Saturday, September 01, 2012

Things I Don't Like About Obama

Since I've been piling on poor Romney/Ryan the past few pieces, I thought it only fair to highlight some of the things about the Obama Administration that are, how can I put this, less than laudatory.  Beside putting 100,000 troops in Afghanistan with no strategy and to no purpose other than to be targets for insurgents, factions, militias, IEDs, and even the Afghan Army they're training; beside shrugging when Congress said he couldn't use any federal funds for the purposes of closing the gulag at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base; beside saying, "Thank you, sir!  May I have another?" when House and Senate Republicans throw a public tantrum; beside not pushing, once the evidence made clear the necessity, for a far larger stimulus at the beginning of his term; beside waging undeclared war in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and putting troops in harms way in Uganda, DR Congo, and The Central African Republic in pursuit of unspecified tactical and strategic goals other than "maintaining a presence"; beside all these, the thing that genuinely angers me is the refusal to pursue legal action against the persons in the Bush Administration responsible for several years of systematic torture and death.

The last, tiny vestiges of such legal action have been dropped.

If ever there was an instance when making clear to the world that the United States was reasserting the rule of law, it was right here.  I'm not talking about prosecuting some non-coms and  booting a senior officer out of the service, as happened after the abuses at Abu Ghraib came to light.  There has been, from the beginning, abundant evidence that officials high up the food chain not only approved but supervised a program of detention and torture of prisoners, violating our laws, our Treaty agreements that have the force of law according to the Constitution these same officials swear an oath to defend and uphold, and most of all our sense of ourselves as a people.  Legal action against torturers would show the world we no longer consider such acts acceptable.

We are no longer even pretending to do such.

On this, as on so much else, the distance between Obama and his Republican rival is non-existent; on this, as on so much else, where things like the Constitution, and human life, and who we are as a people really matter, the President is no better than his predecessor.  On this, as on so much else I base my original refusal to give Pres. Obama the benefit of my vote in November.  He is fortunate, perhaps, in his opponents this year, having for his Republican rival someone about whom Steve Benen writes:
[W]e're seeing the first real-world test of a post-truth campaign. Team Romney lies, without shame, because it's certain the line between fact and fiction has been blurred out of existence, and if lies will give Romney vast power, the ends justify the means.
 For that reason alone, Obama will probably get my vote.  His record on matters of real importance?  Not so much.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Falling Into September

I suppose I'm odd in yet another way.  Like most people, there are songs that will always be "summer songs"; I could hear them on Christmas Eve, or the cold, dark depths of mid-February, and I'm suddenly in the heat and humidity of mid-July, the sun high in the sky, the world green.  Just so, I also have a far smaller set of songs (actually whole bands) that are, for lack of a better word, autumnal.  It could be a week out from the summer solstice, 90+ degrees, and if one of these songs pops up on my playlist, the light dims thanks to the thick cloud cover, the air doesn't go cold but has a chill, I can actually hear and smell the crisp, dead leaves on the ground.

I'm not sure why, but the bands that bring that whole fall feeling tend to be British, none more than Pink Floyd.
Pink Floydish in sound and feel, Porcupine Tree can do it, too, especially when leader Steven Wilson is reveling in gloominess, such as this:
Then there's Marillion, closer to Genesis than Pink Floyd when it comes to influences, but also quintessentially British in feel.  Their concept album Brave deals with suicide; "The Great Escape", well, what else do you think it's about?  I still think the second solo on this song isn't just Steven Rothery's best, but one of the great guitar solos of all time in terms of emotional impact.
All these depressing songs. . .  If it weren't for the drought, it should be raining.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Fire (UPDATE)

There always comes the point beyond which lying becomes counterproductive. This point is reached when the audience to which the lies are addressed is forced to disregard altogether the distinguishing line between truth and falsehood in order to be able to survive. Truth or falsehood - it does not matter which any more, if your life depend on your acting as though you trusted; truth that can be relied on disappears entirely from public life, and with it the chief stabilizing factor in the ever-changing affairs of men.
Hannah Arendt, "Lying in Politics"
Even as the Republican Party prepares to nominate Mitt Romney as its candidate for President, the Romney/Ryan campaign has publicly dedicated itself to presenting the people of the United States a series of blatant falsehoods as the basis for their campaign.  For some odd reason - perhaps the clarity with which the campaign has made clear they do not care about matters of truth and falsehood - the press has begun to call out at least one of these lies even as commentators have made clear that, for all its a good start, it may not be enough to counter the sheer volume of deception the Romney/Ryan campaign is preparing to foist upon the American people.

