Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thursday Lyrics: Summer, Highland Falls

At random, ended up watching a National Press Club appearance by Billy Joel in which he talked about music and politics. We watched the question session, which was all music, and he ended up by singing one of my favorite Joel songs of all time. If you don't have any interest in the whole video, you can hear just the song.

Summer, Highland Falls
by Billy Joel

They say that these are not the best of times,
But they're the only times I've ever known,
And I believe there is a time for meditation in cathedrals of our own.
Now I have seen that sad surrender in my lover's eyes,
And I can only stand apart and sympathize.

For we are always what our situations hand us...
It's either sadness or euphoria.
And so we argue and we compromise,
and realize that nothing's ever changed,
For all our mutual experience, our seperate conclusions are the same.

Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity,
Our reason co-exists with our insanity.
And though we choose between reality and madness...
It's either sadness or euphoria.

How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
Perhaps we don't fulfill each other's fantasies.
And so we'll stand upon the ledges of our lives,
With our respective similarities...
It's either sadness or euphoria.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Echoes of Fascist Rhetoric

In response to a funny post at Terry's blog, I got serious
Stalin was a low-key, low-charisma party functionary who parlayed administrative responsibility into strategic superiority; he wasn’t as much an ideologue as he was a power-hungry S.O.B. (he ended up adopting large portions of Trotsky’s program after hounding Trotsky out of the country for programatic heresy!)

Palin, on the other hand, reminds me more of a non-military version of Juan Peron or Francisco Franco: someone who plays the demogogue in democratic terms until the game isn’t working for them, then they bring the hammer down, having laid the groundwork for accusing their opponents of subversion, treason, etc.
In response to a Sam Crane comment on Maoist guerrilla tactics as a metaphor for McCain's rural strategy (which has intensified, since), I said
More to the point, it resemble's Mao's use of rural peasants as "authentic" and politically pure, whereas urbanites and educated citizens were suspect and required retraining. This woman really does worry me.
I still wasn't going to make a big deal of it, but this attempt to claim that the recession is just "some regions of the country not doing as well as others" has a direct parallel in the Maoist obfustication of the Great Leap Forward Famine. At that time, official reports claimed that the Great Leap Forward was going very well, producing record amounts in both agriculture and industry, while the reality was that both agricultural and industrial production were dramatically undercut by the Maoist program. Famine across most of China resulted in roughly thirty million deaths, but the vast majority of the Chinese people believed -- and many still believe -- that the Great Leap Forward was generally successful except in their districts. This propoganda sleight of hand effectively shifted the blame for the famine away from central planners (or planner) to local officials and a "failure of revolutionary zeal" among the population. That gave the regime cover for the Cultural Revolution, a political purge and self-destructive "renewal" that killed millions more and set Chinese intellectual and cultural life back decades.

Blame shifting is a natural human act, not a particularly fascistic or Republican one. But the cumulative effect of the specific tactics is suggesting to me an affinity with extremist politics which is deeply unsettling:
  • shifting blame away from the center
  • blaming minorities (especially for the mortgage crisis; also immigration issues and Islamophobia)
  • calling for a renewal of lost "authenticity"
  • excluding large segments of the population from membership in the "the nation"
It never ceases to amaze me that right-wing radicals can get away with much more than left-wing ones, but there has to be a line somewhere....

Welcome, Avedon readers! Also Open Left folks!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Free History!

Via Ralph Luker, I note a new effort to clarify the liberating role of history, and the importance, conversely, of liberating history from legislated truths. The new appeal says, in part [emphasis added]:
History must not be a slave to contemporary politics nor can it be written on the command of competing memories. In a free state, no political authority has the right to define historical truth and to restrain the freedom of the historian with the threat of penal sanctions.
We ask government authorities to recognize that, while they are responsible for the maintenance of the collective memory, they must not establish, by law and for the past, an official truth whose legal application can carry serious consequences for the profession of history and for intellectual liberty in general.
In a democracy, liberty for history is liberty for all.

I would add, in the list of dangers to history from state attention, the creation of national curriculums of such detail and narrow conception as to force primary and secondary school history into memorization exercises, stripping them of the inquisitive and argumentative joy that real history offers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hoist that Petard!

All the pundits tonight after the debate were picking McCain's line, "I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago." as the "take-away line" the best shot of the debate.

Really? Obama's response was about as good as you're going to get on the fly: "the fact of the matter is that if I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush."

