Wednesday, December 31, 2003

. . . Or a Rational Response?

A good title to a good column. What we've been bombarded with for much of the past sad excuse of a year is the right-wingnut "hate Bush" meme in response to opposition to and criticism of Bush's handling of anything from international affairs (remember back in the day when that was supposed to be his strong point?) to domestic policy issues.



What E. J. Dionne Jr. does is lay out a much more accurate description of what's going on with the recent willingness of Democrats to go on the attack against the GOP and its standard bearer in the White House. How did Bush portray himself back in 2000? He contended that he was "a uniter" rather than a divider. In the aftermath of 9-11, many on the Democrat side of the aisle were willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt and took him for his word. The attacks on Democrats portraying them as "leftists", "unpatriotic", and "traitors" and the blatant misrepresentation of the proceedings of the late Sen. Wellstone's memorial service were essentially outright attacks -- provocations as we might call them in social psychology. Add to that the increased frustration that Democrats encountered in having any meaningful input in the legislative process (pretty absurd when one considers the slim GOP majorities in both houses), and we have seen the following:



1. Anger. There is a ton of research available showing that under conditions of frustration and/or provocation, humans are prone to react with anger. That anger may be unconscious (though measurable through various physiological tests) or conscious (the individual recognizes and can describe being angry).



2. Coercive action. Often times when one has been provoked one retaliates with a goal in mind. Retaliation can very easily be viewed as instrumental (at least partially so) with such motives as face saving (think about GOP and wingnut attacks on dissent in this light: the war on Iraq has been an expensive quagmire in the making that failed to produce WMDs or capture Al-Qaida members supposedly linked to Hussein) and avenging real or perceived injustices (think of Democrat attacks on Bush and the GOP in this light: much of what happened in 2002 was just plain unfair. Those injustices were bound to produce a response).



Note: for more of a complete summary of the above two points, see: Geen, R. G., & Donnerstein, E. I. (Eds.). (1998), Human aggression: Theories, research, and implications for policy. New York: Academic Press.



What Dean, and to a lesser degree Kucinich, have done is to successfully tap into the anger of rank-and-file Democrats. They've also managed to focus that anger into action: their candidacies have been aggressively focused on the heart of the Bush White House and the GOP that has enabled that administration's excesses. Dean and Kucinich deserve credit for having well-thought-out responses to the Iraq invasion and occupation (something that very few people wanted outside the White House and 10 Downing St.). The people who write Dean off as a hot-headed blowhard truly underestimate the man. If he gets the nomination this coming year, he is going to be an articulate, angry, and formidable opponent. He knows what he's doing. His campaign has been one with so-far well-reasoned positions. If his campaigning amounted to little more than a "liberal" equivalent to the sort of mindless diatribes befitting our wingnut talkshow blowhards, I doubt he would have taken off. He's quite clearly proven himself capable of doing much more than name-calling -- from what I've read he appears to have the vision thing and he strikes me as very pragmatic in his approach to governing. His political record is in keeping with the center-right tradition of the Democrat Party (fiscally moderate/conservative, perhaps more so than the other Democrat contenders this year; somewhat socially & culturally authoritarian, but much less so than Bush, and considerably less so than Lieberman & Edwards). While I'm ideologically much closer to Kucinich and Sharpton, I'd be quite happy with Dr. Dean. If nothing else, I now have some hope that the Democrat party can produce candidates with actual spines, which is something I'd begun to seriously question during the last few years. The party has won this voter back, for now. I'm probably not the only one.

Twilight of the Neocons?

Noticed a link to this over at Talking Points Memo. Gave it a perusal. Worth a look-see.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Memestream 2.3

Definitely worth a look.

Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and PNAC Parallels

Part One and Part Two.



Makes for some very striking reading. I may have to see if I can dust off that old copy of Shirer's tome and re-read it at some point. Are the PNAC manifestos akin to Mein Kampf in neo-con clothes?

Five Simple Rules For Political Reporting

Krugman's suggested New Year's Resolutions are amusing and to the point.

A few thoughts at the edge of the apocalypse

Quite a title given that I'm not an apocalyptic thinker. The apocalyptic types, regretably, run the show in Washington DC these days, however, and seem hellbent on continuing their crusade to purify America and the world.



I'm not entirely a pessimist, though, and here are a few ideas I have for the upcoming year:



1. The events of 9-11 were truly horrifying, and should have never happened. The take-home message that I accepted was that we in the US are also vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Terrorism, which I tend to look at as military action using unconventional means by extremists who do not possess conventional means of warfare, is a fact of life. We do what we can to protect ourselves, and hope for the best.



2. The "war on terror" was a mistake. An unending war against an amorphous "enemy" will not foster security: instead, it has fostered paranoia at home, paranoia regarding US intentions abroad, and has energized those extremists who have their own apocalyptic visions of purifying the world and expunging its evil influences. My hope is that the next President will immediately acknowledge that the "war on terror" approach has been wrong, and that working with the international community to handle the problem of terrorism will be more effective. It sure beats alienating our friends, creating new enemies, and overextending our military and wasting our financial resources like we are currently doing. Right now, the US government has become the ideal dance partner for the apocalyptic-minded Islamist groups like Al-Qaida. The current path will only increase the tempo and intensify the dance. We need to simply refuse to dance, and instead go back to working with our friends.



3. The current president is incapable of ending this "dance of death" with equally militant apocalypse-minded Islamic groups. He needs to be replaced this November.



4. Rather than capitalize on the deaths of terror victims in the name of some grand crusade against some amorphous evil entity, our government should instead frame terrorism and terrorists for what they are: criminals. The approach of our current president has only made terrorist groups appear as "forbidden fruit" in the minds of young men and women who are most likely to be sympathetic to these groups. The latter approach has the potential for turning these same groups into "tainted fruit". My hope is that the next President understands this.



5. Living in fear is no way to live. Bad things do happen. Most of the time they don't, and often one doesn't find trouble unless one actively seeks trouble. As a kid, I eventually learned that being street-savvy was good for self-preservation; being street-savvy is not a fear-based approach but instead is more of a common-sense approach. I suspect that there is an extension of street-savviness that can be applied to international relations and to the problem that terrorism presents. Be cool, keep your eyes and ears open, but always remember that there's nothing to fear but fear itself.



Peace.

Saddam is captured, but soldiers continue dying for Bush's lies

Let's tell it like it is: the war and occupation were conducted under false pretenses, and our men and women in uniform continue to pay the price. The capture of a symbolic figurehead has sadly done nothing to change that fact.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Why Dubya Enjoys So Much Support From White Blue-Collar Men

An Interview with Sociologist Arlie Hochschild



A cogent interview that deserves to be read and pondered. My quick and dirty take on the Hochschild is that Bush's appeal among this demographic is primarily emotional. In essence, we get fed a "Those Were the Days" politics, that promises a return to the good old days when "girls were girls, and men were men"; that mythical era when we "didn't need no welfare state/everybody pulled his weight" all wrapped in a pretty Red, White and Blue flag. It sounds nice, but there's no meat to it. The bottom line is that blue collar workers are worse off than they were three decades ago: their paycheck no longer makes ends meet, families have by necessity become dual-income, and the anxiety that their jobs are just a boardroom meeting away from being "outsourced" to Indonesia, China, or elsewhere overseas is an ever-present reality. Bush has done nothing to address those problems. Bush gives the blue collar worker the sizzle, but no steak.



A personal aside: part of my family background is rooted in blue collar industries (manufacturing, oil drilling, etc.), and the rest is rooted in family-operated agriculture. My grandparents' generation did very well for themselves by moving from agriculture to the factory or oil fields. Union jobs enabled them to move from poverty to a relatively middle-class lifestyle: in the process that provided opportunities for their children (my parents) that may not have been available otherwise, and by extension paved the way for the opportunities that my I, my wife, and our siblings have been able to pursue. I take hits on the blue collar workers personally. The job that gets permanently outsourced today affects the future opportunities for that worker's children and grandchildren. Let's not lose sight of that.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Another conservative critique of Bush's Iraq policy

Get past the snarky jab at Howard Dean, and one sees some value to this cat's argument. Personally, I am convinced that this war was wrong on so many levels. Not only has it been a moral or ethical disaster, but it's been a disaster at the level of process. To wit, we've seen nothing but foul-up after foul-up since the invasion and occupation began, with the insufficiently prepared troops, the financial mismanagement from those corporations who were awarded contracts for reconstruction of Iraq, etc. After a while, it reaches a point to where the capture of Saddam pales in comparison with the sheer foreign policy incompetence. This was the hardliners' war, and we've seen what happens when the hardliners get their way. Instead of sensible policies that are competently handled, we get competing factions of hardliners engaged in bureaucratic infighting and a foreign policy that sure makes the White House look like an asylum run by delusional inmates. That to me is enough to evict this President after one term. Let's get some people in place who know what they are doing and who actually give a damn about America. The sooner the better.

The Diane Sawyer Interview With Dubya: Some Excerpts

Courtesy Liberal Oasis



Figured I'd highlight some of this as I woke up to some of the Good Morning America coverage of her interview this morning. That unelectable miserable failure commercial-in-chief doesn't hold up too well when the facts interfer with his fantasy. Would you buy a used car from this man? I sure wouldn't.



