Saturday, June 05, 2010

Spilling It

I have tried to write two very different posts, one last night, the other early this morning. In point of fact, neither was any good and no longer exist. A further point in fact is something inside me needs to come out. I just need to get it off my chest. I have been reluctant for a variety of reasons - misunderstanding and hypocrisy being the chief ones - but, as occasionally happens with me, unless I lance this particular brain-boil, I will be incapable of moving on to far more important things.

I have mused recently that I am amazed that folks who hold views not at all tied to anything resembling facts can function. I have always had one individual in particular in mind as I have come to understand the phenomenon of agnotology, discussed quite frequently recently. It is this guy. Anyone even halfway familiar with this site knows him. In recent weeks, I have come to the conclusion that the extreme disconnect between what is, and what exists in this individual's head, has become so great that some kind of break is inevitable.


If you peruse comments or posts written by this person, those who have had experience with him over the years will notice a drastic change in tone, approach, and attitude. At one time, he seemed almost apologetic for being less educated - he carried on because I had a college degree and he did not, even as I had not mentioned this little factoid at all, and consider it irrelevant in any event. Now, he is all over calling me (and, admittedly, others) "idiots". He has bragged about his "genius IQ". He insists on his intellectual superiority.

All this boasting should lead those who have been around this person to know that something is going on. This exaggerated, Walter Mitty-like public persona just flies in the face of evidence and history.

Why am I writing this? Unlike Alan (whose position I admire), I actually do care for this guy. He is, after all, a fellow human being. He claims to be a Christian, even as evidence of that faith seems slim to none, seeing as he spends the vast amount of his time, in turns, insulting those he thinks are "liberals", or hating on sexual minorities, or immigrants. Yet, I shall do what he (and, again granted, others like him) cannot seem to do and give him the benefit of the doubt that, at the very least, he is trying to be a Christian.

With each comment he types, each post he puts up the rage, the hatred that seethes below the surface seems just below the surface. Like water about to roil.

So, yeah, I worry about him. Any individual with that much rage, who exaggerates his own persona to the point of foolishness, is obviously suffering. Since he refuses to move beyond the cozy company he keeps (I am tempted to call him cowardly; I think that is too negative, because I think what he really fears is the kind of exposure that might just cause everything to crash around him), and he refuses to interact in a serious, adult manner, I'm not sure what can be done. If anything.

So, I wonder. And worry. I have been and will continue to pray for him, his family, and any close to him should the break happen.

Friday, June 04, 2010

"[ Insert right-winger] lives in a cloistered world of paranoid delusion that is impervious to a priori evidence that contradicts his worldview."

So Jon Stewart showed his viewers last night that Glenn Beck is either a liar, or stupid, or perhaps both (why choose?). This is the same phenomenon, however, that anyone dealing with right-wingers has to deal with. Accusations and claims that are outrageously wrong, easily disproved, or are otherwise contrary to facts persist regardless of their having been disproved. This is agnotology in action.

At some point, one needs to simply call it out, then move on. I realize this isn't always comfortable, or fun, to realize one is conversing with someone who insists that what is not actually is (for myself, I have started to wonder how it is possible to function in day-to-day life when holding on to notions that are contrary to simple, easily verified fact). So, Beck's claim that his was the only news outlet to show some footage of the Israeli raid on the Turkish aid flotilla, easily shown to be outrageously wrong, will persist in the minds of far too many people. No amount of "debunking", fact-checking, what have you, will dislodge it.

Very sad.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Thoughts On Social Media III: On UM Clergy And Social Networking

Yesterday, my wife attended a meeting for pastors who are moving to new appointments. A point being driven home more and more within the United Methodist (UM) Church is that, once a pastor moves to a new appointment, contacts, both official and casual, need to be severed.

The official ones, I understand. At the meeting, however, one of the District Superintendents (DS) said, "Get off Facebook." That, I just can't get behind.

Human relationships are complex things. The relationships between a pastor and congregation is a mixture of professional and highly personal. While severing official, professional ties is certainly necessary - no weddings, funerals, etc. - cutting personal ties I find to be a bit harsh. To ask either the pastor or congregation members to end their more casual relating seems to disregard human feeling to an extent that goes against the Gospel.

Am I wrong here?

What Moral Decline?

One hears and reads often about the moral decline of our nation. Signs, it seems, abound for those with eyes to see.

I guess I need that set of eyes, because I don't see it.

