Saturday, January 20, 2007

Various Things

1. Over at, David Sirota has an article that articulates as clearly as possible the reasons for Internet anger and frustration at mainstream journalists. The lack of accountability, in fact the rewarding of those whose political views and pronouncements are demonstrably erroneous, and the persistent, perhaps even obstinate refusal to admit error - and the angry, defensive tone they always take when called to account for errors of fact, of analysis, of prediction, of tone; there has to be a way, more than just through "the marketplace of ideas" by which these people can be held accountable for the role they have played in propping up Bush and his and McCain's and Lieberman's war.

2. While we are on the subject of mainstream journalists, has an item on Thomas Friedman that defies description. Friedman has been a war booster from the beginning, even dismissing the main casus belli presented by the Administration - the alleged and since-proven-false WMDs - once it was shown to be false. His comments, which boil down to an accusation of liberal racism and cultural imperialism (why do our pundits sound more and more like Ann Coulter?), show him so completely out of touch, missing the point, and frustrated with criticism (how could he be taken seriously after writing The Lexus and the Olive Tree, I ask you) that he is becoming incoherent, like his sould-mate, Joe Klein.

3. It's a slow news day - what Saturday in January isn't? - so Sen. Hillary Clinton's announcement that she is running for President; Sen. Sam Brownback's announcement that he is running for President; former representative, UN Ambassador, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's planned announcement tomorrow that he is running for President all become hot news item. My question is, despite the discussions at MyDD and elsewhere - who cares, besides horse-race-besotted journalists? Should the netroots mimic the worst of the mainstream by becoming dragged into discussions of the various strengths and weaknesses of candidates so far out? Should we become so process-oriented that we forget that the process aims at a goal, governance, and right now that should be our focus?

4. Tuesday is the State of the Union address, and we should be looking for Bush's numbers to fall on the heels of the speech, as they have done in the wake of his recent speech to the nation, and interviews on 60 Minutes and The News Hour. An unpopular President with poor communication skills pursing policies antithetical to the wishes of a majority of Americans has little power, and his bully pulpit becomes more a squirrely pulpit.

5. I have broken down and linked to another Portuguese blog, Wind's Web Club. "Wind" is an artist, a poet, a photographer, and a remarkable human being. Her posts consist of photos and poems (in Portuguese, with Babelfish translations that, of course, do not do them justice). The photos are often erotic, always tasteful and beautiful, and the words captivating. I urge a visit, as I always find a bit of serenity and joy after a visit there. Tell her who sent you.

6. As has been reported all over the place, Fire Dog Lake's Jane Hamsher is un the midst of her third bout of cancer, having had surgery this week. While I do not know her own faith stance, and couldn't care less anyway, I pray for her, her loved ones, and all those who know and are awed by the work she does at FDL. She may neither acknowledge nor care, but I feel she is doing the Lord's own work - along with many others - and I pray for a swift recovery and an easy (as easy as possible under the circumstances) treatment. God Bless, Jane.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Can't Think, Can't Write, Shouldn't be Listened To

Joe Klein has an aboslutely stunning post over at Swampland today, a site that is earning its name as a fetid cesspool of nonsense, proving to the Internet political community again and again why we do not like the mainstream media. In a short post, Klein manages to mangle reason, prove he can neither argue nor write, and prove why he should never be taken seriously again (as if proof were needed). The worst part, of course, is that I think I understsand what Klein was attempting to say - he supports the use of covert action in Iraq as opposed to traditional military action, which has consistently failed. One can agree or disagree with this position, but that becomes irrelevant by the way Klein frames the entire issue within a short paragraph.

In what follows, I am not going to treat with the substance, such as it may be, of Klein's post. I find it hard to deal with that substance for the simple reason that Klein comes off as so incoherent one wonders what the point of his entire post is. As Klein has continually derided bloggers for their seeming lack of journalistic virtues (whatever they may be), I suppose it not unkind or untoward to apply certain blogging virtues to Joe Klein's blogging. Sauce for the goose, as it were.