SAWYER: 50 percent of the American people have said that they think the Administration exaggerated the evidence going into the war with Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction, connection to terrorism.



Are the American people wrong? Misguided?



BUSH: No, the intelligence I operated on was good sound intelligence, the same intelligence that my predecessor operated on.



The – there is no doubt, uh, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. Uh, the – otherwise, the United Nations, by the way, wouldn’t have passed, y’know, resolution after resolution after resolution demanding that he disarm.



I first went to the United Nations, September the 12th 2002, and said:



“You’ve given this man resolution after resolution after resolution. He’s ignoring them. You step up, and see that he honor those resolutions. Otherwise you become a feckless debating society.”



And so for the sake of peace, and for the sake of freedom of the Iraqi people, and for the sake of security of the country, and for the sake of the credibility of international institutions, a group of us moved.



And the world is better for it.



(Bush shows look of self-satisfaction)



SAWYER: When you take a look back --



(Video clip of Dick Cheney saying, “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons -- ”)



SAWYER: -- Vice President Cheney said there is no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Not programs, not intent.



(Shot of Bush shifting in chair, looking a bit annoyed.)



SAWYER: There is no doubt he has weapons of mass destruction.



Secretary Powell --



(Video clip of Powell at UN saying, “Iraq today has a stockpile -- ”)



SAWYER: -- said a hundred to five hundred tons of chemical weapons.



And now the inspectors say that there’s no evidence of these weapons existing right now.



(Video clip of Bush at the State of the Union address saying, “significant quantities of uranium --”)



SAWYER: The yellowcake in Niger. George Tenet has said that shouldn’t have been in your speech.



(Graphic of Tenet and the quote “This was a mistake.” Cut to Bush cocking his head, still annoyed.)



SAWYER: Secretary Powell talked about mobile labs, again the intelligence, the inspectors have said they can’t confirm this, they can’t corroborate.



(Video of Bush at the SOTU again, saying, “suitable for nuclear weapons production -- ”)



SAWYER: “Nuclear” suggested that he was on the way on an active nuclear program.



(Bush’s right leg starts to bounce anxiously)



SAWYER: David Kay: “We have not discovered significant evidence of an active -- ”



BUSH: Yet. Yet.



SAWYER: Is it, “yet?”



BUSH: But what David Kay did discover was he had a weapons program. And had that knowledge --



SAWYER: Missiles.



BUSH: Let me finish for a second. No, it was more extensive than missiles.



Had that knowledge been, uh, examined by the United Nations, in other words, had David Kay’s report been placed in front of the United Nations, he, Saddam Hussein, would have been in breach of 1441, which meant it was a casus belli.



And, uh, look --



(Bush’s voice begins to rise)



BUSH: -- There’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person. And there’s no doubt we had a body of evidence proving that.



And there is no doubt that the president must act, after 9/11, to make America a more secure country.



(Look of self-satisfaction returns.)



SAWYER: Um, again I’m just trying to ask -- and these are supporters, people who believed in the war --



BUSH: Heh-heh-heh.



SAWYER: -- who have asked the question.



BUSH: Well you can keep asking the question, and my answer is going to be the same. Saddam was a danger, and the world is better off because we got rid of him.



(Raised voice cracks a bit on “rid.” A pause, then Bush shoots Sawyer an exasperated look as if to say “Get it?”, though with a bit of a smile.)



SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still --



BUSH: So what’s the difference?



(Smile's gone.)



SAWYER: Well --



BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were acquire weapons [sic], he would be the danger. That’s the -- that’s what I’m trying to explain to you.



A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with.



And it was done after 12 long years of the world saying, “the man’s a danger.” And so, we got rid of him.



And there’s no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.



SAWYER: But, but again some, some of the critics have said this, combined with the failure to establish proof of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there’s just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst. [sic]



BUSH: Y’know, uh, look (shakes head). What (chuckle) what we based our evidence on was a very sound National Intelligence Estimate.



SAWYER: Nothing should have been more precise?



BUSH: I – I – I – I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that the country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.



SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction?



BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.



(Pause, as both smile.)



SAWYER: And if he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction --



BUSH: You can keep asking the question. I’m telling ya, I made the right decision for America.



Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait.



But the fact that he is not there, is uh, means America is a more secure country.

'Five Lies' Excerpt: Bait and Switch

It's one of the oldest tricks in the book: bait and switch. Used car salesmen have relied on that trick for as long as there have been used cars. The idea is to lure the customer in to the lot with an unrealistically attractive bargain. Sounds great, until it turns out that the bargain product no longer exists. But there is this somewhat more expensive car that the customer is then told about. To the extent that the customer has already committed himself/herself to a course of action, the salesman is well-positioned to make a sale and get his commission. Dishonest? You bet. Effective? You bet. Of course our slimy used car salesman here is none other than Dubya. The customers? The American public. We were baited into an invasion of Iraq based on the assertions that Iraq possessed WMDs in violation of UN mandates, and that Saddam was an imminent threat to our security; not to mention he and Osama bin Laden were in cahoots with each other to terrorize the US. One other thing: the war will be a breeze and within a few months the troops should be home. All bait. As we've found, no WMDs have been produced, Saddam has been proven to be little more than a paper tiger, and no Saddam-Osama link has ever been established. But wait. Saddam did run a brutal regime reminiscent of Stalin (switch). And let us not forget about bringing democracy to Iraq (switch). And of course we're now needing a longer occupation and more tax dollars to fund that occupation (switch). I get the feeling that Dubya sold the American public a lemon, and no amount of hyping the optional capture of Saddam will make that lemon run any better.



When you go to the polls next November, ask yourself this about Dubya: would you buy a used car from this man? Thank about it. If I saw him in a used car lot, I'd jet.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Iraq Diary: This is the Better Life?

Again just to drive home the point that the capture of Saddam, while a good thing, is really little more than a sideshow for the average Iraqi.



Welcome to the occupation where Iraqis face dire poverty; unemployment; malnutrition; checkpoints; lack of medicines, schools, drinkable water, electricity and fuel; an entire infrastructure destroyed by allied bombing and U.N. sanctions; an entire economy up for sale to those responsible; and the heavy-handedness of a U.S. occupation force with little understanding or care for Iraqi life, sensitivities, hopes, grievances and concerns. But still, the word is out to the Iraqis: no matter how bad you find our occupation you had better like us or be shot.



In the mean time, Party on, Garth, but the hangover's gonna be a bitch.

Shaking Hands With Saddam Hussein





Here's a friendly reminder of where the Reagan administration stood with regard to Saddam. In spite of all Dubya's post-9/11 rhetoric about Saddam being an "evil-doer" and a part of the "axis of evil," it is quite apparent that once upon a time many of the figures in his administration were more than happy to cozy up to Saddam during the Reagan years (e.g., as the Rumsfield/Saddam handshake photo suggests). True, the Reagan administration did pay lip service to the notion that Baghdad's use of chemical weapons was naughty, but actions speak louder than words. The truth of the matter is that Saddam's regime served a purpose: as a secular barricade against Iran and its brand of Islamic fundamentalist (or faith-based) governing, and as a source of cheap oil. Hence, any statements of protest to Saddam's chosen warfare strategies were done with a wink and a nod. Truth is, no one in the administration really cared as long as Saddam was seen as cooperating with them.



What did we send to Iraq during the 1980s? As Michael Moore notes:



* Bacillus Anthracis, cause of anthrax.

* Clostridium Botulinum, a source of botulinum toxin.

* Histoplasma Capsulatam, cause of a disease attacking lungs, brain, spinal cord, and heart.

* Brucella Melitensis, a bacteria that can damage major organs.

* Clostridium Perfringens, a highly toxic bacteria causing systemic illness.

* Clostridium tetani, a highly toxigenic substance.




Who sent these shipments of biological agents to Saddam? None other than American Type Culture Collection.



For more details check this 1994 report from the US Senate.



Who did business with Iraq? Check out this article Made in the USA, Part III: The Dishonor Roll America's corporate merchants of death in Iraq for a detailed rundown. It's an eye-opener.

Boy, it sure didn't take long

...for the mood to change among the Iraqi people



The dancing and cheering in the streets ended rather rapidly, and has been replaced with the more common frustration felt by many under US occupation. Those darned Iraqis. Aren't they supposed to be showering the occupying forces with flowers now?

Steve Gilliard on why Saddam's capture is just a footnote

If you haven't been reading Steve Gilliard's newsblog, perhaps you should. He has some rather thoughtful analyses regard what Saddam's capture really means for Iraqis and occupying forces. The gist is this: the resistance isn't really based on loyalty to Saddam, but rather has its origins elsewhere:



There is a fundamental core to the resistance which is based in Iraqi history and psychology, and made worse by US actions. Baath is, by the war, not a synonym for Saddam worshiper, but a pan-Arab nationalist ideology. While the American media uses the term to mean Saddam supporter, it is more complex than that.



...While Bremer was crowing, the fact remains that there has not been a day since March 21 where US troops have not come under fire. His Young Republican Abroad projects are faltering, leaving the vaunted schools worse off than before. The IGC is still regarded as quisilings by most Iraqis. And the power of the Ayatollah Sistani grows by the day. Even secularlists or lapsed Shia intellectuals have to regard his position as the morally and ethically correct one. Why can't they have one man, one vote elections? Because the Americans won't like the outcome? Iraqis are intelligent, crafty, people and they don't need the great white fathers from Young Republicans Abroad to run their country for them. Removing Saddam as a threat just makes opposition that much easier.



