Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ludacris And Obama

Echidne writes this about the Ludacris song and here is my response:

I'm not sure how harmful the Ludacris song is. For the liberal/Democratic movement in general, I think it sows disunity, which is bad, but what's a bigger harm probably is Obama not picking Clinton for Veep. Clinton is a real obvious, simple choice, and the length of the Veep search is a bad sign that something is wrong. For the feminist movement, I think Ludacris' choice of words was just an off-the-cuff, informal, working-class kind of thing, and not even a message that definitely equals "Hillary is a woman, so the hell with her" or "I hate Hillary" although I could certainly see that people would be jumping to that conclusion. While some people might vehemently disagree with me, I think that while sometimes the word "bitch" is used in a really harmful misogynistic way, other times it's used it's a lot less harmful. I think we have to be able to take hearing the word "bitch" in the less-harmful sense every once in a while, and be able to focus on other things that are a lot more important than a word that even a very committed feminist man or woman might use every once in a while without even meaning it in a sexist way. Not every time the word "bitch" is used is something that is really worthwhile or praiseworthy for feminists to fight over. There are issues like rape in the military that are the real problems more than every somewhat questionable use of language is. All that said, it sounds to me like maybe the Ludacris song isn't a really great example of rap, despite his pleasing interest in liberal politics and in promoting Obama, although I haven't heard the song for myself yet.

Just from your summary descriptions, I think the orc book is probably worse from a feminist point of view. It sounds to me like it was written by a sexist or to promote sexism among the minds of people who read those kinds of books, since orcs are usually bad guys in the Dungeons and Dragons / LOTR world.

I guess the argument on the other side is that a lot of young women are going to hear Ludacris call Hillary (a model of a successful, modern woman) a bitch, and maybe take something bad away from that. Not a lot of people are going to read the orc book.

Here is something on rap in general and here is a follow-up to it.

Here is something on the "apology."

Sops Of All Sorts

House "Apologizes" For Slavery and Segregation -- But Does This Help?

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives issued an apology to African Americans for slavery and segregation, and no one among them asked that individual members be required to state their individual vote for the record (a "roll call" vote).

Personally, I doubt that any Representative would have refused to sign on to the apology by name, but maybe I'm wrong. Considering what else they do, one could easily see a Republican claiming that the House shouldn't issue the apology based on the argument that slavery and segregation weren't the federal government's fault. And yes, I do think it helps the Republicans to not have to submit to a voice-vote: The Republicans' politics is a difficult double-game that requires them to send periodic subtle messages to their base that they are indeed racist (Remember how politicians like John McCain, Dick Cheney and Strom Thurmond resisted reforms like measures designed to discourage South African apartheid, making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday, keeping mostly-black Washington D.C. from being represented in Congress, and ending segregation? Remember how many other Republicans kept using sleazy campaign tactics to keep black voters away from the polls?) while at the same time trying to look populist enough so that ignorant voters who don't really follow the news and want to believe that the Republicans really aren't that racist will be able to fool themselves into believing they aren't, and thereby will not oppose the Republicans too vocally (won't call them racists / Nazis, etc.), or will even vote for the Republicans. Examples of things Republicans do to make themselves or their ideology look populist to the point of being racially / ethinically inclusive are things like falsely claiming that communist Martin Luther King Jr. was actually a Republican, Karl Rove rapping, and drawing attention to the fact-- which is meaningless today, since times have changed and the parties have switched a lot of their beliefs around-- that over 100 years ago the Republican party was the party of Abraham Lincoln. Not being forced to vote individually and overtly for this allows the individual Republicans to still look racist in the eyes of their core constituents who might become confused by it if they heard their Representative voted in favor of it.

In these times when one has to look skeptically at everything, one has to ask about the timing of this, too-- of course one should ask why this "apology" didn't come sooner. And then there is the question of whether it might help or hurt the Democrats in the coming Presidential election. One amazing thing about Obama's appeal is that it has demonstrated that, contrary to a lot of even committed liberal Democrats' expectations, there are things that can get all our black supporters out there a lot more interested in politics and in giving donations to campaign funds like never before (namely, a black presidential candidate like Barack Obama). Obviously, all the blacks who are actively supporting Obama feel there is a need for them to participate in this way (which is what you want of your constituents and supporters whenever you're trying to win an election). And from the point of view of someone who opposes racism of all kinds, it would definitely be disturbing to contemplate that we are about to possibly elect the first black American President, yet Congress has never formerly apologized for slavery and segregation. So if you were black and thought that there were still a lot of things that need to be set right in our country, namely perhaps by a black President, wouldn't it tend to cast some doubt on that, to take some fuel out of your fire, if the House easily agrees to "apologize" for slavery and segregation? It makes you less likely to feel you have to contribute and go out and vote-- it makes you feel like maybe there isn't a real problem.

And then you have to consider what, beyond affecting the image of Congress and how racist the country and government appear, the "apology" really does: certainly, it might be satisfactory if you're one of those black people who can believe that all the nation really owes black people is an apology! To the rest of us, it's a bunch of words, possibly as meaningless as those words from the playground that weren't quite "sticks and stones," and like most sweet or nasty words-- that are meaningful mostly in terms of their affect on the audience only-- it has to be looked at dispassionately and carefully examined to determine the speaker's motives. After all, lots over people who supposedly took part in that "apology" will tell you any other day of the week that they don't believe in affirmative action at all!! Yet many racial minorities are still encountering a glass ceiling in the workplace and vote disfranchisement by illegal means, or live in high-crime ghetto-slums.

One could interpret not-apologizing as an oversight that called for clearing up, since it would be embarrassing if we elected Barack but didn't do it, but all I'm saying is (1) In these times when so much in the media and the government is obviously extremely corrupt, and Democrats are maneuvered into making themselves look bad or somehow often only giving token resistance to Republican moves in our federal government, and with a President who is about to be elected on an unprecedented wave of black support (and especially at a time when this candidate's popular support is holding fast, and the McCain campaign is probably feeling desperate to try something that will make him lose a little steam), it's easy to see how this could have been a conservative-born measure, and (2) as always, these merely for-show actions are completely inadequate when minorities and African Americans in particular still face so many problems that need to be solved by and are appropriate to be solved by legislation not apologies. Blacks should have got some kind of reparations, and this apology should re-focus the discussion on that, not dissuade us from it.

July 31

On July 31, 1945, Pierre Laval, the fugitive former leader of Vichy France, surrendered to Allied soldiers in Austria. In 2007, Operation Banner, the presence of the British Army in Northern Ireland, and longest-running British Army operation ever, came to an end.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Weird Stuff In the Media: Speeding In New Jersey

A few days ago in one of our local papers here in the great Garden State, an article was printed that was headlined something like "The GSP's Speeding Problem" and its subtitle wailed something like "Try to go 68 miles-per-hour on the Parkway, and you may find it's just not possible." Well, talk about a talent for stating the obvious!

It seems that there are a few people in this country who hold the heady intellectual belief that all laws should be absolutely obeyed and enforced. Why? Just 'cuz. These people think even speeding is a grave sin, and that those who dare to speed are moral hypocrites who deserve what they get. Among the real goons of the conservatives-- not the evil nerds-- this is a great way to brainwash people: find really anal personalities, and then tell them that their obsession with things like strictly obeying every law (except the ones that protect against hurting people for their political beliefs) is what proves that they are better than everyone else and entitled to make judgments about and hurt other people. It's my belief that it's from the authoritarian personality types that these anti-speeding articles, which I've seen a few of, have their impetus or origin.

After all, if you look at an article like that, it makes it sound as if the reason you can't go within a few miles of the posted speed limit on some stretches of the Turnpike or Parkway is that there are a few jerks who every once in a while come zooming by at 87 mph. That is hardly the case. But in fact, the reason you can't go within 3 mph of the speed limit on some places on the GSP or the Turnpike is that everybody goes 10 mph over the limit. The State Troopers never crack down on it! In a place like that, if you tried to go just 3 mph over the posted limit, you're the one who has a problem and is screwing up traffic.

Despite the posted limit on these stretches, and despite the fact that if you get into an accident at a higher speed you're more likely to suffer worse injuries, people handle their cars fine at speeds of 10 or 15 mph over the limit in those areas every day-- and everybody who know anything about NJ knows this! It's logical to think that if somehow we all magically went under the presently posted limits all the time with perfect obedience, a few more people in NJ wouldn't die or be maimed every year. But that would probably mostly be due to intoxicated drivers and stoned drivers who drive over the speed limit, who drive worse than the non-stoned, non-drunk, vast majority of drivers (in other words, almost everybody) who break the speed limit. And, if we didn't go over the limit in these stretches, it certainly would end up in a lot less getting done in NJ. In light of how much thick automobile traffic there is in New Jersey, I think it's realistic even to predict that it might hurt our economy badly, that NJ wouldn't even "work" without this cheating on the speed limit. The law enforcement authorities seem to know it. This is why I think articles like the one I am complaining about are written mostly for some kind of propaganda effect-- to promote these people's belief in authoritarianism.