He attempts to answer a question posed by a commenter concerning reports that much of the sectarian violence is fueled by Iraqi militias trained by American counter-insurgency troops. Rather than address the question, Klein attempts to claim support for covert military action in Iraq. By American troops.

This is not the question the commenter raised, and by changing the subject, Klein makes himself sound as if he supports death squads. In an update, Klein tries to deflect what would be an obvious inference from what he had written, and in so doing, comes across as snide, superior, and still does not refute the allegation that he may just support the US training Iraqi facitonalist militias who operate as death squads in the civil war over there.

For someone who is contemptuous of bloggers for being snarky and ridiculous, Klein has certainly caught the vibe, as it were. His tone, in this post and in most of his posts, is one of disdain for his commenters, his readers, indeed anyone who does not heed the obvious wisdom and insight of a premiere journalist and author of eight books. The problem, sadly, is that Klein shows, in a short paragraph, totally incapable of framing an argument coherently, of writing out that argument thoughtfully, and in so doing totally undermines any confidence any non-commital reader may have in either his reliability, professional abilities, or indeed his professionalism. To others who have long since made their minds up about Klein, this particular blog post should only solidify the view that Klein's view of Klein is much inflated, and that reality hardly measures up.

Standing on Principle

I have been thinking more about "agreeing to disagree", with the whole way we argue and confront one another on matters, great and trivial, and the ways in which we very often hurt one another and exclude each other in pursuit of whatever goals we are trying to achieve. I have been thinking, in short, of what it means to take a stand on principle, regardless of cost, and whether or not there are alternatives to this. As both a Christian and a political lefty, I often find myself agreeing with a variety of things people say who regard my religious faith either as a delusion or as some sign of my intellectual or emotional immaturity or stuntedness, or whatever. Because my political beliefs march hand in glove with my faith - I couldn't tell you which came first, or which shaped the other more, and trying to do so is irrelevant - I find it necessary, at times, to ignore insulting, demeaning, or just plain erroneous talk about "religion" in order to pursue certain common interests. At other times, however, I take a stand, refusing to back down, and call people on whatever particular nonsense or prejudice they may be spouting off about. I will not insult or degrade (except for Sam Harris, who is a joke), but I refuse to budge in certain areas.

Yesterday, I wrote about frequent commenter and fellow blogger Democracy Lover, and our occasional disagreements. I will not deny that they have at times become quite heated. I will also never waiver in my gratefulness for his comments and thoughts, because he is as insistent on his own viewpoints as am I. I have a healthy respect for him, even when I disagree, and I believe and hope the feeling is mutual. We can disagree without ever feeling personally affronted; we can disagree without ever thinking it was necessary to convince the other of their error. We can even disagree and refuse to believe it necessary to come to some kind of fake agreement! The issues on which we disagree are vital to each of us, indeed, for my part I would call them matters of principle, perhaps even first principles. I do not think DL is either sinful or evil or awful, however, because he does not think or believe (in his case, not believe) as I do, because, as I have said many times, I am neither the font of all truth nor the holder of the secrets of the universe. Even in matters as vital as those concerning my faith, and faith in general, I concede I may be as wrong as snow in July, or Bush any day of the year. This healthy (to my way of thinking) skepticism of my own powers of intellect and insight is part of what keeps me from throwing in the towel - I recognize I may be wrong even when i am convinced I am right.

On a larger scale, I feel about taking stand on principle the same way I feel about ideological blindness - once we replace the reality with which we are faced with our beliefs about how things ought to be, and deny reality in favor of the illusional ideal, no matter how appealing aesathetically or ethically or politically, we are on the road to being no better than Bush and his cohorts, who are in such a delusional state concerning our current predicament they actually do the opposite of what people want them to do.

