Thursday, June 30, 2005

My Father Turns 75 Today

The Friday before Fathers' Day, I wrote a post about my father's legacy to me. That post turned out to be one of the most widely read so far at A Better Nation, and several friends suggested I write more like it - "more personal posts, please." Here goes...

My father turns 75 today.

When I wrote "Things I've Learned From My Father", I felt downright daring. I'd say it is the closest I have ever come to summing up my father's life, as I see it, as I think it should be seen. But I'd be very anxious to have him read that post. It just seems too damn honest to me, and when it comes to speaking truth to power, no one has more ancient and enmeshed hooks in me than my father, whom I call "Dad." But "Dad" here seems too informal, too friendly for how I think of him - and really, I'm sure, how he thinks of me. He's certainly never called me "Son," or if he has, it doesn't feel as if he has. "Father" is more like it, like the Germanic authority of the Fatherland.

My dad was born June 30, 1930. He was a tender nine years old when World War II began and, I am sure, an impressionable 11-15 during America's participation in the war. Perhaps he hated the Germans. He certainly said later that he'd wished he were older so he could have gone to fight them, preferably, in him Walter Mitty life, from the cockpit of his favorite airplane, the P-51 Mustang, for which he has held a lifelong passion.

But the irony is, he used to try to joke with me as if a lieutenant in the Gestapo, using a Hogan's Heroes German accent, and the "You vill do as we say," kind of joshing. But it always struck me as half true. He wanted more authority than he had at home or at work, fronts on which, as I said before, both his career and his family faltered. He seemed to crave the kind of cutting, curt yet cartoonish command of a German officer, pumped up with position but as much bluster as genuine authority.

When I write about my dad so openly, it makes me proud to be able to get these things down "on paper", but it makes me anxious, too - not wanting (1) to make him mad but also (2) to not make him sad, to not hurt his feelings. I am too mature now to want to do that. So I have these contradictory feelings - both to get my story out but also to pay homage to how life is, how my life has been (for me, to me), and how I see others' lives have been around me.

Of course, it's my view. But I work hard to make my view a nuanced and compassionate and appropriately, respectfully complicated view, full of whatever simple myths and myriad contradictions an engaged and engaging life contains.

So I'd have to say growing up with my particular father for a father was very difficult for me, for all three of his children. But we become interesting and compelling in life not so often through love and like as we do through challenge and ambition and ideas. My dad challenged me. He challenges me still, when I get onto the family radar. Even as a kid, I sensed his frustrated, almost latent and certainly tragic ambitions, the despair and disparity between how the world is and how he wanted the world (and his life in it) to be. And ideas. So many ideas. A family full of ideas, all of us, teeming with ideas and creativity and skills, perhaps all akilter, but skills, yes, abounding. And ideas.

So here again, on his birthday, I feel compelled to salute my father's complex legacy. I have to say I feared and fear him, hate part of him, a part of him that was worse than it is now, if he has softened as a sage, which he has, a little. And yes, above all of those parts, I should say, even want to say that I love him, love him because to really love life as much as we want to love it, we need to love our parents. We don't have to adore them unconditionally or be loyal to their betrayals, beck and call. But because it is through the contorted lens of our parents (for me as for you, too, dear reader, through your own parents) that we learn to love what we were born into - life itself.

Without him, I would not exist. Without him, I would not be me. Perhaps trite but profoundly true.

That is the love of a problematic and challenging and creative, insightful and honest first born son, a grown up child who was once a little boy.

Happy 75th birthday to Gene Cowden Walker, of Fort Worth, June 30, 2005.

BIRTHDAY UPDATE: I was wary, but I called my dad for his birthday about an hour ago,a nd it was actually quite pleasant. He was very appreciative and said so several times. So age softens old wounds, and we of all ages, little by little grow up.

*** Thanks to you, dear readers, for hanging with me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

First Wednesday Rant @ A Better Nation

OK folks and friends, here's a NEW feature at this all-too-earnest blog, A Better Nation. Yes, it's the Wednesday Rant Show, brought to you by the fine folks at Clean Underwear, DC.

Every Wednesday for the foreseeable future will be rant day. I've gotta let it rip a bit more often. All this earnest "better this" and "better that" shit has got me trying to ride my diplomatic high horse up to my eyeballs, and I've got a mind to just haul off and sling some radical shit. Why the hell not? Freedom of the press and all. Freedom of a mind that's not going down the straight and narrow - and doesn't want you going down the straight and narrow EITHER!

And so it's off to ranting we go....

I say the Dems are a bunch of pussies. I have almost no respect for the current incarnation (or is that incarceration?) of the Democratic Party except for...

... why, except for... Howard Dean.

I am a Dean Democrat, dammit. Give 'em hell, Howard! Poke fun, sure, you're good at that, but also poke HOLES in those Washington weenies with their donkey tales up their donkey asses.

I'm voting early and often for Howard Dean, and if asked to gather round a list of disciples, I would also put Paul Wellstone (deceased, as fate
would have it) and Dennis Kucinich (alive, though marginalized) in my fledgling tableau. Ditto Jesse Jackson, Jr., not the father but the super sharp son. And I'll probably be adding Barack Obama to my camp as well. Howard Zinn for Secretary of State, anyone? Molly Ivins for Secretary of Holding Your Head High? And as a tipping of Uncle Sam's hat to the Old World, how about Tony Blaire for Prime Minister?

Good heroes are hard to find these days. Most of mine are outside government.

As for the American insurgency (aren't we insurgents, TOO???), I suggest you not support the military. Your tax dollars at war just don't do it for ME. Since when do we define our nation as a bunch of military hacks rolling out the cash registers for cheap oil and expensive enemies all around the globe?

As one friend said recently, "If good government is based on an honorable social or civil contract, that contract is broken."

In times like these, when the news hovers on celebrity antics and a news circus that spins so fast it makes millions dizzy and dumb as shit, it seems to me civil disobedience is at least appropriate if not downright heroic. Prove you're free by acting freely, of your own ethical accord, of your own recognizance.

I see the need to question (or at least to carefully qualify) one's allegiance to the government of the United States, never mind the brainless symbolism of the American flag reduced to a rubber stamp for "Leave Me Alone or Leave It." And never mind those so-called "historical reminders" of the friggin' ten commandments, for cryin' out loud. The best commandment I can think of?

Speak truth to power.

That's my comandment, dammit: Speak Truth to Power!

We talk about other "enemy nations" being broken pottery we have to own whether we broke it or not. Well, folks, this country is a broken Pottery Barn crock, and we own it. Sheee-it, fellers. I hope better nations with more wisdom than our greedy groundhogs and gas guzzlers can muster will take the lead, steer us toward a better agenda - and take control.

This making you a bit nervous? Maybe you're feeling the United States of America deserves to be an empire after all - or at least a good while longer?

We, the people, exert our freedoms, and the empire strikes back.

But we, the people, must never be defeated.

Which brings me to a second commandment: If defeated, don't retreat.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

BTK & USA: Crimes High and Low

Serial killers and war crimes, what's the dif?

We've all heard of "high crimes and misdemeanors," often alluding to the alleged misdeeds of public officials. Those would be high crimes because they're high up the food chain, as it were.

Then there are low crimes, lower down on the food chain, we feel, so base we think the perps aren't even "human." Oh, they're human alright, though they may be a bit lacking in the 'humane' department.

The public seems to be more mezmerized by and interested in the detailed confessions of the BTK killer than they are in the highest crimes in the land - in all lands - war crimes. Even the thought of American war crimes makes a lot of smirky and incredulous eyes roll, even as the heads roll.

We're not 'close' to war crimes, and no matter how sad it is, military personnel had some notion of what the hell they were getting themselves mixed up in. Can't expect safety when, no matter how high tech or well-trained, you are using a weapon, and so is the other guy. Even if the other guy (let's not call him a "patriot," let's call him an "insurgent") is only holding a metal pipe or a malatov cocktail, all hell can break loose. But those confrontations and killings are unusually far away, shrouded in such thick layers of "honor" and "nationalism" propaganda that many don't get a gut wrenching feeling about it, even if thousands die in weeks.