Think of the lives and money it cost to get Saddam, a haggard old man living in a cave with a box of money. Nearly 500 American families have lost young ones, most under 25, thousands more have sons and daughters injured in combat, starting life over minus a limb. Is Iraq safer, more democratic, more of a US ally? Yet, there has been a river of blood to get just this far. How much longer will the war continue? And in the end, will the ultimate outcome be an Islamic Republic run by a disciple of Sistani? Will thousands of Americans have died to ensure an Iraqi theocracy?



That, in the end, is why the capture of Saddam will be a historical footnote.




In another related post, Steve notes:



Why should an Iraqi now align themselves with a corrupt, ineffective occupier who disrespect their customs and homes? What do they gain? Why shouldn't they join the resistance and determine who runs Iraq on their own? Bush has offered them no reason to lay down their weapons, and instead, may encourage many of them to fight.



And from another post:



Americans ignore the reality that Iraqi nationalism is now the driving force. The praise of Saddam we hear for the cameras is to taunt and mislead the US, not some irridentist desire for Saddam resurgent. Iraqis are not idiots, they know any mention of Saddam turns Americans nuts. What will Sanchez say when that fully-loaded C-130 comes crashing out of the sky, or when a US-occupied position is blown to hell killing 20-30 Americans at once? That it's "bitter enders" who just won't quit?



Americans are incredibly naive when it comes to understanding the hostility our actions have engendered in Iraq. Many people were inclined to see us as helpful, but the US Army's tactics and the refusal to impose order made accepting the occupation impossible for many. Relegating the opposition to a few mercenaries and Baathists sounded fine on TV, but it's not the military reality. Saddam couldn't trust his own army, a point I make repeatedly, what makes you think that Army, unemployed and humiliated, is now fighting for him? Because it is fighting Americans and doing a decent job of it.



It would be nice to think our Iraqi adventure is over. My sneaking feeling is that not only is it not over, it has really just begun.




There's a great deal of rich material here. I suspect he's nailed it.

While We Celebrate the Capture of Saddam, Let Us Remind Ourselves:

The Iraqi resistance is much more than a Saddam-controlled operation. The writer lists a number of players, with something in common: most of the likely resistance factions are nationalistic. They just simply dislike the idea of foreign occupiers on their home turf. There is a subset who view this more as a religious war (e.g., Jihadis who may be in part mercenaries from outside Iraq), and still another subset representing organized crime. Shia factions generally have stayed out of the resistance, with the exception of perhaps some of the more radical of these factions; although too there's probably at least some nationalistic sentiment that could change that. Add to the mix the potential that Osama bin Laden may be targeting Iraq as a site for Al Qaida to focus its energies, and we could see more mercenaries in the area. Even if Saddam had planned some form of resistance operation after his fall, it is probable that he has had little to no involvement in it (he was too busy trying to hide in a hole). Rather than cutting off the head of the serpent, the occupying forces have merely cut of one of many heads, and one that was rather weak to begin with. Catching Saddam is good, but the violence is probably far from over, as Iraq slides ever closer to civil war.



Update:Here's what Sen. Jay Rockefeller had to say about the Saddam capture



"Given the location and circumstances of his capture, it makes it clear that Saddam was not managing the insurgency, and that he had very little control or influence.



"That is significant and disturbing because it means the insurgents are not fighting for Saddam, they're fighting against the United States," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.




And here's a summary of US intelligence conclusions about Saddam's involvement in the wave of insurgent attacks (from the same report):



US intelligence officials have previously said they believe Saddam was too concerned with survival and staying hidden to provide much more than symbolic leadership.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam's Captured, and I Feel Fine

Definitely one of those pieces of news that regardless of one's views about Bu$hCo and its oil wars, is fantastic. Saddam has certainly been a bastard, and hopefully he'll be tried for his attrocities. Ideally this will be handled by an international war crimes tribunal (e.g., the one charged with trying Milosovich), where there would be a sense of legitimacy, and in which those involved are quite experienced with such matters.



That said, I don't quite see this as anything more than a temporary propaganda boost for Bu$hCo and Blair. For starters, it seems highly implausible that Saddam has been able to run any sort of insurgency campaign: he's been too isolated and apparently too disoriented to have been terribly useful. I'd be willing to wager that once Saddam fell he pretty much had lost any legitimacy he had once commanded, even among Ba'athists. Iraqi opponents to the US occupation probably never much cared for Saddam, are glad to see him gone, and wish the Americans would do likewise. Even if Saddam had been able to coordinate a guerilla campaign, we would be well advised to look at the Peruvian experience with Sendero Luminosa, a Maoist rebel group, who after their leader was captured continued to escalate its guerilla activities. Iraq is still unstable, and insurgents will continue their attacks unabated for the time being. More importantly, the capture of Saddam does nothing to address the day-to-day problems that the average Iraqi faces. Infrastructure problems persist, problems in establishing an Iraqi-based security organization persist, and the heavy-handed approach used by the occupying military forces (primarily US) has done much to turn the average Iraqi off. Saddam's capture as a symbolic victory maybe won't play so well in Iraq (even as it temporarily plays well in the Beltway and in middle America). The "hearts and minds" campaign has been a failure thus far, and I see little to change that as long as the occupation continues on its present course. Another problem I see for Bu$hCo down the road: once Saddam is tried, I would expect that he will use his day in court to remind the world that the very government that deposed him and vilified him has present many individuals who seemed perfectly pleased with him during the 1980s, and seemed quite unbothered by his attrocious human rights record which was already well known. No wonder Bu$hCo is not all that eager to push for a trial any time too soon. Might want to wait til after the Presidential elections are over first, lest Saddam says something embarrassing. So Saddam can still cause headaches for this president even from a prison cell. Finally, I doubt this will change the financial situation the US faces in funding the occupation: I doubt that the UN or numerous other European states will suddenly do a U-turn with regard to their position on Iraq and begin emptying their nations' treasure and committing their troops to the quagmire.



So, I'm pleased that the scum is captured. I just don't think it will do a lot of good.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Pulled the Man Down

A Dubya song parody (to the tune of "Blow the Man Down"), complete with nifty picture of protesters pulling down a statue of Dubya, mocking the staged Saddam statue pull-down from this past spring.



More parodies can be found here at the Boot Newt Singalong Blogspot. Fun for the whole family!

Friday, December 12, 2003

Three Years Ago

The Supreme Court by a thin margin annointed George W. Bush as our first selected president. Never forget.

"Thou Shalt Not Kill"

Anti-war painting by Johannes Koelz, German artist who had to flee Germany during the Nazi reign of terror. The imagery is every bit as powerful today as when it was originally produced (probably near completion when it was dismembered in 1937).



Another powerful painting from this era: Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" which captures the suffering experienced during the Spanish Civil War.

Unelectable

unelectable

Proof that Bush Sucks

As I understand it, this is one of the entries for Bush in 30 Seconds, a contest sponsored by moveon.org.

Steve Gilliard Hits the Nail on the Head

Bu$hCo has it all wrong about Howard Dean. Far from being their easiest target, he potentially represents their worst nightmare. What Dr. Dean has accomplished is to energize people at the grass-roots level, which is something the other Democrat candidates have largely failed to accomplish. Gilliard hits it squarely on the head when he refers to the Dean phenomenon as a movement. In some respects I see parallels to what Perot had going during the early days of his campaign. Dean of course has several things going for him that Perot didn't: a national political party organization (Perot had to start a party from scratch), mental stability (Perot seemed flakier than an apple pie crust), a keen understanding of how to best exploit contemporary technology, good competent people in his inner circle. Pair him up with Clark and they'll give Dubya a run for his money and then some. The truth is that the wannabe boy emperor wears no clothes (the miserable failures in domestic and foreign policy are pretty danged obvious at this point); Dean is unlikely to play along with the charade, and he does have a positive vision for how to move the US ahead after we (hopefully) reunite the village of Crawford TX with its resident idiot.



Bush is a lot weaker than he looks on the surface -- heck, surface veneer is all he really has going for him. The right Democrat to exploit those weaknesses is within reach. Let's keep our eyes on the prize these next few months.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Proposed Roads to Freedom

by Bertrand Russell



Provides a nice overview of socialism, anarchism, and syndicalism, in the process outlining how each approach differs from the others.



Project Gutenberg has tons of ebooks available. Well worth perusing and supporting.

Deconstructing GOP Advertising

Some humor I just stumbled upon. Enjoy!

The Guardian's Special Climate Change Section

The Guardian, a UK paper, has been running an on-going series of articles on climate change. Makes for some rather fascinating reading, with regards to the implications for the drastic climate changes that we are facing over the coming decades.

Boiling Frogs

This is how it starts. Are we in the US frogs who are being slowly boiled, not to notice til it is too late?

Noam Chomsky Interview on GNN

Check it out.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

More on the impending oil extraction peak

This article reviews two books that predict that the amount of oil extracted around is about reach its zenith sometime within the next handful of years, and then will rapidly diminish within 50 years. The article also highlights some of the hurdles we will face converting from an oil-based to alternative-energy-based economy, and puts the current military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq in some context.

