Saturday, October 20, 2007
But the bleakest of all the bleak seasons for conservatives must be autumn--the time when the trees put on rainbow coats of leaves. Given that resentment over the diversity of American society is one of the most salient characteristics of conservatism, conservatives must experience the mixture of colors in the autumn trees as peculiarly distressful, embittering, or depressing. Conservatives have long been pained by the increasing visibility of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Jewish people, gays, and American Indians in American society, the global character of cities like Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, and the nearly two hundred languages spoken in the Los Angeles school system. Last year, a lot of conservatives couldn't get over the huge pro-immigration rallies by Mexican immigrants in cities like Los Angeles.
And now there's also the presidential candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for them to worry about as well.
That's why we should be particularly mindful of the mental health of conservatives during the fall season. Just as many people become depressed from the barrenness of the landscape and lack of sunlight during the winter, conservatives might be especially vulnerable to depression as they contemplate the reds, golds, browns, yellows, and remaining greens of the trees around them.
Being conservative while the trees are changing colors must require constant vigilance. It takes a determined conservative to maintain their insistence on sameness, order, and hierarchy in the face of all the temptations created by autumn beauty. In fact, it would be interesting to see if conservatives watch significantly more football on televisions than liberals. If so, it's likely that people on the right are watching more football as a way to avoid contact with the natural world at this particularly "dangerous" time.
Perhaps we should call it "Autumn Avoidance Syndrome," or AAS for short.
There's also something uncomfortably democratic about the autumn for conservatives. From a conservative point of view, fall colors are garish enough on a hillside or along a highway, but it also seems that each tree makes its own claim for attention in a manner that conservatives find offensive. In my town of Morehead, KY in the Daniel Boone National Forest, it's not only the forest that is multi-colored, but individual trees and bushes sometimes have two or three different shades. There's a bush in our yard with poinsetta-red leaves along with faded greens. Along the streets, some trees have green and yellow leaves while others have red leaves on the outer branches and green on the inner. It's very striking. On top of all that, I've seen some individual leaves that combined green and yellow as well. It's like the leaf itself has become multi-racial or transgendered.
Because the philosopher Plato identified democracy as a polis with a multi-colored nature, he would have seen the autumn in the country like the United States as a kind of hyper-democracy of nature. What made Plato a conservative is that he found this kind of variety vulgar and dangerous. Plato didn't even like "Dorian knives" because they could serve several functions and he certainly would not have liked the changing colors of fall leaves. They were an offense against his sense of the existential smallness in both God and human kind.
American conservatives are much the same way. The right feels comforted by the certainty of a god bound by the strictures of Biblical texts and especially like the Old Testament because it makes them feel more snugly enclosed. Just as they thought of the golden calf as an idol (although they did like the gold), conservatives view the liberal god of individual freedom, generosity, and social justice as false and wrong. For the more liberal in politics and spirit, autumn diversity is implied in every season of the natural and the human world. Because conservatives believe that variety means sin and degradation, they take more pleasure out of seeing it destroyed in the flames of hell or forty days and forty nights of rain.
But diversity is not only an external of our outer garments of clothes, friends, and politics, there is a diversity of the soul that is rejected by those on the right. In his Constructive Programme, Mahatma Gandhi spoke of the need for people in India to adapt Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Zorastrian into their own souls whatever their particular beliefs. Much as the autumn trees can be several shades of red, yellow, orange, and green, Gandhi wanted people to identify themselves with other religions just as much as they identified with their own. Contrary to the conservative fundamentalists of all religiouns, Gandhi insisted on a multiplicity of identities in the individual soul as a condition for the democracy and justice.
But here Gandhi makes a demand on American liberals as well. Gandhi not only demands that we value people of other races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations as much as their own, he would insist that liberals identify ourselves with the conservative of spirit as well. Given the intensity of the ideological conflicts in American society this is an especially difficult matter. But I don't see how liberals can avoid it. If we are calling on conservatives to value difference, we have to learn to value conservative "difference" as well. If the liberal at heart would be true to themselves, we would need to incorporate some of the beige hues of American conservatism into our own souls even if we still disagree on the issues of the day.
