to apply. Rachel Lucas is a gun-toting, idiot-intolerant, pro-gay, pro-choice conservative. My Liege Lord and Master, Emperor Misha I, the Hammer of Idiotarians, is a deeply religious, formidably armed firebrand who smashes with righteous fury any homophobic or racist morons who darken his cyberdoor. And Kim Du Toit, the rootin'-est, tootin'-est bad-ass hombre who ever lived, a veritable poster boy for the idea of an assault rifle in every crib, is a former South African who marched in the streets against racism and took huge risks fighting for the equality of all of his fellow citizens before he came home to America.
[now]

It's been my pleasure to have met or spoken directly to Steve Den Beste, Glenn Reynolds, Charles Johnson, Kim and Connie Du Toit, Emperor Misha I, Rachel Lucas, Roger Simon, and many other webloggers – not to mention a sizable contingent of you kind readers. And what has amazed and delighted me most is just how varied and diverse a group it is, and yet, one driven by an identical passion to do or write or say what they can to help defend this country when it is under attack, both physical and ideological. So far, the only thing I have been able to find in common among us is a deep and abiding sense of gratitude for being lucky enough to live in this magnificent nation.

Of course, I have to admit after "Having read, and re-read, the Mead article mentioned above, I would have to define every one of us as Jacksonians." I would have to change the "us" to mean "them" and the "re-read" to simply "read." Once was enough. They also all use "Idiotarian" without irony. "This scares the living hell out of me." OK, maybe not and maybe you've never heard "jump the shark" before either. But in case you do and in case you remember the part about Jacksonians being a bit paranoid, then this will come as no surprise.

Far more pernicious is the battle for the very idea of what this country is and should be, a culture war that prior to 9/11, we were losing and losing badly – if for no other reason than the fact that we elected not to fight it at all.

It is this fight I feel I must now turn us toward – the battle for the soul of this civilization that has given so much to so many. Taking a cue from the brilliant military successes we have gained in Afghanistan and Iraq, it will require a different strategy and different tactics. Rather than a single blast of buckshot at a solitary, huge target, I feel that we'll have to start plinking at smaller things with higher-powered ammo. It's my hope that for the next several months, you will see these smaller and perhaps less soaring essays as part of a larger, more tightly themed book, for that is what they will be.

After some editing. After a lot of editing.

So this is our new ground: the fight for the soul of our country as a haven for individualism, reason, science, morality, strength and responsibility in a sea of ships wrecked on the shoals of socialism, tribalism and political correctness. And if, at its best, my previous work was a call to arms, then the work we set out on now, together, will be more in the way of a repair manual.

This is less glamorous work, to be sure. It is also more difficult. My goal is to create a handbook for the kind of American Citizen we all wish to be, and as so many times in the past, defining just who and what that person looks like is something we will work out, together, you and me.

Hmmmm. Individualism vs. handbook for the ideal American Citizen. The soul of our country vs. socialism, tribalism and political correctness. Hmmmm. Nah, too easy.

I did get quite a chuckle from this comment.

Reading Walter Russell Mead's essay The Jacksonian Tradition evoked the same feeling as when I read Atlas Shrugged for the first time. The thrill is not for a new idea, but for ideas long known that are suddenly made clear. Simply spectacular. Thank you.

Posted by: Bonnie

It looks like we all got the author's bug lately. I'll be back with part 2 of The Search for Meaning in America soon.


The Search for Meaning in America: Part 1

1.6.2004

(Philosophy, Politics, The Media)

1. Talk to people.
2. Know your neighbors.
3. Develop a sense of place.
4. Know the history of your neighborhood.
5. Help out where and when you can.
6. Form a meaningful community.
7. Don't waste time.
8. Don't try to escape a sense of meaninglessness by turning to alcohol, drugs, TV or "just relaxing."
9. Create a vision of your own life.
10. Discuss.

-from Robert H. Lichtenbert's newsletter, The Meaning of Life

On the heels of my closing take on 2003, I decided to take a more active part on Metafilter. I was trying to get beyond the Democrat doomsayers concerning Iraq and get into a discussion about how we can succeed there. Proclaiming the approach is failing in order to counter the neocon denial is deemed more important, but to me it seems more like image management at the expense of the Iraqis and our troops.

I was never convinced that the current administration could handle the postwar situation in Iraq. Some believe it was never their intention and that they wanted to destabilize the region. "Destabilize" is a deft deception of a naming convention for what has become a humanitarian disaster. This fed my cause against the war in the first place and unfortunately I was right. Such was the utter neglect to post-war planning that Zinni's Desert Crossing plan was ignored. I can only speculate that it would have made things less deadly for our troops. In the same way, I can only speculate that better diplomacy would have won UN support that would have put the reconstruction on a faster and safer track. But Arrogance and denial seem to be common neocon traits and are clearly illustrated by persistently polemic posts of self-labeled "anti-idiotarian" websites.

The situation doesn't seem entirely hopeless, but as with any operation proper methods are crucial for positive change. The only candidate with a plan for getting out of Iraq is Kucinich. I'm not entirely sure pulling out completely is a good idea, but Saddam is no longer a threat. If we don't have troops there, are they going to keep attacking the UN? As far as I know there was only one such incident, but it doesn't even answer the question of who is attacking. Should we care? If Iraq is now free, why can they decide what kind of government to have or was freeing Iraq a lie too?

Credibility problems only increase when accompanied by lies. The majority of the media has let them slide for so long and yet media reform is met with doubt. Do Andrew and Steve prefer lies to their journalists having political views? Andrew's head is so firmly stuck in the sand that he refuses to accept the "notion that the administration is deliberately and maliciously destroying the public good for private interests" and calls Bill "rhetorically-challenged." He can't be bothered to confront what Bill says and resorts to insults in the same manner Steve resorts to saying he's right because his worldview is winning. Confronting how things like Medicare have been on the chopping block for years and the record of failure to put the public in front of corporate profits would have been an impossible task.

To argue that is it OK for your government to lie is becoming a major problem for the Republicans after coming down on Clinton for lying about sex. It shouldn't have happened in either case. Politicians may be known to lie, but they should always be held accountable. Instead we are told that making Iraq free was worth lying about its WMD threat and terrorist ties, but if more urgent WMD threats are ignored and the situation in Iraq gets worse, how will the administration spins it then?

Of course, the spin is not limited to those in the White House. A sample from the dark humor of list for last year shows how one event can be spin for just about everyone. It's the story of what happened in Fallujah on April 28. Students protested that US forces were stationed at their school. Whether or not some of the students were armed with AK-47s or rocks or nothing at all is still a question to some. There are few images of what happened so it becomes ripe for spin.

A lot of what French writers such as Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard later wrote about the "society of the spectacle" and the "simulacrum" Boorstin had already said.