White House Flips the Bird at Pagans

According to H. James Towey (director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, pagans such as Wiccans and Druids simply do not care about helping to poor, hence they don't deserve the same consideration as Christian religious organizations when it comes to funding their applications for grants. Seems really ludicrous, as pagans seem to be able to point to any of a number of charitable events that they sponsor or participate in. I've also noticed over the course of my lifetime that the pagans whom I have met generally tend to be heavily involved in the grunt work involved in helping out at homeless shelters and so forth. Towley might also do well to remind himself of the pagan origins of Christianity.

Racist Hate Mail Sent to NFL Players

Props to the Democratic Underground's Top Ten Conservative Idiots list for this link. We'll add this one to the list of right-wing eliminationist rhetoric.

From the 'Truth is Stranger than Fiction' Department: This Quote from Dubya

"The vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice."



- Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2003




Keep at it George. One of these days you might just think your way out of that paper bag.

Rockers Unite to Oust Bush

From Rolling Stone.

Warnography

Courtesy the crew of Take Back the Media. Check it out.

A story that didn't make national headlines: white supremacist terrorists

possessed WMDs



Here's just a friendly reminder that the face of terrorism in the US is not Arab, Persian, or Central Asian, but rather is predominantly white and exceedingly right-wing.



Update: The Memory Hole has a more detailed run-down on the story.

Monday, December 8, 2003

Remind Us: Why in the Hell Did Our Government Invade and Occupy Iraq?

Is Anyone Feeling A Draft?

Noteworthy because this editorial comes from a notably conservative newspaper in one of the most conservative counties in California, if not the U.S.

Of Double Standards

At least I am not the only one who is calling American political discourse for what it's devolved into: a mudpit of nasty personal attacks and double-standards.



Why is it okay for someone on the right-wing of our spectrum to label anti-war protesters as traitors who should be hanged? Obviously the Amarillo Globe News saw it as fit to print. Why is someone's rantings advocating the assassination of the human beings who are running for the Democrat presidential nomination excused as merely justifiable anger? But...if I make a statement to the effect of "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more," and then go on to mention the failed track record of Bush's first three years in office, I'm a "Bush hater"? Something's way wrong with that picture.



In all of my years of existence, I have never seen the level of bile spewed by the far right-wing escalate to the extent that it has in the early days of the new century. It's been eye-opening, to say the least. I have yet to see liberals or moderates even come close to matching the right's vitriol. The public record speaks for itself: the Ann Coulters, Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, and countless others have made it crystal clear that they would prefer to see their real and perceived political enemies dead. Is this the kind of America you want? It sure isn't the one I want. We can do better. Much better.

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Inside the Mind of the Right Wing Authoritarian Part 3: Authoritarian Aggression

One of the things that Orcinus points out in his recent post Projecting Violence is that the general trend of political hate speech is truly the domain of the right wing's politicians, pundits, and rank and file. Research on authoritarian aggression is especially pertinent, as it appears that individuals who are high RWA tend to be prone to act in aggressive or violent ways if those actions appear sanctioned by those they consider as authority figures (see, e.g., Altemeyer, 1981, 1988, 1996).



What is troubling from my standpoint is that much of the writings and speech advocating violence against liberals and other political enemies is coming precisely from those authority figures. Television and radio talk show hosts are for better or worse viewed as authorities by those who make up their core fan base. Same with those who hold political offices or who are considered religious leaders. If these authority figures appear to sanction violent acts against other groups, there is an increased risk that someone among their followers will ultimately act violently. The danger isn't so much from what is said by these authority figures (most of it comes across as sophomoric at best) but rather the danger is from the interpretation of the meaning of those hate-filled words based on the rather black-and-white mentality held by their followers.

The Baghdad Bush Animated GIF

US has forfeited its

"moral leadership"



Howard Dean hits the nail on the head.

This Kucinich ad says it all with regard to Bush's miserable failure in foreign policy

Bush Will Beat Bush?

While that remains to be seen, I do think there are plenty of excellent reasons to elect someone other than Bush next year.

Bush's Fake Smile





A genuine smile includes the rising of the corners of the mouth and the pulling back of corners of the eyes (producing crows' feet). Bush's smiles lack the eyes. They are fake. Cover the lower half of the face and each eye and see for your self. Each eye is dead-- no smile, no heart.



To learn a little more about Paul Ekman, a psychologist who has studied facial expressions and emotion, go here

Projecting Violence

An interesting post over at Orcinus. The main idea is that those among the right-wing are projecting their own violent fantasies onto their political enemies (in particular liberals, or anyone who happens to identify with the Democrat party).



What is projection? Freud viewed projection as an ego defense mechanism used to ward off anxiety. What the individual does is to attribute their undesirable traits onto someone else, thus enabling them to hate said others instead of themselves for possessing those undersirable traits. For example, a husband who has been carrying on an extramarital affair may project this undesirable quality onto his wife by showing suspicion towards her potential to be unfaithful. Let's face it, that various famous and obscuroid right-wingers have advocated violence against various liberal and/or Democrat targets is well-documented and need not be repeated here. To the extent that these people want to portray themselves as "reasonable" or "fair and balanced," such pronouncements by themselves or likeminded individuals has to be inducing some cognitive dissonance. What better way to handle a guilty conscience or to reduce the dissonance than to latch onto any angry rhetoric from one's political enemies and use it as "evidence" that those enemies are a bunch of hate-filled violent thugs.

Is the President a Pathological Liar?

My take: probably not. A propagandist who knows his core audience? More likely.

Saturday, December 6, 2003















Tim Robbins pours his anger into an anti-war play

-- just don't call it political theater



A feature on Robbins' new play "Embedded," which appears to be a dark comedy focusing on the mass media portrayal of the Iraq war.

Closer

Well-done video by the crew at GNN. Check out their own news-ticker run throughout the video. Music by The Soulsavers

Bush in 2004; The Draft Reinstated in 2005

More war, bloodshed, and misery through January 2009.

Pointing Out Bush's Many Failures is "Hate Speech"?

Give me a break!



The theme du jour this Friday appears to be the double standard. Somehow Republicans and their apologists who refer to the rest of us as "traitors", "cowards", and so on are not engaging in hate speech? Okay. What a twisted little delusional world these people live in. Praise the Lord and pass the thorazine.



Speaking of double-standards, isn't it funny how this whole Rush Limbaugh drug scandal is going down? My favorite quote comes from his lawyer, Roy Black, who asks the eternal question..."Why is Rush Limbaugh only person treated like this in America?" Newsflash: that Jesus Christ pose is not very becoming, Rush. After years of foaming at the mouth about how the government should get medieval on drug abusers' asses, it must really suck to have the government treating him like a drug abuser. Boo hoo. To read more about the siezure of his medical records, go here.



As far as the Bush family goes, they're all bad to the bone. I still love this Barbara Bush quote from Larry King Live this past October: "...don't criticize my children. . .or you're dead." Oh, boo hoo. I'm just quaking in my Doc Martens. Let's just make this perfectly clear: Dubya has been a miserable failure as a President. Take a look at what we have to show for his tenure thus far: a military that has been stretched to its limits in the pursuit of the neocons' twisted vision of paradise; a federal government spending spree that makes me wonder if the White House is modeling its spending habits and priorities on those demonstrated by Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, and so on; blatant disregard for the very Constitution that this idiot was supposed to defend; and a penchant for pissing off and alienating the vast majority of the rest of the planet. If Barbara ever gets her moment of clarity, perhaps she'll realize that the mess her son has made is one that I, my children, and grandchildren will have to clean up. Suffice it to say, I'm rather pissed off about that prospect. Okay, so, now what? Will "Bar" personally come to my office and kill me now? I'll wait. Maybe she'll have her son talk to God and I'll be struck by lightening? Uh huh...sure. I believe that like I believe she'll ever face up to the truth about her son's performance in the White House.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Never Underestimate the Importance of Grassroots

Dean gets it.

Personal & Political: A continuation

Edgewise has a wonderful continuation of the discussion that David Neiwert (Orcinus) started a few days back. I like the approach Edgewise has: let's look at empirical evidence, and use that as a foundation for effecting positive change. If it's polarization that we want to reduce, Edgewise suggests looking at utilizing various techniques available from the social sciences (he manages to touch on linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience) that have hard data behind them.



An aside: My background has given me a keen appreciation of two components to human understanding. On the one hand, there is the phenomenological component -- our own unique personal experience, or in Lewin's terms our "life space" -- which has been written about and studied extensively by numerous psychologists and fellow travelers from the Gestalt tradition (e.g., Lewin, Kohler) and the Existential/Phenomenological tradition (e.g., Sartre, Merlieu-Ponty), as well as from the object relations theories that are promiment in the Psychoanalytic community (Mahler, Klein). Sharing our personal narratives and perceptions, and understanding something about the processes involved in forming perceptions and personal narratives is necessary. That was what David (Orcinus) did with his original post, and what I tried to do with my own rant on this blog. That said, one of the things that becomes clear from any of the phenomenological literature is that our perceptions can and often are distorted. Hence the need for the second component to understanding: empirical data. At the end of the day, I find myself giving the phenomenological cats their due, but ultimately casting my lot with the empiricist tradition stretching from Locke & Hume all the way to the more modern cats like Skinner, Popper, etc. At some point, I typically step back, and ask if there is data available that will either refute or support my perceptions. And yeah, empirical studies aren't always the most exciting reading, but they do give the astute social activist a foundation upon which to act.

