Monday, February 28, 2005
What America Believes!
In a Harris Poll conducted this month, I found some of the results quite surprising:
44 % actually believe that several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11 were Iraqis.
47 % of adult Americans believe that Saddam Hussein helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001.
36 % believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded.
Please think about these figures for a minute. They refer to something like 100 million adult Americans. These results are not just surprisingâ€¦ they are quite disturbing.
After two years of Iraq being constantly a top item in the news, with all these issues being thoroughly covered by all media, how is it possible that so many millions do not know? In this age of the freedom of the press, of the huge news networks, of hundreds and hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stationsâ€¦ and the Internetâ€¦. How can that be possible?
Can someone tell me how this is possible after all the media coverage and after all that has been written and said? What news do all these people watch? What newspapers do they read? What radio stations do they listen to?
Are all those people mad? That certainly cannot be true! They have to be misinformed. But who has been doing thatâ€¦and why?
If it is possible to mislead so many Americans so easily, and for so long, then of course it is possible for the US administration to do what the rest of the world sees as unacceptable. This being the case, then of course it is not difficult to see that many millions of Americans may willingly support any administration in targeting Iraq, Iran, Syria, France or even Britainâ€¦ or practically do what they like. Unbelievable?
How can a democracy work with so many people grossly ignorant of simple, basic and important facts?
What hope is there for â€˜reaching Americaâ€™ or discussing finer points if such basic blatant facts are held in error by so many?
What am I doing, wasting my time and yours?
Oh, My Word! Volume 17
Those Gone, Before
The past several weeks have seen the deaths of a couple of Very Important Writers, and writers whose work and style hold lessons for those of us here in the land of blogs. Both Arthur Miller and Hunter S. Thompson were political writers, as many of us are, but they both went beyond the everyday sort of “Can you believe what the idiot in the White House did today?” sorts of political presentation. They never, ever got into that whole “Here’s the Other Side, in the interests of ‘equal tine’ and ‘balance,’ even though a cursory examination of the facts reveals that the Other Side is full of shit” format that journalists somehow feel hidebound to do these days.
Mostly, though, these men, through the careful cultivation of their own idiosyncratic approaches, provided absolutely unique perspectives on the world of politics and the state of American Culture that we, as bloggers, can only hope to mimic poorly. But there are a few things I’d like to draw your attention to, in the hopes that we can all be better for it.
About this time last year, I marked the passing of the great monologuist of our age with a post titled “We Are All Spalding Gray." I knew that, at the core of what bloggers do, is the same impulse that possessed Spalding Gray to take to the stage and put everything--from the deeply personal to the mildly treasonous--out there for the world to see. Like Gray, Hunter S. Thompson suffered from the same first-person-first mentality that holds us bloggers in its grip. A pioneer of first-person journalism (and inventor of “Gonzo Journalism"), Thompson was never afraid to insert himself boldly in the middle of his stories, even his hard news stories. His biases were never hidden, and neither was his voice. Every great writer has a voice that is immediately recognizable, which makes imitators look like amateurs. In the blog world, we can all think of those whose voices are iconic: Billmon, Josh Marshall, Fafnir, and our own Koufax award-winning Meteor Blades, for example. One of the easiest ways to distinguish yourself from the ever more-crowded field of bloggers is to develop that inimitable voice.
When I think about Thompson, and his “Gonzo Journalism,” I can’t help but think of that anthropology principle developed by Margaret Mead (I think--but you’ll correct me if I’m wrong), that mirrors Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: The very fact of observing something--in the anthropological and Gonzological cases, people and their doings--changes the thing itself. It is not our job as bloggers to remain impartial and distanced, and bloggers who do (or pretend to do so) completely miss the point (read just about any major newspaper’s “blog” to see what I mean). Anyone else remember the dust-up a couple months back caused by the revelation that Markos over at the dKos had, while he was blogging, worked for one or more political campaigns? Some people thought that a big disclaimer at the top of his blog and a prominent post labeled “Full Disclosure” was hardly enough. Kos thinks, and I agree, that it probably was more than necessary. Heck, I have a big “folkbum endorses” section in my sidebar--does anyone really think I’m going to bother seeming impartial? No one reads blogs for news; we read blogs for opinion, original thinking, and a kind of Gonzo-inspired world-changing point of view.
Arthur Miller was in many ways the anti-Gonzo. Not that he aimed for objectivity and distance, but rather that he chose to transpose the politics of his writing to some other time, some other place, but no less full of pathos and perspective. None of his work did this moreso than Death of a Salesman, which might just about be the most important play ever written for the American stage. The everyman Willy Loman was the quintessential American worker, watching his shot at the American Dream move ever farther away. Since its initial production in 1949, the themes of that play have remained relevant and every revival reminds us of how universal the sense of overwhelming failure brought on by accident of era and status can be.
Many of you would probably also point to his masterful The Crucible, which deftly told the story of the McCarthy-era witch hunts through, well, the story of a witch hunt. I concur; Miller, like many authors of his day, could not easily stand up and say that HUAC and Army-McCarthy were anathema, but he could remind us how sinister a tool the witch hunt can be for those in power. Even today, The Crucible is required reading for many high school and college students, in part because we should never forget those lessons.
For bloggers, there is less to immediately take away from Miller’s work, but there is still something there if you look hard enough. He had the ability, unrivaled, I think, to synthesize the American experience and boil it down to a central, symbolic ideal. He made the intangible real, the unimaginable human. Bloggers do this every day by embracing the personal-political connection, throwing themselves into the observed universe.
This brings us, in many ways, full circle to Spalding Gray and Hunter S. Thompson: For all the mythos around those two men, what remained at the core of their work was a person who, in many ways, was a symbolic construction, whose existence was owed almost entirely to accidents of era and status--and to the very fact of our observing them.