There is also a relevant story here. In the mid-1920's, European theology went through a bit of a renaissance, as a movement towards researches in scriptural studies, new methods of theological thought, and an insistence on the radical differentiation between the divine and the created orders swept over German-speaking (and non-German speaking as well) caught fire and ignited imaginations. As the 1920's ended and the 1930's began, however, cracks began to appear in the great wall of theological union, as political divides began to separate those formerly close friends. Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, two Swiss Reofrmed theologians, began to disagree sharply, their disagreements hidden behind turgid, and often barely readable, academic prose. Finally, as the German social, cultural, and political collapse came closer in 1932, Barth removed himself from much of the theological debate in a famous front-page editorial in the journal he started, Zwischen dem Zeiten (Between the Times), entitled simply "NO!". In it, Barth insisted he had nothing more to say to interlocutors on issues of reason versus revelation, natural theology versus revealed theology, because any inch given in this debate only aided and abetted the backers of the new, growing German primitivism and paganism. He completely broke with Brunner, and even when the latter was on his death-bed, and asked Barth for a visit, Barth refused, saying that Brunner's obstnate refusal to deny to natural humanity a capacity for divine understanding was not something that was, for Barth, forgiveable. Barth saw Brunner as an intellectual aid to the horrific paganism of Nazism, which of course was not true. Yet, Barth was taking a stand on principle, and in so doing, missed an opportunity to visit an old friend and see him off.

More than anything else, it is this story that effects me the most. When ideological fervor, and insistence on principle, interferes with human relations; when ideology replaces reality; when principle becomes more important than people, that is where I cease to stand on principle. Perhaps that is my principle - people are more important than ideas. People are more important than beliefs. Real, breathing, thinking, feeling people - even those with whom I disagree on matters of vital urgency and importance - are far more important than those matters. Perhaps it is that, more than anything else, that separates me from s many others. I will bend and even break if another person is hurting or in need or reaching out in an honest way. I will not grant them correctness in their beliefs; I will not concede an inch in any disagreements we may have. But I will be their friend if they need it. I will help if they ask. I will support them as one individual to another if they need anything at all.

Perhaps getting along doesn't necessitate going along, you know?

The Great Writ

In an exchange between Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the Attorney General asserted that there is no grant of habeas corpus in the Constitution. When I first heard of the exchange yesterday, I was in the midst of other things, concerns, etc., and wanted to have time to consult a transcript to read for myself what Gonzalez said. Well, Think Progress has it, and he actually said it. One of the copies of the Constitution I have says, in Article I, section 9: The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it. By inference, if the privilege can only be suspended under very certain, named circumstances (the mechanism for such suspension is a matter of controversy, and Lincoln used that controversy by suspending the writ in Maryland during the Civil War through executive order; the Supreme Court rulings on this instance are muddled, but generally supportive) one would have to assume the privilege exists without regard to the status of the person in question. Of course, as that old middle-school taunt goes, when you "assume" you make an "ass" out of "u" and "me", so perhaps Gonzalez is taking nothing for granted here.

I'm sorry, I couldn't even continue that line of thought. We are approaching the 900th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, in which the sovereign, at the time King John, agreed, among other things, to consultation with his nobles over legislation. He also agreed that he was beholden to certain legal limitations in his action as jurist, and if presented with a writ, had to produce a person imprisoned and present publicly the charges and evidence against that person. At the beginnings, the Great Writ, as it has become known, was a very limited affair, but the dual principle of the limitations of judicial power and the claims of the individual over and against arbitrary abuse and imprisonment by the state were implanted and have grown steadily over the centuries.

I wonder where Gonzalez went to law school. I wonder where Gonzalez practiced law. I wonder . . . I wonder a lot of things. Most of all, I wonder how, after making such a statement, the Senate didn't immediately demand he step down from the office of Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the United States, as he has shown, if through no other action but this one, that he is singularly unqualified to hold the office to which he is entrusted. Of course, that would be on par with the rest of the Bush group; last week, new Secretary of Defense Robert Gatges said he "wasn't an expert" on military matters. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was tossed under the bus by Robert Novak for bad management at Foggy Bottom. Gonzalez' DoJ is replacing career prosecutors at US Attorney offices with political hacks as these career prosecutors go after corruption cases with links to the Administration (Talking Points Memo continues to be on this case; thank God, quite literally, for Joshua Micah Marshall). The end is listless, as they say, and we are left to shake our heads in baffled confusion - how did this happen?