The chorus expressing their stunned awe at the Romney/Ryan campaign's belief that lying is OK because it works (the argument given by campaign officials in the linked Buzzfeed piece) includes Greg Sargent (already linked), James Bennett at The Atlantic, James Fallows also at The Atlantic, Mark Kleiman at, David Weigel at Slate, Thomas Edsall at The New York Times, among many others.  Even CNN, hardly an exemplar of journalistic courage when it comes to matters such as this, noted that Paul Ryan's acceptance speech, given last evening, contained (in the words of Wolf Blitzer) "at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute . . .".

If it seems I have paid an inordinate amount of attention to the many failures and faults of the Republican Party and their nominees for President and Vice-President, the reason is simple enough.  In order for our republican government to function, we need, at the very least, some rootedness in reality.  As I have made clear ad nauseum,  there are good, substantive criticisms to be made against the Obama Presidency; there are good, substantive reasons not to support his re-election.  That the opposition to Obama has deliberately and publicly decided not to campaign upon these substantive matters but instead to lie their way to November cannot be made clear enough.  Like Romney's "birther joke" from last Friday at a campaign stop in Michigan, the decision to set truth to one side, to declare fact-checking irrelevant in the face of the success of appeals to class and racial resentment, while hardly as unprecedented as some like E. J. Dionne, writing in 2004, would have us believe.  I'm not sure what's different about this campaign except, perhaps, what Mark Kleiman calls "the sheer cynicism of the Romney campaign".

Most folks have seen the meme's floating around Facebook that say, "Wouldn't it be funny if liar's pants really did catch on fire?"  If that were, indeed, true, the building housing the Republican National Convention would have burned to the ground long ago.  The fact is - and from this entire post it seems clear that there are people who just don't care about pesky facts - Romney/Ryan, from beginning to end, is rooted in falsehoods; the RNC theme is false; the ad about Obama "gutting" welfare reform is false; even as they give their speeches, the candidates cannot help but lie.  This bodes ill both for the campaign season ahead and for the country as a whole.  That there are enough people who are willing to allow themselves to be lied to by people seeking public office is not just disappointing (there have always been those willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to politics), but a very real threat to our form of government.  There is, quite literally, now way to know how a Romney/Ryan Administration would govern (unless we look at the records of the men in question, of course, yet another irrelevant exercise in truth-telling this season of lies) given the campaign's dedication to mendacity.

We may deserve better.  But, these are the choices: A middling President who, while certainly concerned, seems unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to right the ship of our national economy; or a Republican ticket who just don't care about things like facts and reality, seeking only to win an election by any means necessary.  The only virtue Romney/Ryan seem to have is their honesty about the practice of dishonesty.

UPDATE: Steve Benen is a smart, funny, engaging writer online for Washington Monthly.  Since January, he has featured Mitt Romney's deliberate falsehoods.  As of his thirtieth installment on Friday, August 17, according to Slacktivist at Patheos, the total reached 533.  It's the hip-wader election, friends and neighbors.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Choice Not An Echo (UPDATE)

While many, including me, have been focusing on the lack of serious difference between the Democrats and Republicans on niggling details like actual fiscal policy and the general approach toward large financial institutions, the Republican Party has decided, through its convention, to make clear there are real, stark differences between the two parties and their approach to governance.  The difference is summed up with perfection by Charlie Pierce:
It was an entire evening based on a demonstrable lie because it was an entire evening based on rejecting — publicly and dishonestly, and without caring that the facts of your own biographies give the lie to the words you're saying — the idea of a general political commonwealth as expressed through the national government, which has been the great engine behind the expansion of the country's size, the country's wealth, and, yes, the country's freedom.
Whether it's "celebrating" the lie about "We Built This" in a building funded by taxpayers, or having speaker after speaker extol the virtues of self-reliance after listing all sorts of public funding from being in military families to receiving money from the GI Bill to attending public colleges to spending their adult lives as public officials, there is, as Pierce says so eloquently, not a falsehood the Republican Party won't present in order to further their dream of stripping away the final, tattered remnants of the ties that bind us together as a people.  As they insist we race to the bottom of the heap of once-glorious nations, we should remember this is not a new thing.