(I wrote most of this before Izzy’s wonderful post yesterday on Thompson--props to her and thanks for the wise words.)
"Oh, Your Word!"
Apparently, you all are not taking the hint, because my inbox runneth dry again this week.
At the very least, someone should be sending me ads for C!@L!$ or something.
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.
and the oscar goes to...
I will post in a bit. But just one question,
Is the oscars a Beyonce concert? I’m sorry, but it’s kind of strange!!!!
Sunday, February 27, 2005
Who Are We Now?
Well, first and foremost, if you’re like the people who normally populate my Sunday Night Mexican Restaurant where my friends and I like to end our week (i know, we think monday starts the week, liberal urban heathens that we are) you are at home watching the tube. So use this as an Open Thread for Oscars.
I just watched the first 5 minutes and it was Oscar saluting it’s past. And that’s important because there really is no Oscar present. There are almost no great American films being honored this year, a few good ones, some English language and foreign imports and not much else.
What is happening with art and culture in our country? Is there any serious examination of it? In other years there have been articles saying ‘this is a weak year for films’ but this year, when the candidates are the weakest group I’ve seen in a decade there is literally no discussion of it. Could it have anything to do with the fact that the media is owned by the very corporations that make the films that are being honored tonight?
Let’s look at the films that are nominated that don’t deserve to be noticed more than nominally. The two that spring to mind are “The Aviator” an over-long miscast film about Howard Hughes. Poor Leonardo is 10 years to young for this film and Cate Blanchett looks like his mother. If only Warren Beatty could have made his Howard Hughes pick 15 years ago after his brilliant “Reds” but sadly no one would give him the financing.
Then we have “Million Dollar Baby” which is a tired pastiche of cliche’s woven together to make the most over-narrated lame film to be touted in ages. Morgan Freeman narrates to beat the band and plays a 2005 version of his Driving Miss Daisy character. It was one thing to play this in 1950’s Mississippi but another thing to play this in the present day. We also have a one note white trash family who might as well just twirl their collective mustaches for all the colors they play in this movie. It’s one badly stacked decked that culminates in a pathetically dishonest denoument.
The only things worth lauding were the wonderful “Sideways” which in a normal year would be a very good film, not the best film but even so it won’t win what it should. The best female performance was at least nominated as Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake has been recognized. But poor Gael Garcia Bernal in both Bad Education and Motorcycle Diares has been overlooked as well as Javier Bardem for The Sea Inside, a much better treatise on euthanasia than one of our other nominated films (sorry, no spoilers here because you guys don’t seem to see many films!).
What else to say today? My horrifying moment today was heading to see a film this afternoon (the truly banal “Constantine") was passing by a truck on E. 10th St. and seeing the back window covered with an American flag. The caption read “Fear Us!”. I was sick to my stomach to see this idiot with NJ license plate flaunting this. What does this say about us, as both NY and NJ are “blue states” and yet this person doesn’t worry a hoot about putting something so sad and disgusting on display.
Oh well, it seemed Morgan “step and fetchit” performance was just honored over Thomas Hayden Church’s comic revelation in Sideways. And Morgan exits to the strains of “Star Wars”.... how appropriate is that when Chris Rock talks about our troops fighting for ‘freedom all over the world”. Really? I thought that was just goal-post moving after the Bush Admin. had to cover their asses after there were no WMD’s. It’s a sham my friends, this whole shebang.
We're All Liars
It’s been a week since that glorious bastard, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, left this one-horse planet, blew this shitty pop stand, pulled the trigger, and got the hell out of here. I’m sad that he’s gone, I miss him already, but I don’t think he ever really liked it here anyway.
A lot has been written about him, especially since his death. He has been described as many things, but I think the most appropriate description is truth teller. He was a truth teller on a rampage. He saw a certain kind of truth, a raw truth, and it’s a hard thing to look at every day. It drove him nuts and pissed him off and he could only stand it by consuming massive amounts of mind-altering substances.
Yet he maintained enough sanity to write about what he saw. He maintained enough humanity to make it hysterically funny at times. Whatever faults he may have had, he was generous and kind enough to offer up his pain for our edification and amusement. It was a rare and valuable gift.
To understand what Hunter was seeing and telling us about in his writing, we have to acknowledge the fact that there are different levels of truth that sometimes contradict one another. One truth resides in reason and fact—the civilized truth. The other truth resides in instinct, emotion, and impulse—the raw truth.
In the world of the raw truth, we’re all liars. And the lie we’re always telling each other, as well as ourselves, is that we’re reasonable people. In the world of the civilized truth, this may actually be an honest assessment. Perhaps we are people who listen to others, consider before we act, have open minds and honest hearts. But in the world of raw truth, this is nothing more that window dressing.
The raw truth is made up of wholly unreasonable things. Sometimes it remains hidden, but other times it intrudes. Raw truth is birth, death, an orgasm, a life-threatening illness, a fist in the face, or an heroic rescue. We all recognize the elemental power of these moments. We understand them, but they can’t really be described, only experienced. And they’re usually not pretty.
But the raw truth is always there, under the surface, pushing and pulling at us, exerting its influence in all of our interactions. And this is how the raw truth makes liars out of us: I’m fine; you look great; of course I don’t mind; that seems like a good idea; no, I’m not angry; of course I’ll cooperate.
We repeat these lies day after day while inside, we agonize and gloat; the coward cringes and the killer seethes; the ravening beast wants more and the craven wretch plots its revenge.
It is the most secret part of us, sometimes the worst, but also the best because art and genius reside there too. Under the surface we find beautiful minds obsessing over mysteries, sensitive souls weeping at beauty, compassionate heroes willing to lend a helping hand, and brave hearts ready to do the right thing whatever the cost.
