Thursday, July 13, 2006

Breathe Deep: Why It's a Good Thing We're Weak Right Now

Arthur Silber is worried. He has every right to be. War is never the correct choice if all other avenues have not been tried first. The Israelis are doing everything wrong. People are dying, and any hope of getting the kidnapped soldiers back alive, as far as I am concerned, ended when the first Israeli missile hit the Beirut airport.

Arthur is quite correct that the powers that be want to attack Iran. Seymour Hirsch has covered it; the rhetoric has followed a consistent pattern of build-up. What use are all those soldiers in Iraq, after all, when a quarter-century old grudge can be released? Were the circumstances different, even slightly, I might agree with Arthur that we all need to worry right now.

Except, things are different. The US military is strung thin. Our troops in Iraq are tired, beaten down by an occupation that is low-level warfare, sapping US forces of morale and mental and emotional health faster than it saps their physical health. We have no credibility in the world; who will listen to us, even if we were to offer our services as go-between, as Kissinger did in 1973?

Our sole power right now is obstructionist, and we have played that part well, blocking action in the UN Security Council, giving verbal support to Israeli actions. Gone, however, are the days, when we could force israel to stop, or force others to yield to our will through power; we have will but no power right now. With no diplomatic influence, and our military forces not a credible threat, what else can we do but cheerlead from the deep sidelines?

I am not suggesting that the war is a good thing; on the contrary, it is a disaster. It is not, however, a prelude to a US invasion of Iran; nor is it the first stirrings of a regional conflict. While the US may be conventionally weak, we still have nuclear weapons (along with Israel, we are the only nuclear-armed power in the region), and leaders in Syria and Iran, while perhaps shrewdly calculating, would be wise not to underestimate the insanity of the current group in power. This is the one scenario that might keep me awake tonight - a declaration of war upon Israel by either Syria, Iran, or both, with the consequent ratcheting up of the threat level.

Except, I do not believe that Syria or Iran are that foolish. I also believe that Israel will continue to do what it is doing, much as it did in 1982, while the rest of the world frets and worries and complains. While there is a quarter-century of Israeli abuses between then and now, I still believe that no Arab government will breach the peace explicitly and formally. With kooks in Washington backing kooks in Tel Aviv, the combination is too incendiary to warrant threatening.

We in the US will be relegated even further to the sidelines as hostilities continue. The longer the Israelis continue their military actions in Lebanon, the lack of relevance and influence of the US will become clear, and perhaps a whole new paradigm can develop where the EU and Russia take a greater role in reigning in Israeli adventurism. So, like I said, let us all take a deep breath, keep an eagle eye on developments, and be thankful we are currently up to our thighs in a morass in Iraq, and that Bush has destroyed what little diplomatic leverage we had left in the Middle East.

NB: If the situation changes substantially - an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, a declaration of war by either Syria or Iran or both upon Israel, or perhaps an Israeli declaration of war on Syria, then the equation, of course, changes dramatically. For now, let us all remain as calm as war allows.

A City of Two Tales with an Idiotic Epilogue

While events are unfolding rapidly in the on-going Israeli attack on Lebanon, I want to consider two very different pieces of journalism on what has happened so far. One is thoughtful, cautious, and respectful of the complexities involved. The other is on the NY Times website. We shall wait to introduce the Idiotic Epilogue at the proper moment.

First we have a piece by Jim Lobe that puts the unfolding military action of the Israelis and the US support of Israeli actions in the context of international diplomacy. Lobe quotes a former State Department Middle East expert, Clay Swisher, who says:
The combination of our own diplomatic disengagement, our blaming Syria and Iran, and our giving the Israelis a green light (for its military campaign) has inflamed the entire region.

Lobe also sites another expert, Michael Hudson, from Georgetown University:
Hezbollah's intervention was well-timed to take advantage of the growing anger in the region over Israel's campiagn in Gaza and Washington's support for it, not to mention the deteriorating situation in US-occupied Iraq.

Two named sources, thoughtfully making a case that the situation is complex, and blame rests where it should, those who hold and wield the most power. Further down, Lobe, brings out a growing split in Bush Administration policy towards the issue. First we have the following statement from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice:
Hezbollah's action "undermines regional stability" and [she] called on all parties to "act with restraint to resolve this incident peacefully and to protect innocent life and civilian infrastructure."

Deranged, certainly, as well as blissfully ignorant of the US role in an already "unstable region", but at least it does all the things diplomatic cables are supposed to do.

Not long after, a White House spokesman
issued [a] statement warning that Syria and Iran . . . will be held "responsible" for the attack and its consequences.

The Bush White House is always ready to slap down a Secretary of State in public, even when that Secretary of State is as much of a lapdog to the sociopaths in power as Rice is.

Lobe goes on to say:
The two statements appeared to highlight the choice now faced by the administration - whether to treat the current crisis as something that can be resolved through quiet diplomacy . . . or as part of a larger regional confrontation between the US and Israel, on the one hand, and Syria, Iran, and various non-state actors on the other, in which case a wider regional conflict was more likely.
Hudson, who stressed that Syria's and Iran's role, if any in encouraging Hezbollah to attack, was "entirely speculative," said Damascus and Tehran "may have calculated that with the israelis now engaged in a two-front war, and with the Americans bogged down in Iraq, neither is prepared for any major military adventures."

Sound analysis, based on reality, including the diminished military and diplomatic standing of the United States, thanks to George W. Bush. Even if Syria and Iran are involved, in other words, they must have calculated that they don't have anything to fear from the United States. Given the fact that reality has never been a deterrent to the Bush Administration, we shall see, however, whether, if in fact Syria and Iran are involved evn if only tangentially, they calculated wisely (kind of a like a real-life version of the "Crazy-Nixon" game the Trickster tried to play with the Soviet Union).