My suggestion is that we send AG Gonzalez a copy of the Constitution, with the particular passage in question highlighted; a dictionary with all the words conained in the clause highlighted; an introductory level logic textbook so that Gonzalez can learn about inference, about hidden premises, and the uses of syllogisms in drawing conclusions. All this with a bus ticket - why spring for airfare for this joker? - back to Texas, where he can hang his shingle out and practice law, arguing against all sorts of things that are in the Constitution.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Intellectual Debate

First, I think it is wonderful that linked blog and frequent commenter Democracy Lover has returned to posting on his blog. While we agree to disagree on a variety of issues, especially religion, I am grateful for his presence, because he keeps me on my toes. I have respect for anyone who refuses to back down because he or she recognizes that intellectual debate is more than just a sparring of words but tied into life. We are agreed on one point, and I think it overcomes the differences between us, differences I think might have created a great rift at another time - we are under the rule of a criminal Administration, unconstrained by law or any sense of duty towards the commonweal and health of the society it supposedly governs. Alberto Gonzalez' appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee today is a case study in their obstinate refusal to (a) live or govern by the rule of law; or (b) accept responsibility or admit their failings.

With DL's return, and because of my admiration for him (or her, I have never figured out which), I want to address the whole issue of intellectual debate. Of course, while I have been mulling this particular issue, Atrios, Matthew Yglesias, DKos, and other big-name bloggers have addressed it as well, but I insist that I am not following them (I refuse to link to them because I am not following them; if you want to read their views, follow the links on this site) although my own conclusion to the internal debate in my head echoes many of their concerns. I have come to my conclusions as a result of my own experiences, including preparing to get a doctorate in philosophy (can't get more egregiously intellectual than that, I suppose). As I was finishing up my course work, I discovered that my studies were guided not only by my intellectual interests, but my existential interest as well. Philosophy of science as a sub-generalization is good practice for a larger understanding of the ways in which we come to understand our world. It branches out, through Wittgenstein and Kuhn, to the pragmatism of Richard Rorty and from there to the radical Christian socialism of Cornel West (if you follow any argument far enough, you wind up at the beginning again, having discovered you have walked in a big circle!). In other words, I wasn't studying Karl Popper, Rudolf Carnap, and Thomas Kuhn because I found them intellectually stimulating but because I was trying to figure out, for myself, how and why we think the way we do, and how to be honest about what I believe in as thorough a manner as possible. The detachment I found among my fellow students I found disheartening; they studied what they did because it might find them a good position at some university somewhere. There was no commitment there, no sense that intellectual debate was tied to the great substantive issues of our time and of our lives.

When I engage any other blogger on an intellectual level, I am not just throwing around bullshit for the sake of showing how smart or educated I am (although that occasionally creeps in, and when it does, I would hope others would call me on it). What I have learned, my teachers once removed as it were, is part and parcel of my identity. I am who I am partly because this great cloud of witnesses to whom I return time and again have given me the tools to figure out my world, to understand it, and to move and think and live within it with as much integrity as anyone.

Intellectual debate for its own sake I find not just hollow and shallow, but horrific in its dishonesty. Anyone can take up a position and argue it regardless of their personal commitments; lawyers do this all the time. The times we live in, however, are much too perilous, and the stakes far too high, to think that we can or should play games. Not only do we have to get our facts right, we have to get our thinking about these facts right as well. I have no illusions about how consistenly this will happen or my own role in this process, but I still think it is necessary, and that is why I continue to blog even when I recognize, as I did a couple days ago, that we are on the cusp of a serious constitutional crisis, one in which blogging may be re-arranging the deck chairs on the ship of the American state. The only choice I have, is to do what I can with the tools I have. All I am saying here, in as round about a fashion as possible, is that intellectual debate is not worthless, or nonsensical bullshitting, but the role I find not only most comfortable for myself, but pushes the limits both of my abilities and my time and energy.