But this stuff, whether ugly or beautiful, is exhausting. You can no more be a beast or a sinner every day than you can be a hero or a saint. Sometimes we are more one of these things than the other, but they reside in us all to greater and lesser degrees. We can avoid our natures or remain true to them, but ultimately who we are as people depends on how well we do at taming ourselves.
The things that burn brightest cannot be sustained. If we all lived in the raw world, life would indeed be brutal and short. And since it tends to be easier to be bad, good usually ends up getting its ass kicked by the angry mob. So we had to find some way out of the raw world and we thought and formed words to symbolize those thoughts and we started communicating, compromising, and agreeing to certain rules, protocols, and formalities and constructed this veneer that we call civilization.
And while civilization may turn all of us into liars, it has its own truth. The truth of any civilization is the collective dreams and hopes of all of its people. When we observe a formality or hide a raw truth, at the same time we are agreeing to the noble purpose of the group. Civilization is a collective effort. Its truth only remains in our ability to sustain it.
And this is a good and worthy project. Over the long haul, our worth as people can be judged by how well and how often we participated—how much effort we put into sustaining our hopes and dreams. In fact, it may be the only thing that really counts, so far as I can tell.
But there is one danger with becoming too civilized. The danger is believing that it’s how things really are instead of the result of the collective works of the many. We long to put the raw truth behind us. To forget it or even deny it, so we need the Hunter Thompsons of this world to act as our emissaries. To show us the ugly bits we don’t want to see anymore.
And sometimes when surface appearance contradicts the inner workings, we need a man like that to tell us what’s really going on. It took someone like him to see a pleasant looking leader wearing a suit and tie, and call him a monster with blood dripping from his fangs.
And some of us would still deny the truths Hunter was showing us. We tend to scorn such men, calling them mad or calling them monsters. If they want to be listened to, they damned well better make it funny, because some of us don’t want to take this stuff seriously. But if Hunter saw fangs, I had more faith in that than my own flimsy perception of the suit.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson spent most of his life here courageously staring into the gaping maw of the raw truth. He chased it, sought it, battled it, and told us what it was like. It was ugly and powerful and many didn’t believe him. He was a warrior engaged in a long, hard slog of getting to the truth. He didn’t get enough credit for his service. He fought bravely and well in exposing the truth and I hope he’s finally free of it.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
In Defense of CSR: A Response to the Economist
Soapbox competition essay submitted by dcvote
A recent issue of the Economist presents an argument against corporate responsibility (CSR), which has become a popular tool for advancing social and environmental welfare. Economist authors state that â€œcompanies that merely compete and prosper make society better offâ€? and assert that unethical companies wonâ€™t remain in business long, anyway. Where companiesâ€™ interests and the public good do not alignâ€”for instance, when companies polluteâ€”the authors are confident that government or the courts can address the problem. Thus, they say, CSR is unnecessary. Enlightened self-interest and the marketâ€™s invisible hand, shepherded by legislation and jurisprudence, will achieve the best outcome for all.
Being a proponent of CSR, I have some problems with this argument. Granted, the Economist might not take issue with me demanding fair trade coffee from supermarkets or fuel-efficient cars from automakersâ€”after all, Iâ€™m communicating consumer demand, and the most successful companies will be those that create a supply to match itâ€”but theyâ€™d disagree with my motivating viewpoint, which is that many corporations earn their profits at the expense of society and the environment and must be stopped from doing so.
The main reason the Economistâ€™s formula (enlightened self-interest + market forces + government regulation = the best outcome for all) doesnâ€™t work is that corporations hold more sway than voters when it comes to regulation. Take, for instance, the Medicare prescription drug bill that will cost $723 billion over the next ten years and benefit the drug companies more than seniors. Public Campaign helps explain this development: â€œHealth care related interests have poured more than $163 million into federal political campaigns and party coffers since 1999 and have reaped huge policy paybacks that are harmful to ordinary peopleâ€™s health.â€? Examples in other arenas, from relaxed environmental laws to corporate tax breaks, abound. Politicians who are looking out for corporate interests are also likely to install corporation-friendly judges whoâ€™ll uphold such laws, thus perpetuating the cycle.
The Economist would probably agree that one solution to this problem is to elect politicians who arenâ€™t beholden to special interests. This, like the assertion that the market will reward the best companies, rests on the faulty assumption that we have good options to choose from. If political hopefuls who refuse corporate contributions and companies that operate ethically are squeezed out by corporate-financed candidates and unscrupulous corporations, then we canâ€™t vote with our ballots or our dollars for a good candidateâ€”weâ€™re stuck choosing between Bad and Worse.
So, how do we get good options into our political races and our marketplace? I recommend supporting campaign finance reform and clean elections while pressuring companies to consider workersâ€™ welfare, human rights, and the environment as well as profitsâ€”in other words, to practice CSR. Once clean politicians and ethical corporations can truly compete with their less-ethical counterparts, Iâ€™ll feel more comfortable letting the invisible hand do its work.
Econ, Biz, Devel • Elections 2004-08 • Nonprofits/NGOs • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Making the jump from ideology to activism: views from a high school student
Soapbox competition entry submitted by ihugtrees
On January 20, approximately 35 students walked out of classes at Ingraham High School in Seattle to bus downtown and protest the policies of George W. Bush and the occupation of Iraq.Â We were met by dozens and dozens of students from other secondary schools all over the city.Â We represent what may be the greatest unharnessed source of energy and life for the liberal grassroots: high-schoolers.Â The advent of the internet and blogosphere has led to a greater political awareness in high schools than ever before.Â
Thousands of students across the country would be willing to work for progressive causes, if only they were called upon and treated as the force they are.Â The success of school walkouts in Seattle can be attributed to the anti-war organization Not in Our Nameâ€™s local chapter.Â By listing high schools as targets when planning walkouts by students, many kids were inspired to post flyers and organize actions in their schools.Â This is the type of work that more organizations could benefit from if they only had the will.