Priceless

Props to Pandagon's Twenty Most Annoying Conservatives 2003 list.



There are 10 rules to being a campus conservative:



1.) Complain how you're shut out of every forum on campus by going to every forum on campus and using it to complain, prominently.



2.) Complain about how your professors are liberal, even though they grade your work fairly and accurately.



3.) Complain about the use of academic "buzzwords" in course descriptions without having actually taken the course.



4.) Complain about how much everyone else is complaining about your complaining.



5.) Complain about how nobody debates any ideas while strictly limiting your debate to telling everyone else that their ideas are horrible and shut out the ideas you can't actually elucidate.



6.) Complain about how the cable system doesn't carry Fox News, and complain when you get it but someone else signed up to watch Monday Night Football.



7.) Complain about campus oppression, and then inaccurately throw activist buzzwords at every liberal you can find.



8.) Complain about how you can't get spaces or funds to bring conservative speakers to campus to complain about the lack of conservative ideas on campus, ignoring that the space you wanted was taken months in advance by other groups.



9.) Take Econ 101. Complain about everything in barely informed economic terms.



10.) Complain about every stupid thing done on campus in terms of liberalism, no matter how apolitical it is. Bonus points if you can blame oversleeping for your 8:30 class on Paul Krugman.



See how easy it is? And it takes advantage of the natural talent that every collegian has, regardless of race, creed, income level or background: bitching about shit.

"No Shit, Sherlock"

No Doubts Global Warming Is Real, U.S. Experts Say



So will the party of Bu$hco get a clue? Don't bet on it.



Do the Democrats Need the South?

Can Democrat presidential candidates win elections while losing the Southern states? Quite possibly yes. How dependent are Southern states on Federal funds? Very much so.



Things that make you go hmmmm.

The America of George W. Bush

It sure ain't pretty.

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

He's Not Dead Yet...

I'm recovering from flu and bronchitis. Got antibiotics yesterday for the latter, and something called Tamiflu for the former. I'm not feeling fantastic yet, but definitely better than recently.

'fighting liberal'

Excellent post by Steve Gilliard.

Bottom of the barrel

Just another friendly reminder that oil extraction will peak fairly soon. The optimists say 2037: those more realistic suggest that we're looking at the peak to occur within the decade, possibly as soon as next year. Our current consumption is simply unsustainable. Why are we not seriously addressing the development of alternative energy sources? Will my children's generation have enough time to address a situation which mine (as well as the baby boomers and their elders) has refused to address?

Monday, December 1, 2003

[grid::brand] Some thoughts on "Brand"

(Flu or no, I will at least manage a few words for today's grid blog)

(update: okay, I'm going to clean this up a little. Still battling the flu, but life goes on)

A brand to me is something of a social category: in this case a social category applied to commerce. Brands, like other social categories are useful in allowing humans to maximize their knowledge with relatively minimal cognitive effort. We humans have been described as cognitive misers and/or motivated tacticians in the way that we seek out information. We're cognitive misers in the sense that our capacity to consciously handle information (also known as short-term memory) is extremely limited, and the more we have to consciously pay attention to, the slower we become at processing information. We're motivated tacticians to the extent that we generally have some idea of what we're seeking, and search specifically to find what we're looking for.

Brands, then, simplify the perceived world of the individual by communicating succinctly the information they seek regarding a product, with minimal effort required on the part of the individual consumer. One sees the name "Levis" and one has an almost instant idea of their jeans, their price, their quality, and so on.

There are some limitations inherent in brands (and more generally to social categories). The socially shared meaning of a brand will depend considerably on such factors as culture, subculture, socio-economic status, time, and so on. In some circles the brand may be simply meaningly, whereas in other circles the brand may be assigned a different meaning than what was once intended.

The concept of "brand" is also one that is "fuzzy." Recall Wittgenstein's discussion of the definition of "game." It turns out that there are numerous activities that could be labelled "games" that are radically different from one another. Wittgenstein refers to exemplars within a category as having family resemblances, and just as not all family members look alike (and in fact may in some cases look radically different), exemplars within a category may also be quite different. Is a brand symbolic of the company? Or is it a specific product? What about someone having a "brand" of coaching or playing basketball? Billy Joel has trademarked his name. Does that mean that he is a brand? Can a brand transcend the originating manufacturer altogether? In the case of "xerox" that would appear to be the case. Even within a brand, there may be some variations among products. Again they may have some family resemblances, but some exemplars may be rather different from others within the category. During SST's heydey during the early and mid 1980s, there's little doubt that bands such as Black Flag and Minutemen were prototypical of the SST sound. Other bands and artists fit in to varying degrees during their stay with the label, but some seemed rather odd fits: Zoogs Rift? Negativeland? Still, I imagine that Greg Ginn must have figured that there was a family resemblance somewhere and that these artists too would fit in with the zeitgeist of the label.

And of course brands, like other social categories, are fluid or dynamic. They tend to transform over time, and hence their socially shared meaning will transform over time. Blue Note, during its heyday from about 1955-1968, was well-known as a leading distributor of jazz artists in the hardbop tradition. As the 1960s progressed, label went from seeming some what hip to somewhat conservative, and the ultimately the label transformed itself into a primarily jazz-funk & fusion label (which its artists were not well-suited for, and the label folded, though its comeback in recent years has been quite welcome).

My last point is that brands, like other social categories, are ultimately limited in terms of what they can tell us, while leaving out other potentially important information. They act as rules of thumb that allow us to predict what we will get if we purchase one of the brand's products, but there is the possibility of our expectations being violated. Volvo may make high-quality cars, but the brand itself tells one nothing of the potentially of ending up with a faulty product (it happens, though rarely). Better brands, like better social categories, allow us to make accurate judgments more often (better in this sense does not refer to quality, but merely the extent to which the brand signals sufficient information to us to make a correct decision).

Sunday, November 30, 2003

From the "I've Got the Suds" Department

Apparently I have managed to come down with the strain of the flu that my flu shot does not protect me against. So, I've been quite ill the last few days. Hopefully will be back to full blogging capacity in a few days.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The Political and the Personal

I'm going to simply without comment say this is a must read, and captures a perspective I largely think is on the money. I'll say more when I'm not getting the every-five-minute phone calls from my spouse asking me to come home & babysit kids. That said, it's an excellent read.

Revolution Is Not An AOL Keyword

A most cool update of the classic Gil-Scott Heron tune, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Enjoy.

Grand Old Porkers





Remember when the GOP was against porkbarrel spending by those "tax and spend" Democrats? Well, take a look at what's happened since the Republicans gained control of Congress. In a nutshell: there's more bacon to pass around than ever before.



Read the whole report here. Note it's a pdf document, and you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it.

Terrorist Logic: Disrupt the 2004 Election

This one also deserves a read. Interesting to note that the author of the column is familiar with game theory (a theory originating in the work of John Nash), and notes that by allocating the bulk of our resources in one location in the "war on terror" we make ourselves more vulnerable to attacks on remaining exposed locations. The author also notes something that on the surface would seem paradoxical: terrorists actually want hard-line authoritarians to win elections or otherwise take power. Why? For terrorists it's a win-win situation. Hard-liners strike back more broadly, making it easier for terrorists as they attempt to justify their causes and their methods.. From a justification and recruiting standpoint, hard-liners are a bonanza for them. The author then goes on to state that a measured public response is more effective than an impulsive or ill-conceived military response (however emotionally satisfying) that is likely to produce unnecessary collateral damage, political or otherwise.



Again some food for thought.

Prisoners of war

Or, a journey into the mind of the right-wing authoritarian, part one.



First a quote from an excellent post:



The reports earlier this week of the preparations by the British and the many incredible demands made by the Bush people on their British hosts betrayed the extent that Bush has become his own prisoner - a prisoner of his own invention.



His admission to British journalists of being required to do his "traveling in a bubble" is not so much a reflection on any physical danger to the president, but more the emotional damage and the ensuing political danger should Bush or the American people actually witness the hostile dissent roiling outside that bubble.



Those who represent this country live in constant fear Americans might actually come to the conclusion that Bush and his handlers have really screwed up if we were free to witness dissent - especially dissent among our allies. Theirs is the desperate need to increase the boundaries of the sterile zone which they and the media have worked so hard to create here at home. This is just more evidence as to how America, too, has become prisoner to Bush's war.




There is something rather interesting about right-wing authoritarians. They tend to run away from any news that is contrary to their beliefs or which would show their actions had been wrong. Social psychologist Bob Altemeyer has been researching right-wing authoritarianism for the last three decades. Just to give you a taste of what his work is about, I wish to describe some experiments Altemeyer has conducted that betray something peculiar about the authoritarian personality that I think has some direct bearing on our understanding of the mentality of the White House and its enablers.



