Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Dear Diary, #2
Originally posted by theoria on Daily Kos, November 8, 2003. The reference to “pelting her with pencil erasers” refers to my friend and front page poster Melanie being run out on a rail.
We had a sub again today. The other children used to love her, but today they became so irate that they pelted her with pencil erasers. I think something like that happened in Lord of the Flies.
I think some people need to be angry and fight about stuff to make themselves feel better than some other people. Some kids use lots of confusing Latin phrases because it makes them sound cool, but I think it makes them sound more stupider. It must be hard to live like that.
Today, I was listening to the radio and I threw up in my mouth.
Some lady on NPR was interviewing some pastor in Pennsylvania. I think he may have been insane, or possibly even nuts, because he kept talking about the president’s Moral Clarity. I’ve seen the guy at work, Diary, and he is neither moral nor… clear. Anyway, the man said that Mr. Bush stood for Moral Clarity in these times when we need it more than ever. Then the pastor said that we haven’t had Moral Clairty for a long time.
Then the pastor started talking about how Mr. Bush is a “straight-talker” and a “straight-shooter” and how he can just picture George “on his ranch in Texas… riding his horse across the range.” I could just see him gushing to the reporter, hands clasped, eyes closed and lifted slightly to the heavens, baring his yellowed teeth, a silver thread of saliva swinging from the corner of his fevered grin.
That was when I threw up I my mouth.
I think he said something about George being a just man, and that we all had to trust him, no matter what he did… but I’m not sure, because I was trying to identify what I had eaten for lunch. I think it was either nachos or sewage.
Then his Junior-pastor-in-training stepped up to the interviewer. He said how much he hates those that sling mud against the president, and how it just makes him so angry. That was cool. I’ll bet his face got real red, and I bet if he pulled at his collar, steam would come out like in the cartoons. That’s funny.
Then the interviewer went to a diner and interviewed an older-sounding lady. She talked about how much she believed in Mr. Bush, and how she was so supportive when we were going to war. She said that we were threatened, and that we needed to do that… to go to war and all. Then she started to talk about how we didn’t find any weapons of massive destruction. Then she started to say that she really just needed to believe that our president was doing the right thing. She said that she had to believe. She said it over and over, and toward the end, her voice began to tremble, and she cried.
She said that she had to believe.
This why I hate Mr. Bush. All over the country, there are well-meaning folks like the old lady. There are also people like the pastor and his little friend, who’d gouge their own eyes out before they’d admit what is true. Moral Opacity. They truly belive that what they are doing… what they are supporting… has to be the right thing.
We should always remember the old lady in the diner, and how she cried and said that she had to believe, and we should remember what the good pastor said about Moral Clarity, and we should hang onto that image of George Bush riding across the range on that horse, right into the sunset, shooting and talking straight, and our Moral Clarity will guide us as we work, every day, to do that itty-bitty little tiny miniscule little bit that we can do to help save our country… to help that old lady get her hope back.
I bet she has a beautiful smile.
It's The Trust, Stupid
Sorry for such a bad political cliche in the title… It was this weekend’s discussion on Republicans, Democrats and Save the Children that made me wonder: Why don’t Bush voters trust Democrats? Not just their candidates, but “Democrats” themselves. And specifically, why don’t Bush-voting mommies trust Democrats? Do Kerry-voting mommies and Bush-voting mommies ever interact?
So much discussion since Nov. 2 has been based on “message” and “framing” without much consideration, it seems to me, of the simple issue of trust. I’m a Dean admirer, as many know, and I’ve always liked his stance of “winning trust through open confrontation” - not confrontation in an ideological sense, or outright challenging, but through the sort of self-confident curiosity that isn’t afraid to, say, go down South and talk to guys with confederate flags on their pickup trucks.
This spirit was very lacking in the general campaign, I’m sorry to say, and I wonder if Democrats need to question why they don’t have it. It seems to me that you cannot win trust without at least interacting with people who are not like you. And Democrats will never win without winning trust.
Elections 2004-08 • Political Marketing • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Talkin' Organizing, Vol. I: A Tale from the City
I’ve picked up a copy of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals --my third!--which I intend to break down in future posts here. The question in my mind, as a former community organizer, is whether Alinsky’s principles still offer progressive activists something useful in the 21st century. But, I’m not quite ready to do that yet, so I thought I’d share a little “war story”, as it were, from some community organizing in which I was involved, as a way to perhaps begin a conversation about community organizing.
It was January of 1982, I was living at the time in Lowell, Massachusetts. The city of about 90,000 had been, in its heyday, one of the nation’s great industrial centers, enormous textile mills having been built by legendary Brahmin capitalists to take advantage of the water power potential from the Pawtucket falls of the Merrimack River. But by the 1920s, and the growth of electrification, water power lost its preeminence, and the city went into a slow steady decline, the passage of time marked by the abandonment of one great mill after another. Postwar suburbanization accelerated the decline, as the middle class fled, much of the city’s housing stock, particularly rental properties, became increasingly decrepit. Some neighborhoods completely disappeared, such as the 60s “urban renewal” bulldozing of “Little Canada” that tore the heart out of Lowell’s historic French-Canadian community, replaced by the sprawling ugliness of the Cement City public housing project.
By the 70s, the great mills were largely derelict, sitting like rows of mothballed sooty brick dreadnoughts of days gone by. A few smaller industries continued to operate within the old mill buildings, such as the Paris Shoe Company where I was employed as a rougher. Yet despite the city’s decline, the successive waves of immigration that had always sustained Lowell continued to pour in, increasing an already rich ethnic and cultural stew. From the early Irish workers brought in to dig canals and work in the mills, and later French-Canadians, Poles, Greeks, Armenians, Syrians and Lebanese, and the more recent arrival of large Portuguese, Latino, and Cambodian populations, life in Lowell has always been about gaining a foothold on the American dream, the first rung on the ladder.
Lowell had experienced a recent change of fortune when in 1978, Lowell native Paul Tsongas was elected to the US Senate. In short order he had secured major funding for the nation’s first “Urban National Park” to be located in Lowell, $40 million to restore certain abandoned mills as museums to our fading industrial past. Other funds were secured for “downtown revitalization”, government moneys lavished by the city fathers on their preferred local interests to make downtown look all spiffy and old. While downtown was suddenly awash in money, so much so that the city’s leading slumlord and property-tax deadbeat Louis Saab was given over $100,000 of government cash to put new facades on his downtown buildings, the steady decline of the neighborhoods continued. As one local activist acerbically noted, “Tsongas is great on South Africa but he sucks on South Lowell.”
Community Organizing Begins
It was in this atmosphere that the first stirrings of community organizing began to emerge. A dedicated group of local activists had induced the statewide citizen action organization, Massachusetts Fair Share, to create a chapter in the city, taking on slumlords like Louis Saab, fighting for neighborhood improvements, challenging the rates and practices of the Lowell Gas Company (the campaign that caught my attention sufficiently to first bring me into organizing), and had begun to uncover the extremely serious toxic waste dumping that was eventually, through our efforts, to put the Silresim Chemical site on the national Superfund list. Basically, the stock in trade of any community-based citizen action group. In the neglected working class neighborhoods, Fair Share had begun to sink roots, earning ourselves the loathing of the entire city establishment. I should note in passing that when we found ourselves in conflict with the city political power structure, it was the city Democratic Party, led by City Manager and former State Senate Ways and Means chairman Joe Tully, that was forever fighting against us and on behalf of the special interests with whom we were in conflict. There are reasons I never write in detail about these matters at, umm, some other blog.
While we had been remarkably successful, there was one critical gap that we had failed largely to bridge. Fair Share had strong support in just about every white working class neighborhood, but our ties to the minority communities, then primarily Latino, were few and insubstantial. A few of our activists, led by the irrepressible Charlie Gargiulo from the Acre neighborhood, one of the most racially mixed, began seeking ways to bridge that gap, reaching out through several local churches and non-profits to create the Lowell Ethnic Covenant Project. Nascent ties had been formed, but nothing concrete had come of it yet. And then, on a wintry Wednesday in January of 1982, it all blew up.
The Triangle and the CBA
I had the Lowell Sun in my hand when I knocked on Charlie’s door that afternoon, and he didn’t need to ask why I was there. As usual Charlie was one step ahead of the rest of us. Joe Tully had announced a plan to bulldoze the six-block section of the Acre known as the Triangle, where that neighborhood meets downtown, and build shiny new condominiums. This was his idea of neighborhood redevelopment, to provide upscale housing within walking distance of the redeveloping downtown. As for the residents, well, they were SOL.
The Triangle was one of the city’s oldest working class neighborhoods, mostly ancient three-deckers. Some of the buildings were burnt-out hulks that had been left standing, others teemed with the overcrowded apartments of the poor. In recent years the population of the Triangle had become 80% Latino. It suffered terrible neglect, vacant lots accumlating trash, in part because city trash pick-ups in the neighborhood were sporadic at best. The City Planner who was the official sponsor of the Tully plan was later shocked to discover that there were actual homeowners that lived in the neighborhood, one the owner of a sagging three-decker, the other the owner of a tiny bungalow, deep in the middle of the Triangle, on ancient cobblestoned Marion Street. Nobody had bothered to even check whether there were homeowners there. Assumptions had been made. They were in such a hurry to “run the Ricans out” that they hadn’t even bothered to find out exactly who the owners of all the property were. They knew that several of the three-deckers were owned by well-connected slumlords, I suppose they assumed all of them were. Those slumlords were no doubt to get a nice fat payoff under the Tully plan.
By early evening, six of us had gathered at Charlie’s apartment. Charlie called the St. Jean Baptiste church to see if he could get us a room for a meeting on Saturday. Yes, of course. And so, with no more than copies of the Sun and a plan to hold a neighborhood meeting on Saturday afternoon, there wasn’t even time to put together a flyer in those pre-Print Shop days, we plunged into the neighborhood. As exactly three of us were Spanish speakers, we divided up into teams of two, my partner/translator being Brother Val, an Oblate missionary who had been in Chile at the time of the Pinochet coup.
Naturally, word had flown around the neighborhood about the Tully plan, but we were the first non-residents that had actually reached out and spoke to anyone in the Triangle. At the first door we hit, Val and I found an elderly Greek lady and her daughter. The older woman had lived in that apartment for every one of her 82 years, and she was in tears. She couldn’t understand it. Why hadn’t Tarsey Poulios (the machine ward boss for the Acre) said anything? Did I think Tarsey was going to try to stop it? Well, no. Tarsey was one of Joe Tully’s most trusted lieutenants. And for the first time I heard the question I would hear all the next three days: “Why are they doing this?” At this stop, and the next, I talked about big money and downtown redevelopment, and payoffs to landlords and developers.
But it was at the third door that I realized I wasn’t hearing the whole question. As it happened, that third door was the little bungalow on Marion Street, where we were greeted and welcomed in by Johnny Molina. I saw in that tiny house all the pride and effort that people of no means can put into maintaining dignity in a home. And again, I was asked, “Why are they doing this?” And it suddenly hit me, the part of the question they weren’t putting in words, what I was really being asked was, “Why are they doing this to us?” The scales fell from my eyes. And I don’t know where the words I responded with came from, I certainly didn’t think them out, I just began to speak.