I made the jump from ideology to activism when I became involved in the Howard Dean campaign after stumbling upon it surfing the web.Â For the first time, I could put some action behind my words, and do something to make the change I wanted.Â This jump is the only major obstacle keeping high schoolers from greater involvement in politics.Â The liberal ideas and thoughts are already present in the heads of many teenagers, as is the drive to act. Organizations need to take advantage of this motivated generation by sending organizers to speak at sympathetic clubs, attempting to make contact with students willing to organize in schools, and offering general support, help, and advice to those who are active.Â There is a chance like never before to propel thousands of young people into activism before they can even vote.Â It would be a pity to let our energy and ambition go to waste.
The Chastity Police
Here is a wonderful article, I’d love to reprint it all but here’s a bit. I’d provide a link but it’s Variety and subsciption is required. It’s from the “Tuning In” column by Brian Lowry.
The Media Project is one of those do-gooder nonprofit groups conveying a relatively simple message- namely, if TV characters, particularly teens played by gorgeous twentysomethings, are going to hop into bed with each other, then at least producers should incorporate responsible messages about it.
Imagine my surprise, then, to hear that the organization’s funding has been dramatically cuty, apparently because it’s D.C. based parent, Advocates for Youth, hasn’t adhered to Bush Administration guidelines on abstinence-only sex education.
At the end of March, the Media Project will lose its entire staff except for director Melissa Havard, vacate its current offices and at least temporarily discontinue the 20-year old Shine Awards, which honor “accurate and honest portrayals” of sexual health issues. Major outreach events and briefings, as well as a Spanish-language media inititiative, also will be a thing of the past.
Let’s face it, without sex Paris Hilton would be “Paris who”? Nobody would watch “The OC” or “One Tree Hill” to see kids discuss college-prep English in parkas, so all we can hope is that Dawson mentions condoms or waiting before tumbling onto the couch with Joey, or for that matter Pacey.
Nevertheless, there’s a powerful movement afoot to set the way-back machine for the Middle Ages, or rather, to treat teenagers like they’re middle-aged- even though just saying no has done about as much to stamp out illicit drugs as counseling absinence alone will do to shackle raging teenage hormones.
It’s difficult to overlook the irony of Republicans and Democrats combining to implement mechanisms to fine the hell out of broadcasters when they do wrong while the former work to slash programs that theoretically encourage programmers to behave more conscientiously. The current policy also exposes some of the smut police’s true motives- here to condem, not to serve- when they assume seeing a breast or hearing an epithet can poison impressionable minds but exhbit no interest in promoting more sober treatment of such issues.
Sorry for the long post but it really is only half the article and it has so much to say about the hypocrisy of this Administration. They want absinence only when abortion rates are rising for every year of Bush’s term, unlike Clinton’s more open policies that had them in decline. Do you think this is intentional? Could these supposed pro-lifers be trying to make abortion rates rise to achieve a total ban when they could be doing something immediately to keep these numbers down? And let’s not even talk about stemming the tide of Aids cases with sex education.
Friday, February 25, 2005
Our Hardened Hearts
We Americans like to think of ourselves as generous people. Charitable, eager to help when someone is in need, a country held together by community and family. At a personal level many of us are.
How, then, do we reconcile the way we think of ourselves with the realities of life in America for so many of our fellow citizens? Of the seventy million children in this country, more than a third live in poor families, with nearly half of those in families with incomes below the Federal poverty level. Homelessness remains an intractable problem. A large number of Americans are without health insurance.
How did we get to this place as a people? Why do we lag behind much of the rest of the industrialized world forty years after Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty?
It is conventional wisdom to believe in those old dime novel Horatio Alger stories, that with hard work and determination, people can become anything they want to be. Those who donâ€™t achieve their dreams are plainly not working hard enough. Modern corporate America is built around these ideas born from Social Darwinism and a faith in the efficacy of the market to reward the efficient and clean out the wasteful.
Many of our countrymen also believe, many from a religious framework, that those who do well in life have been rewarded by God for their â€œgoodnessâ€? with success and wealth. Conversely, then, those who fail â€œdeserve it.â€?
It becomes easy, then, to forgive ourselves for the burgeoning numbers of the hungry, the homeless and the sick. They have plainly created the conditions that got them into their mess, and it is up to them to pull themselves out.
We see this reflected in the current assault on Social Security, in cuts to school lunch programs and homeless shelters. We increasingly direct our shared resources to building and reinforcing the successful, toward companies and the wealthy. In fact, work and the creation and expansion of wealth have become the very core of what drives this country. Meanwhile, more and more of our fellow citizens lose their jobs and face long and often fruitless searches for new ones. Once down, elements in our society are pursuing new laws to make it harder to declare bankruptcy and make a fresh start.
Having pointed this out, many would object that this has always been the case, and not just in this country. On the surface, that is true. Human beings have needed to acquire and provide food and shelter for themselves and their families across all cultures, locations and times. They worked to survive, but would celebrate their successes with songs, dancing, religious festivals and opportunities to stop and enjoy their lives. Those moments were every bit as important as the work, once survival had been assured.
What do we Americans work for? Increasingly, we work to work. We have become an economic Sparta, centering our culture around business the way those ancient Greeks centered theirs around the military. The state is now a servant of corporate interests and the demands of the wealthy. The weak and failed can safely be thrown overboard, for they serve only to make us less efficient, as the Spartans abandoned weak infants to the elements.