Viscerally, we feel closer to the serial killer. He's dressed as a civilian, maybe even, in court, a well-dressed civilian. (Cream-colored suit, anyone?) He could be our neighbor, and we must still feel, in our gut, that it's a lot more likely we live just down the street from a serial killer than we do a terrorist.

As if the serial killer weren't a terrorist. He is, and it's always a he, isn't it? And usually a he with a sexual kink that's downright hard to imagine.

No, it's not kinky to go overseas and get dressed up in grease paint and camouflage to go kill people you've never met. You shouldn't have to fear reprisals; you're a professional.

And in this society, as in most, being a "professional" gives one creedance, gives one legitimacy, even gives one heroism and a saintly honor.

No such accolades for the lowly, lonely serial killer. He's not even a hit man for the mafia. There's no honor in it, no score to settle, at least no score we can fathom. Or is it just that we don't want to have to think about conjuring what the score might be, the thing gone wrong in that fellow human being, the crux that makes him at once seem so unlike us and then again sort of like us?

That's where the visceral feeling of dread comes from. "But for the grace of god..." so the saying goes. No, but for the grace of humanity, and humanity can certainly have its grace.

And we'd even like to think, a la Hollywood, a la some great literature, that even war is a stage for grace. Maybe a few times it is. But most of the time, it's angry and terror-ridden and brutal if not downright savage - a savagery we all too often glorify and even, amazingly, make gratuitous - thus, vicariously, making ourselves the serial killers, watching again and again from a safe distance but wanting to feel that connection to the struggles in which life and death will be decided in seconds, not years and decades, the rush of the instant, crack decision, the cracked decision. We want to feel what it's like without having to clean up the mess or face the consequences of our sinister spectatorship.

And another thing: The connections we may feel with crimes is often counter to our responsibility for those crimes.

None (or not many) of us are responsible for the crimes of a man like Dennis Raider. But I propose that, however indirectly or inadvertantly, we are responsible for the war crimes of our elected leaders - and our military leaders, who, just to be clear, are not elected - they're careerists. Bodies buried in basements in Wichita or Wisconsin aren't our responsibility, personally. A few rare people are homicidal sociopaths and miscreants. We'll always have those. But bodies in body bags, flown home and "laid to rest" under U.S. flags are our responsibility, not just collectively but individually as well. That's what being represented means.

And far from the imperial honor of those flags, no matter how foreign, bodies in the back alleyways of Beirut and Baghdad - these, as well, are our collective responsibility.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Sharks R Us

A Better Nation here, attuned to manic Monday channel-surfing mode:

Whether mesmerized or made anxious by the news, whether behind the camera or parked in front of the TV or computer screen, we are practiced, steely hunters for the headlines, wanting to soak up the scoop, taste the salt in our victims' wounds.

FOX, CNN, MSNBC and other news outlets are all circling the bloody tide for the fast-forming headlines this Monday, switching on this manic Monday between the BTK serial killer Dennis Raider rather coolly admitting to the gory details of each of ten counts of murder, a long missing somebody in Aruba, the Supreme Court decisions on internet file swapping and the high court's mixed decisions on displaying the Ten Commandments in and at a courthouse in Kentucky and at the Texas state capitol - and separate shark "attacks" on Saturday and Monday afternoon.

With cameras outside Judge Rhenquist's house at dawn and one cold-blooded camera on David Raider for a solid hour, our media and we are circling. Sharks R Us.

Mixed messages abound.

And what do we see? The FOX-inspired spin circus eating up CNN, even eating away at PBS, and any semblance of authoritative, neutral, unemotional, objective news. The FOX reporting drama is like an ancient, sleek and slick marine hunter on a raid. Do the news producers and talking heads feel we really need the emotionalizing of such compelling news stories no matter what? Wrought with conjecture and expressions of shock and drama? God, the adjectives come frothing up.

Rumors of Chief Justice Rhenquist's impending retirement swirl, with cameras following the infirmed justice's every faltering step. If there is no actual news, make conjecture and mere anticipation the news.

Spin outside the Supreme Court, with a minister thanking God for allowing the justices' health to allow them to come down with the decision to allow the monument outside the Texas state capitol building to stand (even as they ruled that a similar display inside the Kentucky capitol would have to go).

Mixed messages.

Announcers act as if the admissions of Dennis Raider are like none others ever heard in court, a first, a precident. No, he's not the only straightforward and well-prepared serial killer to come forward. It's the news outlets themselves that are the serial killers of objective news.

And file sharing - yes, you too could be a bit of a crook, just like the all-stars. Lifting music? Movies? iPod addict? Pirates. Pirating is the theme. Stealth and stealing on the high seas.

Meanwhile, closer to shore, a shark attack ends in death. "Shocking"? Well, sharks are pretty much the same as they've been for hundreds of millions of years. And people aren't a whole lot different from the Dark Ages themselves, it seems.

And Arubu? What is it with Aruba? After a month? Cute, blonde, virgin. That's it. Lose a pretty teenager, and you can keep the headlines coming. Never has so much media money and airtime been spent on such a small story. But then the words "shocking" and "astonishing" and "graphic" and "never before" and "anticipating" crop into nearly every report.

Sharks are just doing what they do. But are we? Are we just doing what we do? Are we as compelled to catch the scent of blood? Sharks tend to bite and go away. But us humans, we circle closer and closer and sit mezmerized, watching the sensationalized teasers and watch long after the blood trail has begun to fade.

It's a day for being reminded how much like those sharks we are.

Was it always this way? What about the kind of mature journalism we used to see twenty and thirty years ago. What would Walter Chronkite say about all this? He does say things, and in true Chronkite understatement, he shares his sly disparagement.

The ratings go up when there's blood in the water.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Pew-y: America's "Image Problem"

One of the most interesting surveys of the year was released by the Pew Research Centerfor the People and the Press on Thursday. It's an annual survey called "The Pew Global Attitudes project." From April 20 to May 31, the Pew surveyed 17,000 people worldwide with a set of questions designed to gauge others' sense of us, including how they regard our foreign policies and actions and our national character as well.

This year's survey found foreigner's positive regard for the United States slipping in most areas, including with some of our key allies: Turkey, Pakistan, Britain and Canada. Much of that slip is due to the U.S. led war in Iraq. But negative feelings toward the U.S. persist for other foreign policy and 'American character' issues as well.

In reporting on this on "All Things Considered" Thursday, director of the Pew Research Center Andrew Kohut said America had an "image problem," especially in the Muslim world. He said, "It would take an awful lot to move the needle substantially in the Muslim world."

But is it just an image problem? No, it's our actions, too. To say we have an image problem implies that others' views of us are shallow, superficial or just plain wrong. Our actions speak louder than words. And war and other acts of imperialism speak louder than handing out some foreign aid or tsunami relief.

And this, even though a majority of Americans surveyed agreed with the foreigners' assessments. Greedy? Who says we're greedy? Well, a majority of foreigners but also a majority of Americans, 72% in fact. So maybe it's not our image but ourselves, our nation.

A majority said Americans have "a violent streak," and almost half of Americans say so, too. Makes sense to me. Look at the "images" that get plastered on the worldwide news. But think of it closer to home, as well or not so well, in terms of domestic violence, guns at school, guns in homes, and road rage.

So aren't the Canadians justified in calling us "rude"? Compared to Canadians, we're the planet of the apes. It really is that different, and a thin line on the 49th parallel is all that separates us geographically. Our cultural divide is much wider, and it is widening these days, as the U.S. veers off a responsible, multilateral course to go it's own way. The way of the dinosaurs? Are we oil-addicted, stuff-addicted dinosaurs?

So that's not just "image," that's substance, down to the core.

We have a lot more than a mere "image problem." We have a slew of character problems which lead to community problems, governmental problems, business problems, education problems, international problems, and global problems. It's all connected, folks, and we (many of us, ok, not all, there may be a few exceptions), yes, we, We the People, are the problem.

Seems it's time for a twelve step program where admitting our problem(s) is the first step:

"Hi, my name is Uncle Sam, and I'm a nationalistic, isolationist, imperialist, selfish, myopic, overdevelopemental glutton."