“Because they think they can do it, because they think they can get away with it, they think they can push you around and push you out and and that no one will do anything, no one will say anything. They think you don’t care, that you have no pride, that your homes mean nothing to you.” Oh yes, I added about payoffs and developers, but that was just filling in gaps. Johnny’s eyes lit up as I talked about the contempt that the Tully machine had for the people of the Triangle, a dark cold fire. He grabbed his coat, said something to his wife in Spanish, turned to Val and me, and told us, “We will go talk to the people.”
Well, Johnny pulled us off the route that had been marked out for Val and me, but no matter, He found apartments that I’m quite certain all of us from outside the neighborhood would have missed. We met the full range of the neighborhood, from young single mothers with children that had no where else to go, to large families in tiny apartments, to elderly couples that spoke not a word of English, even a very large home Bible-study group set aside its business to hear what we had to say, and in each and every apartment, Johnny demanded of me, “Tell them what you told me!”
On Saturday, 80 out of the Triangle’s 500 residents were at the meeting at St. Jean Baptiste, and almost every one carried apologies from someone else who couldn’t make it. We had invited the whole range of city government to attend, City Manager Tully, the Planning director, the entire City Council. Only one member of the City Council deemed it worthy to meet with the people of the neighborhood slated for destruction, Armand Lemay. Armand had lived through the bulldozing of Little Canada, he understood the human trauma at hand. He was also more independent than any of the other Councillors could be, he was, after all, the City Council’s only Republican.
And thus was formed the Coalition for a Better Acre. We knew we had precious little time, and a battle to fight on many fronts. The first order of business was to stall the Tully plan, to give us time to organize both community resistance, and to come up with an alternative plan to prevent displacement. Everyone understood that the slumlords would be only too glad to take the money and run, even the least savvy and disconnected among the group understood that instinctively. So our demand to the city, to be conveyed through Councillor Lemay, was for a formal public hearing process, not to take place in City Hall, but at a location in the Acre. We knew that fighting over the location of the public hearing was itself a way to stall for time. It would also make a hearing less intimidating to the community to have it anywhere but City Hall, a forbidding stone fortress.
While contesting the public hearing process, we got to work on the other fronts. We knew we were fighting a terrible public perception battle, it is fair to say the Triangle was a slum, we needed to send the rest of the city a message that the people who lived there cared about their homes and their neighborhood. And so on a weekend in late March we organized a neighborhood clean-up day. We arranged for dumpsters and trash bags from a local hauling firm, assembled rakes and shovels from a variety of places. When that Saturday came, it was one of spectacularly beautiful early spring weather. Not only did we have about 100 volunteers pitching in to clean the debris from the alleys and vacant lots, and from around the derelict buildings. The entire neighborhood got into the spirit. From out of nowhere, folding tables appeared along the streets of the neighborhood, women filling them with huge pans of food, fried chicken, beans and rice, bacalaito, even alcapurria! By about noon, even the young single people in the neighborhood, that had been the only ones aloof from the effort, decided it was time to join in. Half a dozen young men, perhaps among the ones that terrified white Lowell, volunteered for the most difficult work cleaning around the empty buildings. Another, a DJ by trade, set up his sound system outside his building, blasting first salsa, and then disco throughout the neighborhood. As we successively finished up each cleanup task, the occasion moved from being a communty clean-up and became an enormous block party, with, literally, dancing inthe streets of the Triangle. Given my handle, you’d better believe I was among the dancers--and met some lovely dance partners indeed (hey I was 26, I’m not about to forget that part!)
But we had an even bigger reason to celebrate. For it wasn’t just residents and organizers that were there that day. We’d discovered in the meantime that Aetna Insurance had been busted for redlining, and had been required under the settlement to create a large low-interest loan pool for community CDCs to redevelop poor neighborhoods without displacement. We’d made contact with Aetna, and had filed the preliminary paperwork necessary, creating a CDC out of the CBA. Among the observers at the clean-up day was an Aetna representative, who was duly impressed with what he saw unfold. We got the word, Aetna would provide $2.5 million in 3% mortgage financing if we could get a 20% matching commitment from a local bank. We had also found a progressive foundation that would offer us a substantial grant for our own technical plan and our startup administration.
And that’s where the hardball started. We first began approaching Lowell-based banks to secure the matching loan commitment. And found the freezeout underway. We figured we were getting the runaround, and an officer of one local savings bank confirmed it. They’d been told in no uncertain terms by representatives of the Tully machine that if any local bank funded the CBA they stood to suffer greatly. And he offered us one more point. There were certain Boston banks that maintained Lowell offices, and thus could be considered local, why didn’t we contact their Boston community lending departments? They had Community Reinvestment Act requirements to fulfill. Bingo.
We had the funding commitments, just in time for the public hearing, which we’d succeeded in getting in the Acre. The machine mobilized furiously. Tarsey Poulios organized like he never had before, and his AMNO group succeeded in getting about 80 people to the public hearing to support the Tully plan. Very good for AMNO. However, the establishment was rocked by what they saw that night. We never did get an exact count as to how many CBA people were there, but it was somewhere in the range of 300-400. Not only did we overwhelm them politically with that show of force, we were able to announce our alternative plan, and that the one three-decker owner-occupant in the neighborhood had agreed to sell to us, breaking the owner stonewall that the machine had organized. As the meeting wound down, the local state senator who had attended as an observer, quietly spoke to Charlie. “There’s the appearance of power, and the reality of power,” he said, “and tonight I saw the reality of power.”
Eventually the project went forward, with much amending and rethinking as we met various hurdles. When they saw the neighborhood was being restored, suddenly some of the landlords weren’t in such a hurry to cash out. So the demand was made on them to bring their buildings up to code to the level where they could qualify for Section 8. Scattered-site public housing duplexes were built on the vacant lots.
The CBA still exists today, and has vastly broadened its areas of activity, providing job training, preventive health programs, childcare services and even a business incubator for poor Acre residents; and in a truly ironic twist of fate, has taken over the management of the Cement City project that stands where Little Canada once was, improving it dramatically. And, in truly classic grassroots fashion, and I have searched and searched, I find no indication that the CBA has a website!
PS This is written entirely from memory, I have no documentation to refer to, and with over 20 years passed, I may be getting a few details mixed up. However, the essence is entirely accurate.
Econ, Biz, Devel • Getting Personal • Minorities Focus • Political Marketing • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Monday, November 29, 2004
Dear Diary, #1
Originally posted by theoria on Daily Kos, October 17, 2003
The cute girl at work spontaneously sat in my lap today. I think it was spontaneous. I know I didn’t see it coming. I got all red, and was very embarrassed in front of my fellow employees. I was uncomfortable, and thought about complaining to the boss, but then they would all think I was gay, so I did nothing.
I sit at my desk and I think about George all day. I can’t get any work done, because he’s always on my mind. I go to all these web sites, and I read all about him, and my heart starts pounding faster and faster. I wonder if anyone else feels the same way. I saw him fall down on a scooter thingie once. That was funny. Boy, I’ll bet his parents are embarrassed. His mom’s face was all red, but I think she always looks like that. I bet she’s nice.
I sat in front of my computer all day today trying to think of something witty or smart to say on kos, but nothing came to me. I’m scared to say anything, because now the people on there are rating what the other people say, and there sure are a lot of smart people on there. Somebody said something about “sophomoric aphorisms” and it freaked me out. My boss’s face got real red when he saw that I was refreshing kos over and over again while I tried to think of something witty to say.
I was thinking today about why things are like they are. You know… all fucked up and stuff… and I was thinking about George and all those guys, and about money and war, and about the guys on tv. I think that they are somehow all connected.
It seems like when 9/11 happened, it really scared people. I know it scared the hell out of me. I was glad that my mom wasn’t alive anymore, because I know it would have scared her, and she lived far away from me, and that would make me sad. She’s better off where she is. But I was thinking how it scared people so bad that some of them went “off the deep end.”
The media guys all want one thing above all else. All else. Of course, this is money. I’m sure that 9/11 made them all sad and scared, too, but don’t be fooled… the coverage that followed (in the end) was based on generating revenue. The catchy graphics, weepy interviews and the “America Under Attack!” headlines were not there to inform us, they were there to capture our attention, increase our mental connection with one media outlet over another, and in the end, to increase revenue. There’s nothing the networks love more than a fantastic tragedy to splash on the screen. In a sense, 9/11 was their collective wet dream.
Meanwhile, the folks at home were scared. The president eventually showed up to calm the masses. This is exactly what people needed at this point. Everyone was waiting for the other terrorist shoe to drop. We needed quick, decisive action to comfort us. We needed to bomb the shit out of someone, and quick. I am generally a pacifist, but I can admit that, at first, they simply could not bomb anyone fast enough to make me feel better. I wondered and cried aloud about why some people would want to do that to the United States.
I don’t wonder that anymore. I wish I did.
One day, some ladies that wore burkas got yelled at and chased out of Wal-Mart in my town. Then a man at an Islamic church in my town was beaten up. Then I really got scared. I wasn’t scared out of the brown-skinned people, I was scared of the crazy people who were white like me. I wrote a letter to the editor and told everybody to calm down and get their shit together. I said that they were destroying the good parts of America that the terrorists themselves couldn’t get to. People wrote back in and said that I was a terrorist myself. A very old Islamic man called my house and said that I was a good man. Now he is my friend. I am proud that he is my friend.
Meanwhile, the networks were still having a lot of fun printing money. The headlines kept coming, and life was good on Madison Avenue. People being scared is good for business, whether you are a media mogul or a president. When people are scared they watch a lot of tv and they do whatever the president says. After all, he’s the smart guy that we all put in charge, right?
By the way, I am sick and tired of people whining about him not being elected. I think that it is detrimental to the cause of getting the dumb-ass out of office to keep bringing up the fact that he got less votes than Mr. Personality. I think everyone is aware of that by now. The only people that rail against it are the ones that are nuts, so why not appeal the the base… Farmer Jones that is well aware of the fact that Douchebag Jr. got less votes than Vanilla Soy. Get over it. Let’s move on to the task at hand.
I was also pissed off after the 2000 election, because all the pundiots were going on and on about how the nation was so divided. They claimed that the close vote was a sign that the country was split in two. Guess what? That’s bullshit. The vote was that close because we had two dorks to choose from. Two dorks and nerd who couldn’t be the president of a chess club. I think that the left-wingers (god bless ‘em) voted for Boring Man and the right-wingers (fuck ‘em) voted for Asshole, and the other 90% of America flipped a mental coin, plugged their noses and made funny patterns on their voting sheets. This is why the votes were so hard for the computers to count. In the case of punch cards, no one had the strength to give enough of a shit to punch a hole through a piece of fucking paper. In the case of the ballot sheets that you fill in the circles with a number 2 pencil, half of the sheets came back with the circles filled out in heart patterns, or the ZZ Top logo.
So anyway, where was I? Oh yeah.
George asked everyone to get back to their daily lives, but then he had a better idea. He realized that people were doing basically anything that he asked. Heck, his political enemies were so scared themselves that they let him do whatever the hell he wanted.
George got an idea. Or someone put one in his head.