In the midst of an economic slump, quite against historic trends, crime including violent crime is down. With the pending possible repeal of DADT, the US military will join the armed forces of much of the rest of the western world in allowing sexual minorities to serve their country openly. The biggest legitimate critics of many of the Obama Administration's actions are those from the left that insist he take an even more humanitarian stand on issues concerning the treatment of prisoners in our custody from conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia. Domestically, with the passage of health care reform our country now has embedded in its law the idea that health care should be available to any and all, regardless of ability to pay. Even as they kick and scream against it, the financial industry will return to a regime of stricter regulation and oversight because they have proved, once again, they cannot be trusted to act in their own, or society's, best interest in pursuit of quarterly profits.

I realize there are some on the right who insist the country is going to hell in a handbasket. I would like to think they are at least working from the same set of facts and within the same frame of reality the rest of us have access to. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the case. While I certainly think there is much in our society and culture that is crass and vulgar, this is usually the case, anyway. Far better to just ignore it all, which is easy enough to do, as long as you are intentional about it.

I am open to being convinced that, indeed, our entire country will look like Caligula, but I think those who make the argument for moral decline have a whole lot of heavy lifting to do.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Thoughts On Social Media II: Social Etiquette In Virtual Time

The incident reported here (warning - pretty odd, and scary, right-wing place) and commented upon by me here has left me wondering. Has the arrival of social media created new rules of social etiquette? How "social" are updates on Facebook (FB), and do the usual rules of social interaction apply?

While I was critical of this person's approach to the incident in question, the incident raises interesting questions that, given second and even third thoughts, should be addressed. Since FB is a public forum, how do we raise concerns regarding such things as the use of profanity? How do we voice our objections, if we do, to the presence of words, ideas, opinions, with which we disagree, or that we find offensive?

Part of my objection to the way the particular situation was handled was the aftermath; this gentleman's niece "unfriended" him, and quite possibly there has been damage to the relationship. It might be thought this is a bit of an overreaction to the incident, yet it also raises the question of what one's moral priorities are, and how we fit our various moral concerns in to our ethical calculus.

Yet, there is a certain legitimacy to the claim that the public use of profanity, if found objectionable, can rightly be addressed publicly, as well. Of course, tact and some sense of proportion are a necessary part of any social interaction; publicly saying a relative has the public manners of "a cheap whore" might not heal the hurt caused by a public scolding.

If FB is not just something "out there", but indeed real connections with real people, then considerations of others' feelings, including the public use of profanity, and how objections to their presence are questions that need to be thought through. I have no answer, although my own approach is one that makes certain compromises in an attempt to respect the thoughts and feelings of the many different people who might read my updates and the comments upon them.

Thoughts On Social Media I

I have been on Facebook (FB) now for a bit over a year and a half. While hardly possessing the Friends List of some people (who knew there was a 5,000 person limit?!?), I am rather comfortable with just over 200, with dribs and drabs dropping on to it each week. For the past year or so, I have been amused to think about the wonderful array of people on that list. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that FB really does provide a marvelous window in to the lives of people. It also redefines, or perhaps demonstrates in new and interesting ways, what we think of as "community".

On the first point, as a way of entering in to discussion of the second, taking even a casual look at those folks on my list might just give an insight in to who I am. The people on the list run the gamut. I have people who I knew growing up, but lost touch with over the years. I have people on the list I have never "met", but with whom I have become quite close. I have people who live across the street from me. I have people who live across the country. I have folks who share my political views. I have people who would disagree with me on pretty much everything. I have folks I work with now, a couple with whom I've worked in the past. I have past and present members of churches Lisa has served. Family, of course, is well-represented. I even have a famous name or two on my list!

What this tells me is that I have pretty catholic tastes in those with whom I choose to associate. Friendship, it would seem, transcends all the various barriers that we would erect to limit it.

In a larger sense, it seems to me that FB clarifies something about how we interact with others. Our friends, old and new, well-known and casual, dear and all-but-forgotten, are people with whom we choose to associate. These choices tell us about ourselves. These choices also tell us that, at its most basic level, community is not so much about accidents of birth or where we end up living because of work, or money, or the quality or depth of relationship (however one defines such slippery terms). Instead, at its most basic, communities are communities of choice. When someone request to be a "friend", it takes more than just a mouse-click to make it so; it takes a conscious decision, saying to oneself, "Yes, this is a person with whom I want to associate." What I am most proud of is that, of all those on my list whom I know well (having met them in the real world or not), they all have an incredible integrity about themselves. Whether liberal or conservative, fundamentalist or atheist, regardless of race or sexual orientation, I think what unites people on my Friends list more than that they know, or are at least acquainted with, me is their preference for living a life that is whole, complete. Whatever compromises they may make with the rest of the world are means to the larger goal of being wholly themselves.