OK, so we have that version of events, including a realistic assesment of the limits of US options in response. Now we shall turn to the NY Times online and Steven Erlanger and a fabulist's interpretation of events (we are using atrios' definition of a fabulist, i.e., someone who makes shit up). Eralnger begins in some alternative universe, and quickly loses his way:
For Israel the issue is not simply the Palestinians and their actions, including the rocket fire into Israel. It is the broader probelm of radical Islam - of Hamas, as a part of the regional Muslim Brotherhood, and of Iran, a serious regional power with considerable influence on Syria, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the military wing of Hamas.
While Israel and the United States still hope that Hamas, which is a largely homegrown Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, will respond to the responsibilities of elected leadership and moderate its rejection of Israel to bring a better life to its people, they have no such hopes for Iran.

That's right, folks, its that old devil "radical Islam" rearing its ugly head. I just bet soon Israeli general will complain about asymmetric warfare as Muslim's die in droves because the Israelis are shooting at them! And how awful of Hamas not to provide real leadership to its people as the Israelis restrict their travel, destroy the one power plant in Gaza, in essence ending medical care in Gaza. The unreality at the beginning is staggering, and we wade further from shore here:
[T]here is considerable speculation among Israelis and Palestinians about whether Hezbollah and Mr. Meshal, and through him the Hamas military wing coordinated the manner and timin of the raid to capture [an Israeli] corporal or whether, ultimately, the decision was Iran's.

"Considerable speculation"? I had thought, Mr. Erlanger, that as a journalist is was your job to get beyond "speculation" and find out what the hel is going on. I guess the Times is willing to report rumor as fact. Just ask Judith Miller.
As if this piece of brain-dead reportage weren't bad enough, the next paragraph is even better:
An Arab intelligence officer working in a country neighboring Israel said it appeared that Iran - through Hezbollah - had given support to Mr. Meshal to stage the seizure of Corporal Shalit. The officer said the Shalit case, even before the capture of two more Israeli soldiers, amounted to Hezbollah and Iran sending a message: "If you want to hurt us, there are tools that we have and that we can use against you."

An unnamed Arab intelligence officer, from one unnamed country, working in a second (?) country, says that the whole thing was coordinated to send Israel a message from Iran. An unimpeachable source sending a clear message that Israel was never aware existed before. Wow. I smell Pulitzer here.

Clearly, the American people are offered a choice here. We can listen to intelligent, thoughtful commentators, or we can listen to crap wrapped in garbage supplied by fact-challenged writers. I offer these for your consideration, as well as this Epilogue:
My attitude is this: there are a group of terrorists who want to stop the advance of peace," [Pres. Bush] said at a news conference in Germany.

Isaiah Berlin and George Bush

What follows is because my oldest sister made fun of me yesterday. Thank her.

Earlier I wrote a review of Isaiah Berlin's The Crooked Timber of Humanity, and I praised it because, among other things, it stated clearly several things that I believed to be true, but had difficulty putting into words. I believed that certain human ends, certain social goods were incompatible, including social goods good liberals thought were necessary for the good society. I believed that there was much too much triumphalism in our social thought, in our public discourse, in our pronouncements of our own righteousness and the finality of our overcoming of various "primitive" notions. I believed that it was more necessary that we seek to understand one another as human beings living in a variety of social and cultural circumstances than it was we should convert everyone to western ways of living.

Reading Berlin, then going back and reading those who influenced him, Herder and Vico in particular, I discovered a way to cut through the Gordian Knot of Enlightenment wholism that strangled any attempt at a more humble, more humane approach to social and political questions in its cradle (I love mixing metaphors, by the way, so just go with it, OK?). Berlin's biggest complaint was with totalitarianism; being a Latvian fleeing the Russian Revolution, how could it be anything else? Yet Berlin refused to limit his understanding of totaltarianism to Leninism, or Nazism. Any system of thought that aspired to completeness, any thinker who claimed to encapsulate all of reality within a system, any ideal that forced, or even potentially forced, human beings into unreal positions, was anathema to him. Sacrificing real human beings to abstract ideals was at the root of the horrors of both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis.

It is with such a totalizing system that we are struggling right now. Many on the left on the Internet jokingly like to refer to themselves as part of "the reality-based community", yet there is something wonderful, something rewarding about standing up for reality in an age when reality is denied assiduously and repeatedly by our political and media elites. Of course, this in and of itself is not sufficient, because as with any ideology, it is the idea that is important, and reality must be bent, sometimes broken, to fit the ideology.

We must never forget, also, that we, too, share certain faults with our opponents. We on the left often hold incompatible ends to be reconcilable, if only we can work on it more. Equality and freedom, for example, are the classic pair that classical liberals saw as being the twin goods and ends of social life. Except, of course, they cannot be, because lived out, the cannot be reconciled with one another. It is, in fact, the conflict between freedom and equality that fuels much of the 20th century political conflict in the United States; those we call conservatives value "freedom" (an individualized, atomized economic freedom), while those we call liberals value "equality" (a legal and social and political equality). Both sides talk past one another while using the same words in the same language. Berlin would insist that such is the way it will always be, not only because we refuse to honor the differences we hold, but because these are just two of manny goods that are valuable in and for themselves, yet conflict in mulitple ways with one another. Social strife, even the milder forms of political debate, will always be with us precisely because we live in a world where human beings have many different ways of imagining the best way to live, and not all of them can be reconciled.