Taking on the Press

This is an issue on which I have flip-flopped - like John Kerry and John McCain I was for it before I was against it before I was for it before I . . . well, you get the idea - and I am shifting in the particular winds of our current troubles to thinking that, in fact, there is a utility to addressing issues, not so much of bias in the news (at least ideological bias), so much as questions of simple erroneous reporting. This is why, for example, I think it serves little purpose to highlight the most egregious examples of right-wing nonsense (Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage) as Media Matters continues to do. On the other hand, I think Spocko's battle with KSFO is a more appropriate approach - frought with hazards as the case proves. It is not enough to simply highlight the most awful political pornography, but to actually do something about it - in Spocko's case, send emails including clips, to show the sponsors what their money is paying for.

On the other hand, Media Matters, The Daily Howler, and, as a specific example, this from Greg Sargent at TPMmuckraker, do serve the public by highlighting the ways in which the limited intellect, certain personal and institutionals biases, and just plain stupidity (the piece by Sargent shows not so much Millbank's stupidity as intellectual dishonesty in service to a bias against Sen. Clinton). I say this because I see the effects of such reporting uopn the public. I doubt we shall see a change in journalistic practices any time soon, but at least we will have watchdogs to make sure that any serious nonsense is called out.

I also see the ways in which reporting on the net has an actual effect on the way our elected leaders behave, and it was on display today in a Senate hearing room. Josh Marshall has been all over the story of the replacement of close to a dozen US Attorneys by the DoJ under a provision of the USAPatriot Act. In one case, in San Diego, the replacement is a political hack with direct ties to Karl Rove. This story, which would have fallen below the radar of traditional media because of its obvious obscurity and seeming lack of relevance to most Americans, has not been let go, and today Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez was questioned, indeed "grilled" is an appropriate term of art in this case, on this issue, and his dodges were not up to the persistence of the Senators.

I am not completely covinced of the efficacy of all such reporting and careful scrutiny of the press. I do think, however, that when it is done well - and Joshua Marshall does it very, very well - it becomes a kind of meta-journalism, giving us information stripped of institutional bias, beholden to no agenda other than a recognition that government exists to serve the public interest. There is a healthy skepticism without the faux cynicism of so much of our Washington Press Corps, too many of whom think they have it all figured out.

I am sure my mind will change again at some other time, perhaps when I fail to see results from all the efforts of various members of the internet community. For now, however, I think the work ispaying off, so my pragmatic support for such efforts will continue.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Why Did He Bother Writing This?

At the end of his latest column, Charles Krauthammer tries and fails to make an allusion to a literary classic, Goethe's Faust, and fails. Faust was not interested in the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, but merely to enhance himself. Faust made no promises to anyone, except himself, and even then he realized his deal with Mephistopheles was not so much evil as misguided. A better literary example, perhaps, would have been Shelley's Frankenstein, where the "modern Prometheus" oversteps the boundaries of morally acceptable behavior out of a concern not only for knowledge in and for itself, but out of a desire to serve humanity. His creation turns on him precisely because it refuses to be a means, but as a living creature with both will and understanding, should be an end in and of and for itself. Even here, I suppose the analogy breaks down (as all analogies do and must in the end) because, unlike Frankenstein's creation, emrbyos and stem cells aredevoid of even that level of being that Frankenstein's monster attains.

I point out the failure of Krauthammer's allusion as an object lesson. It points out the utter uselessness, indeed pointlessness, of the column. If one takes him at his word within the context of the column itself, it is, in the end quite literally meaningless, and his praise of Bush equally meaningless. To make an incorrect allusion to Faust only illustrates how utterly vacuous a thousand or so words can be.

In the column, praising Bush for limiting stem cell research funding, Krauthammer sets out his objections to Bush's original policy: he had no problem with stem-cell research; he had no problem with experimentation upon embryos that would have been discarded (although Krauthammer uses the morally loaded term "killed"); he was opposed to Bush's original policy for a variety or reasons.