We have become a mean, harsh people. Horatio Algerâ€™s self-made men are a dangerous myth. There is no mention in those stories of the mentor, the teacher, the coach or minister who offered guidance and encouragement. No note of the kind stranger who offered a hand up when one inevitably stumbled. No understanding that bad decisions, illness and bad luck can derail the best of people. No room for people to have a second chance.
We need to step back from the beliefs that weâ€™ve come so dependent on. We need to figure out that we should work for our families, for time with our friends and families, to make and create and enjoy the life we are blessed with. It is not enough just to work, with wealth pursued as some strange measure of our goodness. Work is a means to secure a meaningful life, not the goal of that life. As we work to take our country back, we should make part of our cause a sense that we are all in this together. There are no self-made men, but rather people who succeed when we all work together toward living up to our image of ourselves, a good and generous people.
Econ, Biz, Devel • Family Values • Healthcare • Labor/Work/Poverty • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Sun, Snow... Truly A Sight To Awe Central Perkers
We saw heavy snow in NYC this week. And then the sun came, bright as it only is in the winter air. Central Park morphed into something quite magical for a few short hours. There were tears to be seen in some eyes, so truly transforming and rare was the effect.
Slideshows: 1 In The Snow and 2 Opening Sunday and 3 In The Snow (2)
And to get a little taste of the FULL between-the-eyes effect click to see the Slideshow 1 shots fullscreen in Powerpoint. You will need the Powerpoint program on your computer.
The New (Package) Deal
There seems to be a significant mood for polarization in America. I donâ€™t know whether it is old or new, but it seems to be widespread. I see it exemplified by President Bushâ€™s repeatedly iterated stance of â€œyou are either with us or against usâ€?.
If you are not with us, then you have to be against us. Since we are good, you have to be bad. Even if you are with us in principle and final objective but do not approve of â€˜ourâ€™ approach to solution, then you are also against us. Simple logicâ€¦ but wrong.
There is no possibility of compromise. There is no middle ground. With us, or against us. Good or evil. White or black. Red or blue. It is a binary perspective: 0 or 1.
Our administration is good. If you are against any of its policies, you are bad.
Our administration is pro-democracy. If you oppose it, you are anti-democratic.
Our administration is religious. If you donâ€™t like it, you hate religion.
Our administration represents the people of America. If you do not approve of it, you hate America.
Our administration is fighting a global war on terrorism. If you do not like its approach or its methods, you are a â€˜terrorist-hugging dirt bagâ€™.
It is not black and white in the wider sense. Old black and white movies were not strictly pure black and white. They had a wide range of shades of gray. Otherwise they would have been quite annoying to the eye.
It is not even a binary system. In a binary system, combinations of 0â€™s and 1â€™s can produce an astonishing variety of shades. Witness these very words you are reading and the images and colors you can get on your monitor.
No. This is like a two-state multi-bit binary system. Something like either 111111111111111 (us) or 000000000000000 (them). Generosity is sometimes shown by allowing a few 0â€™s on the less significant bits.
It is like a â€˜package-dealâ€™: If you are with us, you have to be pro-democracy, pro-war-on-Iraq, anti-terrorist, pro-religion, anti-abortion, pro-Rumsfeld, pro-Sharon, anti-social-welfare, anti-France, anti-UN and so on and so forth.
This is worse than McCarthyism. What is so worrying is that this mood seems to be prevalent in America to the point of being epidemic.
It is this mode of thinking that has alienated much of Western Europe (a traditional ally) and most of the rest of the world. They did not approve of our actions in Iraq. Therefore, they must be enemies.
Problem: French Fries. French, bad, 0. Fries, good, 1. Result: 01.
Canâ€™t have that!
Solution: Freedom, good, 1. Therefore, we have â€œFreedom Friesâ€?.
Well, life is not as simple as that! Life is too complex, rich and varied to be described by a few 0â€™s and 1â€™s. Personally this creates a problem for me. If I am forced to use this system, being pro-democracy, pro-freedom, not-against-religion but against the present administrationâ€™s policies in Iraq, against their approach to war on terror against crony-cracy in Iraqâ€¦ I would be something like:
Very bad indeed!
The problem isâ€¦ many, many hundreds of millions of mankind, including a couple of hundred million Americans, have similar problems.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Infectious disease outbreaks and global warming: the coming plague?
Usually, when we think about global climate change, we thing about things like the melting Arctic and Antarctic, the recent heatwaves in Europe, rising seas, and of course the main cause of global warming, among other things.
As alarming as those symptoms of climate change are, there’s one subject that has been somewhat neglected in the mainstream discussion of global climate change: the emergence, and re-emergence, of a variety of serious human infectious diseases, as mentioned in a presentation given at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference this week in Washington, D.C.
So, I did some research on the internets, and found that among the many diseases mentioned, one showed up over and over again. A pretty scary one.
It has to do with a mouse, El NiÃ±o events, and my home state.
Intrigued? Turn the page.
Flashback to 1993
In May 1993, there was an outbreak of an acute illness in the Four Corners area of the southwest (map - I’m from New Mexico). The illness was characterized by a high fever, muscle aches, headaches, chills, and stomach aches, progressing to shortness of breath caused by the lungs filling with fluid. Of the 24 people infected, half of them died. Tests showed that the disease was caused by a previously unknown hantavirus. The disease was therefore dubbed “hantavirus pulmonary syndrome” or HPS.
Researchers were able to determine that the virus was carried by deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), who excrete it in their urine and feces. All the people who contracted HPS lived in areas where they were exposed to the mice. The virus was named the Sin Nombre virus. So, now, in addition to bubonic plague, New Mexicans had another disease to worry about.
Unfortunately, to this date, there is no cure for HPS. However, if the disease is diagnosed in time, patients’ blood can be oxygenated via extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation. The biggest spike in cases was in 1993 (click here - pdf).