I like that. I also think this tells me something about myself, quite apart from what I may or may not have known about who I am. I am always struggling with this very issue; how do I live as myself in such a vast array of contexts and situations such as work, family, church, and casual social settings? What are the limits of interaction? How much of who I am is it safe to reveal to others?

Of course, having lived a very public life on the internet for the past four or so years has helped in this regard. I believe that my life is far more transparent now than ever. There are facets of who I am that are pretty clearly on display daily. Far more important, I am surrounded, on FB, with daily reminders not just of the importance of living with integrity, but the way so living opens up life to all sorts of possibilities. I am a better person for the people on my Friends List, precisely because this community of my choosing teaches me how to live as myself without artifice.

One final note - I think a gathering of all those on my Friends List, like a barbecue or party or something, would be one of the most interesting events in my life.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Found . . . Again

A couple years back I wrote about this marvelous little book of quotes I happen to have. Well, the book has moved in and out of reality, as it has a tendency to do, and sits to my right as I type right now. If I could, I would make sure any- and everyone who reads this would get a copy. If for no other reason than the book seems alive. I mean that in all seriousness.

Yet, it is alive in the best way, too. It seems to offer something new, even in those quotes I have highlighted.

I am thinking of using them on FB and Twitter, if for no other reason than some, at least, would certainly be conversation starters.

- I thought men like that shot themselves. - King George V

- Few people have the imagination for reality. - Goethe

- I am only the shadow my words cast. - Octavio Paz

There are many others, some NSFW. I just love this book.

Isreal Kills Nine, Shoots Self In Face

Concerning the Israeli naval attack on ships carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza the other day, all I can say is lucky there were no American warships sitting around. Of course, conservatives, who think we should nuke all Muslim countries because a mosque is being built in Manhattan, would probably come up with reasons why it was Obama's fault. . .

Monday, May 31, 2010

No Good War

Christopher Coker's review of Michael Burleigh's Moral Combat: A History of World War II is a reminder, on this day when we Americans honor the members of our armed forces for their sacrifices, and remember those who gave the last full measure of devotion, that even the most necessary conflict, precisely because of its inherently immoral nature, drags all of us, ally and foe alike, in to the muck and mire of our worst human attributes. The willingness to kill, the necessity to kill, the growing emotional distance necessitated by the ever-present reality of death, an insouciance to human life - these are the hallmarks of war.

It is called "The Good War" in the US because it united us as nothing has, before or since. It rescued the country from the Great Depression. We fought a two-front war, with ever-growing confidence and strength, against the two mightiest war-machines ever. While the defeat of Nazi Germany lies largely with the Russians and the Red Army, the defeat of the Japanese, closing the ring (to use Churchill's title of part of his WWII memoirs), lies almost solely with United States.

Yet, we did so morally compromised ourselves. Our armed forces were segregated. Even Japanese Americans, serving under the taint of questionable loyalties, had to have their own units. At home, Japanese-Americans whose sole crime was their national origin, or that of their parents, were locked up in concentration camps. African-American troops, having served bravely, were subjected to horrific treatment upon returning home. American leftists, being vindicated in their clarion call for defense against fascism, were also suspected for their alleged ties to that other totalitarian nightmare, our ally the Soviet Union. Refugees from Soviet satellite states were often not allowed to serve in the American armed forces.

The lesson the four and a half years of the First World War - that the end result of modern warfare is nothing more or less than mass slaughter, leaving all with blood on their hands - was forgotten. While it is easy enough for us to consider our own moral superiority, especially if one considers the political nightmare of a Europe dominated by the Nazis and a Pacific Rim dominated by a militarized Japan, we should never forget that, we, too, emerged from the war with burden of having killed tens of thousands of civilians from the air, using both conventional and atomic weapons. To justify these deaths by the argument that they saved other lives is already to succumb to the slipshod moral calculus of the bureaucratic mind.

On this Memorial Day, it is nice to read a reminder that, in fact, there is no "good war". No matter how necessary a war may be, it creates moral monsters of all involved.

Obama's Momma And My Momma Taught The Same Lesson - Mind Your Own Business

Reading this piece by Jackson Diehl on a report concerning US foreign policy goals in the upcoming years of the Obama Administration, I kept thinking to myself, "If Diehl thinks the Bush Administration approach to foreign policy was such a success, why did the rest of the world rejoice when he left office?"