You can see more about The Pew Global Attitudes Project" at the research center's website.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

You Too Can Be a PPP

PPP, that would be Paid Political Patriot and/or Paid Political Protestor, depending on what the topic of the day happens to be.

Yep, a professional patriot, given a bus ticket to Moscow (or Houston or Washington) with room and board and friends and all the pro-Putin (or pro-Bush) propaganda you can swallow.

It's called Nashi, which in Russian means "ours," and it's a new umbrella group for young "patriots" who want to tote the predominant pro-Putin party line and be on (what they think will be or want to be) the winning side.

Participants are called "commisars," and by the next presidential election in 2008, there could be 3000 paid student activists and 300,000 members across Russia.

You can bet Karl Rove has already gotten in on this deal. Maybe he gave the idea to Putin. It seems the Kremlin and the KGB may be involved in funding and instructing the youth. Last year, it was called "Walking Together with Putin," but this year, it grew up to snag it's own corporate logo-style Nashi name (rhymes with Nike) and name-brand presence nationwide.

The commisars have learned their Rovian/neoconian lessons well. They don't refer to "opponents," they say "our enemies." Sounds sooooo ripe for some thundering herds of Young Republicans, doesn't it?

And No the damned donkey dumb ass Dems had better not complain that they can't afford to pay their marchers for the status quo and a return to the Republican Inquisition of the 1950s. A 1950s... still the gray flannel suited GOP's favorite decade, when all was pure and warm during the dark, dank days of the Cold War, before the hellraising '60s spoiled everything.

No, the progressives and Dems had better fight the battle on the neocons' very American terms. Want a vote? Pay up. Want a loyal youth group? Shell out. Want to head off the neocons at their own game? Get ready, set, go lay catch up.

I figure there is already a Nashi of sorts in the U.S. Republicans see the dollar signs in the eyes of their logo-impressed, greenbacked progeny. So it's time we progressives did the same. No one ever said we could win back the direction of this country for a lousy half billion dollars. It's going to take the big bucks and the Propaganda Pros.

I suggest we call our troops "The People."

Yes. Let's own that phrase.

We... "The People."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

D is for Dumb Ass

Ok, so the elephants have proven themselves to be smarter than the dumb asses. That is, smarter in strict terms of political propaganda. This, too, will pass. It must pass, and we must get past it for the common good and the higher ground.

Don't get the idea that the DemFest this last weekend was for party uppity ups and loyalists. Though many of us are loyal by default, many of us are outright and openly disgruntled with the currently weak ebb and flow of the Democratic Party.

It was called "Democracy Fest," not "Democrat Fest," and I, for one, would welcome many outside the current Democratic Party to join this energetic bandwagon.

T-shirt seen on some participants at the Fest - a quotation from Will Rogers:

"I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

Yep, the Dems have dropped the ball ever since Lyndon Johnson squeezed blood out of a turnip in the jungle. This conservative Republican "revolution" was a long time coming and was certainly in motion as soon as Nixon waved from that helicopter. Reaan wasn't going to let that felonious flub keep him from creating a "new day in America."

Well, now we need a "new century" in America.

The Dems in power are so ESTablished, they're wimps. Howard Dean is right: "Republican lite."

Many at this conference realized how much progressives need some heavy hitters to got to bat like they really mean to not only hit the ball but make it theirs and knock it out of the park.

Make that country club.

We need a mission statement as simple and as strong as a baseball bat.

Let's go.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Volunteer Early, Volunteer (a Little More) Often


Democracy Fest 2005 Finale, Wrap Up.

I encourage any of you who want to "keep hope alive" for progressive causes and the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" to join Democracy for America. Consider this my polite way of asking you to not wait until the summer of '06 to get involved in, for starters, making sure Tom DeLay gets fired forever from public service, if you can call what he's doing service - it's certainly not serving "the public," as in "We the People."

As Democracy Fest 2005 in Austin this past weekend reminded us, especially in the swelter of "the Big Tent" (yep, a big tent out in the June Texas sun), it's never too late OR too early to learn a few campaign skills to empower yourself to make a difference. That's democracy. It's not a spectator sport, at least not at it's best, not at this country's best. If all you do is vote, you're basically just a spectator who jumps out of their seat in the final minute of the fourth quarter as the clock ticks away.

And a special note for you bloggernauts out there: the special "Bloggers' Breakfast" with Markos of DailyKOS (over half a million hits a day!) and Jerome of MyDD was a treat - just getting to rub elbows with a couple of off the cuff, energetic blogger gurus who are way up on the Blogebrity (soon to be) Hall of Fame. Most of us in the audience were posters, posers or wannabees. (Maybe a blog site idea?

Sunday's sessions were an entertaining, earnest and practical "Root Camp" for those of us who will be volunteering or working campaigns and causes over the next decade.

Sandra Ramos, of Public Interest Consulting in Denver, was the sessions hostess with the mostess. She ran the whole show like a cross between Oprah and Phil Donahue - an excellent mentor for those wanting to join the party, the campaign game party, that is.

The theme: this is something each of us can do and do well, using the enthusiasm and skills we already have - or can easily acquire. Participatory democracy is the way to go, and sharing with your fellow friends and neighbors feels GOOOOOD!

Especially if you get to grab some free pizza and beer in the bargain.

So friends, let's some of us set our sites on 2006 and 2008 right now.

And I must say I enjoyed meeting you, new and old friends, at Democracy Fest. See you soon and in 2006.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Democracy Fest Report 2


An all star cast: Howard Dean, Jesse Jackson, Jr., DailyKOS founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, MyDD founder Jerome Armstrong, Tom Hughes and Chris Warshaw of Democracy for America, and a host of Texas big wigs - Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Lou Dubose, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Rep. Glen Maxey, plus Joe Ely and Tish Hinohosa.

The second day of Democracy Fest was really a big post-election coming out party for Deaniacs and other progressives who'd like to jump start the Democratic Party, if not kick it in the ass.

Some of us admitted we'd basically taken off the last seven months since the election, ruminating, recuperating, hiding under a rock (not hiding behind Iraq). This was our excuse to get back into the fray - and get an earlier start on "framing" and winning the next big campaign cycles.

George Lakoff has become the godfather of "framing" and Democrat-oriented progressives. Many speakers prominently mentioned Lakoff's book, "Don't Think of an Elephant." Democracy Fest attendees feel the dire need to take a new, fresh and vigorous command of "the vision thing" and how we "bullet" our themes and messages. As the Republicans seem to have known since the Reagan revolution that began in 1976, it's how you say it and even the language that you 'own' that count.

I think these were the top three sessions, in order:

1. "Framing for Democracy" with Jeffrey Feldman, founder of Frameshop on the web. Feldman is an extremely well-spoken disciple of Lakoff and the language hounds. He gave us a little workshop on coming up with a revitalized mission statement for Democrats.

2. "Religion, Democracy and the Common Good" with professor of theology at Radcliffe, Harvard, et al, Rita Nakashima Brock, "heretical" Unitarian Universalist minister Davidson Loehr, professor of ethics at the University of Texas at Austin Paul Woodruff and others.

Brock made an eloquent and moving case suggesting the conservative movement in this country is conducting a campaign to alienate the non-elites and society at large, in favor of isolating consumerism and "a theo-fascist... war against love" at many levels. (The Dems could be the party with heart.)

Loehr's theme was that conventional religion is not as persuasive or powerful as many analyses of the 2004 election have implied, suggesting that secularists can take back and own the values cards in future elections if we can come up with compelling frames (a la Lakoff again) for the "three essential vocabularies: patriotism, nationalism and morality/personal responsibility."

Woodruff referred to his elegant little book "Reverence," suggesting ways we might reframe the culture's perspective on virtue. He said reverence for quality living is good, humility is not. Pride is good, hubris is not. We need to be more reverent of ourselves as a society, all in this together to avoid arrogance and aggression.

3. "What It Means to be a Progressive" with professor Charles Grapski, who founded Democracy University online. Grapski gave an ardent and ambitious talk on how to really think of the divide between conservatives (wanting the status quo or a regressive version of the status quo - to go backward) and progressives (wanting to make changes for sustainability, security and the common good). Grapski said we have to choose between democracy and deference, democracy being participatory, populist government "of, by and for the people", deference being our subjagation to an aristocracy, a ruling elite. He said the second American revolution is right here, right now.