“People like me!” he said to the Man with the Yellow Hat. And everyone around George said that yes, people liked him, and that he was bold and decisive, and that the people had all pissed themselves, and so he could do anything he wanted as long as they were scared.
The men at the tv stations liked scared people. Scary stories and stuff get people to watch tv and stuff. Big, controversial stories mean money for the media, and the media are the ones that ultimately control the masses. That must be why they call it mass media. If they give you poop and say that it is ice cream, you eat it and you like it. Yum.
So George, for reasons that perhaps only he and the Man in the Yellow Hat may ever know, decided that he wanted more war. War was GREAT for George! People liked him when he bombed people that lived far away, especially if they were brown and held rifles up in the air and yelled and shot into the sky and looked scary and said bad things about America, even if they were true. I saw some people in Michigan that did all those things, but they were white, so we didn’t bomb them. Plus, Michigan is pretty.
Anyway, the men at the tv were like “cool!” and George was like, “war!” and people were like “kill the desert people! they ride camels and have scarves on their head, and so they must die!” George summoned up a devil that people could recognize… Sadaam. When people in the US hear that name, they go, “oh yeah… THAT guy! He must be behind everything!” If they are ina taxi, and the guy driving is named Sadaam, I bet he doesn’t get a tip. THAT is how much people hate the man behind the name. That taxi driver is probably a cool guy trying to scrape by, while some preppy butt-fuck is taking a cab to the Carlton to fuck his secretary, and he stiffs the guy.
Anyway, the tv guys are all hard because they have more great headlines. They love this crazy fucker who runs the country. He’s damn good for business! George gives them poop, and they give it to us, because we love to eat other people’s poop, as long as they tell us it is dairy-fresh ice cream.
A funny thing happens at this point in the story, Diary.
Here is where a portion of the population starts to realize that their ice cream tastes funny. In fact, it tastes remarkably like poop. Somebody says “Hey, my ice cream has corn in it, and it tastes somewhat like poop” and all heck breaks loose. The media guys and the president say that people who don’t like ice cream are puppy-kicking faggots who are out to destroy all that America stands for, and are as bad as the ice-cream-haters that dwell in the desert and plot against us!
Thenn the president has a new idea. The natives are getting restless. There are these rich guys, many of which own these crazy tv networks, and they all have lots of money. They have been making money hand-over-fist with all these scared people eating their poop. The thing is, they want more of that money. After all, you can never have enough. So the president says “Hey, how would everyone like some of their hard-earned money back?” People are like, “Fuck yeah, man… I lost my job last week! That $400 will get me a case of beer and a truck payment!” The president’s friends, the poop-peddlers, say “Fuck yeah, man… that $4,000,000 will allow me to relocate my company to Mexico, fire 10,000 people, saving my company $10,000,000, get my wife a new pair of tits and keep that sexy Italian pool-boy I was gonna have to let go!”
Things in D.C. are good again.
This is where people who cared for each other after 9/11 start to turn on each other. It isn’t that the people enjoying the dung-flavored ice cream are all bad, it is just that they are scared. Many of them had major meltdowns after 9/11, and they need hugs and lots of ice cream, no matter how bad it tastes. The rich guys are more than willing to sell them all the ice cream they want (but they aren’t that comfortable hugging strangers.)
I will try not to say poop or ice cream anymore. I’m starting to feel sick (and oddly hungry) and that metaphor was old as of three paragraphs ago.
So people are in these two camps, or “factions”, as fancy kos people say. I don’t know if that is a aphorism or not. I’m sorry if it is.
Scared animals do stupid shit. When a deer sees the headlights, it freezes and gets a James Brown Smack Down by a semi. When a squirrel sees a car coming, it runs 90% of the way across the street, then quickly turns and scurries under your tires. Scared dogs bite children. Scared spiders eat their babies. Scared giraffes look stupid when they run. Scared monkeys screech and throw poop at you. (Think about THAT one!)
People are animals, too. When they are scared, they do things like soil themselves, faint, vote Republican and let con men sell them… safety. (You though for sure I was going to say poop-flavored ice cream, didn’t you Diary!) In fact, people want comfort so badly when they are scared that they will do almost anything to get it, even if it is fleeting or imaginary. They will even give up… freedom. The president when on tv as soon as he could after 9/11, like 9/29 or something, and he told us that the terrorists would not win, and that our resolve was firm, or strong or something. The fact is, they did better that they could have dreamed. Thanks to one man’s incredible greed, we lost. Nice work… BARTMAN!
Think of all the people that have died fighting for our freedoms, from people with pitchforks in the colonies of the 1700s to the young boys who signed up for one weekend a month and took an RPG for the Young Prince. When we allowed the so-called Patriot Act to pass, we no less than pissed on each and every one of their graves. The saddest moment in our history was when we happily gave away the treasure that so many have fought and died to preserve.
Shame on us.
So the rich get richer, Billy-Bob makes a payment and gets hammered on Red, White and Blue, Mrs. Smith serves up delicious apple pie and ICE CREAM for hubby and kids, Rush pops his pills, 9,000 scared people are lost in the rubble… in Iraq… and Tommy from down the block comes home in a body bag.
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is that people who previously thought they were eating… fudge… are now realizing that the funny aftertaste is… liver. (Liver-flavored fudge… is that better?) Now we have eight or nine would-be kings yelling about the fake fudge, which is a helluva lot better than where we were a year ago, when only one or two of them had the taste buds (that means BALLS) to say, “Hey fuck-head, this is LIVER!”
The media guys (liver-peddlers for those keeping score at home) are like “Uh-oh! They’re on to us!” And the head douchebag liver king is like “Fresh fudge! Get your fresh fudge here!” and people are going “Ewww!” though many are still eating it anyway, because they think it will make them safe.
So, when you wonder why we are where we are, remember that money is at the root of ALL OF THIS, that we are living in a media-controlled plutocracy (I looked it up on dictionary.com, and it is not, as I had previously thought, a government run by aliens) and that people who are eating liver and insisting it is fudge are perhaps, in the final analysis, more scared stupid than they are evil.
Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk. They are not scared. They are greedy. They don’t believe 90% of what comes out of their own mouths. Do you think they eat the liver and taste fudge? Fuck no, they don;t touch the stuff. What would they have if they didn’t spew their lies and filth? They’d have no money and no careers.
Well, diary, I have been writing for two hours now. I need to go make a sundae, take some tranquilizers, and dream about that Cubs/Red Sox series.
Maybe next year.
Economic Quiz: If We Had Offered Bin Laden And Saddam $100 Billion Each
... to move on, would we have come out ahead on the deal? They may not have grabbed it, of course, but… hey, always worth a shot, right?
As Meteor Blades very nicely pointed out below, time and again, we now seem to be taking the no-action option, where money spent today might come to save us from a very much nastier tab down the pike.
And even THAT no-action option seems to be costing us a bundle - take a look at today’s Financial Times on the “fear premium” which measures like Meteor Blades’ might well have averted:
Fear has put $15 on oil price, says Naimi
By Kevin Morrison in London
Oil prices are inflated by as much as $15 a barrel by fears of shortages and geopolitical issues in the Middle East, Ali Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, said on Monday.
â€œThe fear premium, the fear from tension, fear from scarcity, fear from lack of spare capacity, all of this fear has put $10-$15 on the price of oil,â€? Mr Naimi said, speaking after a speech to The Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.
Many oil ministers in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have attributed the steep rise in oil prices this year to fears among consuming nations over supply disruptions in producer countries, particularly Iraq....
So. To your own list of today’s really large-scale false economies?
And don’t worry too much right now about where all the money will come from. We will be getting round to that.
Econ, Biz, Devel • Megatractor • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Oh, My Word! Volume 4
I’m teaching Creative Writing this quarter. In the spirit of the impending busy holiday season (not to mention the last week I’ve spent flat on my back), I’m gonna give you all the same lesson. Aside from the work it saves me, I think it’s worthwhile for everyone to get a refresher course on what differentiates literary writing from plain old writing. And while those of you who prefer to blog in the short form may never have need of this, everyone who blogs in the long form can take something away from today’s lesson. I’ll start with some Emily Dickinson:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--
I’ve often said that if I could marry any wiry, reclusive, posthumously famous, slightly off, nineteenth-century New England poetess, it would be Emily Dickinson. But aside from my nerdy crush, Ste. Emily has a point that most bloggers completely ignore (more on that in a bit). That is, the best way to make your point is, in fact, not to come right out and make your point.
I always start creative writing classes with poetry, as poetry pretty well encapsulates all the most important elements of writing well. In the last couple of columns, I have talked about ways to improve the long-form blogging, both by blogging in the narrative and by taking the time to plan on paper before a long post. So it may seem odd that I’d go to poetry now, since poetry is kind of the ultimate short form. Well, poetry is short because it relies on something most of us bloggers never think about: density.
Density, you may recall from high school physics, is the ratio of an object’s mass to its volume. A pound of lead is far more dense than a pound of, say, cotton. In literary terms, a poem is far more dense than an essay. It took Emily a comparative trickle of words to explain what this whole torrent of a column is about.
The technique poets use more than any other to achieve density is that old reliable standby, metaphor. I know it’s hard, but think back to high school English now for that dusty definition of metaphor: a comparison in which two unlike things are said to be like in some way. It’s the liberal peppering of a writer’s work with figurative language gives the writing style and distinctiveness. Metaphor moves writing from the pedestrian to the literary, from the merely good to the sublime, and from the truth to the truth.
I have to say that our very own theoria, even while on vacation, is providing some fine examples of both blogging in the narrative and density in his recent (reprinted, so to speak) entries here at Exile_lsf. (And it never hurts to butter up the host.)
Now, the reason why this may all be the blogging equivalent of spitting in the wind is that bloggers tend to pride themselves on telling the truth without slant, to use my Emily’s words. The internets are a place for absolute freedom of speech, which allows for baseball-bat bluntness. And in some cases I fully support the right of bloggers to be blunt.
Yet the baseball bat is all some bloggers know; and when the only tool you have is a baseball bat (to paraphrase an old truism), the whole world starts to look like a baseball. There will always be a place for quick-and-dirty bloggers like Atrios, but we can’t all be him. So it’s important to take the time to learn some other tools.
"Oh, Your Word!"
For a future column topic, may I recommend, Cut and Paste:Â Threat or Menace?
--Exile_lsf commenter roxtar
That really sounds like a headline J. Jonah Jamison would write about Spider-Man. I think what roxtar is looking for is some clarification on cut and paste etiquette. Let’s see if I can hash out some ground rules.
There are some bloggers who are nothing more than glorified news aggregators (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They will take the lede or the nut of a news article and paste it into their own blogs with little or no comment. From my own blogroll, for example, I immediately think of Just a Bump in the Beltway as an example of this. Of course, Melanie often throws in fully original pieces and her comments--when added--are more insightful than everything I’ve ever written combined.
The problem comes when less insightful folk end up using cut and paste as a crutch. It didn’t take me long, for example, to find a diary over at dKos as I type this Sunday night that is nothing but cut and paste. This is, like, wrong and a half.