I remember the moment that, perhaps more than any other, changed my thinking about politics.  In the summer of 1984, I had just finished my freshman year of college.  I spent the better part of that summer doing a crash course in reading up on all sorts of things.  One of the big publishing hits from that balmy year of Ronald Reagan and Duran Duran was Helen Caldicott's Missile Envy.  One evening, I had the great good fortune to catch her in the hot seat on CNN's old show, Crossfire.  This was back in the day when "the Left" was represented by Tom Braden, whose lasting contribution to American culture was Eight Is Enough.  I remember very vividly the moment Dr. Caldicott was talking about a sit down she had with Pres. Reagan, talking about matters surrounding the nuclear arms race.  She said, quite baldly, that everything Pres. Reagan said to her, from the overall strategic balance of nuclear forces that might result from "The Nuclear Freeze" to tactical control over field nuclear weapons (yes, the US designed artillery shells that were fission based; nice idea, that), was all factually inaccurate.

I sat stunned.  Really?  The President of the United States was factually wrong about, well, everything?  Over many ensuing years, I was a huge supporter of efforts to correct the public record whenever someone made an obvious boner.  When I discovered Media Matters for America, I became a fan.  One of the benefits of Internet communication is the proliferation of fact-correction of statements and claims politicians make.

I've given up on the idea that, presented with the facts of the matter, folks will say to themselves, "Wow!  These people are lying to me!", change their minds, and act accordingly.  The reason the Republican strategy of mendacity is so successful is simple: It works.  The folks in Tampa Bay don't care they are being fed false information.  The Republican Party doesn't care that it is not telling the truth to the American people.

No amount of "correcting the record" is going to get folks to switch their votes.  "Speaking truth to power," one of the stupidest phrases I can imagine - it was Noam Chomsky who crystallized my thinking on this when he said, "The powerful already know the truth.  It's the people who need to hear it." - is both useless and irrelevant.

We the people are being offered a very real choice this year.  The Republican Party, in its official capacity at its quadrennial national meeting, has made sure of that.  All any of us can do, and that isn't much, is not only point out the unreality of so much of their vision of and for America, but offer the alternative, so eloquently expressed by Pierce and more haltingly by myself, that we as a nation are far better than this blinkered, small, and ultimately false view.

UPDATE:  There are last nerves that get plucked, the final limits of patience that are exceeded, the final willingness to keep a discussion on a level that is somewhat civil.

This post demonstrates, however, some at least of the opponents of Pres. Obama should not be allowed in public.  The accompanying image, I think, says it all:
I'm through playing nice.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our Disconnected National Life

Back in April, I wrote a series of posts I labeled "Everything's Connected", telling in snapshot and anecdote the roundabout way I have arrived at my view of the way the world is.  The label also summarizes a deeply held belief of mine.  Everything is, indeed, connected.  It may take time, perhaps several lifetimes, to tease out all those connections, but those connections exist among human phenomena as different as a Botticelli painting and the Laplace Transform Equations.

One of the things that frustrates me no end is the artificial division of human action and understanding in to discrete units, thinking we can separate art from science from religious life from the family from politics.  It is a fiction that politics and culture, say, or religion and science, have nothing to say to one another.  Yet, far too many of us, in no small part thanks to the division of labor and understanding bequeathed us by higher education, believe this is both possible and reflective of the way things really are.  Thus, for example, we have one of my favorite bands of all time, The Grateful Dead, declaring themselves "apolitical", yet participating in the political counterculture of the late-1960's; the Be-Ins at which they played in San Francisco, their concert at Columbia University during the student protests led by Mark Rudd were deeply political acts.  They weren't naive about it; they simply understood "politics" as "taking a partisan stance within the frames of conventional public discourse", a convenient if false illusion that allows many people to believe it possible to be "apolitical" all the while being extremely political in their life choices.