Boorstin thought that the image had taken over not because of anything to do with the nature of capitalism (a word that, amazingly, does not appear in his book) but because Americans couldn't face ordinary life, in which the excellent and the extraordinary are rare, and most things are difficult, imperfect, disappointing, or boring. Americans needed their experience to be constantly sweetened, like chewing gum, and a whole industry had grown up to provide this artificially enhanced reality. Boorstin thought that this pseudo-world had become, Matrix-like, so nearly complete that it controlled even its controllers.

"Our national politics has become a competition for images or between images, rather than between ideals," Boorstin concluded. "An effective president must be every year more concerned with projecting images of himself." In 1961, this observation seemed alarming or alarmist. Today, no wisdom is more conventional. Reflection on the manufactured quality of the event is a required element in the analysis of manufactured events. Journalists whose business is made possible by the contrivance of political spectacles masquerading as news—the photo op, the press conference, the television debate—feel obliged to point out, ruefully (or conveying an image of ruefulness), how much campaign energy is put into contriving political spectacles. The value of an image in politics is like the value of a stock in the market: it already reflects a discount against the future charge of dissimulation. This is the epistemological challenge that Boorstin and Boulding were talking about. A manufactured event is somehow true and not true. John Kerry on the motorcycle, George Bush on the flight deck: the knowledge that these perfectly real things are also "images" whose "reality" should be regarded with skepticism is part of their content. Everyone knows that "it's just an image." But what, exactly, does that mean?

- Louis Menand, Masters of the Matrix

I asked a question. I was curious about how symbolism and images dominate the presidency that they become fodder for superstitious speculation.

In 1929, Herbert Hoover wanted the Bible used in the swearing-in to be opened to the Sermon on the Mount, but because of some last-minute confusion over logistics, the pages were turned at random, and his fingers touched a verse from Proverbs: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." (The stock market crashed within eight months, and four years later, on the afternoon before Inauguration Day, a venomous confrontation erupted between the unseated Hoover and his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt.)

-Burt Solomon, Inauguration will set tone for Bush presidency (link)

Perhaps, the omen from the last one was how many police in riot gear there were, since I can't seem to find what page the Bible was open to for him. But we all know he's been open to Bible in almost every speech and considers Jesus his favorite philosopher, which many rightly criticize. Capitol punishment doesn't seem to characterize Christ. Is this more spin and has it made his opponents more religious in order to win?

All nine Democratic candidates claim to believe in God. But aside from the Rev Al Sharpton and the orthodox Jewish candidate Joe Lieberman, both unlikely to win the nomination, none of the frontrunners has star potential as preachers. Gen Clark, whose father was Jewish, was brought up as a Methodist, converted to Catholicism before serving in Vietnam and now attends Presbyterian church services. In a carefully placed interview with an ecumenical website, Gen Clark has attempted to explain his complicated spiritual life: "I'm spiritual," said the general, "I'm religious. I'm a strong Christian and I'm a Catholic but I go to a Presbyterian church. Occasionally I go to the Catholic church, too." As one senior Democrat commented: "He's taking the religious idea very seriously. But it's quite a confusing biography to present."

-Julius Coman, Telegraph UK

"With all those who understood the deeper meaning of the Gospels in Matthew 25, when Christ said, 'When I was hungry did you feed me? When I was homeless did you shelter me?' and then went on to say, 'Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me' - that's the interconnectedness," he said in an interview with the Monitor. "That is the leitmotif of interconnectedness, right there, it says it all. And so my work in public life resounds with that connection to higher principles and with an understanding of the power of the human heart."

-Harry Bruinius, Kucinich: fervently unconventional

Dr. Dean recently told an audience in Iowa that he prayed daily. On the plane he declined to detail his prayer ritual but described how a 2002 trip to Israel deepened his understanding of the connections between Judaism and Christianity. He named Job as his favorite New Testament book, then later corrected himself, noting that it is in the Old Testament.

-Jodi Wilgoren, Dean Narrowing His Separation of Church and Stump

Kucinich even has Willie Nelson coming up with news songs for him. In fact, the more I look at how Kucinich weighs in on the issues the more I like him. What can beat an endorsement by Willie?

The Lord has just blessed [George Bush]. I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him.

-Pat Robertson (source)

This explains a lot. But the question remains concerning the other members of the trinity. The Holy Ghost doesn't seen to get much press, but Jesus is big in America. In the 1980 movie Oh, God! Book II God enlisted the help of a man for an advertising campaign to "Think God" and now billboards all over America are promoting Jesus by simple phrases like the one off of Chicago's I-294 that says "Just give me Jesus" to the one word simplicity of "Jesus." Whether or not this was a reaction to what Muslims in California did in 2002 is uncertain, but getting people to see Jesus is becoming a new industry.

A restauranteur on the East coast has sagging sales and needs a boost. He contacts IseeJesus.com. A week later, in full view of staff and customers, the owner 'accidently' drops a bag of flour. The resulting flour cloud settles across a visible surface (wall or pizza oven). The owner stares oddly at the wall, walks over to it, takes a large breath, and blows off the flour. Suddenly, in the remaining flour on the wall, a holy face can now be seen. Word spreads and the restaurant serves as much pizza as they can make to those who've come to see.

-I See Jesus

If your church baptized 671 new believers, added 1,200 new members, and increased your average attendance by 2,000 in just 40 days, would you call that a revival?

If, during those same 40 days, 2,200 previously uninvolved people volunteered to serve in a ministry of your church, and another 3,700 committed to go on missions somewhere in the world next year, what would you call that? An awakening?

What term would you use if your members became so burdened for their neighbors that they started 2,400 Home Bible Study groups and convinced nearly 25,000 of their friends, neighbors, and co-workers to attend for six weeks? A miracle?

Whatever you call it, this actually happened at Saddleback Church in the Fall of 2002 during an incredible spiritual growth emphasis called 40 Days of Purpose.

-40 Days of Purpose (where's the money back guarantee? Bah, I'll wait for PurposeExpress 20 Days to a Meaningful Life)

A search for meaning in American looks like a road to Jesus, but whose version of Jesus is it? Are we remaking him in our image or, like Jefferson, separating the man from the myth? Is this quest involved with a larger confrontation with evil? How much is our conception of these things affected by the growing use of marketing techniques borrowed from commercial advertising?

I'm going to give these questions a look at in part 2.

Mea culpa on taxes

12.03.2003

(Estate Tax, Chicago, Medicare, Politics)

link to this below
I never could believe that Providence had sent a few men into the world, ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden.

-Richard Rumbold

I've been pretty harsh on the whole Estate Tax (Republican translation: Death Tax) issue because I had read that it was only a matter for folks of large estates. I'm thinking Carnegie scale and the reality was that it affected those at every level from rates of 18% to 55%. That makes William H. Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins's statement that, "Only estates worth more than $1 million (or $2 million for couples) are subject to the tax" a blatant lie. That is unless the Cornell data is the old law.