My feeling about cut and paste is simple: If you have nothing to add to someone else’s writing, then just link; there’s no point in copying it to your blog if I could just go someplace else and read it in full. If you do have something to add, try to keep what you copy and paste to a minimum; after all, I read your blog (in theory) because I like you and what you have to say. There has not been, so far as I know, any lawsuit yet challenging bloggers’ right to fair use of small excerpts from copyrighted material. But the smaller your excerpt, the less likely you are to get in trouble. (By the way, even when something you read does not explicitly say “© This Author,” copyright is still assumed.)
Oh, My Forbidden Word!
I’m still holding back on forbidding framing, because I think that there is some usefulness yet to be squeezed out of that grape; but it’s almost overripe with me. So this week’s forbidden word is another phrase from the post-election morass: moral values. By now you’ve probably all seen the Frank Rich article (blogged here) noting that “the percentage of American voters citing moral and ethical values as their prime concern [22 percent] is actually down from 2000 (35 percent) and 1996 (40 percent).”
Every time someone on our side protests that “We have moral values, too!” we lend legitimacy to the idea that somehow Democrats’ Hollywood ethics lost the election, or, contrarily, that Republicans’ superior piety won the election. We lost for many reasons, but among the least of them is morality. Single-issue voters who consider Janet Jackson’s nipple the nadir of human society are never going to vote for Democrats anyway.
It’s time to hang up the hang-ups, okay?
Confused? Of course you are. Email email@example.com with your questions, concerns, complaints, comments, or kudos. Remember, I’m here to help, and no topic is too arcane. Please include with your question whether you’d like to remain anonymous, and how I should refer to you, since some of you have blogonyms.
Art Of Blogging • Culture + Arts • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Sunday, November 28, 2004
What Do We Do About Energy Policy with the Republicans in Charge?If I had to choose â€“ and I do - a single arena to be politically involved in, it would be the environment. Not that other matters donâ€™t interest, concern, or scare me half to death.
Indeed, under the current regime, the list of items Iâ€™ve found myself paying worried attention to has expanded alarmingly. From our grotesquely neo-imperialist foreign policy to the attack on labor rights and reproductive rights and civil liberties to the continued upward redistribution and concentration of wealth and power, thereâ€™s plenty to be worried about. Itâ€™s extraordinary whatâ€™s under attack. Not so very long ago, for instance, I thought the forces of reason and enlightenment had won the battle over creationism being taught in the public schools.
Moreover, Iâ€™m a holistic kind of guy. I can never get out of my mind for one minute that thereâ€™s a connection between that wretched foreign policy and the creationistsâ€™ rejuvenation of their once-defeated plan to put science on a par with the ancient equivalent of the X-Files.
Holistic or not, thereâ€™s only so much one person can actually do â€“ or write - and still be politically effective. I donâ€™t believe in an afterworld, but even if I did, for me in this world, environment is the biggest of big pictures, most particularly, energy, a field Iâ€™ve been involved with in various ways for 27 years, starting at the Solar Energy Research Institute.
In my opinion, how we deal with energy in the next 50 years, but starting tomorrow, will make or break civilization, and may very well make or break the atmosphere.
Two things: First, Iâ€™m not proselytizing for recruits here. Everybodyâ€™s righteously dedicated to their own project, and Iâ€™m glad for it. Keep up the good work. Second, Iâ€™m an optimist, or rather, an optimistic pessimist, not a doomsayer. The optimistic side says: If we get started on the right energy road right now, I believe human ingenuity can avert disaster. The pessimistic side asks: But will we? If I thought the answer was a definite no, Iâ€™d be planning to spend the next ten years downing tequila shooters and building furniture.
Several times in the past 14 months, Iâ€™ve delivered up my energy policy descriptions and prescriptions for critical review over at Daily Kos and got back far more useful information than I presented.
This week, Devilstower at Kos wrote outstanding and deeply researched pieces on electricity and transportation, the two most massive consumers of energy, drawing a substantive array of commentary from people who have thought a lot about this issue or worked in the fields under discussion. If you havenâ€™t yet read his essays, donâ€™t be put off by their length. Complexity requires elaboration, and the energy story is profoundly complex.
Unfortunately missing from Devilstowerâ€™s and my other people's suggestions for a reasonable and far-sighted alternative energy policy is that the folks in charge of the U.S. government for the next four years donâ€™t want an alternative energy policy. They and their industry pals want business as usual, and now they may have the votes to pass the porky, myopic, eco-monstrosity that Enron, Cheney and the others haven't been able to get past the Senate since 2001.
So, with forces of darkness arrayed against us, what do we do, tactically speaking?
four-fold approach is what I'd choose.
First, get behind an idea being widely considered with fresh interest from many on both sides of the aisle: break this bloated freak into smaller pieces and then fight over each one individually. In this way, we can, perhaps, on some issues, shave off Republican votes that, pork being pork and all, would otherwise be lost to us because voting against one big package can mean the White House will whip out the thumbscrews.
Not that this tactic will get us close to a good energy policy. Victories may be few and even those diluted. But going this way may help us curtail some damage that might otherwise be done. You can get a quick view of what a few people are saying about this idea in Amanda Griscom Littleâ€™s piece on the subject at Grist..
The piecemeal strategy could prove successful on many fronts, including on the Arctic Refuge. "The vote numbers effectively haven't moved on MTBE [given the new makeup of the Senate], but the numbers have moved on ANWR," said [Bill] Wicker [spokesman for the Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee].
Here's why: While Daschle voted for the energy bill, he was a steadfast opponent of drilling in ANWR; his successor will support both. And while Obama will almost certainly vote against drilling in ANWR, his predecessor Peter Fitzgerald was one of the few Republicans who also opposed it, meaning that Obama adds no new votes to the ANWR opposition. Also, Republicans are much more vulnerable to peer pressure on this issue given that there are no regional reasons (such as MTBE contamination or Yucca Mountain) for them to oppose it.
According to [Bill] Wicker, the congressional leadership is expected to make opening ANWR a part of the budget reconciliation process early next year by tacking the ANWR provision onto a budget bill that cannot be filibustered, so it would need only 50 votes to pass rather than the 60 necessary to avert a filibuster. "They tried to do this in 2003 and failed, but the reality is that with four new Republican votes, open-ANWR proponents have the wind at their back," he said.
[Dan] Becker of the Sierra Club said this may be just what environmentalists need. "The public opposition to drilling in the Arctic Refuge is huge. People have come to associate it with greed rather than need."
And historically the perception of greed has galvanized public opposition to initiatives that are overly friendly to industry and unfriendly to the environment and public health. Lawmakers and business lobbies overreach, and then get slapped by public opinion. This is precisely what happened with the MTBE liability exemption, for instance. It's what happened during Bush's first term when the EPA tried to weaken standards for arsenic in drinking water and exempt millions of acres of wetlands from protections -- initiatives that stirred up so much controversy they simply couldn't survive.
"Right now," said Becker, "greed is the best friend that the environment has."
Second, get behind conservation again in a big way. Ronald Reagan claimed conservation meant â€œfreezing to death in the dark.â€? Dick Cheney says it's merely â€œpersonal virtue.â€? In fact, even the constrained conservation achieved since 1978 vastly reduced the amount of energy we now consume compared with what industry experts claimed we would be gobbling up by now. This was done without reducing our standard of living. In fact, smarter energy use saved money.
However, as a nation, weâ€™ve accomplished only a third or less what we could do in conservation. When it comes to energy, with the right policies, less can be more. Making conservation bipartisan is doable if we take the right approach.
Third, get behind a focused alternative energy program that â€“ even if it doesnâ€™t anywhere near where we need to be as soon as we need to be there â€“ at least points us in a good direction rather than backward. If a more amenable Administration comes along, the program can be accelerated, enhanced, fine-tuned.
To get enough votes for such a policy, however, requires that it have, let me add my voice to the chorus, the right frame.
While I have serious reservations about aspects of the proposal, and nearly burst a laugh gasket over the estimate of $26 a barrel for oil in 2025, I do think the Rocky Mountain Instituteâ€™s Winning the Oil Endgame offers a salable alternative to the miserable proposal that Congress will reconsider in the spring. As you see from lead author Amory Lovinsâ€™s article on the subject, it has a built-in frame: money. How America Can Free Itself of Oilâ€”Profitably: It will cost less to replace the oil the U.S. will need than to buy it.
Inefficient light trucks and cars, which consume 40% of our oil, are at the center of our oil habit. And ultralight and ultrastrong materials for vehicles are the No. 1 enabling technology for changing that. Advanced composites like carbon fiber, backstopped by lightweight steels, can nearly double the efficiency of cars and light trucks and improve both safety and performance. The new materials will cost about the same per vehicle as today's metals, in part because manufacturing will become simpler and the system needed to propel the vehicle smaller and lighter.
If we use ultralight materials to engineer advanced versions of vehicles like today's Toyota Prius hybrid, we'll go a long way toward realizing the gains. A Prius costs a few thousand dollars more than a comparable nonhybrid but uses just half the gasoline. At the cost Toyota expects to reach in 2007, the fuel savings will repay the added cost in about five years. Building an ultralight version of the Prius would save 71% of the fuel, cutting the payback time to three years.
Fourth, get behind municipal and state policies and programs that relate directly or indirectly to energy. Innovative public/private approaches make sense at this level. Iâ€™m not just talking about tax breaks for buying hybrid vehicles or state investments in green electrical generators. ohwilleke, for example, has some guaranteed-to-make-some-people-irate suggestions about land use. However, controversial ideas of this nature, which go to the root of our over-consumption of energy, must be a key element of any visionary policy.
Is this all we need to do? Obviously not. But as long as we're in the opposition, it may be all we can reasonably expect to achieve.
Positioning the Democratic Brand
A political campaign is a marketing effort, if nothing else, as we try to sell a leader--a person--to the majority of America. (A majority is usually enough.) One of the most important aspects of any marketing effort is successful branding. Branding consists not only of defining the brand, but also positioning the brand in the marketplace. (For the purposes of this discussion, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, John Kerry, etc. are not brands, but products.)
The DLC Problem
The DLC has done a terrible job of defining and positioning the Democratic brand. By co-opting much of what the RNC did to make the Republican brand “successful,” we have diluted our image considerably. We’ve now weakened ourselves to the point where we no longer control our image, which allows others to define it for us.
You’ll probably never see McDonald’s trying to increase their market share by being more like Burger King. That’s branding suicide. When folks go to McDonald’s, they’re taught to expect a family dining experience. If they want something made to appear more hip, they’ll go to Burger King, and that’s okay.
(theoria’s tummy is growling...)
The Clinton Problem
In addition to the damage done by trying to make our party more like the GOP, we have the long-lasting, adverse side-effects of Bill Clinton. As great as Clinton was for this country, he did a hell of a lot of damage to the Democratic brand. He was our spokesperson. When a big, national brand’s spokesperson is caught with his/her pants down, the brand takes a hit, no matter how you try to explain it away. (Hillary is a brand liability at the moment, but as time passes, I believe she will become an invaluable asset.)
Fixing the Problem
An earlier article on kos was dedicated to discussing a Unified Democratic Message. A lot of great discussion went on there. What struck me was how obvious the problem with our brand is.