It is with this is mind that we on the left should use, in part, some of Berlin's ideas as a way of cutting through so much of our current political nonsense. There are still liberals out there who decry the abandonment of the Enlightenment and its ideals (covered yesterday; it is also the reason Christopher Hitchens abandoned the left and now sits, drunkenly, among the neo-cons). For myself, I would rather insist that it is the abandonment of the simple worth of all humanity in the name of ideals that is the problem. We use euphemisms like "collateral damage" to describe the destruciton of human life; we send our soldiers into battle without body armor, their vehicles not properly equipped with armor, in an effort to save money because our leaders are too cowardly to make the effort to ask Congress for support; soldiers whose minds and emotions have been destroyed by combat are kept on the front lines because our leaders are too cowardly too ask for greater sacrifice from society for a fight it promotes as in its best interests, yet knows to be unpopular. We deny the reality of the morass into which we've fallen, calling an election or two "democracy", hanging banners declaring victory even as hundreds and thousands fall, and sectarian civil war brews.

There are no easy answers to the problems we face. Berlin doesn't offer answers. He doesn't offer heroic ways of living - indeed, he is the antithesis of the heroic thinker. In an age where we have a President who poses as a hero, however, I'm not sure how valuable it is to add another hero to the list. We should be grateful we have a guide who refuses to grant superhuman powers to mortal individuals.

At the same time, we on the left are constantly in search of the next FDR, the next MLK, the next . . . We should, instead, concentrate on how we can rescue our world, our country, our neighborhood, from the chaos in which we find ourselves. Berlin gives us the courage to be, not heroes, but simple, ordinary people who are muddling ehri way through as best as they can, in the hope that maybe, someday, the world might be a little better because of something they do. Again, it isn't heroic, but it is a possibility for a decent society, a human society, not without conflict, but at least one that honors individuals without destroying them.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Oh, What Fools These Mortals Be . . .

Courtesy of Stephen Elliott over at the Huffington Post, comes this story of a pro-lifer who not only doesn't get it, once he is told he doesn't get it, is happy he doesn't get it. It's one thing to be passionate about an issue - whether your anti-abortion, anti-war, an environmentalist, a First Amendment absolutist, whatever - but it's another thing to be clueless. Still more, it's one thing to be clueless, but it'a another thing to revel in your cluelessness, wearing your ignorance like some odd, self-righteous badge of honor.

We can disagree about abortion; sensible, honest, thoughtful people can and do (honestly, abortion as an issue to me is like Israel as an issue; I don't even want to go there once). Lighten up, buddy, laugh a little, not just at yourself, but at the world we live in. You know, have some fun, while you're hanging your genocide posters. Drink a beer, too. It might calm you.

UPDATE: This doofus (I'm sorry, there is just no other word in the English language to describe this guy) has closed the comments to his blog, apparently because of "hate mail". He also claims a "liberal blogger" posted his personal information, including his home phone number, on-line, and that he has received hate calls at home. Why should that mean he has to close down the comment section of his blog? Doesn't that mean he should move?
He also claims the whole thing was a joke that we liberal, pro-death types didn't get. Apparently, he didn't read his own blog posts, though. We shall leave him alone, to wallow in his martyrdom, and to rail against the death of embryos.

Trying to be Profound and Deep and Getting it All Wrong

I will apologize now for the Greenwaldian length of what follows, as well as the possible obstuseness and obscurity of it. This piece literally reached out and whacked me up side the head; what can I tell you?

I am no fan of the Enlightenment, that period in philosophical history that coincided, roughly speaking, with the eighteenth century. Michele de Montaigne, Condorcet, Diderot, Voltaire (no philosophe, but a public figure of enormous power and prestige), and Immanuel Kant are usually given as the leading lights of this period. Indeed, Kant wrote an essay called "What is Enlightenment?" that to this day defines both the period and the philosophical objectives of those who lived within it. I did not include John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, or David Hume within this because (a) the English/Scottish thinkers used different assumptions, and had different goals than the Conitnental thinkers (it was against Hume that Kant wrote his monumental, and monumentally unreadable, The Critique of Pure Reason); and (b) most people (including me) consider Rousseau to be the godfather of the Romantic era. Rousseau was writing against much of the Enlightenment, with its enthroned "reason" and its divine "history" and its inerrant "logic". Rousseau saw all of it as a farce, the destructive result of human beings living together rather than being free. He is the first true anti-Enlightenment thinker.

With that in mind, I want to consider this article from a diary over at The Daily Kos. I applaud any attempt on the internet to probe beneath the surface, to consider the deeper historical and philosophical issues brought up by our current predicament. When you get it all wrong, however, please allow me to set a bit of the record straight. The essay, by Jemand von Niemand, is well worth reading even if it is in error on several major points (and one minor point; the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was "Gibbon" not "Gibbons"). On the key point, of the worth of the Enlightenment and its benefits to humanity, however, I would strongly object. von Niemand writes:
The Enlightenment began based in faith, but continued through the Age of Reason to drive the growth of secular philosophy and logic as the basis for science -- and Rousseau's works, Thomas Jefforson's and Tom Paine's writing's, led to a Revolution which gave real power to the ideas of inalienable rights and the equality of humankind.

This is like a high school rendering of the Enlightenment. First of all, Paine's The Age of Reason and Jefferson's Gospel of Luke and Notes on the State of Virginia hardly rank with Le esprit de loi and the Encyclopedie as great works of the human mind (I never said I didn't admire the work of Enlightenment thinkers as works of human endeavor; I just protest the enshrining of the Enlightenment as a pinnacle of human achievement as it spawned horror, as will be seen further below). Those are included because, well, we're Americans and we want to be included in this grand western experiment. Sadly, no one considered them as being at the same level of sophistication of even a Christian Wolff, let alone Immanuel Kant.