The evening shindig at Stubb's Bar-B-Que just off the partyin' Sixth Street was the highlight of the weekend. Howard Dean used to say he was not a rock star, but to many, he IS the rock star of progressive politics, and really his appearances take on that hyper-celebrity quality. It does seem the man will get more than fifteen minutes of fame and more than a footnote in future histories of the Democratic Party and American elections. So many of us in the crowd of 2000 couldn't think of any else more likely to turn the tide for the Democrats.

I was in the room that night in Iowa when Dean let out the scream. Hell, we were making so much noise for the guy he had to! And now, back in such a boisterous crowd of Deaniacs, he at least felt comfortable enough tp joke about his shouts and passion some more. And as he said, "and then we're going to Dallas and Des Moines and Boston and Los Angeles and DC and take our country back!" you could feel the thrill had come back - that in that relentless momentum Dean exudes, we felt hope again, for real.

Lots of energy!

You have the power!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Democracy Fest 2005


I am here in Austin for the three day Democracy Fest 2005, with all-stars Howard Dean, Jim Dean, Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, Joe Ely, and top name activists and publicists (including bloggers) for progressive causes, hosted by Democracy for America (DFA).

The DemFest '05 is a gathering of well (and web) connected activists, organizers, politicos, fundraisers, potential candidates, and various hangers on, all the result of the original Dean for America campaign, which after Dean's withdrawal from the primaries in the spring of 2004 morphed into DFA, with ongoing monthly meetings (usually the first Wednesday of the month) in 271 districts of the 435 seats for the House of Representatives.

There are over 1000 activists signed up for this sold out event, converging in Austin at on the historic Huston-Tillotson College campus. The attendees hail from 44 states and, amazingly enough, ten foreign countries.

The famous "Meet Ups" are, by summer's end, going to be called something else, which I find most unfortunate. "Meet Up" is a great phrase, but it is owned not by Dean or the DFA but by the hosts of the website that creates all sorts of "meet ups."

Much of this Fest is about networking, brainstorming and BRANDING. The core staff of DFA, headquartered in Burlington, VT, are well aware of the branding messages linguist George Lakoff suggests in his books Moral Politics and Don't Think Like an Elephant. But attending this morning's sessions, it's clear that DFA is a lot like the Democrats and other progressives at large - too homey and yet not in enough homes, rambling, informal, disparate, campy, and motivated more by a springy hopefulness than by a more ruthless drive to snare power. Group claps and cheers reminded me of a high school pep rally. In the DFA's defense, it should be said that it's chances of becoming a major grassroots organization are among the best.

Except for the Republicans, who, I think, might have (for the better) run things more tightly and succinctly, with a gob more military precision, telling the troops what to do. For the worse, a similar gathering of conservatives might have started off things with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance - which would have reminded me not of high school but of grade school.

And there you have one cultural, proceedural, philosophical difference between the progressives and the conservatives. If we were to give an "age" or "grade" to the mentality of each, I'd say that the progressives show the positives of young people 16-25 years olds, students in high school and college. (The true full tilt liberals are either political nerds or grad school types.) Meanwhile, the conservatives' age/grade mentality centers around the worser aspects of kids 3-9 years old, definitely pre-tween. (The right wing neocons are the bullies and brats of that age group, sad to say.)

This weekend summit is supposedly about expanding populist democracy in this country, not just reforming and lending some backbone to the Democratic Party, but of course, it's mostly still about them vs. us.

Too bad so many in this country no longer really think we are in this together.

More ASAP after the Saturday and Sunday session.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

As of Today, Bush Impeachment More Than Wishful Thinking

Snarly neocons, back off.

What if we get to say "we told you so"?

What if some of us, especially Texans with a long term view of the little man get to say, "you see, we saw it all along. He never fooled us, and now he has shamed and damaged the nation and the world"?

What if you come to find he never was even a chip off the old gipper?

Some marginalized liberals have called for President Bush's ouster since the election debacle of 2000. But now, at last, calls for impeachment are heading toward the heart of the mainstream media.

And isn't it about time? The mainstream is very status quo and not too questioning (certainly not "liberal"), but it likes a good story when it sees one. Those newsroom egos are as big as Hollywood, and scoops are as delectable as blockbusters. The mainstream media are like a dozen prides of lions. Toward the second hump of a lame duck presidency, just before the mid-terms, fresh meat is what they want.

The growing smoke of the Downing Street memos and Rep. John Conyers' [D-MI] brave and perhaps heroic hearing on those memos and related matters set for today are, no matter what, the beginning of the end for George Bush. This could outright cripple the lame duck. His gimp smile could turn into a grinding grimace over this.

And this isn't about a blow job and a cigar. It's about something even the U.S. might be more ashamed of - though less leery of. We are talking "war crimes" now, at last, in more and more mainstream media - because the tsunami has dried up, and Terri Shiavo's autopsy is conclusive, and Michael Jackson is back in Neverneverland.

A huge anti-war/impeachment rally is set for September 24th in Washington. You can find out about that at Impeach Bush.

With the body count a steady stream of blood on his watch and the press pressed for a news story as big as Memogate, President Bush may be ripe for a round of hungry headlines.

So maybe the dark side of the force will be brought to light - and to the klieg lights.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Things I've Learned from My Father

My father is turning 75 June 30th.

He was born in Fort Worth in 1930 at the dawn (or more appropriately, into the darkness) of the depression and to parents who weren't quite sure what to do with him. An only child, he was isolated growing up. He was very bright, though, and so he became scholastic and ambitious and always seemed to belong to other times and another cultural milieu than his own - either to an age of greater statesmen, perhaps even to an ancient, formal and rather austere patrician class or to a post Willie Lohman, post corporate ladder world of irascible pundits or philosopher kings. He was valedictorian of his high school class and attended Rice, the University of Texas and Harvard.

Some of his wistful comments or bitter jokes showed me, as I was growing up, that he would have loved to rule the world but for the people in it. And as with so many, those dreams of glory died hard, painfully hard decade after decade. In his sulking and in his fiery frustration, his feelings of authoritative superiority lashed out at those much closer to him. Far from the world at large, as it turned out, removed as if a poet or the philosophical (and closeted) emperor, it was a corrosive and overwhelming challenge to keep his career and his family together. In the 50s and 60s, he bought into the American dream and, by the 70s, along with Nixon, paid a much higher price than he thought anything could cost.

My father has never really been a typical American in any conventional sense, much less a typical Texan. He has, in an anguish he may not have known I've seen but of which I've been well aware, long wrestled to reconcile his own intellectual prowess - even genius, yes, that shadowy, sometimes narrow, usually too particular, always akilter level of smartness - with the rocky back roads of how life is, how people are, how philosophically uncontrollable and irreconcilable the world is.

It's difficult to bring the lessons of so much that has come before (an encyclopedic grasp of scientific uknowledge and world history) into the maelstrom of the current times and the only life one's got.

My father is, in many ways, too smart for his own good. And that means that his certainty and desire to control more than he ever will can easily backfire. There are so many downs for the ups, and he has not found peace in that, though he has, in his later years, softened with the wisdom of resignation.

A few of the things that follow are things I learned from my dad, sometimes as a truism he spoke, sometimes in spite of his actions or what he said. A few, in quotations, are his versions of quotations he sometimes repeated. Most of these things are things I inferred from my dad, learned more from how he behaved than from the more virtuous veneer of his wishful Walter Mitty side, his falsely gregarious self.

He might say my view of him is far too dark, but this is not a bad view because it is honest, and it has profound themes that are valuable, no matter how painful. We must come to terms with our own brands of realism, and this is only part of his and mine.

For better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, here are some of the attributes and allegations of my father's brilliant and battered legacy....

~~ There is always a better way to do everything.

~~ And most people don't do it.

~~ Or even come close.

~~ There is genuine evil in the world.

~~ And too much disappointment and anguish too close to home to admit openly.