Bear this in mind as you click the link to this article at The Atlantic magazine on the so-called "Hook-Up Culture" (I truly and earnestly detest the abuse of the word "culture" when used this way; yet, what else am I to do except refer to it by its given name?).  A snippet, perhaps, should suffice for those unwilling to do the heavy lifting:
To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.
At the same time there is this pervasive environment of casual sex, we have one political party that is dedicated to removing any and all legal protections women enjoy to explore the fullness of their personhood, including their sexuality.

How is this possible?  How is it possible the direct connection between the empowered women described in the linked article and the anti-woman politics of the Republican Party isn't made more clear?  How is it that these young, privileged women are not front and center protesting the many ways the current iteration of the Republican Party will strip from them the foundations for the freedom to live their lives as full human beings?  If ever there were a case where culture and politics collide, it's right here.

I suppose, for the sake of argument, I could pass some verbal judgment upon this "Hook-Up Culture", but, honestly, what would be the point?  It isn't like anything I say would matter.  Furthermore, it is what it is, existing as it does, and considering both my age and gender, what possible judgment upon it could I render that would be intelligible to those who are likely to live within it?  Do I believe that casual sex is a good thing?   On the whole, no.  I also believe it is as detrimental to young men as young women, although in very different ways (subjects about which I've written previously).

All the same, such judgments come from my own, very different experience as a young adult nearly a generation ago.  I cannot and will not declare moral opprobrium upon the lives of others whose experience and historical moment are vastly different from my own.

I will say the class differences clear from the article are more than a little troubling; I would also say that passing judgment upon the life choices of one's peers, as some young women do to others who make the choice to leave school and start a family, is disturbing.  All the same, any criticism I have would be irrelevant precisely because I'm old and I'm a guy, and I couldn't even begin to understand, even from an article as well-written and thoughtful as this, all the assumptions and motivations of the persons living within this very different reality.

To return to my main point, however: Just as the United States has been growing far more accepting of ethnic and cultural and racial and religious and even sexual difference over the previous thirty years, our political climate is almost rabidly hostile to any expression of difference, let alone the practice of it.  On-going violence rooted in these same differences is as much an expression of fear as a demand by a declining hegemonic class that such changes will not be tolerated.  It would seem to me that here we have an example where the artificial barriers we erect between politics and culture need to be torn down, if for no other reason than the young women who find themselves empowered within this milieu that allows them the freedom to live their lives fully may continue to do so unencumbered by the clucking tongues and invasive legislation of an entire class of (mostly male) politicians who sincerely and honestly believe these same young women have no business doing what they seem to enjoy doing.

The Anniversary Waltz

Thirty-six hundred posts.

That's a whole lot of words.  A whole lot of sitting down and surfing teh Google Box for whatever goodies the day might bring.  A whole lot of silent swearing as I make my way through whatever I've written and discovering yet another stupid typo.  A whole lot of pointless repetition; I've written "the same post" - I have discovered about a dozen repeats on a couple themes - because, well, I have a small mind, apparently, with few interests, although I do seem to love A Christmas Carol without realizing I've said the same thing about it several times at least over the years.

Lucky for me I have new themes.  I have new interests and concerns.  I even have what some might call small obsessions.

I've often wondered whether I've been as faithful to this site's title as I could be.  Far more posts concern themselves with matters political and, for lack of a better word, cultural, than "religious" (yet another word I despise).  Am I presenting a fair representation, or do I perhaps go down roads that a more fair-minded and honest Christian (of any ideological stripe) would avoid?  I have no answers to this question, although it has become particularly important due to a bit of a disagreement my wife and I had recently.  Disenchanted with the tenor and tone of our "discourse", the past couple weeks she has expressed consternation that I, too, her husband, have become part of what she considers the problem.

I will save my specific response for another time.  Suffice it to say, even though we disagreed, I was brought up short enough to think carefully about all the things said and done here over the years.

Then, this morning, I saw that my tiny blessing to Neil Armstrong was post number 3600.