Second, "logic" and "science" have been around since before Socrates; Aristotle codified logic in his Organon, and Bacon tried to improve upon them, but merely added a work to be read beside them. It is true that 18th century thinkers were impressed by what we call science and what they called natural philosophy, and some surrendered their faith to the power of science, but not all. Faith certainly helped its own destruction, especially in Catholic France where a reactionary clerisy had hold of much of the church hierarchy, as well as quite a bit of wealth in land and rents. One of the great myths of history is that Reason replaced Faith in the 18th century, as both are as old as humanity, there was nothing to replace. Rationality wasn't an invention of Rene Descartes staring into his stove; it is one way the human mind works. That's all. To think otherwise is to subscribe to the Durant theory of history.

Finally, I'm not sure which "Revolution" (note the capital in the original) he is referring to. If it's the American Revolution, it wasn't. The American colonists fought a war of Independence. They initially called it a revolution, but in the wake of the second revolution of the 18th century, many backed off, because it was clear the French gave new meaning to the word. I want to spend just a moment considering the French Revolution. At first, it was a protest against venal, corrupt, and inefficient governance. The French invented regal absolutism, and thus I have very little sympathy for them reaping what they sowed. The problem, however, came once that first chink appeared, that first stone in the edifice that was the French "constitution" (such as it was) fell. With the calling of the Estates General, and their demanding a new, written Constitution, all bets were off. While nothing in history is inevitable, there just seems something fated about the result - the death of the monarch and the institution of a series of governments that moved further and further to an absolutism that would have made the French kings of an earlier age blush.

Part of the problem was that Revolutionary France was, like all true revolutions, expantionist. No sitting monarch is fond of those from other countries coming and telling his or her subjects that they need to rise up and demand their rights. Thus, while France was in turmoil internally, it was also at war with most of Europe throughout most of the Revolutionary period. Unease was piled upon unease; enemies existed within and without. These factors were added to an absolutist ideology that insisted that human equality, a result of Enlightenment "logic" and "science" (enthroned now in the place of regal absolutism; thus the days of the week, the months of the year, even the traditional boundaries of French provinces were all changed to be "logical"), and we have only one result - the Terror. The French Revolution held the imagination of Europe in sway for over a century; it took the First World War to knock it off its pinnacle as a key point in their collective history. The Terror was, for most commentators, the logical end result of is all. It is also the product, not of religous thought, but of secular, scientific logic. Thousands of people went to their deaths because of their refusal to accept certain "truths" of the Enlightenment. For this reason alone, I hold the Enlightenment in contempt, but there are other reasons as well.

von Niemand continues:
. . . [The Enlightenment} was an almost unbroken tapestry of thought, achievement and experimentation, which not even the disruption of the Great War, fascism, and the Holocaust that followed could extinguish.

Actually, the Enlightenment ended with the end of the 18th century. Kant's first great disciple, Johann Fichte, was also a critic of Enlightenment thought. Along with Kant, he also read Rousseau and Herder, two critics of Enlightenment thought. From Fichte we can draw a line easily enough to the two towering figures of 19th century Continental philosophy, Goethe and Hegel. To class them as part of the Enlightenment is to do violence to the whole notion. The 19th century was the era, not of reason or rationality, but of romanticism. It was the age of Coleridge and Emerson, of Victorian sentimentality exemplified by the writings of Dickens. It was also the age of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, of Marx and Freud, and the less dangerous and less well-known, but nonetheless important Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey, the first a romaticist theologian, the other a romanticist historian. What all these thinkers had in common was the feeling that the Enlightenment had neglected something important - the full human reality, including human feeling, that which can not be summed up in logic, "science", or reason.

There are some historians of ideas who see Romanticism as the flip side of the Enlightenment, as an extension of it rather than a reaction to it (I am not one of them; the differences between, say, Voltaire and Dilthey, are more than those that would exist because of time and place; they are differences of effect and affect as well). In either case, most historians of ideas agree that, despite von Niemand's claim, the Great War shattered European optimism and complacency. To claim, as von Niemand does, that even the Holocaust did not raise questions about the Enlightenment is absurd; philosophers and theologians have been noting how efficient and logical the Holocaust was for two generations. While I believe it is a stretch to blame the Enlightenment for all of the Nazi's crimes, it is not too difficult to see a large Enlightenment imprint on Nazi evil. Just consider the fact of historic Prussian anti-Semitism, codified by such disparate thinkers as the Saxon Luther, and Kant, and Schleiermacher, and Marx, and even the Austrian Freud, and one can begin, perhaps, to understand how deep the hatred ran, and the tools of logic, science, and efficiency taught by the Enlightenment aided and abetted the greatest crime in history.

When people point to religion as the source of evil and death in the world, I usually remain silent, even though I know the truth is quite different. When people scream "witch burning" and "crusade", I usually just smile, because these are old accusations, and are partisan as well. While I am no fan of the Enlightenment, and I do hold it responsible, in part or as a whole, for many of the horrors of the past two centuries, I also am not interested in placing blame here or there as an end in itself. Understanding is not about assigning blame or responsibility, but about seeing a way through to the other side, getting from where we are - a real mess - to a place of relative quiet and safety.

I had hoped for something in von Niemand's article to relieve my general sense that he was sadly mistaken about both the Enlightenment and its survival. Part of his ending is thus:
What I fear most is that much of the world, exhausted by war and the threat of violence, will drift further into fear and seductively simple answers - that we lose both sides of the human heritage; the honest spiritual search, and the full development of our intelligence, ability, and recognition of the equality of our humanity. . . .