~~ "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

~~ Travel the backroads whenever you can.

~~ Museums are good for you, as are cultural sites and mountains.

~~ The world is large, complicated and interconnected.

~~ Shop carefully. Research. Compare. Get quality things on sale.

~~ Have heroes who were political uniters (Lincoln, FDR, Churchill) or curmudgeonly cranks (Twain, Mencken, Andy Rooney).

~~ Measure a half dozen times. Cut once or however many times it takes.

~~ It's ok to be a grown man with a Curious George set up in whimsical poses.

~~ It's ok to be a grown man who mimics silly accents and makes whimsical asides.

~~ Having a good stereo and your own room in which to listen and read in peace can be essential to one's solace and contentment.

~~ Being really hard on yourself can make you really hard on others, and vice versa.

~~ Question authority (unless it's your father).

~~ Greed ("the profit motive") runs the world.

~~ "Wealth is the surest human motivator."

~~ Be much more tolerant of people at the bottom than you are of those at the top.

~~ Be near the top, or suffer.

~~ Higher education is never high enough.

~~ Often, it's not what you know but who you know and how you treat people that matter most.

~~ If you miss out on the action (or a higher calling) it will always haunt you.

~~ If you miss out on the money (or the marriage) it will always haunt your parents.

~~ Swallowing pain can make you implode.

~~ Acting on pain can make you explode.

~~ Humor is the elixir of the gods, from Fractured Fairy Tales to Faulty Towers.

~~ Classical music, classic movies and musicals really do matter.

~~ Wars are the historical events that matter most to the course of human events.

~~ Empires and their dictators are the cultural phenomena that matter most, whether Roman or British, rising in America or China.

~~ Scientific and technological progress are the intellectual phenomena that matter most.

~~ Thinking and action, not faith or hope, are most essential to making progress.

~~ Even if God exists and is good, religion has caused more harm than good.

~~ Most common denominators are pretty darned low.

~~ It's about the money.

~~ "Those who cannot remember [and learn from] the past are condemned to repeat it."

~~ Careful study, dedicated reading and rational thought are the best tools we have to forge ahead.

~~ For all other tools, buy Craftsman.

And oh yes, when I turned 23, he bought me a red car and taught me how to drive a stick. And way back when I was six, he bought me an even more wonderful, life changing red thing - and taught me how to ride a bicycle.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A Tale of Two Landscapes: Pop & Political

Would the headlines and photos be any bigger if the president's twin daughters had both been kidnapped by terrorists? Would they even be as big?

It seemed a particularly sorry day for American media in general and the front pages of just about every newspaper in the country in particular. As I walk out of the grocery store, I survey the front pages of about 6-10 papers to see what the zeitgeist is, and today, it's writ obscenely large - a sideshow of perverse adulation and recrimination takes center stage. Not a good thing.

What is it with this nation's lust for celebrity crime? Doesn't this coverage and our "cooler conversations" (not mine, thanks) mean we're just a bunch of prurient puritans, closet cannibals, building up celebs only to tear at their faces and their flesh?

From the prominence of "above the fold" coverage on all those papers, you'd think this might be important news, pronounced in fonts so big it must be not only nationally noteworthy but perhaps even earth-shattering.

Why, do tell, Michael Jackson didn't lay a glove on any boy in a way unbecoming the gentleman and scholar he is, mentor and role model, rich and looney tunes.

That's the pop landscape drowning out substance as we knew it or ought to know it or something like that. Why look at a significant shift in the political and cultural landscape of the nation when a pumped up puppet prince of perversity - innocent or not - comes out of the courtroom in hat and glove? God.

Meanwhile, a pretty big story is buried in those papers somewhere, mostly below the fold or inside, buried as deeply as the editor is a soldier of the anti-liberal media establishment.

But Daniel Schorr, calcifying old school journalist that he is, got the story and reported it in this report on All Things Considered yesterday (June 13). News flash, ALL CAPS! Bold headlines SHOUT!

Michael Jackson's innocence is being shouted to the far corners of the globe, while a few of us learn that, in all recent major polls, President Bush's approval rating has sunk to it's lowest level EVER.

47% of the polled public approves of the president's current performance.

But 49% disapprove, and that seems headed, almost inexorably, toward a majority of Americans. The duck is lame. could it be crippled?

56% say the war against Iraq was "not worth fighting."

And a whopping 73% say the current number of casualties (on all sides) in that war is "unacceptable."

{I went to the Gallup Organization's website via a link to which Schorr refered and, today the 14th, came up with this instead, bolded in the headlines:

Instant Reaction: Plurality of Public Disagrees With Jackson Verdict
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup instant reaction poll finds that a plurality of Americans disagree with the verdict in the Michael Jackson trial, by 48% to 34%. Opinions are highly related to race, with a majority of whites disagreeing with the decision and a majority of nonwhites agreeing with it. About 6 in 10 Americans think that Jackson's celebrity was a major factor in the verdict, and about half were surprised by the verdict. Jackson's fan base appears to have been cut in half, with a sizable quarter of Americans still professing to be fans.

Oh, well, meanwhile back to the Real World outside Never Never Land/Don't Touch That: In broader matters (with me now?), only 38% say they are "satisfied" with the state of the nation while 60% say they are "dissatisfied."

Perhaps most surprising, so soon after last November's 'shoot your country in the foot' election, those polled gave a five point lead to the Democrats as the party best suited to solving the nation's most pressing issues.

Now we are getting someplace. And this is, of course, the answer to those who asked what could be done to ward off a stealthy proto-fascist regime in this country (see the Thursday and Friday posts below). It seems polls can move more mountains than can votes these days. The way to ward off the regressive backlash we have been seeing generally since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 is to shame those guys out of office, out of power, out of favor with the high and mighty who pull the strings.

Maybe the tide is beginning to turn as we know, sooner or later, it will. As Daniel Schorr summed things up, "The political landscape may be changing."

Meanwhile, the pop landscape that's got the primo real estate in the media today and in the minds of the muddling masses is same old, same old, same as it ever was - soap, sex and sin.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Fed Up at Work?

Fed up at work?

Past ready to take a summer break?

High time to tell the boss or dumb ass Dilbert co-workers to shove it?

Well now there's a way to let off steam just by saying one of these rich lines as if you really mean it.

Yes, you've probably heard a few of these before, but how about another go round just for medicinal purposes right here in the middle of the June doldrums, eh?

Yes, friends, it's "Good Things To Say When You're Stressed At Work"*....


You say I'm a bitch like it's a bad thing?!

Well this day was a total waste of make-up.

Well aren't we a bloody ray of sunshine?

Don't bother me, I'm living happily ever after.

Do I look like a fucking people person?!

This isn't an office. It's HELL with fluorescent

I'm not crazy. I've been in a very bad mood for 30

Sarcasm is just one more service I offer.

I'm not your type. I'm not inflatable.

Back off!! You're standing in my aura.

Don't worry. I forgot your name too.

Not all men are annoying. Some are dead.

Wait... I'm trying to imagine you with a personality.

Chaos, panic and disorder... my work here is done.

You look like shit. Is that the style now?

A hard-on doesn't count as personal growth.

You are depriving some village of an idiot.

If assholes could fly, this place would be a fuckin'

And last but NOT least....

Okay, okay! I take it back. Unfuck you!!!!!!


[*snatched with a kind word but without permission from the blog PeaCeFOol]

Cheers from all of us here at ABN, slaving away at our desks just for you.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Hey, It's Freakin' Fascism Friday @ A Better Nation

It was recently suggested that being "liberal" is a mental disorder. More on that fallacious fooey soon, but in the meantime (and I do mean MEANtime), we sane but non-pussyfooting liberals may have to counter that bullying nonsense. Sure it seems like the Democrats need some Viagra these days, but the Republicans are getting ready to drive their dildos home with as little foreplay as possible.

Speaking of which, I relayed to you a call to action by a salon associate Douglas (see below). His questions set me down the road to some answers today, Freakin' Fascist Friday here at A Better Nation. And so, to begin, we ask:

Are the Republicans really Fascists Lite?

And no, I don't bandy the word about or use it "litely" myself. It's time to get the heavy hitters out of left field, back to pitching the ball and causing a shut out.