Of course all this tax stuff is fairly opaque to me, but from the same article by Gates:

The United States also stands to lose one of its most progressive federal taxes. Only estates worth more than $1 million (or $2 million for couples) are subject to the tax -- and the bulk of it is paid by the fewer than 3,000 estates with assets in excess of $5 million. Thanks to the Bush tax cut, between now and 2009 the exemptions will rise to $3.5 million for an individual ($7 million for couples).

Some people object to the notion of a tax at death, but taxing dead multimillionaires is eminently more fair than taxing the not-so-rich living. Between now and 2052, the intergenerational transfer of wealth is projected to reach between $41 trillion and $136 trillion. An estimated one-third to one-half of this wealth will be transferred by estates worth more than $5 million. The estate tax, should it remain in place, will therefore be an increasingly significant progressive source of revenue in the coming decades. Meanwhile, state budgets, already straining from plummeting tax revenues, will lose more than $6.5 billion a year when state-linked revenue from the estate tax is eliminated in 2005.

I see nothing wrong with not taking from the not-so-disgustingly rich. The whole argument to tax these folks for fear of establishing an aristocracy is absurd. We should retain the tax for those capable of appearing in the Rich Girls realm. There will be plenty left over for them after Daddy dies to never work a day of their lives. After all, he can't take it with him and to benefit those still hanging on Estate Tax should be directly tied to Social Security.

I find the arguments for the total repeal hard to swallow. Greed is good to the richest of the rich as any Wall Street watcher knows. Their points are:

  • The existence of the estate tax this century has reduced the stock of capital in the economy by approximately $497 billion, or 3.2 percent.
  • The distortionary incentives in the estate tax result in the inefficient allocation of resources, discouraging saving and investment and lowering the after-tax return on investments.
  • The estate tax is extremely punitive, with marginal tax rates ranging from 37 percent to nearly 80 percent in some instances.
  • The estate tax is a leading cause of dissolution for thousands of family-run businesses. Estate tax planning further diverts resources available for investment and employment.
  • The estate tax obstructs environmental conservation. The need to pay large estate tax bills often forces families to develop environmentally sensitive land.
  • The estate tax violates the basic principles of a good tax system: it is complicated, unfair and inefficient.

They go on to say that, " the arguments in favor of the estate tax suggests that the tax produces no benefits that would justify the large social and economic costs." What are these costs? They list them as:

  • The estate tax is a "virtue tax" in the sense that it penalizes work, saving and thrift in favor of large-scale consumption.
  • Empirical and theoretical research indicates that the estate tax is ineffective at reducing inequality, and may actually increase inequality of consumption.
  • The enormous compliance costs associated with the estate tax are of the same general magnitude as the tax's revenue yield, or about $23 billion in 1998.
  • The deduction for charitable bequests stimulates little or no additional giving.
  • The estate tax raises very little, if any, net revenue for the federal government. The distortionary effects of the estate tax result in losses under the income tax that are roughly the same size as estate tax revenue.

The thing I get after reading this is that the Estate Tax needs to be reformed and not repealed.

Taking their points in turn I will start with "The existence of the estate tax this century has reduced the stock of capital in the economy by approximately $497 billion, or 3.2 percent." This appears to contradict their claim that "The estate tax is a 'virtue tax' in the sense that it penalizes work, saving and thrift in favor of large-scale consumption." If that capitol is not being saved, but being used, isn't that good for the economy? There is a line between the virtue of saving and the vice of hoarding and greed. Encouraging the rich to use their money is the basis of the trickle-down economics so beloved of the Reaganites. Isn't it? What is the point of giving the rich a tax break if it only encourages them to save money and not build things like hospitals that create jobs and help society?

The point about "inefficient allocation of resources" is fairly subjective and can be corrected by a reformed tax law. Reform applies to the points on "punitive" tax rates, the threat to family-run businesses, and that the code is "complicated, unfair and inefficient." Even the bit about environmental conservation seems more a matter of reform than repeal. They want to throw the baby with the bath water.

The whining by many about the loss in taxes is directly contradicted by this report. But the focus should not be who's in favor of what. The focus should be on fairness.


As I said those that voted for the Medicare Bill "will be held accountable". From this great service we have the results of the voting for two measures. The final results are not up, but after looking at those you can guess why certain people decided to not bother with voting.

I understand the failures of the welfare state. It's become a victim of those that game the system. People, like players, will find a way to cheat. Also, the system is run by people just as susceptible to cheating as the politicians.

Speaking of cheating, here's another excerpt from the research.

{Richard J.] Daley shied away from the many pleasures of Springfield during his eleven years as a state legislator. The women, a harem of state employees, were known as "the monkey girls, because they hang on to their jobs with their tails."...

Money was there for those who wanted it, and many did. Lobbyists expected to pay for votes. Their generosity was matched by the legislators' greed. If a day passed without profit, some legislators would dream up a "fetcher" bill. A "fetcher" bill would, say, require that all railroad tracks in the state be reliad sic inches farther apart. It would "fetch" a visit from a lobbyist, bearing a gift.

-Mike Royko, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago (page 52)

The purpose of the welfare system should be to care for those that can't adequately care for themselves. It should provide funds for education and training for those people that can't afford it. I keep hearing that consumers drive the economy. Welfare should help create active consumers. Reforms should be applied to this goal.

We cannot morally justify tearing down the welfare system completely. Only the more insane libertarians seem to think that's good. A strong economy should have no problem caring for it's poor and a good government should never avoid helping them learn how to contribute.

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Paper, Corn, and a whole lot of Gas.

11.28.2003

(Journalism, Chicago, Ethanol, Politics)

link to this entry
This first part isn't worth the paper it isn't printed on and shouldn't be read by just anyone.
A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

-H. L. Mencken

If you haven't read Bill's keynote address to the National Conference on Media Reform, please do so and come back. I'm not going anywhere. Done? Good.

Bill is retiring from journalism next year at the age of 70. The man who stood up to the "editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to the faux news of Rupert Murdoch's empire to the nattering nabobs of [know]-nothing radio to a legion of think tanks paid for and bought by conglomerates – the religious, partisan and corporate right have raised a mighty megaphone for sectarian, economic, and political forces that aim to transform the egalitarian and democratic ideals embodied in our founding documents." Here is a man who knows you have to fight ignorance to have a good democracy and, from the speech, an understanding of what drives many to the written word.

It often happens in democratic countries that many men who have the desire or directed toward that light, and those wandering spirits who had long sought each other the need to associate cannot do it, because all being very small and lost in the crowd, they do not see each other and do not know where to find each other. Up comes a newspaper that exposes to their view the sentiment or the idea that had been presented to each of them simultaneously but separately. All are immediately in the shadows finally meet each other and unite.