Good Lord, but I have verbal diarrhea.

Does this mean I'm going to stop?  I'm sure there are folks who think I should, or wish I would.  That's OK, though, because those are the people who tend to be only worth laughing at.  I heard recently that the worst thing a person can do to an opponent is ignore them.  I think that's true.  So, I'm going to ignore the haters and the baiters and just keep doing what I do until I get bored with it.

And a song, of course.  Band leader Maynard James Keenan wrote the song "10,000 Days" in memory of his mother.  He actually wrote several songs about his Mom, including "Judith" for A Perfect Circle.  His mother was a devout Christian who was paralyzed late in life.  She spent 27 years - those 10,000 days - in a wheelchair, and was as faithful to the end as she had been from the beginning.  Not a man of specifically a Christian spiritual bent, Maynard couldn't understand his mother's tenacious hold upon what he called "your God" in "Judith" (in a moment of what many consider lyrical blasphemy).  All the same, in deep love and sadness he offered this song, with its vision of his mother receiving her reward for a life of faith.  May such a song be penned for all of us, and each of us, in no small part because we are faithful when others see so many reasons to abandon it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mr. Armstrong

When I heard the news that Neil Armstrong had died, I was deep in the midst of a wedding reception.  I had little time to think or reflect upon it until the drive home last night.  Thankfully, BBC World Service, which is carried by our local NPR station overnight, covered his life, his personality, and the almost unbelievable singular fact that he, Neil Armstrong, was the first human being to walk on another planet.

Just writing that sentence amazes me.

There are, and shall continue to be, encomiums aplenty.  What I know about Neil Armstrong is what most people know: He was humble and quiet, although when confronted by a Moon-landing-skeptic, he wasn't afraid to belt the guy one (Moon-landing-skeptics are hysterically funny to read or listen to, unlike creationists who tend to be annoying and Holocaust deniers who are just offensive).

For that brief, single moment, his foot on the last rung of the ladder from the Eagle Lunar Module, I wonder what he was thinking.  Considering we knew nothing at all about the geology of lunar soil, even the wildest theories about what might happen should we attempt to walk there weren't considered too far out there.  Some thought the surface was little more than tens of feet of fine dust and the lander and those inside would just sink in to oblivion.  I read somewhere - and I can't find it or I'd link to it - that several Lunar Mission specialists actually theorized that a person stepping on the Moon would cause an explosion.

All of those theories were put to rest, though, once "the Eagle has landed."  Now, here he was.  His fellow crew member, Buzz Aldrin, was waiting inside the module for his turn.  Michael Collins was in the orbiter, making sure someone was there to meet them when the mission was done so they could all get home safely.

He and Aldrin, for all there are cameras on them and their microphones were patched to the homes of about a billion people, I have little doubt that, for all their training and ability to focus on the mission, squeezing out the externalities as distractions, there had to be a sense of isolation no human being had ever felt before.  A quarter-million miles from their home PLANET.  Not their home city, or their home state, or country.

They were two men in a vehicle on the surface of another planet.

Then, he was down.  He uttered those immortal words about small steps and giant leaps.  He talked about the experience of moving about the lunar surface, trying to describe for viewers the details the cameras just couldn't convey.

With his passing, more than many if not most of the Apollo astronauts I can think of, we face the stark reality that a singular individual in the history of our species has died.  Some men and women had to be the first to step foot on the North American continent, or Australia, or Hawaii, or Fiji, or the Christmas Isles.  But those are all terrestrial habitats; someone, at some point, would have landed there.  Neil Armstrong was the first human being to step on another planet.

I do not wish to use this moment to bemoan the current state of our space policy.  I do not wish to invoke Armstrong's name to express something that is my own thought.  I only wish to say goodbye to an extraordinary man who demonstrated, not only with his achievements in the space program but his life after as well, what it means to be a great and good and honorable man.  The world shall not see one like him again.

That Neil Armstrong and I share one thing - we are both Americans - is something for which I am, perhaps inordinately, proud.  He was one of us.

Rest in peace, just as you did in life, Mr. Armstrong.  A grateful nation will see you home.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More