If you asked anyone what the Republican brand was, they could tell you (as kos did) that the brand ostensibly stands for family values, patriotism and anti-tax. You might as well say it stands for puppies, chocolate and vacations. What’s not to like? Those wonderful thoughts come not from their policies, but from their positioning.
So.. what does our brand stand for… baby-killing, sodomy and less take-home pay? Gee, that sounds like fun. Of course this is not what we stand for, but over the course of many years, we’ve let the opposition define our brand. I’m not saying this is easy to overcome. Hell, our current opposition in this market includes the president, both houses, the supreme court and most importantly, the media. Make no mistake, we are in a helluva hole here!
As I mentioned earlier, our brand has been weakened by the DLC, and therefore successfully positioned by our competition. That is not a good thing. In the world of politics, a Republican is free to say that Democrats are god-hating faggots. In the corporate world, Burger King saying that McDonald’s is making their hamburgers out of rat-meat (which they don’t) would lead to a successful lawsuit. Not fair, but these are the rules by which we must play.
The only way to keep the opposition from positioning our brand for us is to send out a clear, loud message that defines the ethos of the Democratic brand. From down here in the hole that we are in, it’s just about impossible to affect the other guy’s brand by saying that it sucks, but for those GOP suits up there, we’re fish in a barrel. (This does not mean that we should stop saying that their brand sucks. People will eventually hear it.) Therefore, we must regain control of our brand, polish it up, distill it down to its essence and start struggling to reposition it ourselves. We can reposition theirs later, when we’re out of the hole and they’re down in the barrel.
The media is, of course, a huge component in this problem. This is akin to having a brand with no medium for advertising. Our competition gets all the free promotion they want, but we can hardly get it even if we pay for it. This is a tough situation, and the answer is far beyond the scope of this entry and the limits of my brain. To say that most media outlets have a conflict of interest on this issue is a grand understatement. But, we have to work with what we’ve got, which includes independent media like the Internet, and what will someday be a shiny new brand!
So, what will the shiny new image be? Let’s look at the old one.
The Republicans have successfully positioned the Democratic brand as being representative of:
2. High Taxes
8. Tree-huggers that don’t want people to have jobs
Yes, many Republicans see sodomy as a bad thing.
Our goals then, in the effort to reposition this brand in the marketplace, is to take these issues on and spin them back into form.
Now, there are two breeds of spin. The GOP breed of spin is to outright lie, even when it is obvious. “Hi, I’m Bob Freeper. Black is white and up is down. Thank you.”
The other breed of spin is the very essence of marketing--careful structuring of the message. “Hello, I’m Bob Democrat. I believe in equality for every American, regardless of their race, their religion, or with whom they fall in love. Thank you.”
On the immoral count, we’re only going to be able to fight that by keeping a respectable distance from Willy and by being good. (Note to the Dem candidates: If one of you should win, try to resist the urge to get--or give--head in the Oral Office--unless it’s your significant other giving or getting.) As we define our brand, we also have the opportunity to take the notion of being good back from folks like the Christian Coalition. To us, “being good” can be about treating each other fairly, or the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few.
The rest of these issues have been talked about quite a bit, and deserve even more attention (see blank space below.) These issues must be addressed in a proactive manner if we are to regain control of our brand. Ignoring them, or changing the subject, will only prolong the agony.
We will not, and should not, try to be all things to all people. That leads only to compromised principles and eventually, complete unraveling. (Some would say that the party is already in the midst of this disaster. I sometimes agree.) Therefore, we need to distill our widely varied messages down to their most vital essence. Some of you may disagree with me, but guess what? Part of what is wrong with our party is that our message is scattered and incoherent. The more things we jam into our message, the weaker the signal becomes.
When I design an ad for a client, we start with a series of meetings to chat about the product or service. I take copious notes and head to the drawing board. When I return, I have an ad that may only consist of a graphic and a super-strong headline. Sometimes the client is resistant, because I haven’t mentioned every last detail about their wicket, including it’s history and each of the 1001 things that it can do for Joe Average. Well, sometimes I win and sometimes I lose, but I can tell you from experience that the less cluttered message always gets a better response. Always.
People do not want too much information, even in a political campaign. They read more than three sentences and they are lost. BOINK, time to move on to the next thing. “Oooh, look… tanks and machine guns on television!” This is why commercials are loud, colorful and pointed. You all know that Joe’s attention span is very, very short.
We do not need a manifesto to define ourselves. We do not need a mission statement. We need a positioning statement.
dKos member “537 votes" reminded us of what is possibly the most important positioning statement of all:
“We the people of the United States will form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
We must define ourselves.
How Democrats Failed Hispanics
Since the 2000 election, Republicans have sought to make inroads into the minority vote by chipping away at the imagery of the intolerant white male Republican, and replacing it with the â€˜party of inclusionâ€™ motto. While the insincerity of this approach was not lost to many voters of color, especially African Americans, the last two elections have brought considerable Hispanic support to the Republican Party.
Aside from George W. Bushâ€™s credibility as a Hispanic-friendly governor of Texas, what made those gains possible in 2000 was much less elusive than a mere personality gap. It came down to dollars. The Bush campaign spent 137% more on Spanish media buys than the Gore campaign. As to the most widely viewed Spanish TV stations in Miami, the Gore campaign didnâ€™t advertise at all. Bush won Florida, and he won the election.
Of course, Democrats would have learned something since 2000, right? Wrong. We nominated an establishment Democrat who seemed to care little about the Hispanic community. Names of Hispanic â€˜liaisonsâ€™ were thrown around to the press, but the individuals chosen were mere Kerry cheerleaders set up to consolidate power within the DNC and give credence to a phantom Hispanic outreach effort â€“ and this only after the media hounded Kerry for not having enough people of color on staff. At the time of the convention, Hispanic support for Kerry was a mere 68 percent, yet this didnâ€™t prompt the campaign to allow for a single prime-time Hispanic speaker in Boston.
It was widely believed that Bush needed between 32 and 34 percent of the Hispanic vote to win reelection. Results give him anywhere from 32 to 44 percent. Whatever the figure, Democratic negligence was obvious.
Because of our primary system, candidates like Governor Howard Dean and Senator John Edwards, who had strong inner city and working class Democratic support, respectively, no longer had a real shot at the nomination following Iowa and New Hampshire â€“ two quasi homogenous states. Edwardsâ€™ strong pull with the Southern Black electorate was evident with his win in South Carolina. And as an eye witness, I can attest that the size and scope of Governor Deanâ€™s Hispanic outreach operation in Iowa alone was impressive, and without precedent. Yet if Blacks and Hispanics didnâ€™t have much of a say in nominating our candidate, they had their say in the general election. From Florida, to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, Hispanics spoke, but not in the way that Democrats had hoped.
Some say Hispanics are naturally conservative, and will go Republican eventually.
However, studies show what most Latinos know and understand: that Hispanics donâ€™t belong to any one party. Theyâ€™ll go to the candidate who is speaking to them, not at them. The Republicans utilized this approach and the Democrats failed.
The way to win with Hispanics is to talk about bread and butter issues: jobs, health-care, and workersâ€™ rights. Even the most conservative Hispanic understands social justice, equality and representation; thatâ€™s where we have to start. But it will be an uphill battle. The President has nominated Alberto Gonzales to lead the Justice Department, and he hand-picked Mel Martinez to take Bill Grahamâ€™s coveted Florida Senate seat. These gestures are not lost to the Latinos who will be obtaining citizenship in the next few years.
White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales is infamous among progressives for helping the Bush Administration skirt its war-time obligations under the Geneva Conventions. His background with Enron also makes him less than appealing as the chief law enforcement figure in the country. Yet the merit of Bushâ€™s Latinos is not the point. The point is that Republicans are giving Latinos hope for representation at the highest levels of government, and Democrats simply arenâ€™t.
The party of diversity has neglected the largest minority group in the country at its own peril. For our viability as a force, and our credibility as the true party of inclusion, we must get it right next time.
Nathan Gonzalez is Political Director of Latinos for America
Something caught my eye in the wake of November 2, Chris Hedges, Nov 5 at Manhattanville (as reported by a liberal watch group) where he makes a declaration of a coming draft.
Although I expect a draft (however they construct it), his words, from a long time war correspondent and author of “War Gives Us Meaning”, require attention.
The quotes are drawn from a suburban Gannett paper, The Journal, and unlike the liberal watch site, the straight report of the event is no longer on line…
"We are losing the war in Iraq very badly, but the Bush administration will not walk away from the debacle without trying to reoccupy huge swaths of the territory they have lost,” Hedges said. While working for The New York Times, he covered fighting in Central America, the Balkans and the Middle East, including Iraq during the first Gulf War.
To regain territory lost in Iraq, it will take double or triple the current 140,000 troops, Hedges said during the last lecture in a series called “The Costs of War.”
More after the jump....
Those who confuse his anti-war stance with an anti-soldier position are mistaken, Hedges said. “War in the end is always about betrayal. Betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians and idealists by cynics.”
The second point is drawn from an interview with Hersh at the recent FSM Anniversary. At the link is a further link to the 1 h 22 m audio of the interview…
While Hersh blamed the White House and the Pentagon for the Iraq quagmire and America’s besmirched world image, he was stymied by how it all happened. "How could eight or nine neoconservatives come and take charge of this government?” he asked. “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military! So you say to yourself, How fragile is this democracy?"
I have heard Hersh state this three times, the first on the Jon Stewart DS.
And further commentary:
That fragility clearly unnerves him. Hersh summarizes his mission as “to hold the people in public office to the highest possible standard of decency and of honestyâ€¦to tolerate anything less, even in the name of national security, is wrong.” He tries his best. More than any other U.S. journalist alive today, he embodies the statement that “a patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government,” a belief defined by the conservationist Edward Abbey.
“It doesn’t matter that Bush scares the hell out of me,” Hersh answered. “What matters is that he scares the hell out of a lot of very important people in Washington who can’t speak out, in the military, in the intelligence community. They know in ways that none of us know, the incredible gap between what is and what [Bush] thinks.”
With that, he was off and running. One could safely say that for the next hour, Hersh proceeded to scare the hell out of most of the audience by detailing the gaps between what they knew and what he hears is actually going on in Iraq.
OK I fully buy both points, or sets of points in Hersh’s case, but whither the supposed internal opposition ?? To me there was a run of leaks in spring and summer, then it went dry, as in DRY. There were leaks in summer of 03 as well. But now, dry.
I have never lanquished in the comfort of thinking the CIA and aspects of dissident military turning on the WH, the administration in office, but damn. I do ask for leaks. The world hangs in the balance, as do we, our own military, institutions, the Iraqi people.
And then, his take on al-Zarqawi
Later, Hersh shared something he had yet to write about. Sources were suggesting that the many acts of domestic terrorism in Iraq that U.S. officials have been attributing to suspected Al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are in fact a smokescreen set up by the insurgents. “They decided to wage war against their own population,” he said. “It’s a huge step, with enormous consequences.â€¦The insurgency has simply deflected what they’re doing onto this man. And we fell for it."
I never bought the simple “demonise and search endlessly for” game (it was so old, for goodness sake) we made of Zarqawi, but this is a new element, in the sense Hersh articulates an insurgent (handy word, I’ll use it) strategy clearly. I watch the war on the ground appear to mature on their side, while we simply destroy the country. Truly we learn nothing.