Many people who promote the zero-tolerance anti-speeding view might argue that allowing any laws to be broken encourages general disrespect for the law. But since when is the law my lord and master? Lots of people who have been law-makers have been wicked, and history has been fraught with wicked laws. Understanding that the law isn't an absolute and that it is as good as its effects and no better is wisdom. In this way, the non-enforcement of posted speed limits that are practically non-accurate serves a training purpose in society, just like the myth of Santa Claus seems to train kids to not take everything people say so seriously-- it shows us that laws are not an end in themselves, but only as good as how useful they are, and are appropriate subject matter to be discussed, critically thought about, and occasionally changed.

Maureen Dowd

UPDATE: And another thing-- "his journalism posse"??? Can't we leave all gangsta-rap references off the table when it comes to Obama, at least until after he wins?

Via Hullabaloo, I saw Maureen Dowd wrote this:

The senator left his briefing books behind for a rare instance of mingling with his journalism posse at a Berlin restaurant as he sipped a rare “very dry” martini with olives. (This was either because he wanted to charm the press, which, contrary to popular imagination, is not universally enchanted with him, or because he could not get ESPN in his hotel room.)

The Obamanauts were so elated that they didn’t even seem to mind the caricature of Obama, ears sticking out, that had been drawn on the round We-Are-The-World Obama logo in the press section. The cartoon candidate demanded: “Worship me.”

After he got out of the Middle East unscathed and filled up the park in Berlin, Obama seemed to relax.

I asked him what presents he takes home to his daughters. “Anytime I make a stop, Sasha gets snow globes and Malia gets key chains,” he said. “Somebody is assigned to that.”

“You have a snow globe aide?” I marveled.
People should just write her and say "You know it's probably someone who is already assigned to do 100 other things, right?" Anyway, since Obama is so busy, it hardly makes sense for him to personally go searching for snowglobes and keychains-- after all, he is working on becoming the President of the United States, not on selling insurance. So this was a really thoughtless cheap-shot by Dowd that shouldn't have happened, and it really sounded like a conservative line.

However, Maureen Dowd has been writing so much dumb stuff over the past few months or even a year that is too dumb, even for Dowd, so I think she may be getting pushed around by the conservatives, like so many others in politics and in the media seem to be, to be honest.

Race Riots

Here is one thing I definitely think should be a part of rank-and-file Democrats re-thinking how they look at our country: the 1960s race riots.

Here's my thesis: the race riots, that were in response to a number of African American civil rights issues, in the context of the times basically made sense and were justified. Faced with the problems they faced and the resistance they faced, in the rare circumstances African Americans encountered at the time, those few riots were reasonable attempts at provoking solutions, and were perhaps even a necessary part of fixing the problem. Far from looking on them with shame or feeling they should be swept under the rug, we should just matter-of-factly accept that the problems we faced as a nation were pretty big, and that the riots (which didn't exactly result in rich people having their land taken away from them, or mass beheadings, like riots during the French Revolution or other historical riots did) were a pretty natural thing to happen and even a logical thing for people to do.

Some people would resist this idea. First of all, I have to say that although someone might show up and claim, "Oh yeah? Well in such-and-such a place a white woman got raped in a riot in the '60s!" or "An old man got shot in the back by a kid during one of those riots!" (I've never heard that either of these things happened, but even if they in fact didn't, that wouldn't stop people from claiming they had) as if one or two events totally change the worth or quality of huge-scale historical events such as these, my point is not meant to justify every individual event that may have happened during those riots, but just the riots themselves. And I've got to say, if you want to judge the '60s riots by the standard of whether they were wanton or sadistic destruction of a city, you won't find evidence of such cruelty from the 1960s riots, which were really a last-ditch response to needless cruelty-- remember, this was back when instead of racial profiling that was to any extent legitimate, cops would commonly just nab some lone black guy and harass him or even beat him up.

I think that a lot of law-and-order types, including the FBI, see / saw the riots a lot differently than I do, and even saw (or even still see) them and African American people as actually a national security threat to the United States. This is sort of a dumb response, when you consider all the suffering and unfairness African American people used to face. But these law-and-order people who think this are just racist (if you start to see their actions that way, it really helps explain a lot of how the FBI treated African Americans during the 1960s, and a lot of phenomena, like our corrupt national news media, that you see today) and can barely help putting stupid conclusions on everything. They probably thought hippie peace rallies were big threats to the country too, instead of just gathering to speak, since their rich masters (who were just intentionally trying to manipulate the cops) told them that that was what the weird-looking long-haired people were up to. Unfortunately, there are many conservatives in this country (Tony Blankly, probably, for one) who think that a bunch of people who gather to chant slogans and peacefully hold up signs constitutes a "mob" that should have tear-gas fired into it by police (this is the kind of education they get from their fathers, fathers' acuqaintances and relatives at the country club, and peers in the private schools, so they just don't know better) and this is something we just have to acknowledge to ourselves. So anyway, the point is, many people are smarter than a cop, and just because a cop says some opinion on something, doesn't mean that what's going on is what the cop says it is, especially when what the cop is talking about is something far beyond his ken.

Some people I think are just horrified and ashamed by the riots. For them, the answer is always peace and talk. But that is not always satisfactory when you watch the generations pass as you grow older, having fought and fought to get into law school and having been beaten up by the cops for no crime, and slurred by them and others. People may look at India, and resort to their view of Indians as intelligent people that is prejudicedly-overbroad, and say "The Indians did this with non-violence. So why couldn't we have done this with non-violence?" as if all the Indians are so smart that the answer they reach to a problem should work, by magic, at all times and in all places. But the fact is that in the Indian colonies of Britain, the Indians were a majority of the population (certainly a lot more than the number of British soldiers present), and the Empire really needed their cooperation to get any work done and make the colony worthwhile. The Indians could do a lot of persuading just by the threat of refusing to cooperate with the British. But in the United States, the African Americans were in a totally different situation because they made up a minority of the population. Also, they were not through their labor holding up some huge portion of the economy, like some valuable import trade, that put lots of money into the hands of rich, white capitalists. Instead, lots of white Americans probably would have been completely happy to eradicate all the blacks in America.

I think there are also a lot of people who realize that, while a lot was done on the non-violent and protest front in the civil rights movement in 1960s America, probably a big part of the reason we got the gains we got then was because the United States was scared of African American unrest. I think that is the case, too, and probably is the strongest reason to stop looking so harshly on the riots: they were justified by necessity because too many white people were too callous or too ignorant to listen otherwise. If this is all the case, then people should stop feeling ashamed of the riots, and stop using them as a reason to look down on African Americans as a race, and start looking at them as a necessary and even praise-worthy part of the civil rights movement, a logical decision made by people who exercised the right amount of spine the situation they were in actually called for.


I'm not an expert on Afghanistan. But it seems that judging from all I've read about Afghanistan, we're really asking for trouble, and putting impossible or undesirable goals before them and us-- really just the same thing we do with the "War on Drugs"-- if we're really going to insist on those goals, which are: (1) end warlordism and (2) end growing of opium poppies for profit. Growing the poppies is so prolific and hard to stamp out, that I feel like in this poverty-ridden country, we can't produce a good economy and end gangsterism if we insist on eradicating it. It's like one of those boardwalk games of whack-a-mole.

What is seems we need to do to solve the problem without totally pissing on Afghanistan is to provide something like an equal replacement for the poppy cultivation. After all, what's an easier way to get someone to stop doing something you think you need to get them to stop, and that they feel they need and they insist on doing, than giving them something instead of it that satisfies all the need they were having satisfied by the thing you want them to give up? What this is in this case is, I think, a marijuana market.

I have felt for a long time that legalization of at least some recreational drug use should be a priority for the U.S. So this will be killing two birds with one stone, since it can help our problems with Afghanistan as well. First, I'll tell how it will help the U.S. The war on drugs is a joke-- it's poorly fought, it never gains any ground in stamping out drug use or the drug trade no matter how many busts there are, and the people who suffer for it are working-class people who could end up doing good things with their lives and being good Democrats, as well as violent crime victims who the police could protect instead of wasting their time hunting marijuana peddlers. Marijuana is the least harmful of the illegal drugs-- really harmless-- so it makes the most sense to legalize. Finally, the people who are busted for marijuana are from demographics that skew more Democrat than Republican, so taking away the effect on them and their communities of the arrests and imprisonment by legalizing marijuana would have a great effect on our politics (not in the least, because the states often take away a person's right to vote for being convicted of a felony).

How could this help Afghanistan? Well, we make marijuana legal in the U.S., but only from special shops that sell only marijuana that is grown in Afghanistan. There will be a huge market since there is already a lot of demand for marijuana in the U.S.-- a few years ago, the number all American adults who had used marijuana at least once in their lives was something like 50%. This will provide an incentive to the Afghanis to actually give up poppy cultivation, which may make Afghanistan safer. Since the marijuana trade will be a legitimate trade, Afghanis will sell their crops to non-criminal middlemen or to the U.S. government, and American troops won't have to fight with warlords who are being propped up by the poppies and who throw their weight around to protect their revenue from the crops. In other words, it will take away incentive both from gangsters to be gangsters, and from farmers to deal with gansters. This will all of course help the Afghani economy.