At the very least, we can extend the hand of generosity and sympathy to our conservative friends as they suffer through their most painful season--autumn.
Friday, October 19, 2007
The Senate's duty to reject Mukasey is a very simple matter. Federal statutes, military law, and international treaties which the United States has signed (and which we indeed initiated) all forbid the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique because it constitutes torture. Given that Mukasey is not prepared to enforce such laws, he is not fit to serve as attorney general.
For those who don't know what waterboarding is, here's a definition from DailyKos:
Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.
"The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.
Why then is Mukasey insisting on not defining waterboarding as torture. It's because the Bush admininistration has been systematically employing waterboarding, extreme sensory deprivation, mock executions, and other torture techniques in its interrogations. They've also been sending accused terrorists to countries where they would be tortured.
All of these practices are felonies under American law and violations of international law. If Mukasey admitted that waterboarding was torture, he would be admitting that a wide range of American practices are torture and he would be putting everyone associated with those practices from the interrogators on the spot to President George Bush in legal jeopardy.
The problem is that the Bush administration deserves to be in legal jeopardy.
What the Democrats need to do is step up to the political plate and refuse to endorse anyway for Attorney General who does not acknowledge the illegal character of Bush administration interrogation practices.
And the Democrats should do so even if that means not having an Attorney General confirmed through the end of the Bush administration.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
I'm surprised Kerr never won an Oscar and never became "Lady Kerr". She was tremendous in From Here to Eternity and An Affair to Remember. Kerr projected the same nervous rage as Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn (say in My Fair Lady). It was that kind of rage that made the 60's possible and it's hard to miss in the popular culture of the 50's. But Kerr was also able to sublimate that intensity into a kind of luminous effect that lit up the screen despite the fact that she was no great beauty.
The magic of the movies I guess.
Kerr was great when matched up with powerhouse male actors like Cary Grant, Burt Lancaster, and Richard Burton because she was just as much a powerhouse as they were, if not more so.
Although there's a lot of great actresses today (and little commentary on that), the only one that I would see as achieving Kerr's kind of effect is Julianne Moore in movies like The End of the Affair.
An examination of contributions of $500 or more, using the Huffington Post's Fundrace website, shows that employees of the top five arms makers - Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop-Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics -- gave Democratic presidential candidates $103,900, with only $86,800 going to Republicans. Senator Clinton took in $52,600, more than half of the total going to all Democrats, and a figure equaling 60 percent of the sum going to the entire GOP field. Her closest competitor for defense industry money is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R.), who raised $32,000.This is both a huge problem and an opportunity for people on the left like myself. If she's elected with corporate support, Hillary Clinton would be eager to solidify that support. And with good reason. As anybody who reads the literature on the power elite like William Domhoff's Who Rules America knows, the corporate sector is by far the most powerful and influential part of American society. Democratic administrations are in a particularly complex situation in relation to big business. Where the Republicans basically want to give business everything they could possibly desire, the Democrats have to weigh the interests of business against core Democratic constituencies like white liberal reformers, environmentalists, labor, feminists, and African-Americans. Business hostility can destroy a Democratic administration and contributed greatly to the failure of the Carter presidency. But the Democrats can't be successful without the enthusiastic support of core liberal constituencies either and they were reminded of that by the Nader candidacy in 2000.
The inevitable outcome for a Hillary Clinton administration would be a triangulation between business, liberal constituencies, and Democratic political interests. But the situation has changed since Bill Clinton's administration. During the Bill Clinton years, the right-wing was ascendant, business was extremely aggressive, and liberal reformers were on the defensive about social issues and driven away from the table in relation to the economy. In 2008, the right is going to be more of a a nuisance picking away at the Democratic administration than an influence.