In one set of studies, Altemeyer gave participants bogus feedback regarding their scores on a self-esteem test (they were either told they had high or low self-esteem; this was the independent variable) after receiving an exaggerated account of the test's ability to predict future behavior. High self-esteem as measured by this test was purported to predict future success at college, career, and marriage. Low self-esteem as measured by this test was purported to predict future failure in these endeavors. After receiving their "scores", participants were told that information demonstrating the validity of the self-esteem test would be provided to those who requested it, and asked participants to either write down "yes" if they wanted the validity info or "no" if they did not want validity info on the test (the dependent variable), and to turn those responses back with their original feedback sheets.



As it turns out, the low-right-wing-authoritarian participants were fairly equally interested in learning about the validity of the self-esteem test, regardless of their presumed scores on the self-esteem test (67% of those told they had high self-esteem versus 63% of those told they had low self-esteem). On the other hand, the high right-wing-authoritarian participants only requested validity information if they had been told that they had high self-esteen (73%)...if they had received bad news about their self-esteem they were less interested in learning about the validity of the test (only 47% of them requested validity information). In summary, it looks like the highly right-wing authoritarian types wish to shield themselves from any evidence that would distress them, such as evidence that would validate unpleasant test results.



Altemeyer ran another set of studies asking participants to imagine if they were more prejudiced and less tolerant than most of the other students, and were then asked if they would want to find out. An overwhelming percentage of the low right wing authoritarians wanted to know the truth even if it were unpleasant (76%) compared to a lower percentage of high right wing authoritarians (56%) who were willing to find out the truth. If the secenario were turned on its head and participants were asked to imagine being less prejudiced and more tolerant then most other students, equivalent percentages of low and high right wing authoritarians were wanting to be told the truth (71% for low authoritarians versus 74% of high authoritarians).



What to make of these various studies? It appears that those who score low in authoritarianism tend to be willing to face the truth, even if it is personally distressing. Those who score high in authoritarianism tend to be less prone to face potentially distressing truths, and perhaps more prone to simply avoid those truths altogether.



How does this relate to Bush? Think of a president who is so afraid of dissent that he has to shield himself in a "bubble" with supposed "free speech zones" that keep dissidents well out of sight. Think of a president who is so afraid of contradictory intelligence that he surrounds himself with yes-men and goes so far as to avoid reading newspapers. Potential bad news, potential evidence that his policies have done considerable damage, is avoided by Bush and cronies.

Say whazzup

to ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Sorrows of Empire

By Chalmers Johnson. The following is a little teaser. If this whets your apetite, check out the above link, and his forthcoming book, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. And now for a quote:



Four sorrows, it seems to me, are certain to be visited on the United States. Their cumulative effect guarantees that the U.S. will cease to resemble the country outlined in the Constitution of 1787. First, there will be a state of perpetual war, leading to more terrorism against Americans wherever they may be and a spreading reliance on nuclear weapons among smaller nations as they try to ward off the imperial juggernaut. Second is a loss of democracy and Constitutional rights as the presidency eclipses Congress and is itself transformed from a co-equal "executive branch" of government into a military junta. Third is the replacement of truth by propaganda, disinformation, and the glorification of war, power, and the military legions. Lastly, there is bankruptcy, as the United States pours its economic resources into ever more grandiose military projects and shortchanges the education, health, and safety of its citizens. All I have space for here is to touch briefly on three of these: endless war, the loss of Constitutional liberties, and financial ruin.



Some more by Chalmers Johnson, may be found here, here, and here. Props to Bill Connolly of American Samizdat.

How to Win Elections

Makes for an interesting read, and I think there's some ideas offered that should be taken seriously into consideration. I like the idea of a Democrat Party is the Common Sense Party meme. I also like the emphasis on how progressive policies can make the average person more money -- simply put: make the top 1% wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes (wow, now there's a concept), cut out wasteful spending of tax dollars on various boondoggles including military adventures that have no connection to national security, and focus on jobs here at home.



Anyhoo, some of what this cat has to say may seem a bit unrealistic for now, but I do think that politicians who are willing to run on a progressive platform and deliver the goods to the voters by appealing to their self-interest have a decent shot at success. Food for thought.

More on HR 3077

Academic freedom in the US is increasingly in jeopardy, as I've written before. The link above highlights what this recently passed legislation means for those of us who work in academe. Although the bill does not directly affect me, the courses I teach, or the research I conduct, I view it as a precedent-setter. Unfortunately, money talks, and most university administrators are hesitant to walk away from Federal funds in the name of intellectual freedom.



In the social sciences, as I recall, many of the great theorists and researchers of the mid-20th century were individuals who fled Germany in the 1930s as the darkness of Nazism and other forms of fascism swept through Europe. I think of Kurt Lewin, whose research on group dynamics and his keen interest in social issues still resonates in my field, a half century after his untimely demise; Fritz Heider, whose work had an enormous impact on our understanding of person perception (an impact that once again is felt to this day); and several Gestaltists who influenced the above two men: Wolfgang Kohler, Kurt Koffka, and Max Wertheimer, whose theoretical and empirical work influenced our understanding of perceptual processes and learning in humans and other animals. These men simply would not have survived the Nazi era, either because of their ethnicity or because they simply refused to go along with the prevailing nationalist mentality prevented them from engaging in scholarly activity unfettered by political considerations. I wonder if the actions of our congressional leaders honors the hard work and dedication to truth that these men had demonstrated during their careers. I wonder if American universities will continue to be viewed as safe havens for academic freedom, or if the light of independence and truth is about to be extinguished.

America to Bush: "You're Out of Touch...Out of Touch"

(with apologies to Hall & Oates)







Update: and speaking of being out of touch, here's a NYT article, How to Make the Deficit Look Smaller Than It Is that serves up a succinct warning about the consequences of continued fiscal irresponsibility as the Baby Boomer get ready to retire en masse.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Terrorism Inc.:

Al Qaeda Franchises Brand of Violence to Groups Across World



A precursor to the theme "brand" for Dec. 1's Grid Blog (i.e., [grid::brand].

A Humorous Jab at Right-Wing Double Standards

I thought it was pretty amusing (in a fair and balanced manner, of course). There's some source material here that I want to tap into as I work in a few posts over the next several days regarding right-wing authoritarianism, and some of its psychological underpinnings and consequences.

Culture Clash: Conservative revolution?

No -- just dazzlingly effective PR.



By Neal Gabler




(I'm reprinting this in full from the Sunday Los Angeles Times. Makes for some very interesting reading.)



Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center at USC Annenberg, is author of "Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality."



November 23, 2003



AMAGANSETT, N.Y. — All told, it has been a pretty good year for cultural conservatives. The New York Times, the primary target of conservative opprobrium, disgraced itself in scandal, the Fox News Channel continues to crush its cable competition, hipsters like Dennis Miller and Colin Quinn have defected to the right, corny Jay Leno is beating tart David Letterman in the ratings and a conservative revolt forced CBS into pulling a miniseries on the Reagans because its opponents said it was biased against the former president.



Not a bad run. But some conservatives think these events amount to more than just a winning streak. They see signs of a geological shift in the culture tipping the balance from the left to the right.



For decades, conservatives controlled the political agenda, even to the point of hijacking the nation for two years to concentrate on a popular president's moral lapses. The cultural agenda, however, was another thing. Though the country seemed to be tilting right politically, popular culture, if anything, seemed to be speeding toward increasing liberalization. Madonna and Britney Spears; Eminem and hip-hop generally; "The Daily Show," "South Park" and "The Man Show"; "American Pie" and dozens of other raunchy or violent movies that dominated the box office; even tattooed athletes — all testified to the power of America's free-spirited, contrarian strain. Conservatives could point only to the success of the now-canceled series "Touched by an Angel" as evidence of a largely untapped right-wing audience.



Not anymore, we're told. With the victory over CBS, conservative Internet gossip Matt Drudge boldly declared this to be the "second century of the media … where it's much more of a people-driven media."



One could certainly point to Sept. 11, 2001, as a cultural watershed that has transformed the nation. But American popular culture after 9/11 looks much like American culture before that fateful date. Still, there is unquestionably something new and important afoot in the culture.



The conservative declaration of victory is itself part of a large, complex process that gives the impression of a cultural revolution without actually effecting one. It is the phenomenon of a phenomenon — a great postmodernist gambit in which the buzz about something overwhelms the thing itself. It works, because what rivets and energizes the media doesn't have to be a real, measurable change in the cultural landscape, but the idea of a new phenomenon on that landscape. The media are in the phenomenon business, and if they turn the phenomenon into a revolution, so much the better.



One can see this postmodernist process at work nearly everywhere in the culture. Take "The Osbournes." Most everyone in America today knows who the Osbournes are, has read about them, heard about them or seen them on commercials or hosting award shows. But when you examine the ratings of their MTV television series that generated all the notoriety, you discover something remarkable. Even before its recent dip, almost no one watched the show. In a nation of roughly 280 million people, "The Osbournes" gets an audience of just about 3 million viewers, or slightly above 1% of the populace. So how does one account for the family's near-universal recognition?



One might conclude that the program existed not to be watched but to be written about or discussed. The show was an excuse to create a phenomenon, of which the Osbournes and those who marketed them were the beneficiaries. They were popular for appearing to be popular.