They are not two sides of our heritage. There are not "sides"; human beings are not divided entities. We are whole, individual, unique, irreplaceable, and the human heritage is not divisible in this way. We are not "spirit and flesh", we are not "intellect and spirit", we are not "mind and matter". These are false dichotomies, false coices.

If we are going to get ourselves out of the fix we are in, the first thing we need to do is be clear what is at stake. We need to get our history right, or at least as right as possible. We can't rely on our current prejudices our even our current wishes to guide us. We need to be honest enough, and insist that perhaps the Enlightenment, for all the benefits its gave us, also provided the rationale for terror beyond anything that had come before. I understand that is difficult for many to accept, but accpetance is the first step to healing.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Beyond Satire, Beneath Contempt

I found this and am dumbstruck. It's like monkeys are running the country.
I realize it's late, and I should go to bed. I shouldn't allow this kind of thing to ruin my night.
Monkeys. It's gotta be monkeys.

UPDATE: I thought about creating a new post, but why, when what follows fits in so well with this topic. Among those getting a raise at the White House was the Director of Lessons Learned. I suppose soon enough we shall hear about how other Administrations have employed such an office. Even granting that, what has this person, or even this office (as "Director", I'm assuming there's a "Lessons Learned" staff), done constructively over the past five years? Has it made its way to the President's desk? Or perhaps this is the person who will take the fall for all the crap we're in right now?
You know, you can't make up shit like this. If you did no one would believe you.

Who's a Real Neo-con and Who's Just a Real Idiot

I really like Glenn Greenwald, even though I've never met him. I like him because he writes good, engaging, thoughtful, intelligent - and long - pieces. Did I mention his pieces are long? Really long. Longer than mine, and I've gotten a few complaints! Glenn's stuff is powerful and part of that power is the fact that Glenn usually knows what he's talking about. Until this piece. He writes, at one point:
Neoconservatism is rarely defined but its central tenets are, by now, quite clear.

Actually, neo-conservatism is discussed very clearly in two very well-written books by Gary Dorrien. The first, The Neo-Conservative Mind: Politics, Culture, and the War of Ideology (Philadelphia:Temple University Press, 1993) discusses the history of the neo-con movement, from its early days in factional fights in the CPUSA between Trotskyists and others. Dorrien also interviews all the major first-generation figures of the movement: Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Michael Novak, and Peter Berger. Dorrien's take, at the time the book was written, was that the end of the Cold War had wrought a crisis in the neo-conservative movement. With the Soviet Union gone, much of the raison d'etre for the movement was gone. Indeed, he quotes Irving Kristol (father of Bloviating Bill Kristol) as saying that it's a good thing.
Dorrien's second book on the neo-cons is called Imperial Designs: Neoconservatism and the New Pax Americana (NY & London:Routledge, 2004) traces the development of the movement through the 1990's and a whole new generation of neo-cons, not originally Marxists like the first generation, but a group - William Kristol, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey, Francis Fukuyama (now, apparently, a heretic, and treated as such), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Charles Krauthammer - who had largely been traditional liberals until they moved gradually to the right during the 1970's and 1980's. This new group, sometimes scorned by first generation neo-cons for their triumphalist touting of American Imperialism (most of the original neo-cons were faithful to their Leninist roots and disparaged American Imperialism), included both policy experts and publicists (not publicity-directors, but people schooled in the intricacies of international and domestic law and able to discuss them).
Both books are worth the time and intellectual energy it would take to read them. Dorrien is an engaging writer (I also have the first two of his projected three-volume history of American Liberal Theology; Dorrien is a professor of religion at Kalamazoo College) and while he shares nothing in common ideologically with the neo-cons, he is respectful, allowing them to speak for themselves as much as possible.
Having read Dorrien, I feel quite confident in saying that Joe Lieberman is no neo-conservative. Joe Lieberman is a power-hungry, Washington-bound hack who believes his own press. I have no love for the neo-cons, believe me. I find them to be irresponsible with both theory and policy, too often pushing options that are detrimental to the security and interests of the United States, and wasteful of our national treasure, both material and human. This is no excuse, however, for falsely labeling someone a neo-con who is not. Joe is no neo-con. He's just a hack that neo-cons like.