One of the most troubling aspects is how fully gamed we are and were from the get go. First, by Bush and Rove (many of us were blue in the face in 01, saying: worry, take nothing for granted) then gamed to war from internal and easy, even more extremist, coup, then gamed by the reality of war on the ground in Iraq (no surprise, home advantage vs impotent but deadly power).
What does anyone think? I put this up as talk in other older threads was turning to “where the hell are we and what is coming”... nothing new, I and everyone else think about it everyday… sigh.
Not lightweight, no benediction here, but if anyone cares to run with it…
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Stingray... a Boy and His Bike
When I was ten, my dad gave me a bike.
I know what you’re thinking, “so what?”, right? But there were a few details that made this special… I mean, special for me.
First, this was no ordinary bike, this was the king of bikes, (in the 70’s anyway) a Schwinn Stingray. What’s more, this was the first bike--the last bike--my dad ever gave me. On top of that, I’d neither seen nor spoken to dad for three years previous to the day he made the slow circle at the end of the block in front of my mother’s house. I’d never seen anyone make that slow circle like that, coming around to rest at the bottom of the bank where my house was built.
He just sat here, in that grey-green Rambler of his, waiting. He wouldn’t come up to the house, on account of my mother and all, and I still don’t know how long he’d been there when I sprang from the front door with my ball and mitt, heading for a game of hot-box with the boy down the street.
When you grow up in the Midwest, you just don’t seem to notice the heat as much (the humidity… unbearable and maddenning to anyone over the age of thirty) and I can’t say for sure that dad was sweating from being cooped up in that little box for so long, but I can say that when I ran to him, when he bent down and took my skinny arms around his neck, when I pressed my lips to the ever-present stubble that made him the man in my life, I remember the salty-sweet mix of testosterone-sweat and English Leather.
He breathed hard in my hair before he set me to my feet, and he moaned a little moan that made me feel missed as he did it. He grinned down at me with anticipation, one golden tooth gleaming like ore in the side of an abandoned mine, cheeks scrunched up so hard that his eyes became little black wounds in his face.
“Tell your mother that we’re going for a ride.” He said.
And he said it in that defiant way that defined him as an estranged husband, an absent father making demands against the system that persecuted him.
I don’t remember going to the house or calling my mom, or where my baseball glove ended up. I don’t remember talking about school, or girls, or the Cubs. I don’t remember asking where we were gong, or where he had been. I remember his profile, non-stop smiling from ear-to-ear, like it was the happiest day of his life, as though he’d suddenly realized that this was all he needed from life, to suddenly be with me for an afternoon in July.
We pulled up in front of Albright’s, and though I’d never been there, I recognized it as a bicycle shop by the sign, with it’s old-fashioned bicycle logo… one of those bikes with the huge tire on the front and the tiny one in the back.
I was to wait in the car while dad inquired within. I can’t say what I was thinking when he went inside. I wasn’t expecting a bicycle, to be certain. Maybe a little bell, or a horn, a tire, a chain, I dunno. When he came wheeling through the door with the Stingray,
It was candy-apple red. I know this for certain, because my dad loved to say “candy-apple red”, and he must have said it fifty times before we made our arc at the end of Brookfield Street. I stared into the rear-view mirror all the way there, and I could just make out the black rubber grip that poked out from the trunk, the lid of which bounced and banged unceremoniously against the banana seat, causing me great distress.
He watched me peddle shakily up and down the sidewalk a few times before announcing that it was time for him to go. I must have looked terrified, because he quickly added that he would be back next weekend to take me to Grandma’s house for a visit. I wondered, briefly, what made him change his mind about me.
Mom? She didn’t have much to say about the bike.
It didn’t take me long to figure out how to ride with my mitt hooked over the right grip and my baseball clutched in my left hand, and before you knew it, I was on my way to Muessel Park to join the older boys in a real game of baseball. I’d thrown the ball around plenty, to be sure, and I’d watched the Cubs religiously with my Grandfather every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for as long as I could remember, but this was a real game with bats and bases and enough kids to just about field the two teams.
We didn’t play on either of the two neglected diamonds on the far side of the park, by the tennis courts, those were left to the black boys, and we opted to play in the trees. Don’t ask me how we did it. They’d found enough space in the shaded part of the park to space out the bases pretty well, though you had to weave around a hundred-year-old oak to get from third to home. The proximity of these ancient trees helped make up for the fact that we didn’t have enough kids to cover the outfield.
I was picked last, as usual, seeing as I’d had no real prior experience, and my team somehow worked it out so that I never actually took the field, and didn’t step up to the plate until everyone was ready to leave anyway. I didn’t care much. I understood that I was the momma’s boy, not to mention the youngest, the smallest in the group.
I’d been trying hard to whistle through the cap of an acorn for a good hour when one of the big kids said I could take an at-bat. He threw me a wooden bat that was too big for me, and I ignored the other boys who moaned and made faces as I awkwardly stepped up to the frisbee that marked home plate.
I watched in frozen terror as a half-dozen pitches whizzed by me. The biggest of the boys was a good-natured sort who wasn’t gonna let anyone else leave until I at least swung at one. But then, he was getting impatient, too.
Finally, my pitch came. It was high and outside, just the way Manny Trillo liked his, or, that’s what I told myself later. Really, I was becoming wary of the beating that might await me if I didn’t hurry up and swing at something, anything, and this seemed like as good a pitch as any.
Everyone gasped, watching in slow motion, mouths agape as the ball hurtled toward the fence of the brewery. No. That’s not what happened. By this time, everyone except the pitcher and I was halfway through the trees, heading home. As I remember it, really, it was a high pop-up that landed in the pitcher’s mitt before I even made it to first. This being my first real game, combined with the fact that I hated watching the Cubs with my Grandpa, added up to the fact that I had little grasp of the actual rules of the game. I raced quickly from first to second, then on to third, laughing gleefully as the pitcher waved the ball at me. He shouted, but my head was buzzing and I could not hear him. No doubt, he was saying “I caught the ball, you’re out you fucking idiot.” But I was convinced that he was probably congratulating me on the incredible hit, cheering on the kid that nobody thought could even swing a bat. I veered around the old oak and tumbled face-first into the general vicinity of where the frisbee had been. I looked up, still laughing gleefully, to the pitcher, who was already walking into the trees.
Normally, I would have tagged along a dozen or so feet behind the others, but the exertion of what would be the only home-run of my career had taken its toll, and I was thirsty. The only drinking fountain in the area was on the far side of the park, by the tennis courts. Other kids’ mothers had told them not to go to that side of the park, though mine never did. She had instilled in me an absolute trust in the good side of human nature, a habit that was impossible to break… that would be my undoing on an almost daily basis.
“Off the bike, motherfucker.”
His voice was… almost lyrical.
My lips had barely touched the stream of cool water when I felt his strong hand wrap around my wrist. He squeezed hard, and I felt the life ooze out of my fingertips. My eyes moistened immediately.
He pulled at me as I leaned up from the fountain, but even his brown, iron fingers couldn’t get my hand from the grip of the Stingray. He ws perfectly silhouetted against the late afternoon sky, a crescent wrench poised above his huge afro, ready to rain blows down on me should I resist.
I thought that if I played dumb, he might let me go. I said it as innocently as I could.
“I said, off the bike, motherfucker!”
He raised the wrench higher.
“If you don’t get off the bike, I’m gonna break your fuckin’ head open.”
He didn’t really want to break my head open. I know this, because he jerked my right arm hard, freeing the hand that I was sure wouldn’t ever leave the grip of that bike, sending me and the bike falling into a heap of fleshy white legs and candy-apple red tubular steel. He wrested the bike from beneath me, casually pedaled away. I couldn’t look anymore, I couldn’t watch his huge frame, far too big for that bike, coast down the blacktop with the silver wrench dangling at his side. I closed my eyes to this, and I screamed after him as loud as I could. I screamed out the only thing I could think of to appeal to his better nature, even though it was a lie.
“Bring it back, it’s, not mine!”
I was dizzy, and my legs hurt, and my head was now buzzing louder than it had been when I hit my home run. I remember turning toward the courts, some twenty yards away, maybe less, and there was a group of white men, watching me with their fingers curled through the cyclone fencing. They had been playing doubles when I stopped at the fountain. No doubt they’d seen it coming before I did. I felt like I was inside of a cage, or the Coliseum or something, and I looked at their white faces and I was ashamed, and of course I hated them. I thought I hated them as much as I could until one of them had the balls to speak to me.
“Are you okay?”
I’d never been in a police car before that day. It smelled funny. I don’t think I bothered to describe my assailant to the authorities. If I’d tried, it would have come out all funny, because the guy, the “kid” more likely, seemed ten feet tall, and the wrench seemed some sort of medieval mace, and you’d think he might have been pedaling off to join the circus if you’d seen the absurdity of him perched on that little red bicycle with the wrench dangling at his side like femur of a wooly mammoth. If there’s been a little rubber horn for him to toot as he glided away, the scene would have been complete.
Mom wasn’t mad or worried or anything. I mean, she was probably shaken up, but I think she was soothed that dad’s blatant attempt to buy my love had been snatched right out from under me. I’m sure it was some sort of lesson, in a distinctly Catholic sort of way.
Me? Oh, I was shaken up for sure, but it wasn’t the robbery that had me pacing my room, it was the impending visit from dad, three days from that day, and what he would say about the whole thing. He was so proud of that bike, proud like other fathers are no doubt proud when their son hits a home run, gets the girl, says “I love you, Dad.”
He had said it, he said it right to me, right in front af Albright’s.
“Ya see? See how your old man loves you?”
Even with the cold steel of that shiny Schwinn pressed up against my balls, I had to look around when he asked me that, like I was gonna see a movie of all the times we never had together projected right up on the white brick wall of Albright’s Bicycle Shop. Scratchy 8mm projections of fish we never caught. Silent mouthing of secrets around a campfire that never burned. Explaining the innocuous things that would remain a mystery to me for years to come, the birds and the bees, the rules of baseball.
I looked back to him, and that gold tooth was glaring at me again as he grinned expectantly. I caught myself, and I looked from him to the handlebars and then back to him again. I said “yeah”, or something like that, meaning “Yes, now that I have this candy-apple red bicycle, I understand how important I must be to you, having spent a great deal of your hard-earned money on this candy-apple red bicycle, a thing of pure beauty.”
What does it mean to a ten year old boy when his father suddenly shows up, producing this… this token of love… and singing the praises of this token and taking the time to make sure you know that it is his love embodied, and then to have that token whisked away?
The streetlights were already on when I snuck out of the house later that evening. Mom couldn’t have known that I was gone, let alone where I was headed.
Beyond the tennis courts with their torn, sagging nets and ruptured surfaces, past the baseball diamonds with their twisted backstops and overgown infields, over the hill that hosted the abandoned brewery, lay a set of railroad tracks. There’s always a set of railroad tracks. No one had ever seen a train actually travel on these tracks, no one that I knew, anyway. Of course we had our stories; stories of children murdered along those tracks, or people tied to those tracks. One kid had even heard about another kid’s cousin who lost all of their toes when they were playing by those tracks.