One more benefit to America: even if buying non-Afghani marijuana is kept illegal (to buffer the market for Afghani marijuana), the legal Afghani marijuana will create a huge new incentive for people in America to stay away from crime and the crime-culture: Who wants to risk getting locked up to get some marijuana when you can easily walk a few blocks to a store and get it legally?

What's standing in the way of all this is, as usual, politics. The Republicans don't like to go back on something they've been insisting on forever. Contrary to facts, they've had preachers insisting to people that marijuana is from the devil and that it ruins lives. Well, maybe it ruins your life if a bunch of cops come knocking on your door. Otherwise it's about the same as drinking a glass of liquor.

July 30

On July 30, 1975, Jimmy Hoffa, the influential labor leader, disappeared. He was last seen in Bloomfield, MI.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One More Word About Rap

UPDATE: I made a few slight changes and additions to this post and to the earlier post about rap since I first posted them. Also, for another example of very good rap, check out All That I Got Is You by Ghostface Killa (lyrics here- I think they may have gotten one or two words wrong, but I'm not 100% sure), which sort of reminds me of Langston Hughes, and almost anything by Method Man.

If you look at rap, it's cool because it's what the punk-rock subculture calls DIY (do it yourself)-- a thing that's totally created by just some regular people making art out of nothing, who didn't have to go to some university or some patron to get funding or approval.

And if you look at an example like Triumph by Wu-Tang Clan, it's interesting how it can shift between being sort of a narrative, and a verbal collage that is mostly about the way the words sound, or about onomatopoeia, and secondly about the words that are chosen to convey it. If when I was a high school student in an Honors level English class, a teacher had a student read the class the lyrics from Triumph out of a textbook, I would have been really astonished by it, and felt like I just witnessed new boundaries being successfully set down in poetry. That's an achievement in art. But it's not recognized, and this type of thing often isn't until some spoiled-brat rich kid with no morals sees a poor guy doing something neat and copies it-- then the rich parents or teachers think it's an amazing innovation and praise the kid for his "genius." Unfortunately, that's how a lot of things change in art. Some spoiled obnoxious rich kid shouldn't get the credit for a new kind of poetry that does a lot more with the way the words chosen sound together and onomatopoeia when Wu-Tang Clan, rappers in general and freestyle rappers had already been doing it for years.

Then think about Steve Miller. In his song The Joker, Steve Miller sings about "the pompitous of love." And in and earlier song, he sings about "whispering sweet words of epistemology in your ear." Turns out, instead of being examples of brilliant-white-guy-hippie inspiration that have some kind of meaning Miller thought up and artistically keeps off the table, Miller ripped off both of these lines from R & B songs by a black singer. In the original R & B songs, the lines featured coined words. While these words might look like just crazy jive talk to a white person who jumps to unnecessary conclusions, these words actually had specific meanings for the singer who coined them-- not too different from a writer like William Blake's creating his own mythology that he wrote around. Yet William Blake is considered praise-worthy and an artist, while someone like a rapper from the 1990s or an R & B singer from the '60s is considered just some ignorant, babbling kid from the ghetto. Why? Classism and racism. But if you are not so classist and racist, then there is a lot more fun art out there you can enjoy.

Will Your Town Become A Ghost Town?

Via Atrios (he writes, "Recession could bring a lot of these."):

Bennigan's and Steak-and-Ale restaurant chains, owned by Metromedia Restaurant Group, sought permission to liquidate in bankruptcy court protection, without citing a reason.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Metromedia Restaurant Group prepared a bankruptcy filing after allegedly violating several terms of a lending agreement with GE Capital Solutions.
I hope our country won't turn into a ghost town.

On the brighter side, maybe as our economy eventually recovers, a lot of those real estate properties forsaken by the big corporations will be snatched up by interesting new small businesses.

And it probably closed (instead of another restaurant) because it’s so corny to sit in a restaurant that pretends to be a local, family-owned dive (by hanging fake souvenirs all over the walls) eating reheated, pre-made frozen meals. The ambiance is nice until you realize you’re being suckered by a big corporation while there are still plenty of small-business restaurateurs out there who would appreciate your business.

Black Culture And Mainstream American Culture

Over the course of my education, I've had the chance to read plenty of textbooks, or collections or anthologies-- for example, of writings by feminists or by American political philosophers-- that have turned out to be pleasingly comprehensive and up-to-date in their scope, recognizing that the discipline they covered was still being practiced and breaking new ground. It's always nice to see acknowledgement of the accomplishments of the present-day or recent years-- acknowledgement, perhaps, from an older generation that more recent generations, and not just people remembered in a musty old book, have had something to add or say.

When I was in college or high school, I was given a great anthology of American literature. It contains whole works or excerpts from prose writers, dramatists and poets. I guess it's a testament to the breadth of the blindness that a society's racism can cause, but up until now I've never really considered the odd fact that this recently-published book (late '90s) doesn't contain any works from rappers in it. After all, what is rap, but poetry? I'm not talking about rappers who only rap about having sex with women and being a gangster-- I'm talking about rappers like Talib Kweli who rap about things like the influence 9/11 has had on our world (although one should consider that some gangster rappers can certainly put a whole lot of art into rapping about their way of life, and very influential styles of art certainly can and have originated from individuals documenting their non-typical lifestyles). We all have to admit that, and I've noticed it myself for years. I definitely appreciate writing and poetry, and as someone who has listened to rap his whole life, I can testify that there is rap out there that is very clever and creative. In fact, perhaps the most compelling aspect of a rap-piece to me is how clever or creative it is. Clever rappers are often so good that they even can use rap to tell a story or to impart a message instead of just "spitting" a more avant garde, impromptu type of work that is more of an image, more visceral, and more a pure demonstration of creative thinking and verbal skill. In my opinion, it's really weird to see art in Franz Josef Kafka, or ancient Chinese, ancient Celtic, or ancient Muslim abstract art, yet not see art in things like Wu-Tang Clan rap or the best graffiti murals (I'm sure there are a lot of theories about Kafka's writing, but I'm not so sure that any interpretation is more convincing than that maybe he was just winging it-- yet Kafka is famous and immortal, while rich white people look at rappers as if they're just winging, it and as if their can't be an apex in achievment in that kind of art when a black person from a poor background is doing it).

I've always recognized that there is rap that can achieve these heights of art, and also a lot of rap that is not as impressive. But the public's taste very often coincides with the rap that is clever or creative (Notoriuous B.I.G. and Wu-Tang Clan are just a couple of examples)-- this reinforces my opinion that it's part of good rap to be well done from a poet's point of view. So I really wonder why some of these better rap pieces have not started to make it into the literary anthologies that are given to students as textbooks. I know that rappers are not usually considered part of the literary "scene," and that other people, sometimes African Americans, write types of poetry that are similar to rap for the poetry scene-audience. But the foremost of rappers are rewarded by success in the rap scene and world fame-- this seems to back up my opinion that these cleverest of rappers are much better poets than many of these unknown poets who inhabit the poetry scene.

It seems like a very big oversight that rap does not accomplish more academic recognition; and after all, a lot of yesteryear's poetry and drama that we now give a permanent place in literary anthologies was like the rap-- the pop culture-- of its day. It just seems like a glaring omission of a big part of modern American artistic culture, an omission that I suppose might be based on (intentional or unintentional) classism and racism.

This is a pretty big loss, until it gets fixed. After all, how many aspects of our modern American culture come from African American culture? From music (like jazz music, to gospel, R & B and rock 'n' roll) to style of dress, cooking, slang, and the fist-jab, European Americans are (to an extent largely ignored by racist white Americans) a breed of people of European descent that are uniquely influenced in their culture by people of African descent. I once argued with a liberal African American professor about this-- I think I had the better part of the argument, and that his assessment that African Americans don't have much of an influence on the mainstream culture was a little too pessimistic and cynical-- but I think it is certainly true that (1) there is a whole African American aesthetic that is oppressed, dismissed and under-recognized in America, that applies to all kinds of culture and is easily seen in rap; what is really an African-American aesthetic approach to say, poetry, that is often too quickly dismissed as just meaningless babble instead of the slang and the alternative aesthetic that it is, and (2) this alternative aesthetic is a different style, but it is no less praiseworthy for that than are other styles. I don't have to like every piece of jazz or every rap song or every painting, but there are plenty of styles that include examples we don't like. Americans shouldn't look at a piece of rap or black fashion they don't like and think "this is junky, lower-class, ghetto stuff"; instead they should recognize that like any other style, some of the artists in that style are great and others are just not going to appeal to you because they are lesser artists.

July 29

On July 29, 1899, the First Hague Convention was signed. This was a step forward not only in international cooperation (and thereby in increasingly seeing a human species beyond national and cultural boundaries) but also in the development of humanistic, human-rights values and an attempt at an increasing application of ethics.

It's my belief that these are the kinds of efforts that change the world-- not pie-in-the-sky dreams of heroes or revolutions-- and even though the work is long and arduous, to change the world for the better we all have to keep working persistently for new legislation, treaties, and reforms.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Media And The Campaign: Blackmailers And Liars

Here is an excerpt from the article Matt Yglesias linked to on this post on his blog:

During the evening news, the majority of statements from reporters and anchors on all three networks are neutral, the center found. And when network news people ventured opinions in recent weeks, 28% of the statements were positive for Obama and 72% negative.