I Hate Writing About Israel

I don't like even to think about the mess over there, to be honest. There are so many other things that are less likely to involve being called rude names. The truth is, I had hoped to avoid ever writing about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but Alan Dershowitz really pissed me off. I am really quite tired of Americans telling other Americans that we cannot chastise Israel for its misconduct. I am tired of Americans telling other Americans that any criticism of Israel is based, not upon a reasoned consideration of the facts, or moral outrage at the excesses of Israeli abuse of Palestinians, but rather in anti-Semitism. That anti-Semites "criticize" Israel (actually, they ridicule it horribly; one cannot call it ciriticism in any normal sense) should go without saying. The equation is not equal, however. Just because people who hate Jews criticize Israel does not mean to criticize Israel is to hate Jews. It is not only not logical, it is in defiance of all semblance of reality. The kinds of criticisms many on the left in the US level against Isreali behavior is the same criticism the Israeli left uses against its own government. Now, of course, we can enter a whole argument about self-hating Jews, etc., etc., but that is just question-begging. To criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic. Period. There need be no more discussion on the matter.
Having said that, there are other issues and questions I feel like addressing in this, my one and only post on Israel. First, much is often made that the Palestinians, particularly Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist. This is true, but it also hold Hamas and the Palestinians (and implicitly other Arab nations that have yet to formally recognize Israel) to an impossible standard. No nation-state has an abstract right to exist. Indeed, no nation-state is under any obligation when opening up dimplomatic relations with another nation-state to first formally recognize that nation-state's inherent right to exist. In truth, nation-states deny this non-existent right all the time; it's called war. The United States recently denied Iraq's right to exist, and did so by invading it and destroying its sovereign government.
We spent close to half a century denying the right of existence to the third largest nation-state on the planet. We denied their legitimacy, their form of government, their form of social and economic organization, their foreign policy, even their desire to deal with us as free and equal soveriegn states. Yet, we concluded several treaties with the Soviet Union, even as we played the most dangerous stare-down in history. International relations do not require anyone to recognize abstract rights, or even concrete ones. All its requires is a grudging acceptance of what Henry Kissinger once called "facts on the ground."
In this case, that means the Israelis and Palestinians need to realize that they cheek-by-jowl with one another, and some form of accomodation will be necessary in order for them to survive. Unless of course they want perpetual war, which is always a possibility. Except people don't want perpetual war. They want to raise their families, and do their work, and laugh and play and watch their kids grow up and play games and make love to the people they love or lust after and die peacefully after a long life surrounded by multiple generations of their families. Until the governments in Israel, Palestine, Egypt, the United States, and whoever ese is a player over there recognizes these realities - much more fundamental realities than some abstract right to exist - the situation is going to continue to spiral down.
The reasons pressure is put on Israel by some in the US (although not enough, unfortunately) is because of the two players in this farce, Israel and Palestine, the United States only has real leverage over Israel. We can condemn the Palestinians all we want; we can only pressure the Israelis, and we can do that because we give them tremendous amounts of support, money, military hardware, and diplomatic cover. We put pressure on the Israelis for the same reason I yell at my kids, but not at the neighbor kids: the neighbor kids have parents who should be in the job of disciplining them; if they're not doing that job, I still have no right or ability to do so. I can only control what I can actually, really control. To pretend otherwise - to act as if we could put pressure on the Palestinians to make them do what we want them to do - is to engage in a distraction.
I used to like Alan Dershowitz, back when he was just a Constitutional lawyer who stuck with subject he knew something about. Since September 11, though, first with his advocation of torture against any and all legal and moral and logical norms, and now with his rabid pro-Isreali stands (he actually praises targetted killings of "terrorists"; as a lawyer he should know that this is, in fact, extra-judicial murder, pure and simple) he is not only unattractive to me as a thinker, he is actively pssing me off. Please don't do it again, Alan, because (a) I want to remember you as you were, before this Israel-Alzheimer's took over; and (b) I don't want to have to write about Israel ever again.

Embarassing Christians

You know, it's people like this that make me want to hide the fact that I'm a Christian. It isn't enough they can't read the Bible correctly; it isn't enough they want to "convert" Jews. They have this plan to do all this . . . so they can look forward to the destruction of the world! Again, it isn't enough that they can't read the Bible correctly . . .
In his book The American Religion, Harold Bloom remarks on the pre-millenialist Jehovah's Witnesses that their vision of the coming apocalypse is luridly graphic, horrific in its implications for the unregenerate, and endlessly sought after by adherents. That this peculiar affliction, a desire to simultaneously save and destroy the world through Christianizing it, is prevalent uniquely in America comes, I think from a combination of different heritages, not least of which is our rather long tolerance for whacky religions (the treatment of the Mormons is a huge exception to this otherwise general rule). Now, however, there needs to be a bit, not of intolerance so much as a willingness to stand up and say, "No," to such dangerous drivel. Most Christians view such idiocy with a rather jaundiced eye. We should critically engage it, a euphemism for denouncing it lock, stock, and barrell.
These are reflections of the America-hating, indeed world-hating theology expressed by Falwell and Robertson after the September 11 attacks. When the world becomes too much for some people, a neurotic escape into apocalyptic provides a refuge. Sadly, the rest of us Christians are left with the dual burden of helping to fix the mess we're in, and explaining why we're not like those others with their fantasies of violence and destruction. All I can say is, God is love, and these people by both their words and actions do not express any love of which I am aware. They may believe in god, but it is not the Christian God I worship and to whom I owe my life and work. I would rather we leave them, now, where they are, and go about doing the real work of the Church.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Fourth Post? This Must Be Serious! It Is

I was not going to post again today, but I ran across this courtesy of Crooks & Liars. That and I was listening to Dead Soul Tribe, not conducive to upbeat reflections on anything anyway. I was caught by the end of Silber's comments. He writes:
Can there ever be foregiveness for this kind of deliberate self-blindness, or for this refusal to acknowledge the unbearable pain and suffering their actions and their policies have cost so many countless, innocent people? We are not gods; the perspective of eternity is not ours. In the human realm where life and the possibility of happiness are the indispensible primary values, foregiveness is not possible, nor should these barely human monsters expect it. They are monsters by choice, and they may not now escape the consequences of their actions. (emphasis added)