Know much about the "f" word? Test your fammiliarity with fascism at this article,"What is Fascism?", by Laura Dawn Lewis. It includes the now notorious "14 Defining Characteristics of Fascism" by Dr. Laurence Britt, oft quoted since it first appeared in Free Inquiry, Spring 2003. (Britt and Lewis argue that the United States has met all 14 criteria - see if you agree or give them creedance.)

Ohhhh, yeah, some of us just cringe and think that "f" word's a little too creepy. We roll our eyes, saying or thinking or hoping, "hey, but that couldn't happen here." No, not all at once, it couldn't. But with this much power and prestige and money on the line, we're not immune.

It does seem some strong elements of fascism (I'll go lower case for now) are in power in America, if we call it fascism by another name, Mussolini's name:`Corporatism. Corporatism certainly has arrived. It's just that it has not yet taken over completely. But it HAS taken over our public officials and institutions and safeguards enough to be a direct detriment and danger to the citizens of this country and to life on Earth.

If naive, we might think that the next wave of 21st Century fascists would appear about as obvious as the old fascists. I say no; they will appear (and are appearing) as the captains of industry, the captains of capitalism, better groomed and better connected than anyone else you're likely to meet or see in the news. They are media moguls, shareholders, board members, investors, commodities gamblers, venture capitalists, developers, affluent retirees living on mutual funds - pretty much all capitalists are implicated in this voracious sucking up to consumption, growth and the "untapped wealth" (natural or human resources) on this planet.

So fascism, under the label/guise of corporatism, is now in our midst, but it is a much more sophisticated fascism than we saw rise to power 70 years ago.

It won't be sporting swastikas. It won't be Nazi-esque in any way. It will wear a good suit and work on Wall Street or Madison Avenue or in Detroit or Houston. And it will retire in Florida and Arizona, Sun City, Aspen or some strip mall and white bread community near you.

To some extent, it is anyone who works or worked for large unvirtuous corporations whether that person was directly involved in the dirty work or not. It is anyone who is now spending the money they made at those corporations to live any semblance of a status quo American consumer lifestyle.

The dressed up, secret society Nazi geeks in the ANP are a marginalized and pathetic bunch of losers in this country. They may fire off a few shots, but the Big Boys Behind Bush and Cheney and the Fortune 500 are CALLING the shots, not only for this country but for the control and plunder of other countries and supposedly adversarial cultures around the world. Making enemies makes money, but it's got to be done now with the savvy of smart advertising, the look of legitimacy, the power of pervasive propaganda.

The only reason we may not see how close we are to the Corporatist brand of fascism is that companies still compete. The conspiracy is not in the hands of just a very few yet. There are trillions of dollars involved, scattered in companies all around the globe. And they're not all on the same page, at least not yet. Well, they don't have to be on the same page to take us down that road.

Some of us - really a few - work to tread lightly on the planet. Corporatism works to tread largely and heavily on the planet, thus to reap more profits faster. Corporatism is really just aggressive capitalism in cahoots with government scams and protections, not much more. Well, we've got more than that now. We are there.

Abuses of American power, public and private, which really abuse us, all of us, are occurring now. Rich or poor, we are the victims of this short-sighted capitalist charade. It is greed made to look fiscally sound. It is a slick, marbled floor legitimacy. It isn't just backrooms, it's boardrooms. It is the essence of the American empire, and yes, it needs to be knocked down some big notches now and made more humble and humane.

WEEKEND UPDATE: In a related op-ed piece for The New York Times, Paul Krugman says we are "Loosing Our Country." Other words, same theme: as Krugman says, "the politics of greed."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Corporatism by another name

Yes, it's time to revisit the other "F" word, the one that early on makes eyes roll and later on makes heads roll. Say the OTHER "F" word, and some people smirk and surf on, but see this one out. (Sorry to flit tree to tree here, some days sitting on the right elbow of God, other days sitting on squat. Bear with me. Thanks.)

I've mentioned Benito Mussolini once before in this blog [where is that darned post?]. Well, by coincidence, Douglas, a member of my local ideas salon on a quest to give us a wake up call, asked us to ponder this Mussolini quotation on the "F" word again... and the "F" word is?

Fascism, yes fascism, an imperial rape, where everybody gets fucked by the guys in charge, by the "suits" and their back pocket protectors.

You might be happy to learn that the salon had concluded that fascism was not "in" the U.S. yet, though most were concerned that it was getting closer. But then today, Douglas reminded us of Benito's declaration that, "Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism as it is a merge of state and corporate power," and asked us to ponder a LOT of questions [only slightly revised here]:

"If Nazis or other fascists took over North America, what would we all do? What would we all do if they implemented Mussolini's definition of fascism?

"And what would we do if they then instituted laws allowing them to put a significant portion - say, one-third - of all Jewish males between the ages of 18 and 35 into concentration camps?

"What if this occupied country called itself a democracy, where millions understood elections to be shams, with citizens allowed to choose between different wings of the same 'corporatist party,' [what Mussolini - or Bush? - might call the New Patriots Party].

"What if anti-government activity was opposed by storm troopers and secret police? Would you fight back? If there already existed a resistance movement, would you join it?

"Substitute the word 'African-American' for 'Jewish' and ask yourself the same questions. [Dawning on you? Our prison population, largest incarceration of any developed country...]

"Now, would you resist if the fascists irradiated the countryside, contaminated food supplies, created biohazards, and made rivers unfit for swimming - so filthy that you wouldn't even DREAM of drinking from them anymore? [The more bottled water you buy, the more dependent you are - the resources, from hamburgers to health care, are theirs to protect or pillage....]

"If fascists systematically deforested the continent, would you join an underground army of resistance, head to the forest, and from there to the boardrooms and the halls of the Reichstag?

"Okay, okay, okay okay. So maybe your sense of kin and your sense of skin doesn't extend to the natural world. Maybe you don't yet love the land where you live enough that you'll fight for it.

"But what if the fascists ('the corporatists') toxify not only the landscape, but the bodies of those you love? What if their actions, for profit and power, put dioxin and dozens of other carcinogens and toxins into the flesh of your lover, your children, mother, brother, sister, father... Would you fight back?

"What if the corporate fascists toxify your body? Would you work for this regime? Would you invest your labor, your life or your liberty to uphold it? What about your money? Your allegiance? Would you teach others its virtues? Would you wear its logos and insignia? Or would you fight back?

"If you won't fight back when they toxify your own body, toxify your mind with propaganda and make you dependent on their exorbitantly expensive safety net, their righteous salvation, their homeland insecurity and their planetary policing, then when, precisely, will you fight back?"

Now Douglas is a patriot, prescient and proud. I can feel his endearing passion in this, his courageous and inspired call to action, if not arms - a call we should at least hear, if not heed and enjoin, since it does seem "Corporatism" has not only come a calling - but indeed taken command.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Does God Drive a Gas Guzzler?

I am starting to think that if the Bush administration was divinely ordained, as some earnestly (or at least eagerly) believe, then God must drive a gas guzzler. That's it. If Bush is considered baffo upstairs, then God's definitely an Escalade or Navigator (or Hummer?) kind of deity.

And just maybe he looks a lot like a cigar chomping back room friend of oil slick VP Dick Cheney, too. The question is, what will Cheney and God drive after those 5000 pound-plus heavy drinking Ford Fallacies, Chevy Charades, Nissan Neanderthals, Toyota Tanks and Dodge Dogs become DIE_no_saurs?

With science and good sense under siege on so many fronts, it's really like we've got two political parties in Washington, the Rs vs. the Ds - that would be the God-sanctioned Religious Warriors vs. the Convoluted Diplomats.

At the same time Tony Blair's wanting to put additional pressure on President Bush to have the United States dramatically reduce its production of greenhouse gases, it was revealed that the White House had been intentionally revising official documents to play down the links of industry to global warming - and thus to deceive us - and Blair? Who's really thinking anyone can be fooled?