Network reporting also tilted against McCain, but far less dramatically, with 43% of the statements positive and 57% negative, according to the Washington-based media center.
But-- there are also a lot more nasty things about McCain to report on: his flip-flops, his signing of a statement against America for the North Vietnamese, his calling his wife a cunt in public, his calling a kid who asked him a legitimate question at a public event a little jerk-- and on and on and on.

So what is going on is that McCain has a lot more mistakes and dirt out there about him, but the media covers him more favorably than they cover Obama-- and they say a few bad things about McCain to make it look like they're not prejudiced in his favor to people who don't look at a lot of news.

So the mainstream media's campaign coverage a whole can definitely be called, pro-McCain dishonesty-- it's just at least minimally well-done and sophisticated pro-McCain dishonesty.

Someone whose agenda for the day seemed to be to try to demoralize liberals cynically wrote of pro-McCain prejudice in the media:
Bottom line: McCain wins, Obama loses.

This is the plan and they're sticking to it.
I wrote:
It's more like they're going to try to get McCain to win, but only if they can do so without any really obvious and really outrageous rule-breaking.

If they have to do something that people are going to notice and get pissed at Republicans about to win, then they won't, and Obama may win just based on popularity and advertising.

Obama is so much more appealing, popular and less gaffetastic than McCain that this is not an easy road for the Republicans. But I think that they're intimidating Obama and telling him what to say (something I speculate happens to a lot of prominent Democrats), so they may get him to produce a few bad gaffes before the election.

Who would push around a powerful Democrat? Someone the Democrat thinks that they can't expose or strike back at, and have it be worth it-- in other words, someone the victim thinks perhaps can and will do some damage to the victim's reputation (or other interest) that the victim thinks is not worth the risk of trying to stand up against. That's what would explain no one speaking out, and us not hearing about it. It would be a very well-thought-out job, perhaps by people who have built up a lot of know-how, perhaps with a psychologist's input, on blackmail, and have a very tight scheme orchestrated to use on personalities they are confident will submit to it.
The commenter then wrote something about Obama's not dropping out of the race. It might seem superficially like if someone wanted Obama to lose, they would just try to get him to drop out, but consider my response to that:
While they might like Obama to drop out, if the alternative was Hillary, they wouldn't like it (their first goal was to keep her from winning the nomination, and now they're the primary reason Obama isn't going to pick her to be his VP). Also, they might feel that if they push too hard, which is what openly asking Obama to drop out might be, he might not go along with it, and might push back, and then it might ruin their whole plan to mess with him. If, on the other hand, they just claim that there is some kind of national security interest served by Obama wearing different colored suits than he normally would, or talking about how bad black fathers are on Fathers Day, or giving a much more evasive-sounding, ambiguous and hesitating response to a question than he normally would, Obama might just submit to their demands while trying to fool himself that the rationale he is being fed is true, and that he's not being steered into making subtle gaffes or trumpeting propaganda.

The Republicans In A Nutshell

Here is one more thing I take for granted, but I want to make sure that others have heard:

The Republicans' political machine is like an internal, covert rebellion against this country conducted by a gang of people who are totally unqualified to govern a country like the United States in this day and age. They might be qualified to govern a country with much simpler problems (although that's probably too big an assumption, considering that they are so greedy and corrupt, and content themselves with doing whatever they feel confident that they can get away with) but they are totally unsuited to govern this one, and their using the methods they use to gain power (like the US attorney purge, misleading robo-calls, taking over the media, etc.) certainly should be considered a wrong.

McCain's Not-So-Valuable Dignity

Next up from me are a couple of things that may seem obvious to a lot of people-- and I know I take them for granted-- but they are opinions that are not voiced in the mainstream media outlets much or even in the blogs, so if people are visiting this site to hear this kind of thing that doesn't get said most anywhere else, then these two things are things I want to make sure you've gotten to hear.

First, Kevin Drum writes this about John McCain (Kevin never used to write things quite this bad years ago-- I'm not one of those who considers his past support for the IRaq war to be an unforgiveable sin-- but more recently comments like this have become typical of him):

Not only will he lose the election, but he's going to wake up one morning and realize that he abandoned his dignity in the process. That's obviously something that's important to him,
I don't think so. He seems to know just what he's doing, and this kind of crap is just the standard operating procedure for guys on his side. Sure, it is undignified, but people like him grow up not caring about stuff like that. The only indignities people like him care about are things like being sent to prison, not being caught in a lie by people (the nation's liberals) who don't have a lot of power over them.

Then there is this:
I've never been a big John McCain fan. Even in the 2001-2004 era, when he was flirting with the left and opposing the most neanderthal elements in his own party, I didn't really warm to him.

To me, he mostly seemed like a standard issue conservative who had discovered a good schtick during the 2000 campaign and was milking it for all it was worth,
I think treating the Republicans' politicians at the national level (including John McCain) as if bipartisanship is something that can be for real with them is all wrong. People who believe otherwise are just not wise to the reality of politics in this country nowadays, and to what's going on. Kevin just sounds like he's by turns polishing John McCain (maybe there are some people out there whe will vote for a white guy over a black guy if they can just be made to believe of the white guy that "dignity is very important to him"-- how lovely!-- even if he has, in noble political combat, sometimes fallen short of his own expectations) and making excuses for him.

A Revolution In Liberal Self-Image

I read this comment on the Eschaton blog last night. I just stopped by to mention my blog and that I had new posts up, so I didn't see all of the conversation it was part of. But there was a comment in it I wanted to respond to.

Yes, I have argued that point here and elsewhere since 2002. By and large, however, people didn't want to hear that achieving the level of change that we need, is going to require doing what the Republicans did.

That means, action (think Brooks Brothers Rebellion in Florida). That means organizing, think Religious Right, starting in the 1980's. And on, and on.

The fact that that direct action, which is what NTodd is advocating needs to be coupled with grassroots, behind the scenes organizing. It will take time, and it will take effort.

The difference between the Right and the Left in this regard, however, is that there is no money machine for the left.
It always seems to me like there are things about the way the liberal community conducts itself that keep us from having as much influence as we might, both in terms of endearing people to us more and providing a better infrastructure for our movement. I chose to respond to this part:
The difference between the Right and the Left in this regard, however, is that there is no money machine for the left.
What I think it that left-wing parents need to raise their kids to be more public-spirited and to realize that the political fight is not over. People have to stop pretending that messing around in an organic garden once a week or coming out to a protest every once in a while is somehow being connected with the community or helping the community-- people often have all this rhetoric about doing things in the community, but then the only involvement and activism they have in their community besides talking to a small group of like-minded liberals (who aren't even originally from the community and who are similarly focused on organic gardening and protests) is very little talking to anybody else, and certainly isn't anything like becoming part of the infrastructure of their community. We can't all just run away to the forests and hills and cool cities to become poets, or what have you. Kids have to be encouraged to get more involved in their communities, like by becoming teachers, doctors, public officials (judges, cops, and mayors) and lawyers. Real liberals who become things like lawyers shouldn't be made to feel like they're alone out there because so many of the lawyers, bailiffs, judges and other court personnel they meet are relatively conservative. I know we do this type of thing to a large degree already, but even an increase of a few percentage points of young liberals getting career-minded sooner and realistic sooner, without losing their values-- just practicing them in a more realistic way-- will help.

Besides just getting more influence in communities, that will also provide a lot more money, because more people will be making a salary sooner, instead of just the tips from a tip jar plus $8 per hour that they make at a cafe while supporting their hobby of reading poetry, playing the bongos or being in a punk-rock band.

I'm not saying liberal children should be brow-beaten into becoming teachers and doctors, but I'm just saying they should hear the the suggestion a little more instead of "Do whatever you want! I'm so open-minded that whatever it is, I'm fine by it!" People need to know how cool it is to get involved in ways that then to help us more in just the ways we need.

We need to change our whole culture as a movement.

Another thing we need to start looking at is cultivating and recruiting a few more black candidates. Again, I'm not saying we should run people who really aren't good enough or who don't want to be in public office-- but we should look around. It seems like at least part of the Barack phenomenon is that black people have become excited about politics like they never have before and are donating money. If we can keep that up, it will definitely help, and again, it can help in more ways than just with money.

July 28

On July 28, 2005, The Provisional Irish Republican Army (The PIRA) call an end to their thirty year long armed campaign in Northern Ireland.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Internet: Terrible Scourge Of Our Country???

UPDATE: In the comments of The Washington Monthly post I link to below and comment on, someone wrote that verbal test scores haven't declined in the decade since the internet caught on, except for the past two years-- and the commenter attributed that to problems with the No Child Left Behind legislation. So if that's correct, that adds all the more reason behind my criticism of the NYT article's anti-Internet angle, and it makes that article look all that much weirder.

I was just complaining the other day about the closed-off nature of news media in our country, and the media has today produced another dramatic assault against the Internet. You know, the Internet, that gave you e-mail, blogs, books from, online newspapers, downloadable music, NetFlicks, Wikipedia, Google, and so on.