Yet, somehow, Bush outsmarted even Dr. Krauthammer, because, lo and behold! they have found stem cells in amniotic fluid that are capable of the kind of manipulation that embryonic stem cells are. So, you see, Bush was right, even though he was wrong, because now we don't have to experiment on embryos even though he has no problem with such research (although he does make the rather strange, and equally meaningless statement that embryos aren't "nothing"; well, if they aren't nothing, which is both true and irrelevant, wwhat are they because that is the heart of the issue). He faults those who promoted such research for promising too much, which of course they did not ever do. They offered the possibility that embryonic stem cell research offered promising results, but that research was necessary in order to find out exactly how promising. With the funding for such research cut off, there was no way for any of the promises potentially existent within embryonic stem cells to be shown to be hollow or not. Krauthammer admits that religious fundamentalism was behind the decision, but calls the charge loaded, because secularists can be troubled by embryonic stem cell research, too. That such arguments weren't used, Krauthammer acknowledges, it is just that they could have been.

So, Bush was right even though he was wrong. Krauthammer was wrong even though he was right. Bush's critics were wrong even though they were right, and Krauthammer agreed with them. And Faust promised us nirvanna.

I haven't read such cocakmamie drivel since someone compared Bush's speechifying to Winston Churchill.

Oh, wait, that was Krauthammer, too.

Maybe he should go back to psychiatry, but take a logic course, first.

Playing with Identity - the anti-narcissism of Jim Carey

I was going to post something of a long follow-up to yesterday's post, but I got all depressed just thinking about it, so I am turning to film-crit today as an antidote.

With the exception of his first film vehicle, Ace Centura Pet Detective, most of the major films Jim Carey has done have revolved around issues of identity. Whether it is the inane Liar Liar or the sublime The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Truman Show or the missed opportunity Bruce Almighty, Carey plays characters who wrestle with the question, "Who am I, really?" This was taken to new heights when he played the late Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, as Kaufman himself played with identity constantly, even in real life. I want to argue in what follows that the search for identity, as portrayed by Carey at least in his films, is the essential opposite of the general narcissism first analyzed by Christopher Lasch in his best-selling The Culture of Narcissism.

As Lasch describes it, narcissism is the opposite of selfishness, although both the word and his work have too often been misinterpreted this way. Rather than selfishness, narcissism is a character disorder in which the individual's sense of self is actually void. In a desperate search for filling this void, the narcissistic personality seeks to fill this void, the obsessive search leading to "reading into" reality nothing less than a reflection of the empty self of the individual. In other words, a narcissist does not know who he or she is, and compensates by creating a world that fills this void through the externalization of certain wish-fulfillments and desires. The world becomes a mirror of all the individual wishes were true about him- or herself, or conversely believes to be true but is afraid to admit.

Carey's characters, on the other hand, reach a crisis of identity at some point in the film. An amoral attorney is forced to tell the truth; a frustrated local TV news reporter is given the opportunity to be God; a man whose entire life is a television show breaks the bonds placed upon him by the rules of the show; a man discovers that he has used a tool for removing memories of a love-affair. A comedian pushes the boundaries of what constitutes comedy - pushing role-playing into real life. All these roles' create dramatic tension and action by forcing the characters to confront the fact that they are not who they think they are. There are both limits against which an individual should not push - becoming god, removing a part of one's identity in a search for emotional peace - and false limits that inhibit the full realization fo the self - the artifical rules of a television show; the propriety of playing a character off stage. At their best, these films show that what does and does not constitute a "limit" is often unclear the closer one gets to understanding these limits, and this provides a remarkable flexibility as to how one should respond. Andy Kaufman can insist he is someone else - an obnoxious agent, a pro-wrestler - and force others to accept the reality of these characters, even though they know he is "only" acting; Bruce can manipulate reality to fit his own desires through divince powers, only to find that in so doing, he distorts reality (Bruce Almighty could have been a great film if the producers, writers, and director had placed restrictions and discipline upon Carey and upon the story-telling; they did not and the film fails in the end to explore the meaning of what Carey's character experiences); Truman Burbank's world is both smaller and more artificial than he realizes, and rejects the definitions placed upon him by those who seek to control him for entertainment purposes.