There was an amateur ad put together a couple of months back, contrasting Bush's declining public approval with McCain's rising rate of voting with him. All the Obama campaign needs to do is put a little tag on it, with the clips of McCain and Obama quoted above:

p.s. One thought on "Joe the Plumber." It's true that the original exchange and the post-debate interviews have clearly shown that Mr. Joe Wurzelbacher was and remains very skeptical of Obama's positions and character -- in a post-debate interview he said that Obama did a "tap dance ... almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr." [corrected] -- but let me ask you this: how many skeptical or critical voters has McCain talked to recently? How often do Democrats get into his Town Hall meetings? Has Palin tried to talk policy with someone who's wavering or leaning the other way?

Also, you can seem more of my post-debate comments here and here.

UPDATE: Joe the Plumber? Possibly Not related to Charles Keating's son-in-law. McCain can't catch a break.

Another update: Obama's ad is very like the one I suggested. That was too easy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Censored/Underreported Stories of 2008

As is tradition here, I give you the Project Censored "Top 25 Censored Stories" and the WorldNetDaily "Most Ignored Stories" lists. Unfortunately, they're on somewhat different cycles, with WND working from calendar years and PC working on more of an academic year. As usual, I will bold the ones I've heard of.
Project Censored
# 1 Over One Million Iraqi Deaths Caused by US Occupation
# 2 Security and Prosperity Partnership: Militarized NAFTA
# 3 InfraGard: The FBI Deputizes Business
# 4 ILEA: Is the US Restarting Dirty Wars in Latin America?
# 5 Seizing War Protesters’ Assets
# 6 The Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act
# 7 Guest Workers Inc.: Fraud and Human Trafficking
# 8 Executive Orders Can Be Changed Secretly
# 9 Iraq and Afghanistan Vets Testify
# 10 APA Complicit in CIA Torture
# 11 El Salvador’s Water Privatization and the Global War on Terror
# 12 Bush Profiteers Collect Billions From No Child Left Behind
# 13 Tracking Billions of Dollars Lost in Iraq
# 14 Mainstreaming Nuclear Waste
# 15 Worldwide Slavery
# 16 Annual Survey on Trade Union Rights
# 17 UN’s Empty Declaration of Indigenous Rights
# 18 Cruelty and Death in Juvenile Detention Centers
# 19 Indigenous Herders and Small Farmers Fight Livestock Extinction
# 20 Marijuana Arrests Set New Record
# 21 NATO Considers “First Strike” Nuclear Option
# 22 CARE Rejects US Food Aid
# 23 FDA Complicit in Pushing Pharmaceutical Drugs
# 24 Japan Questions 9/11 and the Global War on Terror
# 25 Bush’s Real Problem with Eliot Spitzer
WorldNetDaily, January 05, 2008
1. moving closer to a North American Union
2. Bush's refusal to pardon Border Patrol agents convicted of unlawful killing
3. Research refuting man-made global warming

4. Lack of action on border fence mandated by Congress
5. California bill introducing homosexuality to young children
6. Hillary and her felonious fundraising
7. Illegal aliens who rape, murder, kill driving drunk, commit voter fraud, welfare fraud and burden the system

8. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's resignation from the Senate Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee, which she chaired, amid a conflict of interest due to her husband's ownership of two major defense contractors
9. Progress of Law of the Sea Treaty
10. Syria's alleged WMDs and Israel's attack

I've heard of seven WND stories, 70%, and nine of the PC stories, 36%, suggesting that the WND stories really aren't as underreported as all that. As in the past, the WND list comprises stories that have been pretty heavily flogged in right-leaning media (or outright fringe sources like WND) but which haven't gotten enough traction in mainstream consciousness for something to be done about them. I heard most of the PC stories through liberal/left sources (not the mainstream media, which is centrist) or through specialist blogs.

It is interesting, though, that the first item on the WND list is the second item on the PC list....

Theodore Roosevelt was shot

but he went on with the speech anyway (emphasis added)
Friends, I will disown and repudiate any man of my party who attacks with such foul slander and abuse any opponent of any other party; and now I wish to say seriously to all the daily newspapers, to the Republicans, the Democrat, and Socialist parties, that they cannot, month in month out and year in and year out, make the kind of untruthful, of bitter assault that they have made and not expect that brutal, violent natures, or brutal and violent characters, especially when the brutality is accompanied by a not very strong mind; they cannot expect that such natures will be unaffected by it.