Here's my response, from my comments on Washington Monthly and in response both to the NYT article and Kevin Drum's characteristic rich-milquetoast-lib chirping in support:

I don't know if I agree with you. I think a lot of books I read are fine. The details tend to supply valuable trivia, insight or clarity, and if what you're looking for is a dumbed-down or summary version, and the book or article you're reading seems too long, it's probably just because you're reading the wrong book / piece to suit your needs. I think the ocassional piece that does indeed have too many words / sentences just indicates that the writer is stupid and that his / her being published is kind of a fluke. Somebody else out there who could write something better has been passed over to publish this person's book.

As far as these anti-Internet articles that come out every once in a while, I view them with suspicion. I think the right-wing would love an anti-Internet movement, because if they could restrict Internet use it could end up shutting down liberal politics in a big way. I think it's a really vain cause, though, because the advantages of the Internet are just too obvious. Americans are just not dumb enough to call for our nation to become Nazi Germany, in light of all we know and have experienced. There are only a few Americans who are that dumb. Anyway, since the source of these articles is the mainstream media, we have every reason to be distrustful.

Young people suffer from the same problems they always have as far as wanting to sound cool and not always taking grammar, appearances and studies seriously enough. If the Internet age has coincided with a tiny bit of increase in that, it's hardly something that merits a lot of concern or attention.

Someone like Sy Hersh, who writes for those magazines that print longish articles, is often a little melodramatic, but that's a particular problem that's particular to somewhat pretentious magazines. It's not a symptom of a wide-ranging plague of overlength.

Nor is what Sy Hersh and the like do with their magazine articles related to the Internet-- it's related to people who buy the NYT magazine, Harper's, The New Yorker, etc., wanting to feel like they're getting bang for their buck (that is, the writers have something profound to say that takes a lot of description).

And in defense of it, sometimes those long articles in relatively highbrow popular magazines are really called for, and the depth / context is nice to have, although the article certainly could have been done in a much shorter form. Again, if you feel like you waste a lot of time on that, better to find blogs that excerpt and comment on those specific sources.

July 27

On July 27, 1953 an armistice was entered into that effectively ended the Korean War.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The White Rose and German "Punks"

It's interesting that the more one reads history, the more one encounters analogs from some distant past period to things one perhaps used to think were the types of things only a person from one of the generations of the past 30 or 40 years or so would have thought up.

I've been reading a book called Sophie Scholl and The White Rose for a few days now. If you want to learn about the anti-Nazi resistance group The White Rose, I recommend reading the book The White Rose, Munich: 1942-1943 by Sophie Scholl's sister, Inge, instead (for reasons I'll write about another time) or even watching the German movie Sophie Scholl (the DVD features subtitles in English). But Sophie Scholl and The White Rose does have a lot of history and facts in it. Take this for instance:

[I]n 1936, when membership in the Hitler Youth had become compulsory, gangs of hostile young men began to appear in the cities of Germany and especially in industrial districts. Among them were the children of workers with some degree of class consciousness; Communists were to remain the firmest opponents of the regime, suffering extreme torture in the hands of the Gestapo and in the concentration camps. But most of the young people seem to have been consciously "unpolitical."

Sharing a contempt for playing soldier, these groups would gather in pubs to drink alcohol, smoke, and play cards with their elders. Or they would behave like the "punks" of a later era, dressing in simple, almost ragged clothes to express their rejection of the stifling hypocrisy around them: they wore long hair, checkered shirts, old hats, and signet rings with skull and crossbones. Calling themselves the Navajos, the Black Gang, or the Edelweiss Pirates, they listened to so-called degenerate swing music, and jeered at the smug obedience of Hitler Youth stalwarts.

Some of these groups did more than jitterbug and look dangerous. Having been forced into the Hitler Youth, these youngsters played double roles: after-hours they gathered occasionally with criminal elements and tried to disrupt Hitler Youth meetings. In Munich a band calling itself the Red Anchor was said to have appeared in Haidhausen, the same working-class district from which Hitler had launched his beer-hall putsch. Their targets were not people in elegant furs and top-hats, but anyone alone and wearing a Hitler Youth uniform. In Leipzig in 1937, the police carried out a major action against a group that had spread to Berlin and Cologne as well. According to the Gestapo, 1,500 boys had banded together in 1936 to attack youth leaders at night; their explicit goal was to recruit more members in Leipzig than were in the Hitler Youth. Their two seventeen-year-old leaders were eventually caught and sentenced to three years' hard labor.
Now this is really interesting. I think I may have heard of this group once before at most, but that's it. From the impression I'd always gotten of the time, I wouldn't have thought such a thing could exist in Germany during the '30s. But that's the way history surprises you. And the stereotypes we have about Germany and Germany during the Nazi era are not quite right.

It's hardly inconceivable, anyway, that such a thing could exist, because in places like New Jersey and Baltimore in recent years, 19-year-olds who are members of gangs like the Bloods have been indicted for heading criminal empires encompassing hundreds of members and generating millions of dollars in illegal revenue.

Unfortunately, although this book contains a bibliography, it doesn't have footnotes or endnotes. I'd really like to see the research myself, and find out a little more about the extent to which these young men were really "hostile" rather than just non-conformist, and were a bunch of "punks" rather than thinkers who were intentionally politically-minded (that is, maybe at least many of the leaders and originators of these groups were young guys who were a little bit more educated about politics than just completely idle and spontaneously rebellious youths whose motivation was thinking that the Hitler Youth were square). A group calling itself the Red Anchor sounds to me like the pissed-off sons of a bunch of communists who were dragged away to camps, and messing around with the Hitler Youth does not seem to me like an entirely natural activity for guys who saw themselves as nothing more than non-conformist roughs to undertake-- because everyone had to know that there was much at stake with, and little reward in, messing with the Nazis.

Another interesting point from the same book:
Between 1940 and 1945, 1,807 inmates were executed in Brandenburg prison alone for political reasons, some after years of forced labor. Of these, 75 were under twenty years of age; 22 were high-school pupils or university students. In Hamburg between 1933 and 1945, of all those sentenced for political "crimes," 11 percent were youths.
One has to wonder whether these numbers would have been higher, except for the young people's ability to run a little faster than the cops and soldiers.

In any event, it's really astounding to me that I perhaps haven't even heard of this group before. You'd think that something like an uprising of 1,500 boys that had banded together in 1936 to attack Nazi youth leaders one night would be one of the most-famous events of Nazi Germany. Yet is seems like the protectors of the status quo and our mainstream media don't see any value in educating us about it, but instead prefer to keep showing documentaries that are almost 100% composed of footage from the propaganda "documentaries" that Hitler ordered his film-maker, Leni Riefenstahl, to compose for him.

Libertarians and Liberals: One More Update

UPDATE III: If you really want to know why there are so many Obama-supporters among those right-leaning Libertarians, maybe it's this: maybe whether they support Obama isn't such a good gauge of a Libertarian's ideology, and maybe a lot of otherwise-right-leaning Libertarians are favoring him because they disagree with the Republicans' Iraq policy, feel that the Iraq war is a very grave mistake for the nation, and feel like Obama is more likely to change the policy than McCain. In that case, they would prefer Obama to win the White House to chasten the Republicans until the Republicans become a little more public-spirited. Otherwise, those people may be just as right-wing as any Charlton Heston / Clint Eastwood Libertarian.

July 26

On July 26, 1856, George Bernard Shaw, an Irish writer and Nobel Laureate (d. 1950) was born. Shaw actually met and befriended a lot of left-wing and intellectual figures of his day, including famed Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin.

On July 26, 1875, Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist (d. 1961), was born. Carl Jung was Freud's principal disciple.

On July 26, 1894, Aldous Huxley, author (d. 1963) was born in England. Aldous Huxley wrote against totalitarianism and state-enforced indoctrination in A Brave New World.

On July 26, 1948, U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 desegregating the military of the United States. Patton felt that the African American soldiers had been effective fighters during WWII, and the Axis didn't like fighting them, either.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Update: Libertarians and Liberals

I guess one easy response to my previous post and to my concerns about Libertarians is that (according to a poll) more of them like Obama than like McCain, and that is interesting. But I don't think it's as easy as that.

I think making someone sympathetic to, or into, a Libertarian gets them closer to being a conservative. Remember, this has just been quantified for you: probably close to 100% of Democrats are voting for Obama, but 38% of Libertarians, according to a Rasmussen poll, prefer McCain. I think that advertising the fact that Libertarians support Obama as if the amount of support is noteworthy, or means that they almost all do (like titling a blog post "Libertarian Support for Barack Obama") tends to make liberals become more interested in Libertarianism. Besides the results of that poll, from what I have heard about Libertarians and from what I have heard Libertarians who hold themselves out as voices for their movement say, Libertarianism doesn't sound to me like it's just about decriminalizing a few vices. It sounds like there is a lot of distaste among these Libertarians for core-- core-- liberal policies. It really seems as if this movement can peel off liberals who like a few of our issues-- but who in the end kind of don't like black people, and really just want to hold onto more of their fortunes, instead of paying it over to help people and to help the country we live in.