No wandering spirit could fail to find a voice in print. And so in that pre-Civil War explosion of humanitarian reform movements, it was a diverse press that put the yeast in freedom's ferment. Of course there were plenty of papers that spoke for Indian-haters, immigrant-bashers, bigots, jingoes and land-grabbers proclaiming America's Manifest Destiny to dominate North America. But one way or another, journalism mattered, and had purpose and direction.

Contrast this with John C. Dvorak's all-too-common confusing of weblogging as merely a type of journalism and his all-too-common sneering dismissal. He utterly fails to understand the most basic principle of communication, the gathering of like minds. There is no need for any weblog writer to gain more readers than the ones that have a similar interest in whatever it is they write about. Sometimes they go no further than a small circle of friends or family. Readership is not important, nor is journalism, nor is anything any other weblogger does or says. It is an act of open communication and sometimes it is not even that. It is everything and nothing. It is simply the open forum for citizens domestic and foreign to convey, pass on, impart, dissemble, betray, distort, garble, twist, and camouflage news, gossip, history, and opinion. They can opt to not provide a single word and communicate via art or provide no words of their own, only hyperlinks to other's words.

The point is that there never was a revolution of journalism. If anything, it is the final check in the circle of checks and balances. It is in no way homogenous and I balk when John Leonard uses that lumping neologism in the interview. His point as applied to the New York Times is something that clearly exists in the confines described by that much detested term.

Yeah, but also it's not just the words because the words, the style always reflects a habit of mind. And the habit of mind comes in from a different angle. The habit of mind uses the colloquial here and uses the joke there. And then creates some discordant music and then something strange and wonderful happens.

And you see things differently. You see a different light is shed on it. Well, it's that tone. It's the NEW YORK TIMES having a style which it not… the TIMES is much more hospitable to different styles now than it was 25, 30 years ago. But the culture as a whole is losing its individual notes, its diversity. And this is… it's not only sad. It's devastating. It's devastating because routine language means routine thought. And it means unquestioning thought. It means if I can't… if new words cannot occur to me and new image does not occur to me, then what I'm doing is I'm simply repeating what I've heard.

And what we hear from an overpowering cultural force and the forces of homogenization, what we hear is sell, sell, buy, buy. That's it. That is the function.

The burgeoning growth of weblogging may not always foster new opinion and more often than not the cookie-cutter commentary of the copy&paste sect only adds to the noise level for those trying to find something original. The portions that percolate through noise barrier have rarely had staying power in the realm of popularity. Fame is fleeting for folks are fickle. You'll go from thousands of hits a day to barely a trickle.

One trick is to provide some useful service. Everyone Who's Anyone does just that. Love what you do and eventually they'll come to you. Currently, the zeitgeist tends to be political commentary, but it blows toward celwebrity scandal just as easily. The winds never blow in any one direction for very long. Hope is on the wing.

MOYERS: The columnist John Leo, conservative columnist, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT says the conservative media world has gotten very good, it's his word, at gang tackling.

LEONARD: Yeah.

MOYERS: Matt Drudge, Fox, the blockers, the talk show radio hosts, the columnists, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, it's like David Brooks, who's now writing…

LEONARD: Yeah.

MOYERS: …a regular column for the NEW YORK TIMES, says quote, The conservative media have "cohered to form a dazzlingly efficient ideology delivery system that swamps liberal efforts to get their ideas out." What does that mean for politics? Do you agree with it?

LEONARD: Well, I do agree with it. It means dire things for politics, if ever you close off, it becomes strictly partisan, it is, in effect, a right-wing Jacobinism.

MOYERS: Meaning?

LEONARD: Bloodthirsty. That's the terror in the French Revolution. And that means it's not politics anymore, it's a bloodthirsty crusade.

MOYERS: You haven't given up?

LEONARD: No. Why you can't give up. You know, Studs Terkel's a friend of mine. If he's not gonna give up, I'm not gonna give up.

MOYERS: Ninety years old.

LEONARD: Yeah, right. And his last book was HOPE.

MOYERS: HOPE.

LEONARD: Yeah.

Close. It's actually called Hope Dies Last. It contains interviews that include one with Leroy Orange.

"I didn't trust them because they were white," Orange says of the legal team that fought for his rights. "I was even wondering if they were sent by the state to help put the nails in the coffin. Over time, it was the same people who I was apprehensive about...who I didn't trust, who came up with the idea to ask for a pardon as opposed to anything else. Maybe I wouldn't have known that had I not gone through this awarding experience, and it makes you feel something good about mankind."

It makes you feel something good about mankind. It makes you feel something good. This from a man who lost 19 years of his life to men who trapped, lied, tortured and denied. This from a man who earned the right to bitterness.

-Beth Kephart, "Voices of Hope" from the Chicago Tribune (Sunday Oct 26, 2003: Book section)


A brief tangent. A boon of my book research
I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.

-H. L. Mencken

Chicago newspapers have a long history of rival power struggles and plenty of politics. In the 1900s there were 10 dailies in English alone. Of those that survive, The Tribune is the oldest starting in 1847. The paper was never shy about taking a side. Such was the degree of opposition the paper held to F.D.R.'s New Deal that in 1936 when Roosevelt came to visit the police feared his supporters would attack the paper's press cars. Marshall Field III started the Sun in 1941 (later combined with the Times to become the Sun-Times in 1959) to support the President.

The situation has a spark of irony since Joseph Medill, McCormick's grandfather, borrowed the money to gain majority control of Tribune from Marshall Field.

Another interesting item is that back in 1876 the Daily News started as a penny paper as opposed to the Tribune that was five cents. The only problem with the paper's popularity (It had a larger circulation than the Tribune) was that pennies were a bit scarce back then. They managed, however, to convince the mint to ship more in and, more amazingly, convinced local merchants to have their prices end with a nine. Could this be the not so psychological origin of the practice that was often attributed to merchants appealing to the slightly subconscious feeling of savings by seeing a price of $99.99 rather than $100.00?


The second part is not an attempt at impromptu journalism, it just reads like it.
Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.

-H. L. Mencken

In Illinois, we have to pay 33 cents per gallon of gasoline in taxes and about 10% is ethanol. The question of it's worth has already been posed to Chicago's Cecil Adams. He points to the work of David Pimentel. Pimentel's critics are suspiciously from those that benefit the most from subsidies that cost the taxpayer $1.4 billion every year.