Disease outbreak and climate change
After the HPS outbreak in 1993, multiple studies were done to determine why it was so bad that particular year. To make a long story short, you can blame the increased precipitation from the 1992 El NiÃ±o/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The World Health Organization lists a number of other diseases that are affected by ENSO; that fact sheet also mentions that scientists are beginning to think that global warming will affect the frequency and intensity of ENSO events (as predicted by this model, among other studies).
Most damning of all is this study, which shows the increased relationship between ENSO and cholera in Bangladesh. In fact, it’s probably the first piece of evidence that global warming over the last century is affecting human disease. In a way, it’s possible that disease outbreaks can be seen as evidence of global warming.
Back to the Sin Nombre virus
DISCLAIMER: I am not a climate scientist, nor am I an epidemiologist. However, something on the CDC hantavirus website caught my interest. It’s refering to the Four Corners cases in 1993:
But why this sudden cluster of cases? The key answer to this question is that, during this period, there were suddenly many more mice than usual. The Four Corners area had been in a drought for several years. Then, in early 1993, heavy snows and rainfall helped drought-stricken plants and animals to revive and grow in larger-than-usual numbers. The area’s deer mice had plenty to eat, and as a result they reproduced so rapidly that there were ten times more mice in May 1993 than there had been in May of 1992. With so many mice, it was more likely that mice and humans would come into contact with one another, and thus more likely that the hantavirus carried by the mice would be transmitted to humans.
Anyone from New Mexico (or who has been there recently) has probably heard us complaining about the drought we, and the rest of the southwest, have been in for six years. But now we’re having an exceptionally wet, warm spring, with precipitation in the northwest corner of the state between 136%-287% above normal (pdf). I just hope we don’t end up with too many happy deer mice.
The bad news: Global climate change doesn’t just mean melting polar ice caps, rising tides, warmer oceans, etc. It also means that there are going to be some serious problems with human diseases and other health problems.
The good news: We can do something about this. The coming disease crisis is something we can prepare for, and at least in the case of New Mexico, health care workers know how to deal with hantavirus cases (as well as plague).
Pragmatism and Ideology
Bush’s European Winter Thaw Tour, culminating with a speech in Bratislava, is being cautiously welcomed. Before the President left, the Brookings Institution published the Compact Between the United States and Europe in an attempt to promote reconciliation between Europe and the United States. One of the signatories is a French academic whose view represents the most pro-American yet skeptical appreciation of the New Chapter in US-Europe relations--Pierre Hassner.
In a vein more serious than what I pretend around here*, I translated a recent editorial by Monsieur Hassner of his assessment of the new Eine Kleine Bushmusik (with Condi as accompanist ) and how far it is going to go in convincing Europe.
If I were to summarize, it’s a plea to Bush to curb his appetite for mismanaged and unnecessary conflict in the name of freedom while reassuring Americans themselves that Europe is on our side.
*Warning...long and serious.
Bush: Pragmatism and Ideology, by Pierre Hassner
For the supporters of George Bush, his prime virtue is his loyalty and his stubbornness in pursuing an aim once it is set. In the eyes of his detractors, his gravest fault is his lack of flexibility and his refusal to adapt his words and deeds to changing circumstances. In his second Inaugural Address, George Bush outlined a policy fundamentally different from his narrow definition of Americaâ€™s national interest heard during the 2000 Presidential campaign and the absolute primacy of the War on Terror which, in the aftermath of 9-11, justified the handing of a blank check to the worldâ€™s worst dictatorships and to its rivals, Russia and China.
Bushâ€™s speeches are now beginning to echo those of Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) and John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) and are seen as once again anchoring themselves in most glorious of US traditions--the defense and the demonstration of liberty.
However, George Bushâ€™s America has contorted truth and law and has brought down two bloody tyrannies (the Taliban and Saddam Hussein) for justifications so doubtful and with consequences so costly that it has damaged the credibility of the United States. The Presidentâ€™s speeches are viewed as a combination of naivety and cynicism. This is the reaction of most Europeans and most residents of the Greater Middle East, which the United States proposes to democratize.
Yet this is not the reaction of the populationsâ€”at least not the intellectuals and old-time dissidents--of ex-Communist Europe. These people discern in the Presidentâ€™s speeches the voice of Ronald Reagan, who in London announced the future triumph of democracy and at the Brandenburg Gate shouted, Mr. Gorbatchev, tear down this wall!.
In his term as President, George Bush Senior announced the objective of a united and free Europe. These words, received with skepticism in the West, galvanized dissidents in the East and inspired in them to embrace and to trust the United States, which led them to support, although with some misgiving, America in the Iraqi adventure.
It is possible that these same dissidents have not only admitted the influence of Nathan Sharansky, an heroic Russian dissident transformed into Israeli hawk, but also the writings of Mark Palmer, the 1980â€™s presidential speechwriter, who in 2003 published an astonishing book entitled, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil. How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025. As we rightly recoil before the enormousness â€“ in every sense of the term â€“ of this task, it should be recalled that Mark Palmer was an American diplomat of exceptional abilities who, as US Ambassador to Budapest, played a pivotal role at the end of the Cold War. History too has validated the vision which inspired him.
Does this mean that we should surrender and abandon our skepticism? First, let us take a step back into US political history. John Kennedyâ€™s inaugural address committed the US to bear any burden and to accept any sacrifice in the name of liberty. This promise led to the Bay of Pigs and to Vietnam but failed in ensuring the success of these endeavors.
In 1952, John Foster Dulles rejected, in the face of Communism, any policy of pushback or “liberation” in favor of “containmentâ€?, which did not prevent him, in 1956, from reassuring the Soviet Union during the Hungarian Revolution. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed self-determination as the keystone of a peaceful and democratic world, but he was able to apply it only to the peoples of defeated empires and gave it no consideration in Central America.