And just because Libertarians say they support decriminalization of recreational use of marijuana does not mean that by building bridges with Libertarians, marijuana is going to be decriminalized. Whether decriminalization happens or not is something that is in the future. But what is a lot more certain is that Libertarians are a lot closer to being conservatives than liberals are, and making friends with them or having them around is therefore a conservative influence.

More fundamentally, the Libertarian movement is wrong on issues that affect blacks and the lower classes-- issues like taxes, health care and public assistance-- because the kinds of positions Libertarians have on those issues are the kinds that produce more crime in our country, and make the lives of millions of Americans measurably worse and harder to live in a healthy way (thereby making those millions of Americans less likely to be productive people who are great to have around in our country). But also, if the Libertarian way of looking at things begins to catch on, it tends to break our liberal coalition. Liberals should not be seen to be looking at blacks and the lower classes and saying "Screw you-- we've written you off now. You should have been working harder all along, and the fact that I got a much nicer upbringing than you did in a much nicer neighborhood has nothing to do with it," tends to break our coalition, which makes all our goals harder to accomplish. If the mainstream liberal position wasn't right on these issues, the matter of political expedience would carry a lot less force, but since we are right of those issues, consideration of political expedience adds a decisive weight against allowing these so-called Libertarians too much of a foothold in our movement and thought. This isn't to say that among the public policies that Libertarians talk about as if they were expendable there can't be specific aspects that are worth criticizing or changing. I'm just saying that advocating dispensing with those entire policies wholesale, according to an Ayn Rand type of tradition, is definitely out.

UPDATE II: Foreseeing that some people may take issue with my pointing out that Libertarians are often in some ways like conservatives, and are often a lot conservative than liberals (if you use support for McCain or Obama as the measure of who is conservative and who is liberal), I just want to point out that while some Libertarians may think of themselves as liberals, and the term "Libertarian" used in a broad, technical sense can include liberal-anarchists or anarchist-communists, I think that conservative Libertarians have basically taken over the Libertarian movement in America that is centered around the Libertarian Party, and that tries to get politicians elected to public office in America. I think that these people are a lot different than your average liberal-anarchist who used to go out on the street to protest globalization because of the impact it can have on poor people's quality of living in Third World countries. I think if the liberal-anarchist type people had some very frank conversations with the conservative-type Libertarians, they would find that the "Libertarian" movement is something they have very little in common with, and that to identify themselves in terms of how they fit in the contemporary American political spectrum, they are a lot better off just calling themselves anarchists and not lumping themselves in with these other, 38%-pro-McCain Libertarians. Doing otherwise just gets people confused.

UPDATE III: If you really want to know why there are so many Obama-supporters among these right-leaning Libertarians, maybe it's this: maybe whether they support Obama isn't such a good gauge of their ideology, and maybe a lot of otherwise-right-leaning Libertarians are favoring him because they disagree with the Republicans' Iraq policy, feel that the Iraq war is a very grave mistake for the nation, and feel like Obama is more likely to change the policy than McCain. In that case, they would prefer Obama to win the White House to chasten the Republicans until the Republicans become a little more public-spirited. Otherwise, those people may be just as right-wing as any Charlton Heston / Clint Eastwood Libertarian.

Weird Stuff From The Blogosphere

A post from The Carpetbagger Report today: "Libertarian Support for Barack Obama."

Who cares? Libertarians-- especially the politically active ones-- are by and large nuts.

Why bother giving these people the publicity by talking about them?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the Libertarian movement in America looks like it was designed to wedge individuals away from the liberal / left wing movement in America by providing an ideology that fights for freedom to indulge in taboos upper-middle-class and upper-class white people want to break (sexual, controlled substances, freedom of ideology / beliefs about religion, etc.) but abandons liberals' / the left's defense of black people and class struggle. I'm not saying that this is definitely what it is, but it is a very scuzzy movement.

Individual Libertarian positions on some issues may be alright-- we certainly should consider making recreational use of marijuana legal-- but the movement as a total ideology is really not kosher.

McCain Comes Out In Favor Of Withdrawal From Iraq

Providing more support to my long-held belief that the conservatives' leaders may have quietly decided amongst themselves that we need to get out of Iraq, comes this via The Carpetbagger Report:

After stating that setting a timetable was a “strategy for defeat,” McCain has decided he likes Maliki’s sixteen month timetable.
My guess is that we'll be seeing the conservatives come out more and more against the Iraq war now, although perhaps very gradually (so people don't notice too much). The rationales will be that the Iraqis want us out and that the surge has "accomplished its mission" (which will be implied to have been to make it possible for us to remove most of our presence by at least not-too-long after Barack would do it if he is elected). Today, McCain was saying that the surge has worked and accomplished its mission.

We'll know for sure whether the conservatives are really doing what I think they are doing-- changing their minds behind our backs and waiting to figure out when is the best time and way to change their side's position publicly-- after a while. My guess is that if you keep your eyes on the news for a couple of months, you'll see at least a couple of more indications of it, and perhaps sooner rather than later. I know I was surprised to hear this stuff from McCain today.

The cycle of history

In the eighties, the Republicans replaced a senile President with a dumb one.

We responded by providing a quasi-black President.

The Republicans then gave the country an even dumber version of the previous Republican President.

We have responded with an even blacker President than last time.

The lesson of history: if the Republicans continue the current trend of their actions (Rush Limbaugh?), then the next Democratic President will probably be Vince Carter.

Republicans, you have been warned.

We're not going to war with Iran

Something people have been saying for a looong time is that we're going to go to war with Iran under George W. Bush. For almost as long, I've been writing on other blogs and probably on my own blogs as well that we're probably not. It turns out, I've been right, and as time passes, no matter how many rumors surface that are supposed to indicate that the war is imminent, we haven't attacked Iran. It seems like there have been at least five different happenings (but many more articles and blog posts analyzing them, mind you) over the course of Bush's presidency that were supposed to indicate that war was imminent.

To some extent, it's kind of common-sense that we weren't going to go to war with them. Our military is already over-stretched, and doing the kind of stuff people thought the neocons wanted to do with Iran (regime change) sounds like a bigger job than just a handful of bomber and fighter jets can handle on their own. Iran is not a match for us militarily, but it's an organized state with a modern standing army-- a lot bigger deal than the Taliban in Afghanistan were. And of course, if the kind of occupation we are doing in Iraq was necessary in Iran, we don't have the people to do that without pulling out of Iraq, Iran being a similarly-sized country to Iraq and the number of potential trouble-makers in Iran (elite military personnel and so forth) probably large.

But how far does this point go? Clearly (it seems to me, anyway) the neocons and the conservatives want to attack Iran. It's just that attacking Iran is not a costless move we can do without worry whenever we want, in light of what we're already committed to in Iraq.

Here's my deeper analysis: the conservatives want to attack Iran, but they feel like they can't / shouldn't do it until the Iranians make a "first move"-- something bigger than just supporting terrorism in Iraq (if that's really going on). And all those stories we've been hearing in the media, all those rumors? Simply saber-rattling, fabricated, leaked and promoted by the conservatives to catch the Iranians' attention. I think this could be a two-fold game: this administration really wants part of their legacy to be taming Iran. So, if Iran gets scared, on the one hand maybe they'll make a lot of concessions to Washington, which for the neocons and Bush isn't bad. On the other hand, maybe they'll get so scared that they'll pull off some kind of an unprovoked attack to try to intimidate us, or just out of frustration, which for the conservatives is probably the preferred outcome-- they get to "prove" to the American public that all the stuff they've been saying since 9/11 really is true, and that our country faces a rogue's gallery full of super-villains who can't help trying to attack us and our interests at every bend in the road. The public (not perceiving that Washington worked diligently to provoke the attack on whatever innocent victims unfortunately get hit) will cheer the Republicans as they swoop in to drop some bombs on the Iranians, and vote for more of the same in upcoming elections. Maybe the cost in innocent lives after a "regime change" and Iraq-like turmoil won't be less than whatever oppression Iran would have done on its own if we hadn't messed with them, but the Republican strategy is not about what's best for people in the long-run-- it's about immediate, short-term boosts to Republican popularity that will infuse their party organizations with cash and hand them victories in immediately upcoming American elections.

This reminds me of another big saber-rattling thing we got ourselves involved in. During the Cold War, the conservatives talked a lot about the evils of communism. But they never really meant the oppression (at least, the conservatives' leaders didn't) which the conservatives think is totally alright, as long as they're the ones who are guiding the policy. They meant rich corporations and businessmen being robbed of their property. So, when the nations of eastern Europe got gobbled up bit by bit by the Soviets after WWII, we stood by and let it happen even though our military was superior, and even though back in those days the Soviets probably couldn't count on doing a lot to us with their atomic or nuclear weapons (and even if you read in books that the Soviets had plans to use their weapons in a war, that doesn't mean that they were really going to do it-- for one thing, it could mean that they wanted to have a plan to use their weapons just in case they decided to use them, and for another, it could mean that they wanted their plans to include use of the weapons, even if they thought they weren't worth it to use, just so it would make Western leaders more intimidated, and thereby deterred from starting a war, if they intercepted the plans through espionage). It didn't matter that all those people were going to be subjected to East Germany-style and Soviet-style oppression.