Looking back, I imagine that the local parents probably leaked those stories to the eager children, anxious to keep them from what was beyond those tracks. This is what the parents were truly afraid of, the way our town was changing, the colors and textures and musics of a culture that, though distinctly American, was absolutely foreign to them. This was the “unknown” that we speak about when we search for a way to say that most of us are intolerant, ignorant.
But, as I said, my mother took great pains to teach me about tolerance, except where my father was concerned of course, but I was willing to allow her that contradiction. I figured she had her reasons, though she had enough class to leave them unspoken. And so I ventured to the tracks, and I walked their length as the sun started to disappear, careful never to touch my sneaker to the iron track, sure that if I did, it would magically snare the rubber toe of my high-tops in it’s teeth and keep me there for as long as it took for a distant train to bear down on me.
I was waiting for the fellow who’d appropriated my father’s approval to come gliding by, so that I might make my case for its return. I had the whole, terrible story plotted out in my mind, and by the time I was done with the lad, he’d no doubt be in tears, guiding her back into my waiting arms as he related the story of his own absent father.
Of course, this was not to be.
In a half an hour, it was quite dark, and I was quite afraid. A nearby ditch had filled itself with sewage or some such man-made liquid, and it had bred enough mosquitos to rightfully populate the entire state of Indiana, but they all woke up and decided that the length of track that lay before me would suffice as their territory.
At first I was walking, swatting, irritated by the bastards, but soon enough I was doing what could only be described as fleeing; waving my arms furiously and stumbling through the piles of rubble and shit that bordered the tracks.
It was about the time that I finally reached the crumbling pavement that I saw him, not five feet away, cruising silently, then bump-bump… bump-bump… over the tracks and into the darkness.
“Hey” I said in a quiet, pathetic voice.
I could see him again as he passed slowly under a street-light, turning his head ever-so-slightly toward me and heading further into the night than I cared to venture. I thought about the story that I wanted to tell him, about my plan to appeal to his better nature. Then I realized that he was almost out of ear-shot. Then I thought about the mosquitos.
“You fucking nigger!”
My fists were clenched and my breast heaving when I heard the bike fall spontaneously to the pavement. A moment later and he was under the streetlight again, walking toward me. Stingray lay back there somewhere, somewhere near Berlin, and I wasn’t sure if I saw a spoked wheel spinning lazily in the air. I wondered if she could see me.
I changed my plan at this point, figuring that I might be able to apologize and explain that I was simply trying to get his attention. Then I could back-track to the latter part of Plan A, the part where he and I become brothers-in-arms, possibly ending in a shared custody agreement that could include the occasional dinner at each others houses. Plan C was developed shortly thereafter, as his friends ran up to join him in his fight against prejudice.
I never considered myself a fast runner, and certainly my schoolmates never did. I was surprised by how deep into the oaks I’d gotten before they caught up to me. Hell, from this angle, pinned down in six inches of grass, I could just make out Richard McCormick’s house, just there, with the porch-light on. I kept my eye on that light, even as it became frosted, then downright blurred with tears.
I found myself grunting beneath their fists, little puffs of air escaping from my lips no matter how hard I tried to contain them, but I wouldn’t cry out. Even after the smallest of the boys finally stopped urging the others on with chants of “Cut him!” I only moaned an easy moan and marvelled at how much a cut like that felt more like a burn than anything else… like someone had just dragged a lit match across my wrist.
The whole episode probably lasted no longer than twenty seconds.
I stayed there in the grass for some time. I thought about heaven. I thought about my sins and about atonement, and how, after all was said and done, it was probably good that this happened. This was the kind of thing that would almost certainly secure my place beyond the Pearly Gates. This sort of suffering was reserved for those righteous enough to quietly take a beating that they had coming to them. Everything I thought I understood about God told me one thing, I was cleansed. Purified.
Of course, dad never showed up that weekend, and the next time I saw him, there was little more than a thin pink line of raised skin across my wrist. I was in high school by then, and dad had apparently long since forgotten about Stingray, and was now more concerned with making sure I was thoroughly informed about all of the fine universities that he would never help me get into. He mentioned something about some careers that he’d never been able to pursue, and how he wished he’d somehow been able to vicariously reach them through me, if only I had applied myself. C’est la vie.
By this time, I’d totally lost my fear of those railroad tracks, and I also discovered that there was some fine weed to be bought in the neighborhood beyond. I spent quite a bit of time on or around those tracks. You could sit in the tall grass for hours, smoking dope and planning your next purchase, and no one would bother you. Things were starting to get better.
This particular day that I am thinking of--it was shortly after the last visit from my father--I found myself walking stoned through the dying weeds, barely brushing my fingers against their tips. The November sky was hopelessly gray and dead, and my jean jacket wouldn’t have been enough to keep me warm if it weren’t for the the fact that I was quite stoned.
I was thinking about something--probably Cap’n Crunch--when I fell face-first into the weeds. I knew what it was even before I rolled over and sat up, brushing the bits of urban straw from my face. I furiously rubbed the pain out of my shin as I eyed the rusted frame that lay dead before me. The bits that still held color betrayed a faint, pink hue, but this finish had long been faded by years of ultra-violet violations, and had probably been a deep red, perhaps a candy-apple red at some point in a distant but never-forgotten time.
I sat there for some time. It could have been an hour, but likely it was closer to five minutes. I turned her over in my arms, trying to identify the body. There was a deeper pink oval on the fork where a Schwinn label might once have been glued, but I couldn’t be sure. The side on which she rested was of a considerably deeper color than the side that faced the sky, telling me that she’d been there for some time. The tires, the seat, the handle-grips were all gone. I held her before me, squinting, trying to picture her with paint, wheels and a banana seat. I tried to see my dad wheeling her out of Albright’s with that shit-eating grin on his face, but I couldn’t.
I laid her back down where I found her, and I thought about going home and having that bowl of cereal. I looked one more time before I left, thinking a fresh peek might tear away some forgotten detail from the inner wall of my cranium, but there was nothing.
If I think about it real hard, I’m positive it wasn’t her.
But then again, it might have been.
Open Thread: The Yardarm and The Empire
There you go, the only advantage to Empire, following the yardarm.... all things considered, we may as well drink.
Here is a recipe for Ramos Gin Fizz… couple of society girls, almost past their primes, had a place on the wharf here, Pier 23, and made good ones. Better ones were at the Royal in New Orleans. We polished off many over many days across a few years at the roof top bar..especially nice in the driving rain.
Over the jump....
Egg whites need to beaten til frothy, then shake the drink til creamy and thick, in a shaker or screw top jar…
one egg white, one tsp powdered sugar, 3 drops orange flower water, juice of half lime, one drop vanilla extract, 2 tblsp whipping cream, 2 oz gin, 2 tblsp club soda, one cup cracked ice, one orange slice.
Shake everything but the orange slice.... One drink. I sort of roughly multiply at will to make 4 or 6 or however many…
The Art of Cinema
I’ll go out on one of my many limbs (no, I’m not Joyce Kilmer) to say this:
Our country may be huge and contain much but there is an entire world of culture out there that doesn’t speak (or more importantly create) in our very recently uber-dominant native tongue. I’m not saying you need to go out now and learn Spanish to read Marquez’ “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. This is ever so much easier, you can do this in English while hearing the exquisite language of the art’s creation. You may understand much more how we are all so similar and connected if you experience what is detailed below.
One of my passions in life, professionally and personally is film. Sadly someone said here recently that film is ‘highly degenerative to the human mind’ but i heartily disagree. I’ll match anyone book for book (as we will discuss in my thread next week) but Cinema is the great artform of the last 100 years.
I want to share with you 5 films that are available on DVD (or will be any moment). I don’t rent DVD’s as I’m one of those very old-fashioned folks who believe that films should be seen in the dark with lots of people (just like sex amongst liberals), sorry just had to give those right-wing lurkers heart palpitations.
These films were all made in the recent past so i hope that makes them available. That could mean your local video store (if the owners have a soul or a clientele who will support it) or available via Netflix or Amazon. If you know what’s coming and have that old knee-jerk reaction I humbly ask you to push beyond it for you will be handsomely rewarded.
In order, from Easiest to Wonderful Workout are:
#5 From Italy
La Finestra di Fronte (Facing Windows) Director: Ferzan Ozpetek
This is a completely accessible film that will mesmerize you. It stars two of the most beautiful people on the planet, Giovanna Mezzogiorno (no words to describe her but she could launch more ships than currently exist) and Raoul Bova (you may know him as the hunk from Diane Lane’s “Under the Tuscan Sun” which pales in comparison). This is a film of longing, passion and history. Not only is it funny and romantic but it ultimately has volumes to say about life since WWII and what has happened to us all in-between. La Finestra has more delicious layers than a few of the cakes that pop up on-screen. Save dessert for afterward, you’ll understand when you see it.
#4 From the Czech Republic
Divided We Fall, Director: Jan Hrebejk
This film from a few years ago will wrap you up in a blanket of wonderful humanity, the way so many films that deal with WWII can do. Set in 40’s Prague, this films spins every preconception you have had about the way human beings dealt with this horrendous time. It is funny and sly but pulls no punches about the era it portrays. I walked out of this film beaming about the great things that are inside us that we don’t always know about until we are tested. A total feel good movie and one that you can never predict where it is heading (a real problem with so many paint-by-numbers films here). This film did garner an Oscar nomination when it was released.
#3 From China
Not One Less, Director: Zhang Yimou
This film absolutely slayed me. It takes you to a world you could not possibly show in our country today. Set in rural China, it is the story of a student teacher, still a child herself thrust into taking over a class when the old teacher is called away. Because the little village is in danger of being disbanded the teacher tells the student teacher when he leaves that when he returns there cannot be ‘one less child’ at the school or it will be closed by the regional government. What follows will absolutely rivet you, watching how this child herself tends this flock when one child runs away. It is harrowing, life affirming and will leave you completely satisfied. Can you tell I love this film?
#2 from Brazil
City of God (Ciadade de Deus), Director: Fernando Meirelles
This is a film many of you may have seen already as it had a general release and is readily available on DVD (it actually played for 7 months here in NYC). Set in Brazil in a tenement city, this film stayed in my mind for many months after I saw it. Unlike most films from abroad City of God received numerous Oscar nominations including Best Director and Best Cinematographer and I believe it won for Best Screenplay From Another Medium as it was adapted from a novel by the same name. Warning, there is violence but it is completely necessary because it shows you what day to day life has become among the poor in Rio de Janiero. The amateur cast is uniformly incredible in their roles. It will break your heart but it is something we must all look at headlong. We cannot shove our poor under a rug and pretend they don’t exist and that their lives are not valuable to us all. This film is an incredible place to experience this.