As Cecil said, Pimentel went back after he received criticism for using old corn-to-fuel techniques and revised his findings to say that "about 29 percent more energy is used to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy in a gallon of ethanol," from his original 70. Even if we add in all the factors from either side, it remains unclear why we need to subsidize it so heavily. It hardly seems efficient if it needs over a billion dollars. In fact, the argument that it makes cattle feed prices higher and that in turn makes food more expensive to all of us seems more consistent. Mix in how American farmers fight to stay in business and how Canadian farmers face the similar threat from the disinformation distributed by the union of their government and big business and we've got one confusing mess.

Between 1996 and 2001, government and corporate policies drove 11% of Canadian farm families off the land. "When you liquidate a population, one of the things that you need to do is to tell lies in order to devalue and marginalize those people. The most pernicious lie told about our family farms during this crisis is that they are 'inefficient'," said NFU President Stewart Wells.

Wells continued, "Poor government policies, defective markets, and powerful corporations undisciplined by competition are wiping out families' farms. And if everyone knew that these farms were highly efficient and productive, then their destruction would raise embarrassing questions about the functioning of our markets. But when family farms are painted as inefficient, then their loss can be swept aside as an unfortunate but necessary effect of progress," said Wells.

Wells pointed out that there is overwhelming data showing that the family farm sector may be among the most efficient in the entire Canadian economy. He pointed to Statistics Canada data that shows that over the past 40 years, no other sector has matched the efficiency gains of farmers. He also pointed out that the prices that farmers receive for their products have not increased in 25 years. "The assertion that farmers are inefficient is incompatible with the reality that many of us are still able to produce despite receiving 1975 prices. Only those who can today produce and deliver their products at 1975 prices are qualified to lecture farmers on efficiency," said Wells.

NFU former Vice-President and Manitoba farmer Fred Tait explained farmer efficiency with reference to the production chain for bread. "In the bread production chain, you have farmers, millers who make flour, large baking companies that turn that flour into bread, and grocery store retailers. Over the past 25 years, the price of bread has tripled. Farmers received none of that money. That means that the very large trans-nationals that mill our flour, bake our bread, and run our grocery stores must have tripled what they charge for their services. In this case, and in nearly every other case in the agri-food production chain, it turns out that our relatively small family farms are the most efficient link, and the huge trans-nationals that control the rest of the chain are far less efficient."

It's a painful kind of irony for the government to point the finger at anyone for inefficiency.


The last past is not an attempt at a solution, but it is, quite naturally, a conclusion.
For every human problem, there is a neat, simple solution; and it is always wrong

-H. L. Mencken

Any action seems doomed under the strain conflicting interests manifold and intertwined. Bills snowball from House to Senate. One good idea is pulled apart by pork, while the truly heinous ones pass in secret.

Yet I have hope. I have hope that people will come to curb those behaviors mostly harmful to all if informed of the consequences. I have hope that the future will not be defined by bigger and fewer corporations condemning most to minimum wage work. I have hope that we'll become more active and less reactive.

After all, you can get further on hope than on gas.

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Luck of the deer

11.26.2003

(luck)

link to this entry
Pitch a lucky man into the Nile, says the Arabian proverb, and he will come up with a fish in his mouth.

-N. P. Willis

So I'm driving east on 34 leaving the village of Plano and I see this deer way up ahead on the left side looking to cross. It's possible that having traffic coming in two directions can be a bit tricky to calculate. Mix in the fact that on one side you have traffic slowing down as they enter Plano and speeding as they leave it. But he crosses anyway and he made it past the first car sure enough. The second poses a greater problem for this buckaroo. He jumps in front of the white talon and nearly makes it.

Now, I kind of thought it was a bit strange on Sunday when I was coming home and saw a deer cross my path, a fox change direction and duck back in the woods, and a rabbit go stiff until I passed. But this scene was stranger still. The deer did not clear the talon. His rear caught the windshield and he did a backflip to land-I shit you not-on his hooves! He went about ten feet to find that his path was barred by a fence and ran back across the road to vanish into the trees.

I imagine the guy will have a sore ass for some time and I kind of wondered if this was some jackass stunt because it was odd the way the driver smiled as he stepped out of his car. Happy to be OK I guess. His windshield was completely smashed though.

Overall, I was impressed by the athletic prowess of the deer. It was a well executed 360 degree rotation and he nailed the landing. Expecting him to take the fence is a bit much I think. So that's why I'm giving him a 9.9.

Mad World

11.25.2003

(Politics, Peace, Chicago)

link to this entry
Know what you want and all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.

-Paulo Cuelho

Occasionally I am left in stunned and nearly silent awe of some of the crap that gets pulled in Congress. I suppose I could have made a better used of my time Sunday, but I watched over 6 hours of the debate in Congress over the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. Almost any respect that I had for the Republican Senators was pried out of me by the smug, smirking, arrogant, asinine speech by one Jim Bunning of Kentucky. While completely dodging the glaring problems pointed out by Ted Kennedy he had the gall to put out a chart of the bill's supporters and named one, the AARP. The AARP has sold out its membership for the drug lobby. Only 18% of their members were in favor of it.

I don't want to get into the meat of it as some have. But of its many faults the PDP has no limits on premiums and come Labor Day of 2006 those that have not paid $5000 shall experience the gap and have to pay 100% of their drug costs. Furthermore, they want to divide Medicare into 50 groups to reduce bargaining power and prohibit their managers from negotiating drugs prices with the manufacturers. This is the "non-interference clause" that is worded with the opening phrase "In order to promote competition..." and it fits in with their Clear Skies Bill on having the exact opposite effect from their wording. Unless, as Al Franken commented, "the skies are supposed to be free from birds."

Speaking of Al, I watched him on CSPAN-2, channel of boredom, and after it was over someone from the station mentioned that they wanted to broadcast Bill O'Reilly's book tour speech but he wouldn't let cameras inside. What is he afraid of?

I'm not kidding myself into thinking that some Democrats have not come to drink from the tainted teat of this desecration of medicare. They will be held accountable come election time.

I suppose I could be in a better mood, but if you've been following my sporadic offerings of quickies then you probably already read the Hull House report about another kind of gap.

Incidentally, in this book about Chicago I finished recently, the author chose Jane Addams as the greatest Chicagoan of all. This is what he said of her during World War I.

Nobody was more moved by the heroism of the war than she, nobody more ready to give due meed of praise to devotion wherever it was found. And nobody was more anxious to help; nobody suffered more keenly from being left out. She had never believed with Ibsen that the strongest man was the man who stood alone. All her emphasis had been social; her whole influence had been used to bring Americans together to work for the common good. Now at last they were united, united in a common cause as they had never before been united in her time, all their energies devoted to what millions of them honestly believed to be a holy crusade, believed in so ardently that they were willing to slay and be slain in its behalf. But that was just the trouble. Jane Addams had always been a creator, nurturing life, upbuilding it; she could not now turn suddenly about and begin to destroy it. As Francis Hackett acutely suggested, for her the war was a civil war. "She knew the combatants. She could not have made Hull House without knowing them." She tried to be reasonable in a world gone mad.