At the same time, business is going to be somewhat chastened. The Bush administration and the Republican Congress gave business everything they wanted but expected that business would become a subsidiary of the Republican Party in return. The corporate elite didn't appreciate that. Eight years of right-wing government might also have convinced business that they respect the right even less than they like the labor, the left, and social reformers.
In this light, I believe that both a Hillary Clinton administration and the corporate sector will be disposed to compromise with liberal politicians and their activist constituencies. In fact, figuring out those compromises will be much of the work of the next Democratic administration.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
“We had a purty hard time to make out. Marse Tom didn’t feel called on to feed his hands any too much. I members I had a cravin’ for victuals all the time. My mammy used to say “my belly craves somethin’ and it craves meat.” I’d take lunches to the field hands and they’d say “Lawd God, it ain’t ‘nough to stop the gripe in you belly.” . . .
‘Seems like niggers just got to pray. Half they life am in prayin’. Some nigger take turn ‘bout to watch to see if marse Tom anyways ‘bout, then they circle theyselves on the floor in the cabin and pray. They git to moanin’ low and gentle, “someday someday this yoke gwine be lifted off of our shoulders.” . . .
Marse Tom was a fitty man for meanness. He just about had to beat somebody every day to satisfy his cravin’. He had a big bullwhip and he stake a nigger on the ground and make another nigger hold his head down in the dirt and whip the nigger until the blood run out and red up the ground. We li’l niggers stand round and see it done. Then he tell us, ‘run to the kitchen and get some salt from Jane.’ That my mammy. She was cook. He’d sprinkle salt in the cut, open places, and the skin jerk and quiver and the man slobber and puke. Then his shirt stick to his back for a week or more. . . .
One day I’m down in the hawg pen and hears a loud agony screamin’ up to the house. When I git up close I see Marse Tom got mammy tied to a tree with her clothes pulled down and was layin’ it on her with the bullwhip and the blood am runnin’ down her eyes and off her back. I goes crazy. I say ‘stop Marse Tom and he swings the whip and it don’t reach me real good but it cuts jus’ the same. I sees Miss Mary standin’ in the cookhouse door. I runs round like crazy and sees a big rock and I takes it and throws it and it cotches Marse Tom on the skull and he goes down like a poled ox. . . .
Mammy and me stays hid in the brush then. We see Sam and Billie and they tells us they am fightin’ over us niggers. Then they done told us the niggers ‘clared to Marse Tom there ain’t gwinebeno more beatin’s and we could come and stay in our cabin and they’d see Marse Tom didn’t do nuttin’. And that’s what mammy and me did . . .
I've also references to slaves attacking masters and surviving in reference to the slave narrative of Solomon Northrup, but believe that the defiance of the slaves on William Moore's plantation and their success in curbing a slave owner's violence was quite rare.
Inrock titles the post "Read your History, Read Our History" and I'm at least initially assuming that he's addressing African-Americans and referring to African-American history.
But I'm not sure that the history of William Moore is only African-American history. Certainly, I wouldn't want to deny that African-Americans have a special relation to the history of black people in slavery as their legacy as a people. But shouldn't white Americans view this history as "our legacy" in our own particular ways as well?
I think so.
It goes without saying that whites would identify in complex ways with the slave owner of the story, Tom Waller. Waller was white, occupied a position of slave owner that was monopolized by whites, bought and sold slaves, and mistreated and tortured his slaves in a manner that was peculiar to white slave owners. Waller's monstrous behavior is an important element of the white legacy to those who are descendants of slave owners and those who are descendants of everyone both North and South who enthusiastically supported the slave system.
That legacy can be seen in many areas of American life, including the persistence of many of the racial stereotypes of African-Americans deriving from the slavery period, the constant racial jokes told by whites, and the arbitrary and brutal police behavior toward African-Americans, among other things.
There's tremendous embarrassment, shame, and guilt among whites over the behavior of people like Tom Waller as well.
And that's also an important part of the white legacy from slavery.
But I'd like to suggest another element or possible element in the white legacy of slavery and that's an identification with William Moore and other slaves. It's not the same as the "that could have been me" or "that was my great-great grandmother identification" that can be seen with African-Americans.