The whole "Freedom Agenda" was nothing more than a recipe for interfering in far too many places in the world where we have neither the resources nor interests to do so. Furthermore, the argument that we can, in some way - alchemy? hypnosis? - change the "behavior" of states through engagement is just not supported by the facts. Consider Cuba. It's been 50 years since the revolution, the embargo, a failed CIA-sponsored invasion, all sorts of nonsense. Still communist. China? I have been thinking a lot lately about Deng Xiaoping's response to Pres. Carter's lecture to Deng on human rights: "How many millions do you want?" While we invaded Iraq supposedly to overthrow a horrible dictator, we did so even while engaging and giving aid to another dictator, in Uzbekistan. Central Africa has been embroiled in conflict for nearly two decades, from Uganda and Rwanda to the ongoing conflict in the Congo, with festering sores like Chad and the Moroccan domination of Western Sahara (the last a specific issue before the UN Security Council, just like Iraq). Who can forget Burma/Myanmar? Well, the US State Department did, at least under Bush, even though it is, perhaps, next to North Korea, the most nightmarish place on earth for human beings, in a political and social sense.

The "Freedom Agenda" of the Bush Administration, besides being far too broad and unrealistic, was a dismal failure because other countries understood it to be hypocritical, unworkable, yet nevertheless and excuse for the US to start mucking around where it doesn't belong. By refocusing on our core interests, both near- and long-term, a return to realpolitique is a marvelous thing, precisely because it allows us, as a nation, to set priorities and allocate resources where they can be used effectively. Whether or not the one's Obama has set can be a source of discussion. Whining about the end of the miserable Bush Administration record on foreign policy, however, should just make people laugh.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Crabwalking Repeal

The House of Representatives has approved an amendment to a larger bill that would repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays serving openly. The problem, however, is that successful implementation of repeal is contingent on several things, the most notorious of which is the completion of a survey of active duty personnel on the question, not due for seven months.

While I am pleased that the House has taken a kinda-sorta stand on the issue, it would be nice if they had been a little less cowardly about it. Just repeal it. The American people are far more ready for it than they were, say, for racial integration when Harry Truman did it. Whether or not the military "accepts" gays in their ranks, the officer corps, professional and apolitical to its bones, will make it happen once the order comes down (something I think too many people forget; the military follow orders, even when those orders don't make sense, or seem wrong).

Getting Caught Up In History

I've been reflecting on something in my sister's comment regarding the long-term psychological damage wrought by the death of my great Uncle in the trenches in 1918 (like his namesake, my father's older brother, who would die ten years later after a drunk doctor rammed their car as my grandfather took the family out for a Sunday drive, he became unmentionable; remembered by those few who knew him more for having died than for ever having lived, it is this corpse-like presence in memory that damaged my grandmother and her children far too long). About sixteen years ago, I first read Robert K. Massie's massive history Dreadnought, and got caught up in his sweeping narrative that seemed to argue the Naval rivalry between the British and German Empires was as much personal (in particular, fed by the massive near-psychoses and general inferiority complex of German Emperor Wilhelm II, who was grandson of Queen Victoria and nephew of King Edward) as it was anything.

As I neared the end of the narrative that included the arguments in the British Cabinet in 1911 on the Naval Estimates (Churchill's apt description of the result, in which the Navy argued for a certain number of battle ships, he and other trimmers argued for half that number, and the compromise they ended up with was actually more than the Navy had originally asked for is funny, but also sad), I realized how odd it was, yet important, that this story (at least as related by Massie) caught up much of the western world in its throes. Including my family.

Obviously, there is more going on than the haughtiness of Britain at the apex of her Imperial grandeur, or the German desire to be the great Continental power, overshadowing old rival France. The Kaiser, however, in particular, focused on the necessity of a German navy as a mark of its greatness, almost to the point of obsession; having built this great navy, however, for the most part it sat, unused in Black Sea ports, only once attempting a massive exit in force. The result, the Battle of Jutland, was the greatest Naval engagement of the First World War. Technically a draw, the Germans lost it because they then returned to huddling in their ports, while the British Navy had free reign (except for submarines) on the world's oceans.

This story of an extended family, where relations became complicated by intersecting national loyalties (not to mention the psychological dimension; I cannot stress enough that Kaiser Wilhelm II was crazier than a shit-house rat), swept up not just the children of Queen Victoria and their children, but eventually not just the ruling classes of Europe, but their whole populations as well.

When the Kaiser, going against the advice of both his Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, declared open season on all shipping, including neutral shipping, he forced Wilson's hand. Having already insulted the Americans with the heavy-handed, and thin-brained Zimmerman dispatch, the threat to freedom of commerce with all sides by neutrals dragged Wilson around to seeing that war against the Central Powers might just be a necessity.