-Edward Wagenknecht, Chicago (page 119)

I intend to ingest much more about Chicago, but it's doubtful that I will learn about anyone that has worked as hard or as long for so many with so little as Jane Addams. It serves as some hope that I hail from that same city so that I might find a fraction of her strength to face this mad world of ours.

Mad World
All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
And their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tommorow, no tommorow
And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you
'Cos I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very, very
Mad World
Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me

-Tears for Fears

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The Curse of Verse

11.20.2003

(Politics, Religion, Rhyme)

link to this entry
Army's On Ecstacy

The army's on Ecstasy
So they say
I read all about it
In USA Today
They stepped up urine testing
To make it go away
Cause it's hard to kill the enemy
On ol' MDMA

Said the King of Contradiction
To the Queen of Mystery
The Prince of Paradox, he dogs me like a flea
So I'll set my troops upon him
And bring him to his knees
When all is said and done I'll pick a fight with the Chinese
The Queen she stared at him long and hard
And she softly said
I'll rub you down with linseed oil to ease your throbbing head
She slipped a note into an apricot
Then threw it to the whores
The jester read the words
Something wicked this way roars

The army's on Ecstasy
So they say
I read all about it
In USA Today
They stepped up urine testing
To make it go away
Cause it's hard to kill the enemy
On ol' MDMA

The price they put upon the heads
Of folks with poignant views
Would be better spent on
The children without shoes
And when the King condoned
The actions of the liar
He forgot to weigh the awesome power
Of the village crier

The army's on Ecstasy
So they say
I read all about it
In USA Today
They stepped up urine testing
To make it go away
Cause it's hard to kill the enemy
On ol' MDMA

-Oysterhead, from the album The Grand Pecking Order

Twenty-one Iowa National Guard troops who tested positive for drug use on the eve of their deployment were sent overseas anyway, despite the Army's "zero tolerance" policy. Now the Army must decide how to deal with them when they return.

-CNN

When I saw the trailer to The Cat in the Hat I thought...

"Here's a movie fit for stoners of all ages. Their hands will be free for munchies rather than for flipping pages."

Now, I know most stoners don't need a reason. They'll take a toke in any season. They'll take a toke to pass the time and bogart the bowl when they take mine. They'll toke in two's, in three's and four's. They'll toke it all and then make smores.

But something else still bothered me. The Cat was in most ads I'd see.

Since Star Wars we have seen, the movie merchandise machine. The fast food is bad. The junkfood worse. Did Seuss for Mammon write his verse?

And what of Jacko heard this week? Is this some sick sales trick from this freak? If guilty, he belongs in jail. He'd truly be beyond the pale.

Then there's Eminem's racist rhymes, dug up from back in olden times. Finally we'll decide which is the worst, hating gays, black women, or Fred Durst.

But the music world is so damn absurd. I remember when liking techno meant you were a nerd.

The world is strange. It's safe to say. But it's apt to change and get more gay. To that I say Hoorah, Hooray! It's time they got a chance to play. After all, the only ones with gripes are those pre-modern types.

That any American would propose to ban the religious right of their fellow man is a tactic taken from the Taliban and to install the Christian version is their plan. The State should never have any say in determining how sacred is a wedding day.

To each their own and to their hearts be true, but don't you dare tell me whom to woo.

Don't celebrate America divided, because long ago we decided that different views were what made us grand. A myriad of people in one land. United is the way we stand.

Are these desperate diversions from our Mid-East excursions? Is this our apogee? The only dissent to descent an apology?

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Cornucopia of Utopia

11.16.2003

(Science, Utopia, Politics, Religion)

link to this entry
...The years will come and go, and you will pass from fleshly enjoyments into austerer but no less satisfying realms; you may lose the keenness of muscle and appetite, but there will be gain to match your loss; you will achieve calmness and profundity, ripeness and wisdom, and the clear enchantment of memory. And, most precious of all, you will have Time—that rare and lovely gift that your Western countries have lost the more they have pursued it. Think for a moment. You will have time to read—never again will you skim pages to save minutes, or avoid some study lest it prove too engrossing. You have also a taste for music—here, then, are your scores and instruments, with Time, unruffled and unmeasured to give you their richest savor. And you are also, we will say, a man of good fellowship—does it not charm you to think of wise and serene friendships, a long and kindly traffic of the mind from which death may not call you away with his customary hurry?

-James Hilton, Lost Horizon

Hilton's Shangri-La philosophy of moderation in all things that avoids "excess of all kinds—even excess of virtue itself," may have some truth in offering longevity. The gerontologist, Steve Austad, believes someone alive today could live to the age of 150. In two centuries we have seen the average life expectancy worldwide go from 27 to over 65. The Japanese lead the world in longevity, often attributed to their low-fat diet, but their are over 40,000 centenarians living in the United States. This number is doubling every decade in many developed countries. Preventing and curing disease has been a major factor, but one of the leading theories of longevity deals with the rate of living and that has giving way to a theory about the connection between long life and reproduction.

Investigators have shown that life span and reproduction are intimately linked in many species of mammal and bird. In general, the earlier an organism reaches sexual maturity, the sooner it dies. Life span also correlates with the number of offspring an animal has. Longer-lived animals tend to have fewer young per year, in part because their continued presence helps insure their brood's survival. Evolution tends to pick either quantity—shirt-lived beast with superbroods—or quality, as exemplified by long-lived creatures with low fecundity but highly conscientious parenting. Because the young of humans, whales, and many other mammals require substantial parental care, natural selection continues to protect the health of adults for some time after they've produced offspring. If the adults are around, the offspring are much more likely to make it.

-Kaen Wright, "Staying Alive" from Discover (Nov 2003)

So long life may not be so firmly attached to an austere life, but life could benefit from not being so time conscious. Our "time-saving" devices have rarely made less work for us. The increased productivity rarely pays off for the employee rather than the employer in the fact the workday never decreases and vacation days hardly increase. In fact, the greatest oddity is how some people actually brag about their lack of time and how it implies a measure of success.

Where did that monumental slab of new work time come from? Has leisure given way?
Not television watching. Not time on the StairMaster. Not time spent driving. Not time spent figuring out how to program the VCR (or watching it; video didn't exist--remember?). Not time spent playing computer games--in 1998, the average personal-computer user put in an estimated 10.3 hours a month at a single game, Civilization II; then there is Myst or Riven or Doom or Quake (anyone who has experienced these time sinks, nonexistent in 1970, knows that they can make hours flash by, gripping the mind with an addiction more powerful than any strain of workaholism). Not time at the National Parks--although the average hours spent per visitor has indeed dropped slightly over the last generation, and tourists do seem to race along those trails, many more consumers of nature have been able to travel to the parks, a twelve-fold increase over four decades; they fill well over a billion hours a year. Not time spent gambling-a third of American households now visit a casino each year, and they invest more than money: each trip means, on average, eighteen hours per person at the slots or the tables. If leisure means free time--truly free; free of Myst and Quake, free of hiking and reading and listening to music--then perhaps we have lost our dream of leisure. We do have time, free or not, that we like to fill with recreation.