But it's still real.
I've taught the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and others several times to white students in Kentucky. Sometimes move toward identification by asking the "what would I have done if that were me" question. Other times and this strikes me as a likely response to William Moore's narrative, there's an identification with the black person suffering from, resisting, and/or escaping slavery as the hero of the story--someone who is admired and liked, someone who the reader has an emotional stake in seeing them succeed.
I think it would be a positive thing if whites could go further in their identifications with the slaves and slave resistance--not just see William Moore, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, or W. E. B. DuBois, MLK, and Malcom X as admirable and heroic figures but view them as persons to be emulated by white people as well as African-Americans and see themselves and many of the good aspects of their own white lives as resulting from the efforts of African-Americans.
In other words, it would be a good thing if whites began to view their own lives as part of the legacy of African-American history.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
To me, all of this means that the sounds of the 60's and 70's, boomer sounds, are putting severe limitations on the musical imagination of the present. It's a kind of artistic oppression that prevents people from believing the ways that their own thinking, attitudes, and experiments are expressed in music.
I listen to classic rock stations and sing along quite badly to the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Steppenwolf, and Hendrix. But it's all nostalgia. Why would anybody under thirty listen to that stuff any more than I listed to Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington when I was 19?
I mention this as a preface to a letter from a professor in Mississippi that was published by Andrew Sullivan. What's interesting is that he views the boomer politics of left/right as having the same constraining effect on contemporary political imaginations. I have lots of doubts about the idea that an Obama presidency would break through the ossified conflicts of the boomer generation, but I have a lot of sympathy with the idea of breaking out of boomer constraints on the political imagination.
I'm a young, newly-minted assistant professor here at a large state school in Mississippi and I've got to say I've had just had an interesting conversation with one of my more conservative students. As far as I can tell he's a pretty 'die hard' Republican. He's really big into state and local politics and is even participating in a big way in a statewide campaign - and not for the first time. He is bright, sophisticated, and probably a future power in state and local politics here in Mississippi.
What surprised me was both his anti-war attitude and, moreover, his positive view of Obama versus Hillary. Though I did not ask, as it was not my place, who he intended to vote for, it seemed clear to me that he recognizes that 2008 is going to be a disaster for the GOP outside of the deep south and that Obama was probably the best the Democrats had to offer in terms of leadership potential. What most impressed him, he said, was that Obama was against the war from the beginning - giving credence to the effectiveness of the 'Obama has superior judgement' meme that is being put out by Obama's campaign.
Andrew, this is a young, white, male conservative, from the deepest of the deep south professing support for an intellectual, African-American liberal from Chicago. Democrats have written these folks off for decades.
A Hillary candidacy would merely continue this tradition and would represent a return to the familiar, divisive politics that has divided the baby-boomers for decades. Reagan and then the '94 election killed the 'old left' in this country. Let's hope 2008 and Obama kills the 'old right' because, like Dick Gephardt and the UAW, movement conservatism has outlived its usefulness. Maybe once both these old boomer ideologies are well and truly discredited something new, from both the left and right, can emerge.
An Obama presidency would be a stake through the heart of the vampire politics bequeathed to this country by the baby-boomers inability to set aside their differences over Vietnam and the cultural changes that shook this country to the core in 60s and 70s. We cannot be rid of their influence soon enough.
"Think about this," Mrs. Cheney said. "This is such an amazing American story that one ancestor, a man that came to Maryland, could be responsible down the family line for lives that have taken such different and varied paths as Dick's and Barack Obama's."
It must be a real embarrassment for the Obama family to find out that it's related to someone who has committed a wide variety of crimes against humanity, worked relentlessly to substitute an imperial presidency for the basic framework of American government, and was the key figure in the campaign of deception that led to the invasion of Iraq.
That's even more embarrassing than Al Sharpton discovering that he was related to Strom Thurmond.
In fact, being related, even distantly, to Cheney is such an embarrassment that one has to wonder if Obama himself hasn't covering up the connection out of shame.