What struck me most was the way Silber refused to duck what most would have posed as a rhetorical question, viz., the issue of foregiveness. I appreciate the anger behind such a judgement; I share a sorrow and compassion for the countless lives destroyed by the venal creatures running our current Administration. I was troubled by, and wish to address, two things.
First, on the questino of foregiveness, I only want to insist that we must separate the reality of foregiveness from issues such as contrition and responsibility. Can there be, should there be, foregiveness? Of course; Silber admits we are not gods. Foregiveness, however, is not free, even from a Christian perspective. It isn't about a warm feeling in your heart that allows you to go out and commit horrendous acts of evil knowing God will be there to wipe the slate clean again. As long ago as St. Paul, this view was ridiculed ("eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die" was not a criticism of paganism, but Christians who acted as if foregiveness was a "Get Out of Jail Free" card). For Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, Powell, and their enablers in the press, it is not just a matter of saying "I'm sorry, sir, I'll never do it again, sir." Forgiveness, since the first days of Christianity, has to be accompanied by conversion, metanoia, literally a turning of the face. It's not about accepting Jesus in your heart. It's about recognizing your own capacity for evil, about recognizing the complicity you share in the horrors of this world and actively seeking to prevent them in the future. Ultimate foregiveness, the end to which any of these people will come is certainly not up to me to decide; nor is it to Arthur Silber. On the other hand, we can see how well these folks are living up to their end of the agreement by what they do.
The other thing I want to address is the emphasized section in the block-quote above. I dislike dehumanizing rhetoric, whether it's Hitler calling Jews vermin or left-wingers, progressives, and liberals calling members of this Administration monsters. Dehumanizing them separates them and their actions from us, creating a qualitative distinction that is unbridgeable. Monsters do horrible things, not human beings; monsters create situations where children are beheaded and their heads are replaced by dog heads, not people. Except, of course, people do create these situations. I do not accept dehumanizing rhetoric, from the right or from the left because the first step in the very long journey to prevent these horrors is to recognize that both victims and perpetrator are human beings like us, thus we are capable of perpetrating these same atrocities. Only when we recognize this, our own capacity for monstrous wickedness, can we take the next step of developing ways to prevent them from happening again. Furthermore, as Americans who (presumably) pay taxes, we are all complicit in some small way for the horror show we are witnessing. Unless you want to say categorically that none of your tax dollars pay Dick Cheney's salary, or the salary of the men accused of raping a fourteen year old Iraqi, or that none of your tax dollars bought bombs that fell on civilian neighborhoods - we all bear a share of responsibility. We are the monsters. This is the second step, closely related to the first, we must take if we are going to fix this awful mess we are all in.
You see the fix we are in, don't you? If you aren't willing to foregive the monsters who perpetrate these atrocities, you need to look in the mirror and say, very loudly, "I don't forgive you."

Accepting an Invitation

I have been invited to contribute to a blog called Burn the Liberals to write on religious issues from a progressive perspective. I guess that means I will have to bone up on the second-half of this blogs title, huh? I was afraid of that.
Anyway, once a week, I'll post something incendiary over there. Come have a read; from what I've seen, the stuff is really good.

I'm Not an Intelligent Columnist & I Don't Play One At Bloomberg

You know, I always wanted to like Margaret Carlson. Back in the days when she was on CNN's "Capitol Gang", I wanted to root for her, I did. She reminded me of Velma on Scooby Doo with those glasses and that nasally voice, and I always backed the underdog. Lately, though, the more I read, not only am I not impressed, I am frankly surprised at how stupid an individual who is supposed to make her living commenting on current events can be. This particular instance of really insane reporting comes courtesy of an attack on Hillary Clinton that is as bizarre as it is deeply troubling. Ms. Carlson wants us all to believe several things about Hillary, including the fact that she is, (a) out for revenge; (b) never forgets a slight to either her or her husband; (c) is coldly calculating, willing to toss aside a poltical frinedship for a possible political advantage further down the line; (d) willing to confide her deepest thoughts and motivations to a columnist. I made the last part up, of course, because Margaret Carlson never says that she understand Hillary Clinton's motivations due to any long, frinedly, heartfelt girltalk. Rather, she just takes it as given that Hillary is "piling on" Joe Lieberman out of motivations both ruthless and sinister.
We shall get to other possible interpretations for Hillary's actions in a moment, but for now, I just want to know, why does Margaret Carlson think she understands Hillary's motivations so well? What insight into the inner workings of the psychology of the junior Senator from New York does she have? Could it be, perhaps, that she is, in fact, making it all up, creating a fictitious psyche that she can then attack? My guess is probably the last. I don't for a moment believe that Clinton is shrewdly (notice the word? shrew? pretty clever of me, huh?) calculating the fall of Joe Lieberman because she bears a grudge for Holy Joe's dissing of her hubby back in the 1990's. I don't for a second have as much insight into Hillary's inner workings as Margaret Carlson does to claim, as she does, that everything she does is crafted before hand in her ruthless mind. In fact, I think Margaret is making stuff up because she doesn't like Hillary (if Margaret can make up motivations for Sen. Clinton, I guess I can make up motivations for her, huh).
Here's what I think Hillary is doing. I think she is being a loyal Democrat. If a candidate wins a party primary, that person whether incumbent or not, deserves the full support of the party apparatus. I guess, perhaps, that Sen. Clinton believes in (small "d") democracy, where the people are given the opportunity to pick the candidate they believe will represent their interests the best. I think, perhaps, Hillary is making it clear that Joe Lieberman will get her support if he wins the primary, and Ned Lamont will get her support if he wins the primary. Since that is all Ms. Clinton said, that she would give her support to the Democratic nominee, why else whould we use such an answer as an opportunity to psychoanalyze her? Again, I'm just guessing here (unlike Carlson, who never claims to guess, but rather to understands the deep inner workings of Hillary's mind and motivation) but I think Margaret Carlson doesn't like Sen. Clinton all that much.
You know what? I don't like Sen. Clinton all that much. I'm a native New Yorker, and even though they're both Democrats, I think both Chuck Schumer and Hillary are embarrasing (for very different reasons). Even though I don't like them (and probably because I'm not given a national platform every week from which I can spout my wit and wisdom) I don't go pretending I understand the deep recesses of the minds of either Schumer or Clinton, or anyone else for that matter. When I do it, I preface it by saying, "I'm guessing here . . ."