-James Gleick, Faster (website, review, review, review, interview)

"Yet you soul was not in it?"
"Neither my soul nor my heart nor more than half my energies. I'm naturally rather lazy."
The wrinkles deepened and twisted till Conway realized that the High Lama was very probably smiling, "Laziness in doing stupid things can be a great virtue,"

-James Hilton, Lost Horizon

In the struggle between neos lib and con and fears that globalization is an anti-democratic force we all must confront the forces for just war. But do the alternatives actually work?

Can the exportation of ideology work in the long run? It's hard enough for people in the same country to see eye-to-eye on trivial matters. How are we to convince others to adopt a way of life that we are not entirely happy with ourselves? Even if all occupations are not created equal, we believe all people are. Yet Iraqis are not equally willing to agree. Iraq embodies the Catch-22 condition.

So how deep is the chasm between civilizations and how far back does it go? Even in the analysis of East and West it often amounts to nothing more than a mountain of facts rather than an explanation of results.

Utopian thinking has always been something of a dream or a nightmare. The adoption of science as the road to social progress has seen its share of sci-fi stigmas.

The real surprise that emerges from the physics of society is that social behaviour is sometimes extremely simple and, moreover, governed by mathematical laws.

Yet physics might not seem the most obvious discipline from which to build a true science of society. Sociobiologists have long argued that this privilege belongs to evolutionary biology. They say that only by understanding the evolutionary origins of human motivations can we hope to deduce how cultures acquire their shape and form. There is undoubtedly some truth in this assertion. However, sociobiologists sometimes make the dangerous assumption that social behaviour is a straightforward extrapolation of individual behaviour.

The key element that sociobiologists neglect, and which social, economic and political scientists have also tended to overlook, is interaction. "Society", said the German sociologist Georg Simmel in 1908, "is merely the name for a number of individuals, connected by interaction." This is why statistical physics has such a central role to play. In its earliest days - in the kinetic theory of gases devised by James Clerk Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann - interactions between particles were neglected. But once they were added by Johann Diderik van der Waals in the late 19th century, out came all the characteristic motifs of condensed-matter physics: phase transitions, critical points, fluctuations, scaling laws and universality. All of these things are now appearing in studies of social phenomena too.

-Philip Ball, "Utopia theory" in PhysicsWeb

If science is to butt in on social structure, it is likely to put everyone at odds with it at first. In the sense that I assume that every political theory contains as many wrong assumptions as right, I have to agree with Philip Ball when he writes, "A physics of society cannot tell us how things should be, but it can hopefully elucidate the consequences of particular choices and policies." Could a scientific model actually consider how plastic people are? When confronted by authority some veer toward irrational behavior and some long for more romantic and religious realms.

"I agree with that," said Barnard heartily. "I never did believe in sectarian jealousies. Chang, You're a philosopher, I must remember that remark of yours. 'Many religions are moderately true.' You fellows up on the mountain must be a lot of wise guys to have thought that out. You're right, too, I'm dead certain of it."
"But we," responded Chang dreamily, "are only moderately certain."
Miss Brinklow could not be bothered with all that, which seemed to her a sign of mere laziness. In any case she was preoccupied with an idea of her own. "when I get back," she said with tightening lips, "I shall ask my society to send a missionary here. And if they grumble at the expense, I shall just bully them until they agree."
That, clearly, was a much healthier spirit, and even Mallinson, little as he sympathized with foreign missions, could not forbear his admiration. "They ought to send you," he said. "That is, of course, if you'd like a place like this."
"It's hardly a question of liking it," Miss Brinklow retorted. "One wouldn't like it, naturally—how could one? It's a matter of what one feels one ought to do."
"I think," said Conway, "if I were a missionary Id choose this rather than quite a lot of other places."
"In that case," snapped Miss Barlow, "there would be no merit in it, obviously."
"But I wasn't thinking of merit."
"More's the pity, then. There's no good in doing a thing because you like doing it. Look at these people here!"
"They all seem very happy."
"Exactly," she answered with a touch of fierceness.

-James Hilton, Lost Horizon

Whether from imagination or science we strive to create a society suitable for all manners of people. We end up with all manners of societies and perhaps there lies a hint to a solution of sorts. If no society is perfect, then no society should prevail. Progress within each society should always be encouraged and the brutal slaughter of its citizens should never be tolerated by its neighbors. Is utopia in the cornucopia of networked nations or is utopia forever the stuff of our nightmares and dreams?

I don't know if I have a utopia story within me, but whatever stories I write I will try and make them worth your precious time.

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Faster than a speeding tuna!

11.12.2003

(Movies, TV, Seals)

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O: What else do you enjoy on television?

IG: I was watching Buffy until it went off the air, and now, thanks to my girlfriend, I'm watching Angel. Do you watch Angel?

O: No. All my friends love it, and I'm sure I'd love it, but I'm not sure I'm ready to make the emotional and time commitment necessary to be a new fan.

-Ira Glass, interview with The Onion

I can relate! Last night I took her advice and watched. I never really understood the whole Buffy thing, but this episode of Angel was entertaining and I find the idea of Karaoke-powered demon seer amusing. It's nice when our tastes mesh. While I haven't come around to watching NYPD Blue Booty, she has hit her Most Extreme Idiotic Elimination Challenge. I can't say that I blame her.

ME:"He fell!"

HER:"They always fall!"

Maybe if those MEEC contestants fell on their bare behinds it would appeal to her more and maybe if the officers on NYPD Blue would occasionally have to traverse giant spinning logs as they chased down perps it would appeal to me more. But that's where Survivor comes in.

Some of you may have the mistaken impression that I have some erudite elitist tendencies and while you may be right in some cases I am not one to dismiss things without at least checking them out first. So when perusing through my father's collection of VHS tapes I didn't simply dismiss Super Seal when I came across it. I did not balk at the "faster than a speeding tuna" subtitle. No. I sat through it and discovered just how super this seal was.

Super Seal

Some of you might remember Sterling Brooks and Foster Holloway from the old vaudeville school of acting. Here they do a fine job despite some of the worst editing I have ever seen. Anyway...