The people of almost all those countries hated Soviet rule-- Poland, East Germany, Hungary. But despite America's being a bunch of super-heroes, we stood by and let most of it happen for decades.

Then, when the war was over communism in Vietnam, and a lot of the people there wanted communism, and were willing to fight very hard and determinedly for it, we stepped in and fought because we knew the Russians and the Chinese weren't going to bother to get deeply involved! And when we pulled out, the conservatives got upset because they called it a "psychological" victory for the Soviet communists. Some "psychological" victory-- we made ourselves look bad and untrustworthy the world over by insisting on that war, and we were willing to fight when the fight was for oppression in Vietnam. When the fight was against oppression in eastern Europe, we mostly cooled our heels in America and the most we did were intelligence operations based from Germany- which may seem cool or impressive to some people, but if you look at the big picture, it was chump-change.

This isn't to say that things didn't turn out for the best because we avoided open conflict in Europe. I'm not convinced one way or the other about it. After a few decades, authoritarian communism fell in a lot of countries, and we didn't fight a potentially hugely hazardous open war over it. On the other hand, maybe if we'd shown a little more spine, we could have kicked them out of some of those countries sooner. But the real point is that despite our rhetoric, when the oppression is real it doesn't spur us to fight-- there are rich people's, politicians' and crazy ideologues' concerns that determine whether we get involved or not. And you can see the effect of it in how we go to war today, too-- that Iraq war was never planned or executed with the best interest of the people there in mind, to insure that they were safe and that their country got rebuilt and secured in the safest and most expeditious way for them. Hell, a lot of consideration for the safety of our own troops didn't even go into it. Instead the conservative civilian leaders acted as if they thought going to war in Iraq was a decision to make in a board game.

July 25

On July 25, 1940, General Guisan ordered the Swiss Army to resist German invasion and to make surrender illegal.

On July 25, 1943, Benito Mussolini was forced out of office by his own Italian Grand Council and replaced by Pietro Badoglio.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Veep blues

Terry McAuliffe, at least, might agree with my speculation that Clinton is not going to be Veep and that Barack has counted her out already, at least if you want to interpret this statement from him that way.

Getting pushed around a little?

Here are two blaring problems I noticed with The Carpetbagger Report:

* For a while now, the sidebar ads have featured an ad stating "Pamela Anderson's Extreme Video" with a picture of the model standing nude, covering her breasts with her hand, and her pelvis covered by a sign. Below this picture is written:

See what all the controversy surrounding Pamela Anderson's new video is about.

Watch as this sexy icon lays it all out in this very graphic video.

Viewers beware: This material may not be suitable for everyone!
When The Carpetbagger Report keeps attracting more and more visitors every month, isn't it a bad idea to have a kinky link that belongs on a porn site, not a political site, on the sidebar? The best thing for us is to get liberal politics attracting a more and more populist audience, including people from the "red" states-- places where people are more likely to be sensitive about things like this, no matter their political affiliation. Isn't it a bad idea and likely to alienate those people and to reinforce Republican-born misconceptions about liberals if Steve leaves this ad up on his site? He should talk to the people who supply the ads and tell them that he doesn't want it to appear there-- otherwise, he's making us all look bad.

* Today's final post reports in a one-sentence blurb: Attorney General Michael Mukasey thinks the Vice President is part of the executive branch. Will wonders never cease. But there is no sentence in the post to explain what the controversy has been as far as Cheney claiming to belong to two branches at once, or none at all. Without an explanation like that, the blurb is too likely to be confusing to new readers who may not know politics that well.

Steve Benen of The Carpetbagger Report shouldn't be making these mistakes. He is a big-time blogger who worked on a political campaign as a consultant / strategist. He should know better than this what is good for our politics. What is okay for a tiny blog barely anyone visits is not okay for Steve to do-- through his site, he represents our politics to (what is for the blogosphere) almost-as-close-as-one-can-get to a mass, mainstream audience.

Obama says...

From his Berlin speech:

But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived – at great cost and great sacrifice – to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom – indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares.
As poetic as it sounds, I think the bit about views being expressed in "public squares" that politicians often plug into speeches, and others often use, is less and less worth it for how pretty it sounds when balanced against how inaccurate it is.

America is no longer a place where people stand on soap boxes in town squares and give speeches about politics to people who can't help but overhear, since all the citizens have to walk through the town square in order to take care of their personal business. Instead, people ride through the town square in vehicles with closed windows. The places where political views are most vocalized are on cable TV stations, which are cost-prohibitive megaphones except for large corporations (yet a few stations alone get to speak about news and politics to the 300 million + citizens in the country), and on the Internet, where the average citizen can speak anonymously or pseudononymously to sometimes just a few people, who may be scattered across the country and similarly unknown. These limited forums aren't really the best means for encouraging trust and faith in a common endeavor, and are nothing like being subjected to a political speech by a neighbor possibly at any time you walk into town. Instead we're cut off from our neighbors and given a version of news and opinion that originates from a very narrow slice of the national community. Probably the closest thing we have to what people had back in the days when politicians first began rhapsodizing the importance of town square are hard-copy pamphlets and newsletters-- but hardly anyone tries to print up a bunch of pamphlets and leave them under the windshield-wipers of people's parked cars in their community, which would be a lot closer to what Tom Paine was doing.

Also there was this conservative comment on the Internet (in response to Obama making some metaphorical remarks to the Germans about tearing down walls between people):
When Obama was in Baghdad he did not demand that the obscene walls that divide the city be torn down. When Obama was in Israel he did not demand that the obscene partitions erected by Israel in the West Bank be torn down. Obama is a hypocrite supreme.
Those other walls probably are not totally good, like the Berlin Wall wasn't. But to be against ugly uses of walls, a person doesn't have to talk about them in a way that's unlikely to cause change or is likely to stir up opposition against what you're doing. Obama can certainly speak against barriers between peoples-- and probably do a better job of bringing about change-- without trying to force that precise message on people where perhaps many are not ready to hear it. To every thing, there is a season, and perhaps the wall in Baghdad is doing more good than harm right now. And maybe in Israel, speaking against their wall would do more to alienate people than it would to stir up useful opposition there against it.

So this right-wing talking-point, if you see it, should be shot down.

July 24

On July 24, 1997, William J. Brennan, Jr., a liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice, died in Washington, DC. A Newark, New Jersey native, Brennan's father had been active in the organized labor movement, and before becoming a Justice, Brennan was a lawyer for organized labor. Brennan served on the 1960s' liberal Warren court alongside Justice Marshall, the first African American Justice on the Supreme Court, a former NAACP lawyer, and also a staunch liberal. Brennan then served on the increasingly conservative Burger and Rehnquist courts, during which he valiantly represented the liberal position in dissenting opinions for many years. These dissenting opinions could help pave the way for judicial approaches to individual rights in the state courts, to govern individual rights matters in which state constitutions are allowed to give better protection against the actions of a state government than federal law requires. Brennan served as a Justice for about 34 years, from October 16, 1956 – July 20, 1990, and died at the age of 91.

The McCain Poster

Everyone's taking turns making fun of McCain's new poster, so I think I should report what I think. I think this is an example of a time when I have to choose not to be "on message" for us and say something that's calculated to whip people up to go out to vote against the Republicans, and instead play devil's advocate a little- mostly I want to do this to help people develop what I think is better judgment on things, like how to play politics better. And that's why I have to say I think the poster is not that bad. Here are comments I wrote on two other blogs (slightly edited to make them better here):

I don't think the poster is that bad for them-- its message just seems to be "Our guy knows that we have to fight to achieve peace in the long-run, and the liberals aren't willing to do that." It keeps them well-settled in their over-all frames/message, makes John McCain sound less like a war-monger without putting him in a position of having to say or promise something he's not going to actually follow up on (i.e., any kind of genuine peacenik moves like getting us out of Iraq or not leaving permanent bases), and it keeps the actual debating (but not the advertisements) in the campaign focused on things like whether or not we need to be fighting now, whether the fights the Republicans will start will make us safer, etc., instead of on some kind of precarious ideological battle between whether you like the idea of us being in wars or whether you put a premium on peace when we can have it (the poster just chooses peace, genuinely or not, as the lowest common denominator and therefore the appeal to be made). So when it comes to debates and printed material, McCain and his campaign will be free to make arguments based on uncertain, unknowable future events, and facts the average voter is ignorant about (nitty-gritty historical details and facts about Iraq policy and military policy)-- comfortable stuff for a politician trying to get elected.

The poster doesn't even have any offensive content, which is less and less common for the Republicans when they open their mouths nowadays.
* * *

I really think the poster is fine. It's his arguments about when we should be at peace and when we should be at war I feel like challenging, not this facially benign poster. Aesthetically, it's a little too lush for what I would want, but as Kevin points out, that's probably because the poster is designed to most directly target a demographic that grew up when posters in this style were more with-it.