Truman's rebellion is the most interesting to me. On the one hand, I have always felt that, having lived within the studio and within the rules set by the studio all his life, his rebellion makes little sense. He has few tools beyond those granted him to understand who he is, where he lives, how he lives, and what constitutes "normal" human behavior and the structure of his surroundings. When confronted with the artificiality of it all, it provokes not a profound ontological crisis and break with the "reality" with which he is faced, but a recognition of its inherent artificiality and a refusal to accept it. I often wonder what Truman does after he walks through that door at the end of the film. What tools does he possess to actually function in society? His resilience in fighting against the limitations of the only world he has ever known would hardly constitute the stuff of which sound living are made.

Despite all his flaws and limitations as a performer, I find Carey's films consistent on one point - the characters he plays do not seek to compensate for a lack of self by projecting onto the world their wishes and/or fears (the exception, I supppose, is The Mask, but even here, Carey rejects the mask and what it means, preferring to be himself even if living so presents a threat to himself) but rather are insistent assertions of the wholeness of the self and its resources, even within limits, in a world where too often such are denied. His characters, as goofy and ridiculous as they are at times, have not only an inner strength, but a certain moral and personal core that is impervious to the assaults of a world that insists that personhood is a construct of social forces, but void in and of and for itself.

In coming back again and again to these themes, one wonders if Carey is not saying something about himself in choosing these roles. Is he showing his own inner strength and centeredness as an individual? Is he giving us, the viewers, an object lesson in what is possible if one denies the deniers? Do we learn about our own strength in the face of the opposite threats to selfhood presented by the limitations placed upon us and the limitlessness of personal development? As to the last, I hope so. A fully-developed personality would be able to hand over divine duties to god in the end without a sigh or whimper. Even a stunted and under-developed personality, constrained by artificiality, if strong and possessing an understanding of self that accepts, in the end, this very artificiality, can win in the end. Losing the memory of a painfully lost romance robs us of part of our identity; pain is as much a part of who we are as pleasure, and choosing an easy way out steals our souls.

I am a reluctant fan of Jim Carey, but, like with Robin Williams, when forced through strong direction and the discipline of good scripts to rein in his own penchant for acting goofy, he provides consistent performances and offers a healthy view of a surprising type - the anti-narcissist struggling against the dicates of a culture that wants us all to be empty vessels. His film carrer is less than two decades old, but I think he has a whole lot left in him, and the possibilities, based upon his previous choices, are very good for all sorts of accolades and honors.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Irrelevance of Everyone and the Possibilities for an Individual of Courage

With Vice-President Cheney's appearance on Fox and the President's interview on 60 Minutes yesterday, we were given a glimpse of the new America. No more are we in a land where the voice of the people matters. No more do we act through our elected representatives in Congress. No more are our views important, relevant, or otherwise a part of policy decision-making. No more are our pundits, bloggers, coffee house banter, work-place discussions, church social-hour talk at all meaningful or helpful. Journalism is a thing of the past. We are to sit still and follow our leaders. If we don't follow, too bad because they are leading anyway.

In his Politics, Aristotle called tyranny the end of political life. Because there was no way, within a tyrannical system, to redress grievances, to formulate policy based upon balancing interests, or to check the power of the ruler, political life, for all intents and purposes, comes to an end with the rise of a tyrant. George Bush, and with him Dick Cheney, have now declared for all the nation and world to see and hear, that they do not consider public opinion or Congress worthy of governance or a role in governance. They formulate policy and carry it forward without regard for legal niceties, constitutional checks on power, or the pro forma consultation with Congress. They are now, for all intents and purposes, putting an end to politics in America, at least at a national level. All the discussion, debate, resolutions, and even laws can and will continue to go forward, but they will have no effect upon the actions of the White House. The President feels himself unconstrained by anything or wnyone, and his VP argues forcefullly that the President, as commander-in-chief, can do what he wants in a time of war. Period.