All these historical events, always seen from a distance, caught up millions of ordinary citizens in their nets. They always seem to do so. When Everett Shores arrived in France, moved up to the trenches, was promoted to Corporal, and died (most likely from friendly shell fire dropping on advancing American forces), his was one among 20 million deaths during those four and a half years of meaningless, mindless slaughter that achieved the noble goal of enraging the Germans in the person of Adolf Hitler, thus ensuring that within a generation, many more millions would die.

Yet, the intersection of personal and political, the family of Saxe-Coburg and the Shores (and eventually Saffords), when conflict erupted on the plains of Flanders and northeastern France, still astounds me. It would be nice if one of the lessons reading Massie rendered was giving to those practicing statecraft a vision of the way their actions are not just about the great and powerful nations. It is, in the end, the intersections of the lives of millions; the effects of bad decisions, of horrible choices, lost chances, and sheer blind stupidity reach far beyond the immediate moment. As long as my grandmother was alive (she died in 1984, having just turned 95), the long reach of history was still with our family.

Sarah Palin And Sisterhood

Part of me thinks that ignoring her completely is the far better choice. She just doesn't want to go away, however, and so, alas, we are inundated with her words. Stuck with the phony faux-northern accents of former-Gov. Palin in to the foreseeable future (thanks, John McCain!), it is probably a good thing Jessica Valenti of Feministing is taking a stab at Mrs. Palin's attempts to steal "feminist" from the real deal.

The complicated nature of the spectacle of anti-feminist women in positions of power, like anti-integrationist blacks a generation ago, anti-immigrant rights folks from many countries who are naturalized citizens, and so on, can be easily dismissed (and usually are) with the acronym IGMFY. Usually, that is the main thrust of what is happening. Yet, as Valenti makes clear, there is more happening than simple ladder-lifting in Mrs. Palin's attempt to rewrite the history of the feminist movement in the United States. By attempting to redefine feminism as anti-abortion at its heart, she is attempting to leap across a century of American history, and rob the word of any substantive content since the initiation of women's suffrage just after the First World War.

One wonders why Mrs. Palin doesn't argue that, since the original feminist movement - inaugurated at Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, focusing almost entirely on voting and property rights for women - was racist to the core, today's feminists shouldn't also be such? It is commonplace enough, I suppose, to hear or read of the racism of the original advocates of birth control and abortion rights, in particular Margaret Sanger (her pamphlets and speeches were filled with horrid images of brown and black hordes defiling our country if they weren't reigned in via conception control; and abstinence wasn't possible for these folks because, for her and many who thought like her, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans were little better than animals incapable of controlling their desires).

Whether or not the original women's rights movement was pro-abortion or anti-abortion is neither here nor there for the contemporary feminist movement, or at the very least should be. Unless Mrs. Palin has access to a time machine, we live in the early 21st century, and the goal of the feminist movement, having achieved the first goals of the feminist movement - voting rights, first, then equal protection under the law and certain property rights - the struggle has moved to socio-economic issues. Equal pay for equal work. A greater awareness of domestic violence and violence against women in general as a particular type of crime. Expanding the feminist movement from the white middle-class to minority communities and abroad through a focus on anti-women policies and violence (for example, the long fight against "female circumcision", which is, really, the excision of the clitoris in young women, rendering them incapable of sexual arousal and pleasure). Mrs. Palin's talk of "real" feminism and "sisterhood" focusing almost exclusively on abortion rights may or may not be accurate - it seems the historical jury is still out - but at the very least, it distorts the entire focus of the pursuit of women's rights in our current age.

Valenti is also right that the tendency among some feminists who might otherwise oppose the policies and preferences of Mrs. Palin are going too far in giving her the benefit of the doubt by refusing to denounce her attempted theft of "feminist". Like Phyllis Schlafly a generation ago, or Justice Clarence Thomas denouncing affirmative action when it is clearly understood he was accepted to college and law school under its aegis, Mrs. Palin has generally denounced the aspirations of the women's movement while benefiting from its successes. "Solidarity" is not just a slogan, or even a Polish union from the Cold War. It is a concept necessary to keep historic movement alive. It involves education and understanding, inculcating an understanding of the debt we all owe those who have gone before us, and the need to make their dreams our reality. Particularly among those most effected by official discrimination, to actively pursue policies that are detrimental to the goals and aspirations of the movements that gave other members of their cohort a voice, empowering them as members of our civil society, is the deepest betrayal.

Mrs. Palin, indeed, is no feminist. She owes her election in Alaska to feminism, and should acknowledge that; she also, to be equally fair, should be working to ensure that her daughters earn as much as men who work with her, do not face violence in their homes and lives, and can unite with women across cultural and political and racial and religious barriers to make the world a more congenial place for women. Just as abortion distorts far too much religious belief among conservatives, it seems it is doing so among many right-wing women.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More