Don’t you pity me. I am all right. I am all right, and you cannot escape listening to my speech either….
I ask that in our civic life that we in the same way pay heed only to the man’s quality of citizenship—to repudiate as the worst enemy that we can have whoever tries to get us to discriminate for or against any man because of his creed or his birthplace…. in the same way I want our people to stand by one another without regard to differences of class or occupation.
I ask you to look at our declaration and hear and read our platform about social and industrial justice and then, friends, vote for the Progressive ticket without regard to me, without regard to my personality, for only by voting for that platform can you be true to the cause of progress throughout this Union.
There's a more complete version of the speech; the excerpts are great, but don't really do it justice.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"soundbite citizens"

These are the soundbite citizens. They take in most of their opinions from the thirty-second news coverage on the 6:00 evening news (and god help us all if they are FOX viewers) or the headlines and first paragraphs of the daily paper (they always mean to read the articles more closely later, but there's never time) and they build these snippets into a world view.
Anne Zook nails it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Comment elsewhere: Current Events Sonnet

The first quatrain just popped out; the rest took a little longer, but it was shockingly easy. I blame Rich Puchalsky for reminding me how much fun it is to dash off a piece, and inspiring me to attempt sonnets. here it is:
The Dow Jones is collapsing
Midterm grades are due
Yom Kippur was relaxing
And slightly slimming, too.

McCain is on the road to hell
And Palin's going with him
Obama's doing oddly well
and planning his transition

Almost up to 1789
World history has this rhythm
Great depression's on my mind
Also early fascism

And while the world goes bad to worse
I calm myself by writing verse.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Echo Chamber Delusions

I was quite struck, watching the debate last night, at how much of McCain's time was taken up presenting attacks which had been delivered before in a variety of forums, and which have mostly been pretty effectively debunked. The fact-checking organizations could have taken the night off, turning the job over to interns who just had to pull the right files from the archive. It was heightened by McCain's delivery: he sounds like an old man who's delivered the same joke thousands of times before, who expects his audience to chuckle tolerantly even when he doesn't set it up well,* deliver the punch-line or pick appropriate moments.**

The repetition and negative tone didn't make sense to me. Reading conservative reactions to the debate, though, it's become clear to me that there is a significant segment of the population, one with considerable influence over McCain and Palin and which is grossly overrepresented in their audiences, which considers these points relevant, true and effective attacks, despite all evidence to the contrary.***

Worse, perhaps, many of these attacks fall into the "I'm rubber, you're glue; what bounces off me sticks to you" category: more applicable to McCain and Palin than to Obama and Biden. I'm actually willing to concede some level of truth and relevance to a variety of critiques of Obama and Biden -- they're not my dream candidates -- but I can't abide hypocrisy.

* "that one" wasn't really as disrespectful or racist as it sounded; it was jarring because it's part of a patter which he couldn't pull off in that setting.

** Obama was repeating himself, too, I fully admit, but at least he sounded reasonably coherent and present.

*** it's possible that they only consider them to be two out of the three, but I'm trying to be nice and assume good intentions....

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Shocking? S.S.D.D.

There's a lot of discussion of the increasingly divisive rhetoric from the McCain-Palin campaign -- verbal attacks, violent images, racist tropes and demonization. There have been several cases of vandalism directed at Obama-Biden campaign offices, frequent reports of yard sign theft, and racist language targeted at Obama-Biden volunteers, as well as overtly racist signage from McCain-Palin supporters.

There is nothing whatsoever about this that surprises me. Except, perhaps, that it took until October before it started to be obvious. The various wings of "right" in this nation have been pushing violent and eliminationist rhetoric for years now, operating in a simplistic binary mode which forecloses the possibility of growth, change, compromise or realism.

Rage is the last refuge of the desperate, the flood of adrenaline in a crisis that clouds the mind the burst of vicious energy from a cornered, wounded beast, the violence of incompetence and the substitute for impotence. It is pitiable, perhaps, but it is also very, very dangerous.

We must be firm, we must be fair, we must prevail or see these most damaging habits rewarded and entrenched.

* "S.S.D.D." = "Same Shit, Different Day"

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Palin v. Biden

I've been following the liveblogging along with the debate: Andrew Sullivan, Daniel Larison, Steve Benen, Think Progress.

My call? Palin is good at talking points. No matter what the question, she tried to bring it back to talking points. If she couldn't, she spewed some of the most incomprehensible jargon ever to come out of a politician's mouth. She's quite the tap-dancer, stonewaller, and, when necessary, blatant liar. Biden and Ifill have been handcuffed dealing with Palin directly, but Biden has been hitting McCain very effectively, whereas Palin has mostly been landing shots at Biden.

Did she "exceed expectations?" She lied more than I expected, and she'd memorized more lines than I thought possible. She said a few things that were absurd, had a few incoherent lines, but fundamentally this wasn't a high-pressure situation with follow-ups. The post-debate commenters on CBS are talking about how Palin didn't have any major blunders or gaffes -- though they are noting her tendency to avoid questions -- ignoring several incoherent and previously debunked lines.

Did Biden "win"? My spouse said that he did great; I thought he did quite well on substance, and had some stylistic successes. I'd not call it a win, but he did a good job rebutting some of her ridiculous charges, and making it clear that the Obama-Biden ticket has plans as opposed to "themes" and wishful thinking.