Frankly, one can say the same thing about almost everything in America today, save for films and television programs that do appeal to a sizable audience. Though this process is little remarked upon, it has profound implications for the culture, suggesting a psychological shift at least as important as the supposed one after 9/11: that watching entertainment now seems less gratifying than knowing about it.



In the context of cultural politics, the implications are no less profound. Everyone who follows the media knows that we live in an increasingly conservative society. Everyone knows that conservative talk radio is a dominant force and that Rush Limbaugh alone attracts 20 million listeners weekly. Everyone knows that the Fox News Channel — on which I am a contributor — has drained millions of viewers from the broadcast networks. Everyone knows that millions of Americans mobilized against CBS' Reagan miniseries.



Yet, everything that everyone knows in the preceding paragraph is absolutely false. In sheer numbers, conservative talk radio is still a relatively small phenomenon, and Limbaugh's aggregate audience of 20 million — if you assume that most of his die-hard fans listen to him daily — is probably closer to 4 million or 5 million. Fox News is unquestionably a cable success story, but, excluding major news stories, at best it attracts an audience of 2 million — not even in the same league as the least-watched broadcast news report and a blip on the larger demographic screen. After more than a week of constant, highly publicized agitation, CBS reportedly received 80,000 e-mails protesting the Reagan miniseries, not exactly a populist wildfire.



Here's the truth: Even after 9/11 reputedly turned us into a nation of flag-waving patriots, even after Fox News Channel torpedoed the liberal media, even after the drumbeat of Limbaugh, even after Dennis Miller decided to forgo humor for attacks on Bill Clinton and even after the Reagans were saved from liberal calumnies, the country, according to both a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll and a Pew Research Center poll, is almost exactly evenly divided between those who lean left and those who lean right. Evenly divided. All of which means that the conservatives haven't made a huge dent politically and, again from the looks of things, have made less than a dent culturally, especially since political and cultural proclivities do not always lean in the same direction. There are an awful lot of Republicans, evidently, who like Eminem and "South Park."



So, why all this talk of conservative ascendancy? In a sense, it's pure invention. What conservatives have been able to do is deploy the same postmodernist techniques that celebrities have been using for decades, and for the same purpose: to make the buzz into the buzz. Like the Osbournes, conservatives take their little triumphs and package them as phenomena, which the media — including the conservative media — eagerly retail to the public. Blogger Andrew Sullivan, for example, calls the new cultural trend "South Park Republicanism" because "South Park" has taken its whacks at political correctness and other liberal shibboleths. But whether or not there is such a thing as South Park Republicanism, the idea is media-genic because it suggests something big is happening that the media want to be in on. You just whisper it into what critics of the right have called the "right-wing echo chamber" — of conservative talk radio, Fox News, various conservative publications and now conservative blogs — and it turns into a roar that the mainstream media cannot ignore. In short, the new cultural revolution is a sound-effects machine.



Nearly 40 years ago, historian Daniel Boorstin coined the term "pseudo-events" to describe things like premieres, photo ops and publicity stunts: They have no inherent value and exist only to be covered by the media. The right wing has now devised a pseudo-politics, of which the "conservative revolution" is a primary feature. It may look like the real thing, sound like the real thing and, most important, be covered by the media as if it were the real thing, but it is essentially just a way to gain media attention, which is usually enough to convince people that it is the real thing. If the objective of cultural politics is to win adherents, the objective of this postmodernist pseudo-politics is to convey the idea that you have already won adherents — that the revolution has already occurred and power has been transferred.



American culture is a constant, continuing transaction between new and subversive ideas, forms and entertainers that originate at the margins of the culture and then eventually get mainstreamed while the margins continue to serve up the new. This is a liberalizing process, but it isn't necessarily confined to a liberal audience because all but the most Neanderthal and anhedonic of conservatives are just as likely to enjoy these entertainments as left-wingers are. Still, it means that the popular culture, at least, is unlikely ever to become conservative in any meaningful way unless liberalism is so widely embraced some day that conservatism becomes the radical, subversive alternative to it.



Until then, a few conservative swipes at CBS or a few million viewers at the Fox News Channel or even a few "South Park" fans who identify themselves as Republicans won't signify a shift in the cultural balance of power. They simply provide excuses for the media to label it as one.

New Clergy Group Opposes Bush Re-Election

WASHINGTON - Aiming to become the Christian Coalition of the left, liberal and moderate religious leaders are founding a political group to oppose President Bush's re-election and try to turn their congregations into election-year activists.



I like the idea, especially if it helps to activate liberal and progressive voters at the grass-roots level.

Myths Over Miami

The secret stories of homeless children in Miami or rather late 20th/early 21st century folktales are the focus of this particular feature. It provides some rather keen insight into the minds of kids who are living under excruciatingly impoverished circumstances in the land of plenty.



This passage in particular caught my attention:



Research by Harvard's Robert Coles [note: Dr. Coles is a psychologist] indicates that children in crisis -- with a deathly ill parent or living in poverty -- often view God as a kind, empyrean doctor too swamped with emergencies to help. But homeless children are in straits so dire they see God as having simply disappeared. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam embrace the premise that good will triumph over evil in the end; in that respect, shelter tales are more bleakly sophisticated. "One thing I don't believe," says a seven-year-old who attends shelter chapels regularly, "is Judgment Day." Not one child could imagine a God with the strength to force evildoers to face some final reckoning. Yet even though they feel that wickedness may prevail, they want to be on the side of the angels.



On a fairly related note, remember that:



The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone

Grid Blogging

Check out the link above and see what you think. It's an interesting concept that I will be trying out. The thing I dig is the notion of a decentralized means of spreading information, ideas, memes, and so forth. To a large degree electronic media such as Usenet and the Internet have enabled us to access and propagate information in a considerably less centralized manner than ever before, to a potentially mass audience. The idea of Grid Blogging may very well take it to the next level. A worthy experiment.

Bush Lied and Three More U.S. Soldiers Died

Scroll down, and you'll see the following heading: "U.S. BULLISH ON OCCUPATION." Well, there is a lot of bull being spread by White House propagandists.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

From the "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words" Department:

A Dose of Reality



Compare the baseline projections if the Bush tax cuts expire as scheduled in 2005 with the various other possible scenarios if Bu$hCo gets its way. The former scenario offers at least some hope that the Federal Government will, by the end of the decade, be out of the red. The alternative scenarios offer a bleak picture of continued and possibly worsening budget deficits over the next decade.



JFK Acceptance of the New York Liberal Party Nomination

From Sept. 14, 1960.



But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."



...I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. It is, I believe, the faith in our fellow citizens as individuals and as people that lies at the heart of the liberal faith. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves.



...Our responsibility is not discharged by announcement of virtuous ends. Our responsibility is to achieve these objectives with social invention, with political skill, and executive vigor. I believe for these reasons that liberalism is our best and only hope in the world today. For the liberal society is a free society, and it is at the same time and for that reason a strong society. Its strength is drawn from the will of free people committed to great ends and peacefully striving to meet them. Only liberalism, in short, can repair our national power, restore our national purpose, and liberate our national energies.



There's such a stark contrast between the current President and John Kennedy. When one looks generally at Kennedy's speeches and his efforts in domestic and foreign policy, there is a tremendously forward-thinking, optimistic, positive mentality. His words fit in quite nicely with FDR's credo that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. What's Bush done? Emphasize and play on our fears rather than our hopes and aspirations. Especially since 9-11, we've received a nearly daily dose of the theme "the world is a dangerous place"; "be afraid"; "you're either with us or against us"; ad nauseum. All the lofty talk about being a uniter rather than a divider, or bringing dignity back to the White House, of being a compassionate conservative have in the intervening years since 2000 proven to be merely so many empty words. The actions of this President speak, no...SCREAM quite the opposite.



Maybe part of the reason I'm drawn to Howard Dean is precisely that he "gets it" when it comes to the "vision thing." Get past the angry tone to his speeches, one finds Dr. Dean's message is essentially one of hope. Rather than the nationalism dressed up as patriotism, in Dean there is the patriotism inherent in focusing on rebuilding our nation's infrastructure and rebuilding our relations with allies that will put us in the long haul in a far stronger position than we are now. In Dean I see the hopefulness that characterized FDR and JFK, and the fire of Harry Truman and perhaps Teddy Roosevelt (from back in the day when Republicans had reformists in their midst).



Let's remember Kennedy, and then remind ourselves that there are leaders available who will gladly bring his legacy into the 21st Century.

40 Years Ago: The Kennedy Assassination

DJ tries to revive yodeling

Interesting article found in Al Jazeera



Writer and radio DJ Bart Plantenga sets out the answer in his book "The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World" which will be published early next month.



This cat not only looks at yodeling as it's been practiced in Swiss and German cultures & in US Country music, but also looks at other yodeling traditions such as those in Mexico and Central Africa. Should make for an interesting read. Of course the late legendary jazz vocalist Leon Thomas was well-known for his yodeling skills (most famously documented on the Pharoah Sanders tune, "The Creator Has A Master Plan"). I've heard samples of Pygmie yodels in various pop (e.g. Deep Forest) and jazz (e.g. Franklin Kiermyer) recordings, and they make for a stunning listen. Then again I also dig Tuvan throat singers and Tibetan chants, which are vocally kindred spirits to yodeling. As my younger friends would say, "it's all good."