Maybe Michelle Malkin can investigate.
P. S. And no, I'm not related to Ann Coulter. I'll deny it to my dying day.
Scientists from Argentina and Brazil said the Patagonian dinosaur appears to represent a previously unknown species of Titanosaur because of the unique structure of its neck. They named it Futalognkosaurus dukei after the Mapuche Indian words for "giant" and "chief," and for Duke Energy Argentina, which helped fund the skeleton's excavation.Futalognkosaurus dukei is only one of three giant dinosaur species found in South America.
Patagonia also was home to the other two largest dinosaur skeletons found to date — Argentinosaurus, at around 115 feet long (35 meters long), and Puertasaurus reuili, 115 feet to 131 feet long (35 to 40 meters long).I wonder how two of each species of these big boys and girls fit on the Ark.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Republican leaders threatened a freeze-out of business lobbyists who dared hire a Democrat or ignored the names on the leadership’s private hiring tip sheet.
They also didn't like the shake-downs for bigger campaign contributions that happened every time important legislation came up for a vote in the GOP-led Congress.
Pay-to-play became the insider mantra during the Republican reign. But “extortion” was how many CEOs described the annual shakedowns by committee chairmen with jurisdiction over their industries. No group expressed greater relief — privately and publicly — than the business community when the 2002 McCain-Feingold law banning unlimited corporate donations to politicians became law.
The bullying Republican leadership didn't act any better toward their business friends than they treated their Democratic opponents, and business lobbies didn't like it.
Business leadership also had contempt for the incompetence and cronyism of the regulatory bodies they worked with, the free-spending ways of Republicans in Washington, and wanted health care reform the Republicans refused to deliver.
According to Daniel Gross, Republican business leaders are viewing Hillary Clinton rather than any of the Republican contenders as "the establishment candidate" in this election.
As happens every four years during the primary season, Republican business leaders are rallying around the establishment candidate. This time, however, it's a Democrat. Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer John Mack, who raised more than $200,000 for W's 2004 campaign, came out for Hillary this spring. James Robinson III, the Atlanta-born banker, former CEO of American Express, and co-founder of RRE Ventures, told me: "I've been a Republican all my life. I believe in fiscal conservatism and being a social moderate." But this Fed-Up CEO now makes the case for Hillary as effectively as James Carville. "It seems to me she's the person who has got the broadest experience. She understands the importance of business development, innovation, and entrepreneurship," he says.
It's unfortunate that Gross (who's a terrific business journalist) didn't follow up on the "social moderate" part of the quote from James Robinson. Big business has been far from heroic in its treatment of African-Americans, women, and gay people, but large-scale corporations like Disney have gradually begun to affirm the value of diversity as they've sought to appeal to gay, hispanic, African-American, and urban market niches. This has created a large cultural gulf between business and the diversity-hating religious right and is a major reason why
voters in the East making between $150,000 and $200,000 favored Democratic
candidates by a 63-37 majority.
Since 2004, the percentage of professionals identifying themselves as Republicans fell from 44 percent to 37 percent, according to a September Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.The movement of various segments of the big business sector toward the Democrats is far from being a comfortable thing for business. Given that the Democratic Party is also the home of the labor movement and anti-business reformers, it's possible to claim that there is neither a "party of big business" in the United States nor a reform party.
However, the Democrats might find themselves in a state of permanent triangulation if the Republicans continue reducing themselves to a fringe party of the declining farm belts, the old Confederacy, and all the bitter Clarence Thomas-like guys in the audiences of the radio talk shows and readership of the right-wing blogs.
The fact that Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater, is wired into the extreme right of the Republican Party through his family connections with the Michigan Republican Party, Gary Bauer and the Family Research Council, and his sister's connections with the DeVos family (of Amway fame) is also disturbing. The last thing this country needs is for either of the major political parties to be associated with armed private militias and, in my opinion, Blackwater's political allegiances make it a threat, a low-level threat to be sure, to American democracy.