#1 from France
The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste) Director: Michael Haneke
Ah, the toughest one is saved for last. I could write a thesis on this film because it is such a banquet, although some who do not understand it think it is an exercise in torture, which in a way it is. This film won the Palme D’or at Cannes the year before last (Best Film) and also won Best Actress and Best Actor. This film should have swept the Oscars here but there is no justice on these shores where Art and Cinema intersect. A few months ago Elfriede Jelinek won the Pulitzer Prize for her body of work and La Pianiste sits at the peak of her accomplishments. It tells the story of Erika, a repressed piano teacher in Vienna and what happens in the months when her life virtually explodes. It is the bravest performance I believe has ever been given by a major star. Once you see it you will understand the commitment Isabelle Huppert exhibited for her art when she threw herself head first into this maelstrom. It is something you will never see Meryl Streep (Huppert’s American equivalent) attempt and I have no doubt Streep would readily admit it. This film chronicles control, repression, sado-masochism, Oedipal conflict and so much more in a way film has never dared to before. She is matched toe-to-toe by her co-star Benoit Magimel who burst to full stardom in France with this performance.
The one thing I have yet to understand is why no one has caught (in print) that this whole story is an historical allegory. That’s all i will say for now but I would gladly correspond with anyone who has seen the film. I have read every review and article I can get my hands on and no one has ever brought this up yet when I’ve discussed this with people who have seen it, they all understand when I point out all the clues. This film has more levels to it than even it’s staunchest supporters understand. One caveat if you haven’t figured it out, this film in not for those under 18, at least until you’ve seen it first and could explain it to them. It is a harrowing film on an emotional, psychological and sexual level.
I know this was a long slog to read but I will wrap this up. The common thread of all these films is there is a political element to every one, which is why these made the list for Exile_lsf. Each film offers either a viewpoint of War, Poverty, Crime, Minorities, Education, Morality or some combo of all of the above.
If you are feeling daring this long holiday weekend, rent one of these films and treat yourself to something special. In the case of the Piano Teacher make sure you are ready as it’s the very deep end of the pool and not for the casual movie-goer, to put it mildly.
Friday, November 26, 2004
Four Concessions to al-Qaida
Originally posted by theoria on Daily Kos, Sat Nov 8th, 2003
From the moment the first plane hit the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, the notion of “safe and free” has eluded we Americans. To a great degree, this is something that we will sadly never recover. Our collective naivetÃ© was thrown back in our faces with incredible force that day. Some would say that we learned a valuable though tragic lesson on September 11, 2001. Some would say that we have learned nothing.
Unfortunately, much of what has taken place since that fateful morning has done little to protect us, and quite a bit to make us less secure--less free. This is precisely what the hijackers wanted.
The First Concession: The USA PATRIOT Act
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Congress hastily passed the USA PATRIOT Act, with virtually no debate. For the first time in our great history, the government no longer has to show probable cause or obtain a warrant in order to gain access to your medical files, student files or other personal files. They have the same access to the records of the books that you borrow from the library (kudos to the American Library Association for refusing to comply) or buy from the bookstore. They have the freedom to access the server logs that will tell them about your web surfing habits--where you go and what you read online. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that secret searches allow them the same unimpeded freedom to enter and search your home when you are not there. You would never be informed that an investigating is or was taking place.
The government has the freedom to investigate you, without showing probable cause, whether you are a suspected terrorist or not. In fact, they are already using these potentially dangerous tools to investigate citizens who are not suspected of terrorism. These investigations can be brought into action by the books you read, the church you attend, the web sites you visit, the editorials you write, or simply by the whims of the Department of Justice.
Modifications to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States have been made in order to give them these freedoms.
To date, information gathered using the powers that the USA PATRIOT Act bestowed upon the government has not affected the threat from terrorists. The president, the DoJ and intelligence-gathering community have always had enough power, they simply weren’t using it correctly.
PATRIOT II promises to erode our freedoms even further, allowing your citizenship to be revoked at the whim of the DoJ with no judicial oversight. This would cause you to immediately lose every right that you have as a citizen, including access to a lawyer. The draft version of PATRIOT II lists “civil disobedience” as a possible cause for revoking someone’s citizenship. This is remarkably and profoundly un-American.
As Abraham Lincoln said, “Those who are ready to sacrifice freedom for security ultimately will lose both.”
The Second Concession: Stifling Dissent
Part of the fallout of the USA PATRIOT Act is the fear that it will be implemented against those that choose to exercise the rights guaranteed to them by the First Amendment.
The incredible fear that many Americans felt immediately following the horrors of 9/11 has also given way to a new definition of the word patriot. In coffee shops and around the water-cooler, in churches and on campuses, in libraries and in newsrooms, people are more afraid to speak their minds than ever. The all-American notion that “dissent is patriotic” has given way to the notion that “unquestioning support of the president” is patriotic. Teddy Roosevelt deemed this mistaken notion as nothing less than treasonous. To bastardize the word patriot in this way is to insult every soldier that has ever put on that uniform to serve this country, including the young men and women fighting and dying in Iraq as you read this. Of course, soldiers are not the only patriots--this is an insult to every freedom-loving American. The forefathers are spinning in their graves.
Additionally, “Free-Speech Zones” allow protestors to be herded out of sight or earshot of anywhere that the president appears, including motorcade routes, so that their voices are heard neither by the public nor the objects of their discontent. People are being arrested for not standing in the right place.
On the eve of the war in Iraq, the Pentagon handed down an unprecedented order barring media coverage or photography of homecoming ceremonies for our dead heroes--the real patriots. For this administration, flag-draped caskets are regarded simply as bad publicity. This is the reality of war, and this restriction is an insult to both the families of the dead and the American people.
Voices that need to be heard--now more than ever--are being squelched for fear of retribution. This can include anything from the loss of a friend or a job, to revoked citizenship and a secret, indefinite, all-expenses paid trip to Guantanamo, Cuba, depending on the level of your paranoia.
The Third Concession: Turning World Opinion Against Us
More than a half-century of diplomatic gains have been undone in the last year, and no one can argue the fact that most of the rest of the world no longer respects us. Immediately following 9/11, things were much different. The prevailing attitude that swept much of the civilized world was “We are all Americans.” Much has been said about the unfortunate and unparalleled squandering of an enormous amount of world-wide goodwill toward the U.S. This has already come back to haunt us, and we’ll be in Iraq quite a bit longer as a result. Alienating ourselves from the rest of the world is short-sighted, to say the least.
Many Americans feel that “going it alone” is the American Way, but what they don’t understand, or refuse to acknowledge, is that the world is a tiny, ever-shrinking place. The rest of the world liking us, or at the very least, respecting us, is important to the survival of this great nation. If a little diplomacy is too much to ask for, we can at least try to be civil. As it turns out, the French don’t have a patent on arrogance.
In the past, we were no less than a beacon of freedom and liberty that much of the rest of the world looked up to. Now we are living down to the low-expectations of those who hate us for being free.
The Fourth Concession: Holy War/Cultivating the Threat
The messages that are relayed to us through the conservative mass media engender fear in many Americans. Much more worrisome is the fact that the actions of the current administration continue to propagate the actual threat of more terrorism. The “War on Terrorism” is actually furthering the terrorists’ agenda by creating more of them, uniting them, cementing their resolve, and finally giving them real reasons to hate us.
Osama bin-Laden had one overarching goal when he set his terrible plan into action a little more than two years ago. Simply put, he wanted to draw us into a holy war. It is extremely worrisome that many people around the world, and even some here at home, see our ongoing military actions as a war of “Christians versus Muslims”. For those of you that slept through history class, the Crusades were a bad thing, to say the least.
The ill-conceived war in Iraq is quickly becoming this generation’s Viet Nam. Our mighty military is stretched thin, and we are stuck in a quagmire with no exit plan and Iraqi resistance growing stronger every day. Around the country, draft boards are being staffed at an ever-quickening pace. Those who thought that forced conscription ended along with the Viet Nam war may have an unpleasant surprise in the near future. Republican Congressman and Viet Nam hero, John McCain, has recently articulated the disturbing parallels between the old quagmire and the new one.
The Reality of These Concessions
Today, freedom and democracy exist only as crude, fragmented, tattered and altogether illusory counterfeits, along with the notion of safety that is foisted upon us by the current administration.
In a misguided and artificial effort to protect us, our leaders have ensured that the 9/11 hijackers did not die in vain. The freedom-haters have succeeded in destroying much of what it means to be free in America. The terrorists have succeeded in creating an enduring fear among us.
American democracy is falling upon its own sword. Our leaders are complicit in this crime.
During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. - George Orwell
â€œItâ€™s all about the childrenâ€?
So, gay marriage is a big wedge issue, weâ€™re told. â€œMoral Valuesâ€? â€¦ thatâ€™s the reason we Democrats keep losing. Itâ€™s about God and such, the pundits blather.
Theyâ€™re all wrong. Itâ€™s about the children.
That is THE wedge issue. Fear of, about and for the precious lives of children. Now this, on its face, is the very heart of the reason why people gather together in communities, build fences and arm themselves. Wait ... thatâ€™s the Republicans view of the world.
Which raises an issue, where does the left stand regarding children?
Before I get into this: I donâ€™t have any. I donâ€™t feel very comfortable around them, to tell the truth, especially not when theyâ€™re in packs. I didnâ€™t like children when I was a child. I enjoy being an uncle, but actually having some of my own â€¦ well, Iâ€™d rather not. End disclaimer.
I was thinking about this problem today after reading Frank Richâ€™s piece over at the NY Times website today.
If we are to believe the outcry of the past two weeks, America’s youth have been defiled en masse - again. This time the dirty deed was done by the actress Nicollette Sheridan, who dropped her towel in the cheesy promotional spot for the runaway hit “Desperate Housewives” that kicked off “Monday Night Football” on ABC. “I wonder if Walt Disney would be proud,” said Michael Powell, the Federal Communications Commission chairman who increasingly fashions himself a commissar of all things cultural, from nipple rings to “Son of Flubber.”
It’s beginning to look a lot like “Groundhog Day.” Ever since 22 percent of the country’s voters said on Nov. 2 that they cared most about “moral values,” opportunistic ayatollahs on the right have been working overtime to inflate this nonmandate into a landslide by ginning up cultural controversies that might induce censorship by a compliant F.C.C. and, failing that, self-censorship by TV networks. Seizing on a single overhyped poll result, they exaggerate their clout, hoping to grab power over the culture.
It is, however, the root of the success of the right and the theocons â€¦ the left, and the Democratic Party, are a threat to children:
- We are â€œpro abortion.â€? Our policies and values prevent children from entering the world.
- We fight for gun control. In other words, we want to prevent big, strong American men from protecting their children.
- We are for â€œtax-and-spend government.â€? Yes, we want to take, indirectly, the food out of childrenâ€™s mouths.
- â€œHollywood Liberalsâ€? and â€œsecular humanistsâ€? support us. When someone goes off on you about the â€œliberal media,â€? this is what theyâ€™re talking about. These horrible influences will lead their children astray, leading them to lives of drugs, debauchery and buggery.
These are all, of course, exaggerations. Seriously, though, what do we fight for? I donâ€™t mean in general terms. How will we help protect, develop and feed children? How do we convince our fellow citizens that we can work together as a society, through government, to better the lot of children?
I think I am safe in stating that we all agree that all children should have basic health care, food & shelter. Do we believe in and fight for public education? Funding for a college education and, perhaps, beyond? How do we show people that looking down the road, perhaps seven generations into the future, should be the base from which public policy is developed?
How do we move forward, for the sake of the children?
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