Perhaps to uncover the key to these contradictions a further step backward in time is required--back to the celebrated address to Congress of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams on July 4th, 1821.
But America goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit
America’s own critics, whether they are of the school of realism or that of isolationism, vaunt this eloquent and prophetic speech. In contrast, the neoconservative realists (perhaps we should say imperialists) such as Robert Kagan believe that having become a global superpower America should no longer fear destroying monsters-- the enemies of freedom--especially because the security of the United States depends on it.
In an article published during the 1980â€™s, a moderate friend of the neoconservatives, Nathan Tarcov, saw in the speech of John Quincy Adams a transcendence of the traditional opposition of realism and idealism and isolationists and internationalists. In its place, he sees a competition between principles and caution; the former indicating the course to follow, the latter determining the level of application of national interest and force.
We cannot help but note the distinction. We also cannot help but observe how such a path continually exposes those who follow it to the precipice. Often the US propensity for declaring grandiose principles results in empty words or even in outright contradiction in the name of caution or its actions or inaction. Inversely, if, like Jimmy Carter in Iran, one destabilizes or abandons friends in order to remain faithful to principle, the evil which one is meant to combatâ€“-tyranny or terrorism--can be worsened.
A foreign policy which desires to espouse freedom while allying principles with caution must, on the one hand, be applied at home, and on the other, be applied uniformly taking into account the complexity of reactions which it provokes elsewhere. Such a policy must pay the price-- moral and political, financial and human--of its ambitions and it must understand that the hunger for freedom and dignity which it would like to feed by supporting peoples against tyrants may, among these same peoples, turn against it in the name of national independence or cultural and religious identity.
In Europe during both world wars and the Cold War, and more recently in the wars in the Balkans, the United States was able, even with a number of ups and downs, to unite principle with caution. Elsewhere and more often--and one might say everywhere over these last few years--the US has failed at one and all.
This is why, while welcoming Bushâ€™s promotion of freedom while he downplays the War on Terror as a unique and guiding principle (or even as a universal alibi) in his speeches, Europeans must remain somewhat cautious and skeptical as they await the deeds to follow the words. But Europeans must be equally held to reconcile principle and caution in their own actions in the defense of freedom.
Principles should not be reduced to pacifism, legalities or making a fetish out of multilateralism. Caution should not consist in chilly replies or in diplomatic adventurism which sacrifices democratic countries or human rights by backdoor alliances with despotic regimes. In taking on as a primary task the promotion of both peace and freedom in its neighbors, in Ukraine as well as in Palestine and in the rest of the Middle East, either by conditional enlargement or by mediation, the European Union will find itself on the side of the United States, even if often in opposition to its policies, and faithful to our shared democratic ideals.
Pierre Hassner is Director Emeritus of the International Center for International Study and Research (CERI).
p.s. I’ll be on vacation next week--and today’s my birthday (I loafed and didn’t think up anything too original today!)
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Do you ever get tired of your same old blog-haunts? Like an aging Golden Retriever making the neighborhood rounds, I have my daily reads, but unlike a Golden Retriever, I sometimes wish I could bust out of my rut. Chase a car or two. Get away from all the Gannon.
The other day, I went to Technorati and just typed in some search words. Somehow I wound up poring through a lot of religious right, Chraystchun-themed blogs. (Chraystchun is my dad’s slang for...well, far right Christians.) Just on a whim, I figured, well, I’ll leave them some comments. Respectful, dissenting comments that tell them how I feel about the issues and people of the day.
It occurred to me that, as long as we’re spending X hours a day on blogs, and there’s a new fad for “showing up” in the Democratic party these days… why don’t liberal bloggers “show up” at rightwing blogs? No, not to hang out at Little Green Footballs. I’m talking about finding blogs that few people visit, blogs that really don’t get any comments at all. And I’m not talking about leaving f-bombs behind. I’m talking about, well, doing what Howard would do: show up, state your view with feeling, and engage the lone bloggers in deepest red-blogland.
I did this the other day and came back, expecting to find a sneering reply to match the sneering post I responded to. That isn’t what I found. The conversation isn’t fated to last beyond one or two exchanges, but that doesn’t matter. I got a teeny bit of insight into the rightwing mind (something to do with “respect,” which I don’t think is unique to the right wing, somehow).
So how about it? Can you visit three red nowhere blogs a day and stand up for your beliefs the way you wish our leaders would?
An Open Letter to Howard Dean
Dear Howard Dean,
Congratulations on becoming Chairman of the Democratic Party. I don’t really know much about your new job, but it’s my understanding that you will be instrumental in setting the party’s platform and that we’ll probably be seeing a lot of you on the Sunday news shows. You’ll be the voice of the Democrats.
I think this is wonderful. You’ve proven your ability to inspire. Your impassioned speeches about the war and taking our country back moved me to tears. There was a passion in your campaign which had been sadly missing from our politics for many years and regular people were galvanized to action.
So you’ve probably gotten a lot of input already from regular people. I know there are a lot of them. The United States is the most prosperous country in the world. We created the largest middle class in history. We created opportunity for regular people to make a living wage, own their own homes, and send their children to college.
Now these same people are afraid, both for themselves and their children. They’re seeing their government spend all of its resources on war and the rest of the world getting mad at us. They’re losing their jobs and their pensions. Many are losing their homes or losing the hope of buying a home. Social Security is under attack. It’s becoming harder to afford the necessities; the rent, the insurance, the utilities. They’re seeing their opportunity disappear.
I’m sure you already know all of this. You’ve done a good job listening to regular people and I’m sure they’re telling you all about it. But I want to take a moment to write about the irregular people: the misfits. The junkies and whores, the artists and convicts, the idiots and geniuses, the sick and the homeless, the women and children; God’s poor and the Devil’s poor. The people that everyone thinks of as “them.” We’re here, too, and we’ve been in this same situation for over thirty years.
Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that the Republican party belonged to the wealthy and the businesses, and that the Democratic party belonged to the people. It seems logical to me that there are two sides—one for the interests of power and one for the interests of the powerless. They have the money and we have the numbers. Our system is designed, sensibly I think, to balance these two sources of power and save us from the tyranny of either.
But the Democrats seem to have lost their way. Perhaps in the wake of the Great Depression, they were too successful. Perhaps it was because so many people had access to power and benefited from it, that they started counting themselves among the powerful. And of course, as their party, the Democrats were obligated to speak for their interests. When so many of its people moved up from the bottom, its natural that the party’s interests shifted to the middle as well.
And I don’t resent that. I understand. I’ve been part of the bottom and I know how we are. For awhile, we were a relatively small constituency and we tended to not be very reliable. And really, I wasn’t so upset for those brief few years when we were ignored. I understand that no system is perfect and it will fail some people. My own family has been fairly active in finding spectacular ways in which to have the system fail it—no one could have anticipated some of the stuff we’ve come up with.
So it’s not really anyone’s fault that there was no help for us back then. It would have been nice to have some opportunity open, but all in all being ignored wasn’t so bad. And having a system fail you isn’t really personal. Being left alone is not the same as being attacked. Having no voice is not the same as being silenced. Having no opportunity is not the same as having opportunity denied to you.
But a funny thing happened to America on the way to prosperity. My people stopped being ignored. My people started being attacked. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that some people were beyond help or didn’t deserve a voice. The sick, the elderly, the weak, the least among us in other words, were put in a separate category from “honest labor.”
The Republicans and Democrats alike decided we were a problem that could not be fixed. Taxes kept being raised, but we cost too much. Every American who was worth saving had been saved and we couldn’t afford these people. We were hopeless.
Then our government declared war on us. Oh, they dressed it up in rhetoric, they did it for our own good usually, but it was war nonetheless. And Power did this by setting people against each other—it wasn’t “Us” it was “Them.” We’re okay, but they’re lazy, or stupid, or needy, or wicked. They’re illiterate and disease riddled. They’re crazy and on drugs. They’re all liquored up and corrupting our children. They’re sleeping outside because they want to and we’re shooting them because they’re dangerous.
They don’t know how to do an honest day’s labor and are too stupid to save their money and they won’t stop having babies. They snuck in here and they don’t speak English or vaccinate their kids. They think we’re prejudiced, but they just have a chip on their shoulder. There’s generations of them teaching poverty like a tradition and leeching off us. There’s nothing wrong with us or our system, they’re just hopeless. We’ve tried to help them, we really have, and we’ve gone broke from generosity.
And we’re going to have to raise your taxes again to pay for them. You’ll lose your farm or your car or next year’s vacation because of those people.
And so it has been for over 30 years. Our party has been quiet. No one said anything when they took away our benefits. No one said anything when we starved. No one said anything when we couldn’t get medical treatment. No one said anything when we were fired from our jobs or evicted from our homes, kicked out of the schools and thrown into the prisons.
For thirty years our neighborhoods have been turned into war zones. It’s fairly common here that the most vulnerable and desperate would sell their bodies when they had nothing left. It’s fairly common here that they would seek solace in drugs and alcohol. Its fairly common that our sons and daughters would make some mistakes. But we’re not allowed to make mistakes in America anymore. We’re not allowed a weakness or sin.
For thirty years no one has said anything while our own government declared war on us and decided to have zero tolerance for us. Our sick and our vulnerable are living on the streets and under bridges. The predators prey on us and get rich off of us. They recruit our children. Our government sends in its troops to knock down our doors and shoot us if they have to. And still no one says anything.
And now it’s not just them anymore, whoever we thought they were. We’re all losing our jobs and our homes and our benefits. We’re still at war with each other but we’ve also turned our aggression outward and declared war abroad. Our sons and daughters are still dying—all over the world now—and we need someone to speak for us.
We need someone to unite us. To let people know it’s not just the immigrants or minorities or the poor white trash, not just the gays or the women, it’s all of us. The Republicans have spent a long time telling us different. They’ve spent a long time blaming others under the guise of personal responsibility and turning us against each other.
Some people have been tricked into voting for the Republicans because they need help. Some of them believe that if the government can’t help them, it should at least stop hurting them, so they’re using their votes to kill government. They need to be told what the problem is. Right now they can’t see it, they’re too busy working and fearing and dying.
The Democrats need to say something. Tell us you’re still the party of the people. Tell us you’re for freedom, equality and opportunity for all of us, not just the ones who deserve it. The rich and the powerful, the corporations and the businesses, have their voice already and we need you to speak up. It’s really not a complicated message if someone would just say it—freedom, equality, opportunity. Whatever the details of our platform, make sure that it is based in these.
You may think this is too much to ask, that these goals aren’t realistic. But these are our ideals—Democratic ideals. Nothing on our platform should contradict them. The Republicans have been consistent. They fight for their dreams—a free market, unbridled power, and more profit every year, forever and ever, amen. That’s not very realistic, either, when you think about it. And they’ve achieved much. They’ve grown rich on our labor and powerful on our fears.
You might also think you won’t have our support if you come on too strong. But you know better, Dr. Dean. You learned this lesson about war—some people are for it and some against, but no one supports maybe. No one wants nuance when they’re dying. You learned this when you spoke out about the war in Iraq.
And now the people need you to speak for them again. We need a voice. We’ve been quiet for thirty years and it’s a long time for silence. You showed courage when you spoke against newest war and I’m hoping you’ll be the one to say something about our other wars. You have my hopes, my best wishes, and my support.