Philip Cooney is the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In this White House, it makes sense that he used to be a lobbyist who led the oil industry's war against limits on greenhouse gases. And in looking out for our environmental quality, he doctored lots of official documents to get the coal and oil industries off the hook. Maybe we should put his boss on a hook, though Cooney went one better and even softened some reports already tenderized by some higher ups in the Bush administration.

The NY Times story is here.

This story is breaking just a day after General Motors announced on Tuesday it would be cutting 25,000 jobs over the next few years. Maybe God can afford his heavenly gas guzzler, but down here on Earth, those big beasts have been looking sleekly obscene for a couple of decades. I thought by now they'd be driving hybrids in heaven.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Short Takes @ the Blog "A Better Nation"

Whistleblowers: Who needs them? We all do. They take career and personal risks attempting to help others, attempting to turn secret shames into public justice. They put personal honor above others' lack of principle. They risk getting beat up. They risk seeing the slimeballs trash their careers and social standing. They're willing to trade the status quo for something better.

The European Dream: Does it hang on the ratification of the current unwieldy constitution? Some American imperialists and isolationists and unilateralists would like to think so and have you think so. But no, Europe is the most vibrant collection of countries on Earth. It's been around a long time, and it, probably collectively, will figure out more than we will how the future will work.

Frinz Lite: Are the masses just "I.M.'ing" ("instant messaging") and chatting incessantly on their cell phones but getting nowhere? All that chatter sounds like we as a society are just spinning our wheels instead of really getting any closer. We're just hearing each other more, around and about, quite akilter.

Naborz Lite: I've done it, too - waved to (or walked past) neighbors I've never really met, much less sat down and talked with. Can you imagine doing that in the America of 1935 or 1955 or even '65? Or the Italy of today? i notice most people set up their little retreats in their backyards, not their front yards. Used to be, before A/C and TV, that we strolled and sat out on the front stoop or porch. We wanted to see and be seen. But now, we're inside fiddling with our appliances while our neighbors are inside fiddling with theirs, and we share a parking lot, a wall or fence - neighbors reduced to property lines, hmmm, not a better thing. Now that's 'Naborz Lite.' Gab on and channel surf, and wonder why you're lonely. And by the way, grabbing your cr keys won't build a better neighborhood.

Embrace the Darkside: Do we have to embrace the darkside (temptation, empty calories, celebrity screw ups, Law & Order reruns) to avoid boredom, to make our lives exciting? Indeed, ARE our lives exciting? Maybe we just think we're excited, but we're really just on Media Meds, running on MTV Time, about as shallow a buzz as caffeine, about as distracted as every Quik Edit and Commercial Break: THIS LIFE, brought to you by...Your Own Brain Shrapnel.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Pharmacists as Conscientious Objectors: What Next?

Some pharmacists are getting selective about the medications they are willing to dispense on moral grounds. Sounds like these pharmacists are putting themselves ahead of the patient.

What if doctors were conscientious objectors? "Sorry I can't treat that. I don't believe in it." Or... "I think you were dumb to get it." Or... "I'd rather treat something interesting or profitable. Got anything else?"

What if grocers became conscientious objectors? "Sorry, no more tuna here at Foods4U. Tuna's got mercury. I don't want to get sued later for selling something that might give you too much mercury. You want your heavy metals? Shop at Wally World."

What if a contractor became a conscientious objector? "Well, used to be I'd build any style you wanted, but really, I think modern ranch is dumb, and Tudor's dumb, too, so if you want Colonial or Victorian, I'm your man. Otherwise, Ted's your guy. Ted does Tudor."

What if an ER nurse became a conscientious objector? "This guy stoned? No deadheads on my shift.... This guy drunk when he did it? I don't work on winos.... OK girl, how'd you get pregnant? You married? You got a name for the father? You got an OK from your priest?"

Well, well, from these examples we can see that not all jobs are the same. Indeed, most freelancers and sole proprietors are selective in the jobs they'll take. Sometimes, just their style dictates who their clients will be. Some pick and choose.

Some professionals can afford to pick and choose, and some do their best for us by being specialists. Even some of the doctors we see are specialists. But that is different from the role of pharmacist, who, as the dispenser of our meds is supposed to be on our side, following, with care, a doctor's order.

Women especially - beware. Women over 17 should have the right to control their bodies and pregnancies. Some people - unfortunately, far too many people from politics to prescriptions are sexist, even if they're hiding behind a regressive moralism. These people are out to curtail your rights. They are fighting freedom for women.

It doesn't seem to me that building my house or selling me insurance or even serving me a meal is a moral imperative. But it does seem that when it comes to police protection, fire protection, other public services, the legal system, and the "health care system" that we should all have equal and full access to the best we can get - and get whatever it is we need to pursue life, liberty and at least a decent existence, if not overwhelming happiness and eternal well-being. The cure is not guaranteed, but at least access to the best care and medicine ought to be guaranteed. (Maybe this is yet another reason to move health care from private for profit profession to public service - just don't let the government pick and choose the way some doctors and pharmacists are!)

Perhaps those pharmacists who object to some meds, even a few, should find a different profession. And don't they realize that dispensing a medication does not in any way condone a disease or condition? These self-centered "objectors" are missing the point and turning yet another facet of our culture into a self-righteous travesty. And if we'd like to say that these are people of superior conscience, living up to their own principles, let's remember that, unlike "conscientious objector" citizens who, once drafted, refuse to arm themselves or kill, pharmacists trained for years, knowing full well that they would likely be called upon to dispense new and heretofore unknown medicines, perhaps even for heretofore unknown illnesses and conditions. That's the adventure of being a pharmacist, which my grandfather was for fifty some odd years, with a lot of changes in that time (roughly 1924 to 1974), so get over it, and brave the new world.

But aren't health care professionals different? Or shouldn't they be? Seems they've take training and oaths to put the needs and even the preferences of the patient above their own desires and beliefs, no matter what. It is that priority for the patient that makes a patient feel they can confide in a doctor or pharmacist and expect privacy and respect - no matter who they go to, without having to shop around and delay a diagnosis and treatment, which may include medication.

Seems this nation is becoming more self-righteous than it has been for some decades, and that sort of self-righteousness seems petty - even if the concerns are branded as "moral." Real morals and honorable ethics would put the patient first. The doctor and pharmacist may feel a bit god-like dispensing the keys to health, but they are still servants and should behave and perform their duties as such.

Higher morals and the best ethics would put the adult, responsible, present patient at the top of the list, not subject to the condemnations or recriminations or mercy of the servant or others not present and/or not responsible. When we put the patient first and foremost, we are honoring their right to be responsible and take responsibility for their own lives.

That is an essential 'scrip' for any freedom that's worth a damn.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Pain of Sane

Today, I was in some real distress about bills and nagging, gnawing practical matters (not my strong suit), and a friend (dear friend) said, "Things are nutty." To which I responded, "The world is seeming pretty crazy these days."

Well, to be fair to our ancestors - ancient and recent - it's been going crazy, more or less, for centuries, millennia, eons, since apes formed warring tribes and beat each other with sticks.

Though the level of craziness does seem to ebb and flow and, like the tide come in and go out, come in again, go out... Always there but sometimes a lot closer (the waves and b.s. a lot higher) than other times. The crazy-factor Under Toad seems just beneath the surface, rushing onto the shore these days, wrapping around our feet - whether we feel it or notice it (before it's too late) or not.

But back to my dear friend... she also said something like (and I do paraphrase slightly [though I don't embellish!]), 'Of course you hurt. Of course you are in pain. You're sane. You see what's going on. You see how some of this is likely to turn out. You're lonely. You're alone sometimes. That is the price of being even a minor/closet prophet. You are sensitive, and you see the mess some things are in. You can't take your eyes off it.'

I was thinking about how really cranky I've been these past few weeks
and the past days especially. As she said those things, I thought of Bill McKibben's book, "The End of Nature," which another closet prophet I admire - the writer T. C. Boyle - had recently called "the most depressing book in the history of humankind." Boyle's antidote? A sense of humor... yes but seems like slim pickins to carry the weight of the world and maybe actually FIX something....