Our story begins with young Mary Ann (Sarah Brown) releasing a bird, Billy Boy, which she has apparently nursed back to health. No sooner does she say goodbye to Billy Boy that a group of kids call out her name. Our little Florence Nightingale of the animal world rushes over to see that the group of kids discovered a sick looking seal. But have no fear! Her uncle, Captain Zach, Ruler of Sea World, Savior of Sealkind, shall surely save our sleek little survivor from the sea.

Captain Zach

From there we get a peek of a Shamu performance. After that we see Mary Ann and company demand to see Captain Zach, who we see is struggling to carry a couple of buckets. Zach gets called to the front gate and we watch him walk through Sea World.

Duck at piano

He finds a duck at a miniature piano and with one touch of a key music starts and he begins singing, "On a green grassy morning/Blue sky kind of a day/Sun beaming yellow/Pushing clouds of gray away!"

"I've got a mountain to climb/Plenty of time/To reach the top of the hill."

"I'll just close my eyes/And with a few tries/I'll make it, I know I will."

Nemo!

There are more lines to this song—a lot more. When Captain Zach reaches the front gate he continues to hide his true status as a lowly janitor from his niece by claiming the infirmary is closed. Captain Zack uses a kind of jedi mind trick to fool his boss that that seal is his sick daughter and that he needs to take the day off. They all climb into Zach's cool ride while revealing more lines to the song.

Captain Zach's ride

Once they arrive at their home Zach clues us in via voiceover that he lives there with his niece and daughter. They survive only by the frugal practices of his daughter Cynthia and this is why he must sneak the seal in.

The Zach tells all the other children that rode with them to run along and everything will be all right and they vanish instantly. They bring the seal inside and try to feed him to no avail. They need help, but Cynthia won't have it. On the sly they keep it anyway and later at dinner Cynthia asks Zach why they been buying so much cod liver oil. Zaniness ensues.

Live Fish! Genius!

After dinner, Zach is have post-cod liver oil ingestion induced second thoughts. He suggests to Mary Ann that they should take the seal to Sea World because he doesn't know what he's does and that seals need a lot of water and fish. Mary Ann is not buying it, "You could set up a place for him here. You just don't want to try." After his candy bar bribe fails, he suggests that maybe they could find some books on seals.

reading in bed

They find the information they need. The poor seal required live fish. Nemo the seal quickly becomes a part of the family. Mary Ann gets a little carried away when she tries to take Nemo to school.

Get off the bus

Kicked off the bus, Nemo starts trouble with a young couple and then after helping himself to some fish finds himself locked up with a drunk (Foster Holloway).

Drunk through the whole thing. I wasn't!

The police in San Diego seem pretty lax. Not only do they allow Foster's character to have a picnic basket with alcohol, but a golf bag too. From the bag Foster pulls out a long gripping device that reaches the cell key and provides their escape. Foster drops Nemo off at Mary Ann's school and takes off.

Nemo's arrival at school is not welcomed by the principal and she calls the dog catcher. Mary Ann relays the story and it infuriates Zach. Amazingly enough he grabs a gun and goes with Mary Ann to retrieve the seal. Cynthia doesn't seem phased at all that her father is going to take back the seal by force with her daughter. All she tells Zach is "act your age."

Run Forest...I mean Nemo!

Sure enough, after pulling the gun on the guy at the pound they are pulled over by a police officer. Seeing that the old fella only had a broken musket the officer decides to let Zach go, but the seal he says has to be put to sleep. Of course, Nemo makes a run for it. Mary Ann shouts after him, "Run Nemo, run!" and he ran.

Nemo made it to the water, but was gone. This is sad. It's so, so sad we get shot after shoot of Mary Ann walking by the sea looking for Nemo. She is very sad. What happened to Nemo?

Well, after escaping the police Nemo was doing what most seals do. He was basking in the sun on the rocks. That is until he was captured and sold to a Mexican hotel. Don't you hate when that happens?

Lucky for Nemo Harold (Foster Holloway again) just happens to be vacationing in the same hotel with his wife, Gladice. We hear her voice once and that's it for the rest of the film. Harold takes Nemo back to the ocean and after a mishap with a fisherman ends up in bad shape. Lucky for Nemo a boy with a wheelbarrow takes him home and convinces his father to help. They get a doctor and the father tell him, "Doctor, I am a poor man, but do anything you can to help him."

he deserves an Oscar. I felt his pain.

However, the expense soon becomes too much and the Father takes Nemo in his truck and tells him with much pain in his voice, "It's nothing, not personal. I have nothing against to you. You have your life. I have my life. I did everything, but I am a poor man." The hot sun confuses Nemo and despite the fact that the sea was nearby, he becomes lost. Nemo wanders the desert. Wanders, wanders, wanders. Up and down hills...

Lost in the dunes.

Meanwhile, Zach and Mary Ann are wallowing in their sorrow with a song, "Just another day, just another lazy day/Fish just ain't a-biting/Snoozing's too invitin'/Looks like the good times rolled away." It keeps going. GOD! It goes on and on....then we're back to Nemo and he's still wandering.

still lost in the dunes.

It's so bad he starts dreaming about his past and all those good times. Somehow he manages to find the road and collapses.

But wouldn't ya know it! Harold comes driving by. Nemo is saved! Harold drives Nemo all the way to Sea World. Nemo is soon captured by the folks at Sea World. They name him Cyrus and train him to be a major attraction.

Zach managed to get some tickets to Sea World and goes with Mary Ann. They have so much fun that they start singing, "That's what friends are for." No, I'm not going to get into the lyrics. There are lots of them. LOTS!

the great escape

Soon they sit down to the main show and sure enough Mary Ann recognized Nemo. Zach is not convinced, "All seals look alike." Sure! After Nemo's act she sneaks off and to find Nemo. After she finds him we discover that fame has not robbed Nemo of his love for Mary Ann. They don disguises and make their way out. Everything is fine until Nemo's disguise falls off and is discovered! "Stop that seal!"

the chase

Lucky for Nemo Harold appears and Nemo climbs aboard his car. Mary Ann is captured as a sealnapper and taken with the Sea World trainers on a chase after Nemo. The chase goes in circles, literally. Eventually, they get back on the road and Harold decides he's going to take a nap. Nemo takes over and is actually just as good as Harold in the driving department.

A seal at the wheel

A cop pulls over Zach and the Sea World trainers who argue about who they are chasing. "Captain Nemo!" "Cyrus!" "Captain Nemo!" "Cyrus!" You get the picture. But as Mary Ann points out, "it doesn't make any difference. He's gone!"

At dinner

The Nemo vs. Cyrus debate continues for another 2 scenes. The joke is run into the ground until the typical loony tunes treatment where they both switch which names they are fighting over. They all laugh. All except for Mary Ann. "None of you even CARE!" And she storms out of the room.

But there was nothing to be sad about because soon Harold and Cyrus...I mean Nemo pull up to the house and everyone is happy—finally. How do I know this? They start singing!

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