On this day, when we remember the courage of one man who stood against law and custom to proclaim that we had yet to become a great nation because of our failure to grant legal and human dignity to millions among us; when we remember the courage that faced the hatred of Bull Connor, the scheming of J. Edgar Hoover, the manipulations of the Kennedy brothers, the fractiousness of his fellow Civil Rights leaders, the rage of the growing Black Power movement, and his own growing irrelevance as time and events outstripped his desire to shape a movement for all Americans - when we remember all this, we should find strength in knowing that one person, who faces fear and hatred, dogs and hoses and bullets and bombs, can make a difference. Who among us today is willing to stand up to the tyrant in the White House and call him out for what he is? Who among us is willing to stand up to a corrupt establishment, blind to the realities around them, announced around them, and tell them - press and pundits, House and Senate, courts and lawyers - that they no longer matter, and will continue to matter no more as long as they refuse to work to end what has become, for all practical purposes, the assertion of tyrannical authority?

In saying that "everyone" is irrelevant, I am suggesting that this is a unique moment, perhaps unprecedented in American history. We have an Executive officer of the United States, asserting without compunction or fear, that he can do what he wants when he wants to, and there is no authority to stop him. As long as members of the various checks upon power in this country - journalists and pundits, Congressmen and Senators, the courts and the lawyers - continue to treat him as just another President, saying and doing things in a political manner (thus rendering his words, for all practical purposes meaningless in and of themselves) there are no more institutions in this country to stop him. As long as we all play the game, go through the motions, register our defiance on blogs, in letters to the editor, in special order speeches on the floor of the House or debate in the Senate, in argument before the Supreme Court, no one will know that our liberty has been stripped from us, our rights taken away in the utterance of a few words, leaving us bereft of choices and places to turn.

One person, or perhaps many individuals in many places, not acting together, but each acting out of the realization that the situation had reached a point beyond the control of all our normal checks on power, can make a difference. Shout it from the rooftops, whisper the words - "tyrant", "lawless", "dictator" - among yourselves, get yourselves used to them and thier use as applied to our current Administration. Once they become familiar within a small group, spread these words to others. Talk at work, at church, synagogue, and mosque or around the kitchen table.

Perhaps we will have one person, one individual with the courage to stand and say, softly enough to be heard under the chatter and blather that is now as meaningless as a debate in Esperanto, "Stop!" Perhaps an individual will emerge who can take all these other individuals and make them into something greater than themselves as individuals - a movement to open the eyes of the American people and American ruling class that, in the course of one short January day, they were all rendered irrelevant by the President and Vice-President, that we no longer have a funtioning polity, and that we have to fight to get it back.

There was a time when I would have thought such talk as this was fear-mongering of the worst sort. Hearing the words of Bush and Cheney yesterday, and taking both of them at their words - trusting that they truly meant what they said in the midst of all the blather and nonsense and fabrications and lies - I can no longer pretend that anything less than some kind of citizen action to stop them is necessary. In closing off all recourse to political action as it should be constituted, they leave us little room for anything else. Most radically, I do not believe impeachment would matter, because, if convicted by the Senate, I do not believe for one moment that either man would leave office. They have already said quite clearly they do not consider the actions of Congress relevant; why should impeachment be any different than any other Congressional act?

On this day, when we remember a man of hope, of courage, of energy and intellect, a man of peace and love (not squishy, sentimental love but the tough love that comes from facing harsh realities) we should not just pray but act to ensure that his legacy - an America where politics matters, where people matter, where the actions of government matter in the lives of individuals - does not end on one January Sunday in the words of a failed President and an embittered Vice-President. We should honor Martin Luther King, Jr. by starting today to spread the word that we have to act now, right now, to ensure our democracy, our republic, still stands.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Time to Break Silence

In searching through the writings of Dr. King for something to post tomorrow, I ran across his speech given at Riverside Church one year to the day before his assassination in Memphis. What strikes me most about this speech is its contemporary relevance. One would think that, changing "Vietnam" to "Iraq", King had given this speech within the past few weeks or months. I shall be excerpting, and the full speech is contained in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr, James Washington, Editor. The text is found beginning on page 231.

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the isses at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.
There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was as shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor - both black and white - through the povery program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the prgram broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly complelled to see the war an as enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.
Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our soceity and sending them eight thousand miles away to gurantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could no be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More