After an 'aw shucks,' I said, "Hey, thanks, but maybe just foresighted, looking ahead.... Yeah, I think I pretty clearly see and can't forget for long that the rate of destruction on Earth right now is greater than it has ever been. Sure, there have been some little pockets of progress. But overall, we are plundering and endangering and destroying life so harshly and so fast that we are really kinda killing ourselves, not all of a sudden, mind you, but a lot, not just a little.

"And I ask you: what is REALLY getting better?"

Sanity really depends on reason and wisdom, or maybe I'm asking for a lot of "sanity" here - something more than just making sense when you talk, not sounding too neurotic, sociopathic or nutty. Sanity is a very valuable attribute, and in these complicated times, it depends on more than uncommon sense. And sanity has a price. I think (and history has often proven) that extraordinary sanity or "vision," like extraordinary creativity, has a high price - not just angst but Anguish. Those who look around and keep looking forward and far and wide and see the Big Picture and are so (humbly or righteously) sensitive to the bigness of life and think we have to carry the weight of the world FEEL the pain of sane.

Americans are not big on serious R & R. Rest seems like a guilty pleasure, and few seem to know what to do with a month's vacation. We're a working people, even in our pleasure. But for the visionary, there is even less rest. The more visionary, the less rest? Everything is tied to everything else, and everything has its consequences and its price. There is very little rest for the visionary. It's a real job that comes from within. It is a calling. It is the "weight of the world." No wonder so few carry it.

The bright people I know who suffer the most mental anguish, who suffer the most psychic pain, who harp on the hard topics that implicate us all, are those whom I also consider to be most connected, the most compassionate, the most foresighted - and the most sane.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Must See Not on TV: The Corporation

Blood, guts and glory! Sweatshops, riots, buy out and takeovers! Logos and spunky Ms. No Logo! Yes, the other anti-back door deal documentary with an all star cast: the surprisingly restrained and sensible wizened watchdog Noam Chomsky, cutenik No Logo princess Naomi Klein, middle-American burger and ball cap guy Michael Moore (yes Moore, but not too much), talking heads, hidden cams, Fox outfoxed (again!), granpappy moneybags Milton Friedman, a psychopath expert from the FBI, white ring around the collar CEOs, and as themselves, some of your favorites and mine, New World Order Famous Corporations, in their starring roles before and behind bars.

And now the rest of the story....

I just saw the award-winning documentary, "The Corporation," a film so cool and so hot it's got it's own hip website. "The Corporation" was released in early 2004, just a few months before Michael Moore's funnier and infamouser "Fahrenheit 9/11." 'F9/11' caught most of the spotlight, most of the money and most of the flak, but "The Corporation" makes the Bush leagues seem a bunch of B-team minors in the Big Leagues of Power a la Multi-National Globalization. Who are the Bushes and bin Ladens compared to IBM, ADM, Dow, Monsanto, Exxon, Nike, Coca-Cola, the dollar a day work force and Wally World?

Yes, "The Corporation" drives home its theme that politics and politicians are now bit players subservient to the behemoths of STUFF, the captains of industry, the engines of insinuating capitalism, coming to a continent and a closet near you, you and your own lust for goods being yet another product of the material machine.

"The Corporation" is not a dull read. It's a lively picture that takes some cues from MTV, David Letterman, "Leave it to Beaver" and maybe even "The Silence of the Lambs." Clips right out of a "Pleasantville" gone from naive paradise to brain-washing and pocket-picking hell - yes, we looked so fresh and charming in the 50s. Now, those days seem so naive we think, 'why didn't everybody see this coming? Them with their annual obsolescence tricks, they really played us for a bunch of chumps, didn't they? Why they sprayed insecticide down our clothes and sold us the toxic ropes to slowly hang ourselves.

One of the plain messages is that corporate power and fascism seem historically to rise at the same time - and to depend on one another. Beware, indeed.

But let it be known that there is one true hero in this film, an altruistic John Dean or Hamlet who is worth the time and worth the price of admission or rental all by himself, and that would be Ray Anderson, the unlikely and ever so deft and softly charismatic CEO of Interface Carpet, largest carpet manufacturer in the U.S. (26 factories on four continents, a million pounds of carpet a day, but the guy has gone green, a la Paul Hawkins' "The Ecology of Commerce," and he's not turning away or turning back.) Listen when Anderson speaks; I think his bountifully altruistic perspective will astound and perhaps even inspire you to increased vigilance and action. Three cheers for Mr. Anderson, the Homegrown hero CEO - and to the makers of "The Corporation." May it's DVD run (in a 2-disc set with 7 hours of extra features) go far, far, live long and prosper.

Meanwhile, keep up those boycotts of Exxxxxon, Wal-Schmart, Schmell, I,BM, Dow duke, Nike nuke, Monster-santo (dammit, especially Mon-stinkin'-santo) and MORE!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Throwing a Curve at the Deep Throat Herd

What a bunch of blather blogging COWS - even this "free speech" forum reduced - insidiously reduced - to a herd of cattle. The blogger buzz and even the meta-blogger buzz is all about who's writing about "Deep Throat" whether or not they are saying anything significant or which can be substantiated. (I even feel a bit self-conscious /guilty joining the fray, even though I intend to roast most involved, except W. Mark Felt himself - he's getting his due along with a ton of dirt, thanks to the media-mongering talking head whores.)

I hear from friend Mike (who braves overdosing on verbal idiocy) that Rush (yes, that would be the Dean of Ditto) is all ablaze to put a sinister/silly spin on Mr. Felt's at long last admission and his closet role in history. (And of course, that scary land of talk radio is following suite so that closet conspiracy theorists can continue to hog the airwaves.) Rush is rushing to judge W. Mark Felt as the man who could have kept his mouth shut and - WHAT? - saved America? Saved us from the loss of Viet Nam? Saved American lives in battle? Saved Richard Nixon to grace the nation with a full second term?

What Rush really wants is for any potential Deep Throat embedded in the Bush administration to keep HIS (or HER, Ms. Tripp) mouth shut so as not to bring down our leader ordained by GOD, originally elected not even by a hair but by the starched-shirt gracelessness of GORE.

The Idiot Ditto Right is good at this, I will admit, but just because they're paranoid doesn't mean they can't wreck this country. Such shameful stunts are RUSHing us into the ground, that's for sure.

What if? What if?? What if???

Mr. Felt was well aware of and privvy to illegal actions. That seems plain and simple to me. It was not his responsibility to sort out every consequence of telling the truth or not telling the truth. He found someone he could confide in, and he went for it. He did what we should all really do, whether we are brave or not.

We need not whistleblow like fools but like honorable citizens. Yes, we too would have to calculate who we could tell, and we too might have to assess the risks. But that doesn't detract from the heroism of finding a way to out illegal actions.

Linda Tripp's duty to tell the truth seems downright petty by comparison, prurient and pathetic. But would Rush say she'd become a snit to pull the rug out? It seems such fallaciousness, such outrage is the order of the media, to create firestorms in the wake of sparks, to blow up a story to fan the flames, to get audience share more than to inform.

So some might be spiting Mr. Felt because his actions, so long held in trust, do make him seem braver than most of the schmucks serving the president who (and other important public agencies that) should answer to and SERVE the people and the greater, wiser good of the country and the world. This late outing just goes to show that indeed we DO NEED undisclosed sources. We need to keep the channels open to have those in the know let the rest of us know, if not directly then at least indirectly AND before it's too damn late. (Mr. Bush's clock, we hope, is running.)

And in the wake of this splashy blast from the past, the blogger herd, all wanting to get in on linking to and repeating what others have said - just goes to show that even with this "free speech" forum, most voices, no matter how "FREE," are merely cattle in the herd. Links, links, he said, who said. But what about some thinking? what about some trained and restrained perspective on the subject? History, it seems, will never trump soap opera, especially smarmy soap melodrama - "I am not a crook!"

The cost of blogger blather in this case seems high to me because it distracts from the bigger issue and question at stake, for then and for now (since this is, I hope, relevant to the coming disgrace and downfall of the Bush II administration). And that question is: Why aren't the FBI agents and others in the know not disgraced now for NOT telling what they knew? Since when is it OK to hide, abet, shut up and lie about public servants committing and approving or covering up criminal acts?

God save the queen, but please, the American people save this country!