In that light, I would like to see Blackwater USA and other private militias subject to tough investigations, legal restrictions, and potentially to being banned altogether. Given the recent killing of 21 Iraqis by Blackwater employees, Blackwater USA and other private militias should be investigated for crimes against humanity in Iraq. Congress should also take this opportunity to ban American government agencies at either the federal or state agencies from employing private security firms for security functions.
If these kinds of measures do not dry up their revenue streams and force the private security companies to operate on a much smaller scale, Congress should investigate whether they should not be banned altogether.
By Constitutional Amendment if necessary.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
“How many future African scientific researchers have been killed who would have discovered the cure for HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and Ebola? How many future African doctors and nurses have been killed who would have brought relief to the sick by providing adequate care for their ailments? How many future African agricultural scientists have been killed who would have found a solution to the increasing desertification of the continent and boost food production to feed the people? How many future African political, social and economic scientists have been killed who would have made substantial contributions to the development of the continent’s resources, both material and human, which would benefit not only the continent but all humankind as a whole? How many future African teachers have been killed who would have inspired and managed the educational development of their students to be leaders in the field of science and other disciplines? How many future African astro-scientists have been killed who would have revolutionized space travel and exploration and make it possible to reach the impossible dream?”
I found this litany of loss painful to even read. The point Afro-Spear made was about the "euro-centric" perspective that people of African descent have nothing to contribute to the progress of mankind and can thus be "left behind" in the striving for new human accomplishments. One could also say that that's why there has been so little regret about the severe loss of African humanity over the last twenty years as well.
But I wonder.
Specifically, I wonder about whether the "euro-centric" or "Anglo-Saxon" imperial perspective that values people of African descent so little is as powerful as Afro-Spear thinks.
Certainly, the imperial perspective has weakened in Europe and even the foremost champions of the Anglo-Saxon imperium on American right aren't very confident that they can continue to bully the American public into supporting a program of (white) American domination.
There's no doubt that the vision of leaving people of African descent behind still has a great deal of cultural power in the United States.
But that's not the only vision.
In fact, there are a variety of cultural perspectives from which African-American perspectives are viewed either as equal to those of whites or as primary in themselves. People tend to underestimate the extent to which the cultural egalitarianism of the multi-cultural ethic has taken hold among American whites. African-American figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Sojourner Truth have become standard parts of America's heroic pantheon and African-American figures like Oprah Winfrey are just as much a part of the cultural firmament as their white counterparts.
If not more so.
In the case of Ken Burns' influential films, the experiences and virtues of African-Americans as portrayed as the core of what it means to be American. The valuing of African-Americans in these films is not done in the same terms as the valuing of African-Americans in Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, jazz, or Martin Luther King. But Burns and white multi-culturalists more generally are closer to the African-American view than they are to the cultural and political imperialism that is still defined as the American creed by conservatives.
I don't want to get pollyannish here. Certainly, the gradual mutual assimilation of African and European cultures in the United States does not in any way compensate for the monstrous exploitation of African humanity in this country.
But that mutual assimilation is real and continues to gain strength despite the continued power of the imperialism vision of American conservatives.
And as long as that's the case, the impulse to "leave African-Americans behind" will get weaker rather than stronger.
And Clarence Thomas is the happiest guy in the world.
Praise the Lord!
Back in the real world, Clarence Thomas is still a broken guy who drinks deeply from the well of bitterness.
Likewise, the war in Iraq is going almost as badly as ever. The big positive news from the combat zone is that American casualties fell to June 2006 levels last month which would be great if the mission hadn't been failing in 2006 as well. Former Gen. Ricardo Sanchez claims that the surge is a matter of "staving off defeat." But it would be more accurate to say that Petraeus is trying to prevent failure from becoming disaster.
In a sense, that's what William Kristol is trying to do, prevent the current failures of the Bush administration from becoming a disaster for the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
Right now though, I'd have to say that Gen. Petraeus is having more success in staving off disaster in Iraq than William Kristol is having in staving off disaster for the Republicans.