You can't even really call the poster corny on its own terms, I think (that is, without consideration of the fact that McCain the man is about as heroic and noble and wise as the Sheriff of Nottingham, and therefore the poster-- for portraying him as if he were otherwise-- is absurd). But as just a poster of a guy who is running for President, it seems like a perfectly fine poster to me- if you put Hillary or Edwards or Barack on it, but kept it the same otherwise, I don't see what the problem would be.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

We are not Iraq's nursemaids

I saw this comment from a conservative on a blog today, My question is, what is now best for the Iraqi people, and I like my response so much, I decided to post it as a blog-post here:

We should help people when we can, but that does not mean that we have to try to help people we can't actually help.

We've got no more a moral obligation to fix Iraq than we do to transform the Moon or Mars into habitable environments for future generations to escape to if earth gets too messed up- it's too big a task. There are other people we can help a lot more and a lot more easily (like people in America, or people abroad who are impoverished but live in less violent areas than Iraq) and if we were truly acting humanistically, those are the peole we would be helping, not squandering lives and resources in Iraq.

Iraq might benefit from a far more limited presence (that is dedicated solely to getting bad guys when they get violent) but our massive presence there is perhaps even provoking more violence than it is preventing. In any event, even if our presence makes some areas of their country safer, it is a real waste (in terms of how much good it does and how lasting that good is likely to be) compared to the good the money and manpower could be doing somewhere else.
What we should do is prevent Iraq from descending into anarchy if we can and if it's worth the price. We can do that if all it takes is sending out some forces to kick the butts of gangs that get too violent and militant. But if the whole country wants to kill each other, then what it takes at the least to prevent anarchy is to occupy the whole country. If you look at it in terms of what all the money and manpower could be doing elsewhere, it's not worth the cost. That may sound hard at first, but it's not-- it's really benevolent towards people we could be doing a much better job of helping, but we're not since the conservatives are pulling (almost) all the strings, and it's benevolent to all the U.S. troops who are going to get hurt and killed in Iraq, and it's benevolent to those troops' families.

Al-Maliki, Conservatives, and the Iraq War

UPDATE: One thing that makes me think the conservatives (at a high level of leadership) want to get out of the Iraq war is that current and former military commanders have been admitting (and the news has been getting out that they have been admitting) that they want to get out of the Iraq war, and on to Afghanistan, or that they think the Iraq war is a bust.

If you check out this story, you'll discover the White House was sending out an e-mail to its rank-and-file supporters (ordinary people who signed up to their mailing list) stating that Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki favors Barack Obama's withdrawal plan and wants our military forces to leave Iraq. The more I've thought about this, the more I've come to believe that this was really unlikely a blunder, and to believe that it was done intentionally. I'm now convinced that something you may have seen me speculate on-- that the Republicans could have changed their position on Iraq (on whether the occupation can work out or not-- whether things can change lastingly for the better) sometime over the last year or so, and are just now more and more taking actions to dissolve the political support for occupation among their base (by doing things like advertising the fact that the Iraqis want us to leave) so that the environment will be made comfortable for the leading Republican voices to openly change their minds about it and the policy to be changed. It's very tiresome, even revolting, when the Republicans have up til this point pretended that staying in was the only possible answer and the idea of leaving was close to treasonous. So it makes sense that they would pull this cowardly move, and try to obliquely convince all their friends we should leave before they openly say we should leave. It's a hard "We were wrong" to state to the parents, friends and relatives of all those troops who got hurt and died-- people who the Republicans swore up and down to that we absolutely needed to be in Iraq, and that the liberals were all being a bunch of idiots for saying we shouldn't be.

Something that convinced me more of this was the fact that I'd already concluded that Al-Maliki was a conservative stooge, but he was starting to say that we should leave. It could look out of place at first- why would a conservative stooge say he wanted us to leave if the conservatives wanted us to stay, like they kept saying? But that reminded me of other things I'd seen earlier that make me suspicious that the conservatives at many levels of personnel were becoming very doubtful of the Iraq war, which indeed was not improving (couldn't they see it?). If I had been right about the conservatives changing course on the Iraq war, it would make sense that Al-Maliki would say that we should get out if he was a conservative stooge, because it gives the conservatives the perfect, face-saving excuse to get out: the Iraqis don't want us there, and even the leader of the country is saying it.

It's a similar observation to mine about the global warming debate- conservative/fundamentalist TV pastors, who go up on the soap-box for conservative politics all the time, were suddenly changing "their" positions on global warming. If it really was so clear that global warming was a real problem by this point, wouldn't responsible conservatives come around eventually and want to take that position back? And wouldn't the most obvious, most two-faced shills for the conservatives have a hand in clearing the way for that? I wouldn't necessarily say that every conservative preacher who has been in the news for publicly changing his stance on global warming has to be doing so at the behest of a conservative, political master. But I expect that at least one or some were.

On Monday, the Carpetbagger Report blog featured this sentence:

The right now has a new idea on how to deal with the debate over Iraq policy: go after Maliki as an Iranian stooge. Didn’t conservatives love this guy as recently as last week?
But they linked it up to this link. If you go and follow the link, it's to an article about just one guy (and no one particularly famous) calling Maliki an Iranian stooge. So it's not even some new conservative policy to do this-- rather it's just one guy (who presumably can't by-himself counteract weeks and months of conservative messaging about how they love Maliki).

So that sounds a lot more like a red herring thrown to liberals to throw them off the course of realizing Maliki is a conservative stooge than it sounds like a piece of evidence that contradicts my theory.

This theory still makes sense if the guys who want to change the conservative stance on the Iraq war can't bring McCain into the fold, because he is headstrong and dumb. If that's the case, then they may feel the need to change the rank-and-file conservatives first, so Weathervane John can discern the need to change his position. Or, he may already be in on it, but is just waiting for the voters to change their minds on Iraq before he publicly changes his position.

July 23

On this date in 1944, Soviet forces made the first liberation of a Holocaust concentration camp (Majdanek). The Soviets would go on to make the second liberation (of Auschwitz, the most notorious camp) as well sometime later, and other camps were liberated after that by other Allied forces. The last two camps to be dissolved were actually destroyed by the Nazis, not liberated by Allied forces, close to the Nazis' surrender.

Obama, Clinton, and the Public

It's funny that people bought up this whole media line (not to mention, Obama campaign line) than Barack is so different from the Clintons and "politics as usual." Barack talks about change over and over again, and people eat it up, but wasn't Bill elected in his first term on promises of change and not playing the old political game in the same old way?

I feel like even discerning people preferred him over Hillary based mostly just on this talking point. But that was the same exact thing Bill Clinton was saying 16 years ago. So how is that different?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Clinton Won't Be Veep

This sounds like something I was thinking today.

I guess it's safe to bet by now that Clinton won't be picked by Obama to be his Veep. If he wanted to do it, there is no reason why he wouldn't have done it promptly (i.e., by now), since she's such an obvious choice, and has so many supporters. Hillary and her husband probably are starting to realize this and to feel burned, since it probably seemed like she was a pretty logical choice for Barack, and it probably seemed not a bad bet that he would pick her-- so, they might have been inclined to just keep assuming it would likely-as-not happen, even though a formal decision / announcement might take a long time for whatever reasons (like Barack wanting to appear like he was making a considered decision, and not reflexively bowing to so-called "powerful" or "obvious" choices).

Some people might challenge my premise that Hillary is such an obvious choice. They may look at what the media has to say about it, and contend that because the media says so, that there are actually a lot of reasons not to want Hillary. But I would answer that that is what the media says-- the Republican, taken-over, media. In fact, Hillary Clinton is a great choice, and brings a lot of loyal followers, fund-raising potential and wonky, public-spirited experience to the fold. People may say that Barack wouldn't want to be smothered or out-shone by Hillary-- that the town isn't big enough for the both of them. But Barack has already beaten Hillary in the battle for the nomination, and people already commonly acknowledge that he is a better speaker than her (another piece of evidence about this is the fact that his speaking events have always attracted a much larger number of attendees than hers). How is she going to outshine him? And Bill Clinton is a disgraced, tired old man. Instead of worrying he could be outshone by them, Barack could be getting a power-trip off of outshining the Clintons himself.

Other people may say that a rejection of Hillary is a rejection of "the system" or "the way things are done in Washington." But Hillary was never that "plugged in" or powerful. Those were things just what the Republicans tried to demonize her as. Hillary and Bill were pro-black, pro-working class upstarts. The media is not nearly as hard on George W. Bush, one of the worst and dumbest Presidents in U.S. history, as it has been on Hillary. And someone who is truly "plugged in" and "powerful" in more than a transitory sense does not get regularly ridiculed by a corrupt news media, and does not have her innocent daughter preyed on by them, and does not have them and the government work as hard as possible through very corrupt means to expose her husband's affair. No, Hillary Clinton is not American royalty, and she is not anything like it.

In turn, Barack's refusal to make the easy choice of picking Hillary to be veep is further evidence for my theory that he has been compromised (bullied or threatened by Republicans into following their orders), which I now feel pretty convinced of. Hillary and Bill seem to be out-of-the-loop of the VP selection process, too-- so if Barack was for real on this, why would he keep stringing them and Hillary supporters along for so long? Why wouldn't he be a little more overtly definite about what he's doing? Probably whoever he picks out to be his veep will be someone who secretly harbors Republican loyalties.