Here's an earlier article that Bart Plantenga published in 1997: Will There Be Yodeling in Heaven?.

Handling the Bullies

Since I tend to equate political right-wing tactics with those used by common school-yard bullies, I thought this article is quite appropriate. To succeed against bullies, one must stand up to them, and one must neutralize them (ideally by refusing to play into their strengths, and assertively setting one's own course during the conflict). Something to think about.



Note: the Progressive Review has this amusing quote from a favorite comedian:



I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering. - Steven Wright

Bleak Outlook for U.S. in Iraq Says Blix

The gist: "I told you so."



Look to a new book out by Blix sometime next year perhaps.

John Bolton's Naked Lunch Moment

Add to the growing catalog of right-wing name-calling. And one wonders why I don't respect these people.



Then when the interview ended, Bolton, as he stood up and removed the microphone, asked Pilger, "Are you a Labour Party member?" As if that explained Pilger's questions about dead and injured civilians in Iraq. Clearly, Bolton had not been briefed. Pilger is an investigative reporter specializing in national security matters who has long been seen as a left-of-center crusader. A critic of his recently dubbed Pilger "the Eeyore of the left." One wonders who at the State Department let Pilger get this close to Bolton? (By the way, when Pilger interviewed Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, a Pentagon media official ordered Pilger to shut off his camera once Pilger began questioning Feith about civilian casualties.)



Replying to Bolton's jab, Pilger explained to him the current politics of Britain: "Well, Labour Party--they're the conservatives." Pilger meant "conservative" as in supporting Prime Minister Tony Blair's embrace of the war in Iraq.



By now Bolton was walking away from Pilger, looking like he much desired a fast separation. With a mischievous (or, some might say, wicked) smile on his face, Bolton shot back, "You're a Communist Party member?"



That was the Kodak moment, and it was captured by Pilger's camera operator. On Planet Bolton, if you inquire too forcefully about civilian casualties, you must be a commie. The Cold War might be over. But at least one senior Bush aide is keeping its spirit alive.


Shorter General Tommy Franks

Constitution, schmonstitution.:

Friday, November 21, 2003

Radiohead Frontman Protests Bush Visit

So much for future airplay on any Clear Channel stations.

Top Ten George W. Bush Complaints About England

10. "Clocks are five hours fast"



9. "Everybody's speaking some crazy foreign language"



8. "Harry Potter won't return phone calls"



7. "So touchy about minor things...like going to war under false pretenses"



6. "They don't know where Saddam is either"



5. "Queen Elizabeth not half as funny as 'King of Queens'"



4. "Disappointed to learn 'Big Ben' is just a giant clock"



3. "Pack a gum costs 2 pounds -- who carries two pounds of money?!"



2. "I've been here for 36 hours and Prince Charles hasn't made a single move on me"



1. "Driving on the left reminds me of my drinking days"




I knew I liked David Letterman. This is just one example of why.

200,000 Protesters in London

As estimated by organizers. Scotland yard puts their estimate at 70,000. The truth is probably somewhere between those two figures. Regardless, this was apparently one of the biggest mid-week protests in London's history. Impressive.







Here's some more photos:















Urban Legend?

Spit and Polish: Conscience, memory and the roots of war



I've seen this floating around blogtopia a bit lately. A sociologist (who coincidentally is also a Vietnam vet) has apparently been doing some archival research and his findings contradict the general widely-held belief that anti-war protesters during the Vietnam era were spitting on veterans when they returned from their tour of duty. Apparently, he scoured news reports, police records, and so on, and found nothing.



I want to reserve judgment until I get a chance to read Jerry Lembcke's research directly (and yes, his book is now on my short list of books to get a hold of and read). That said, I do think it's worth pointing out the psychology behind urban legends.



Probably a large number of us have at one time or another heard some plausible-enough sounding story and accepted it as true, only to find out later that there is absolutely no truth-value to the story whatsoever. These stories, or urban legends, are effective because of several quirks of our cognitive capacities, limitations, and language capability. We are quite adept at processing information rapidly, and our brains enable us to store new information in practically limitless quantities. However, we are not necessarily that effective at retrieving memories, nor are we able to process more than a few pieces of information (such as memories) at one time. Also, as social psychologist Dan Gilbert has noted, we tend to be Spinozans in our approach to new messages: we generally accept others' messages as true, and once accepted, it can take considerable effort to shake our faith in those messages' truthfulness.



So how does the urban legend fit? Someone tells a story. Typically the story is rather vivid, detailed, and emotionally charged, and it seems to be reasonably truthful on the surface. One of my favorites is the legend of the McDonalds burgers made out of worms. Fast food joints can be pretty shoddy operations, and let's face it, McDonalds burger meat does taste kind of strange. Thing is, it was all made up. However, even after the message is debunked, the message can take a life of its own. Researchers who study attitudes and persuasion point to a phenomenon called the "sleeper effect." Even when we dismiss the source as not credible, over time we tend to forget the source (humans are notoriously bad at remembering names) but remember the gist of the story (especially if it's vivid, emotionally charged and so forth). So we end up concluding that "yeah, I don't remember where I heard this, but it sure seems believable enough."



In the case of protesters spitting on soldiers and veterans, we can look at how emotionally charged the Vietnam era was. Anti-war activists were especially angry during this time, and in my opinion quite justifiably so. No doubt many soldiers felt rather uncomfortable during this period when they encountered protesters. It is easy to imagine a scenario where someone might spit at someone in a military uniform given the context. Probably the original story began circulating in oral form during the 1970s in the aftermath of Vietnam, and over time became accepted as fact. Today, the legend is used by hawks to sell controversial military ventures and to portray dissidents as intolerant, disrespectful, unpatriotic. That there is no evidence to support this apparent legend is probably of little importance to those who are true believers or who have some stake in people continuing to believe the myth.



One thing to note, although Lembcke and other social scientists have found no evidence of anti-war protesters spitting on soldiers, they have found an abundance of evidence that troops have spat upon anti-war protesters, as well as harrassed anti-war protesters (such as name calling, e.g., "commies" "traitors" "cowards").



It's a good idea to remind ourselves that just because a message seems plausible on the surface does not ncessarily mean it's true.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

In Today's "Shock and Awe" Department:

Perle openly admits that the invasion of Iraq was illegal.



Nothing new, really. Hell, that's what critics were saying during the run-up to the war. Still, that someone at Bu$hCo just comes out and says something truthful is jaw-dropping.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Scaife Attack: The Mainstream Churches

This from Orcinus' excellent blog. I have some thoughts of my own to add, and think I will add over the next several days. I think I will start with a bit of my personal history. My religious background has always been a bit mixed. My mom is a devout Southern Baptist. My dad is an atheist, though his own family background fits nicely within the Anglican tradition (we also have some Seventh Day Adventists from his side of the family). Suffice it to say, I got some mixed messages fairly early in life. Much of what I experienced from Church services, bible school, and so on was that God was one deity you didn't want to irritate. The message was namely one of fear: fear of damnation, of sin, of those who might be different. Not exactly attractive stuff for a young mind. My dad was pretty open about his own skepticism, and ultimately I ended up turning away from the Baptist scene and by my late teens considered myself an atheist.

Part of what I was seeing in my teens was this rather negative authoritarian message from various church leaders. Remember this was the early 1980s, when the Moral Majority and The Religious Roundtable were rearing their ugly heads. The impression I got was that to be a Christian meant being a Republican, being fearful, intolerant. I already pretty much considered the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s and the non-authoritarian skepticism of mainstream science as my intellectual and ideological touchstones. The increasingly fundamentalist Baptist crowd, and fundamentalism generally, were truly not for me.

Over the past couple decades, I've continued to read, ponder, and reflect. Several people have re-opened my eyes and my mind to Christianity during this period. A close friend of mine from my undergrad days was instrumental in convincing me that it was indeed possible to be a devoted Christian, politically progressive or even radical, non-conformist, and skeptical of organized religion. This cat lived it every day. If for some twist of fate he ever catches this blog, he has my undying thanks for opening my mind up. My wife, Madame (as she shall be known here), has been another key contributor. At one point she was considering becoming a Methodist minister. Ultimately she chose Social Work as her academic path, and currently is choosing being a home-maker as her career path. She gently nudged me into going to some Methodist church services, and over the years I have come to feel quite at home with the Methodist crew that I at least informally consider myself a kindred spirit.

So where am I at? I'm not 100% sure. I do know this much: that I'm willing to at least accept that there is some cosmic "force for unity in life" to quote the late great John Coltrane. My best guess is that this ultimate force is something along the lines of the Tao as characterized by Lao Tzu and various Zen writers. Somehow I read the various gospels of Christ's life and get the impression that he was at least aware of and influenced by various Eastern ideas that were in the air at the time in the Middle East where he would have lived and traveled. I've also come to see his message as one that was essentially egalitarian and progressive in tone.

What I was reacting to in my youth was an authoritarian vibe that seemed at odds with Christ's teachings: one that seemed more at home with the Pharisees and would-be Caesars. What I am increasingly embracing as middle-age approaches is more of the progressive, unifying, tolerant vibe. As it turns out, within the mainline denominations, I'm not alone.

As I said, there's more to be written. For now, this is a start.