Bush has Trouble Figuring Out North Korea; He Should Ask Me

Note: It seems like I have ignored the right-hand side of my name for a while. Sorry about that. I shall post on that when I can.

Recently, Pres. Bush admitted that diplomacy with North Korea was difficult because it was difficult to figure out exactly what it is North Korea was doing. These words echoed (or perhaps were echoes of; I'm not sure who said it first) the views of Condoleezza Rice, who as Secretary of State one would think would spend time trying to figure out what foreign governments were up to. Be that as it may, since Bush has abandoned the State Department (as has, apparently, Rice), I wish to offer my perspective on what the North Koreans are up to, and how to respond.
First of all, I do not believe that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is mentally unstable, a megalomaniac, or a child molestor, all things of which he has been accused (as was Sadaam Hussein, by the way). As to the last on the list, we can only know this if we have information from deep inside the North Korean government, and if we did, we would also have a clue as to how to respond dimplomatically to them. No, the whole pedophilia trope is an old one used on all sorts of people we don't like, whether its foreign leaders or David Koresh. As to the question of Kim's mental health, it seems to me that he is acting exactly as he should in order to achieve the goals he wants. The actions of the North Koreans are neither "inscrutable" (I can't remember where I read that, but it has horribly racist connotations) nor outside the bounds of reason.
Since the early 1990's, North Korea has been failing miserably as a nation-state. Its people are dying, or fleeing in the night to China (you think our problem with Mexico is bad?). When a country has to publicly announce, as North Korea (by the way, the actual name of the country is the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, often abbreviated PDRK) did several years ago that it was rationing food stocks to civilians to ensure its military was adequately fed, you know the country is in a bad way.
It has responded to this crisis of existence by, first, threatening war with the South and the United States, early in the first Clinton Administration, then publicly announcing all sorts of scary nuclear things - research and bomb development, that sort of thing. The Clinton Administration essentially bought the PDRK off; we offered to help feed their people and rebuild a bit of their infrastructure if they would cease nuclear research. They agreed whole-heartedly.
Relations with the PDRK were never amiable, but just before the end of the Clinton Presidency, Madeline Albright did become the first US Secretary of State to visit Pyong-yang. Not long after Bush became President, then-Sec. of State Colin Powell voiced his interests in continuing bilateral talks with the North Koreans; he was verbally slapped-down by the President in a public humiliation that should have sent Powell back to the rubber-chicken circuit (see my post below, "When You Dance With the Devil, the Fat Lady Never Sings"). A few short months after the terrorist attacks on the United States, North Korea was listed with Iran and Iraq as part of an "Axis of Evil", and any attempt to deal constructively with the PDRK was off the table. Combined with the developing US miltary doctrine of pre-emption, it seemed that North Korea was near the top of a list of countries the United States was planning to invade.
Even before we went to war with Iraq, North Korea showed signs it would not sit passively by and allow itself to be threatened. It announced it had not only enriched uranium, but had constructed "at least two" atomic weapons (I'm still unclear whether they are atom bombs or the exponentially more destructive thermonuclear bombs; I suppose it really doesn't matter). Republicans and others pointed out the stupidity of Democrats dealing with a communist government that obviously violates its agreements. One or two voices, whispering beneath the cackling din, noted that, by developing nuclear weapons, North Korea had insulated itself from attack by the United States. While the former point by pundits and politicians may be debatable, the second is not.
Now, three years after Operation "Mission Accomplished", the North is demonstrating to the world - to the US and its East Asian allies - that it is not to be trifled with by test firing several non-ballistic missiles. There is no doubt that the North's possession of such weapons is, in wonderfully understated diplomatic language, troubling. On the other hand, it is much less troubling that Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons, and the recent announcement by India that it was planning to test missiles. North Korea, the US can deal with. The mess in South Asia is a nightmare.
With that history and recent developments, it would seem that (a) the PDRK is doing what it has done to draw the attention of the US to itself; (b) the North is trying to force the US to deal diplomatically with itself, recognizing that it is a serious military threat, less to the US than to its allies Japan and South Korea, and that any attempt at a military resolution to the PDRK situation will result in catastrophe; (c) the PDRK is calling the US' bluff on military pre-emption, and showing the world the failures (not admitted by George Bush in a recent press conference but still there) of his non-policy towards the North. These are the acts, not of an unbalanced mind, but a very clever, very serious-minded diplomatist. Unlike the Bush Administration, the North Koreans know the limits of their power, and accentuate their strengths in such a way as to make their capablilities apparent. Naked force isn't nearly as effective as a diplomatic tool as the subtle use of suggestion, as in "Come sit with us, or we shall turn you friends and allies, and 30,000 of your young men and women, into shadows burned onto walls."
Finally, just a note to liberals and progressives who buy into the whole "Kim Jong-il is a nutcase" business (as I heard Al Franken do just this morning on his show): even if he is as sociopathic as Josef Stalin, as murderous as Mao Tse-tung, as evil as Adolf Hitler, we still have to deal with him diplomatically. To do so is not to approve of either him or his regime (in fact, the US at one time was one of only a handful of nations to recognize the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, so I see no reason not to deal with Kim in North Korea), but only to recognize certain realities of the international system. Again, I think he has been shrewd and intelligent in his recent actions; my admiration does not mean I approve. I just think he is better at the dimplomacy game than George W. Bush or Condoleeza Rice. Perhaps that's not saying much, after all.

UPDATE:Thanks to Tony Snow for proving me right. You gotta alove the fact that the only people less competent than those deciding policy are those who are charged with explaining policy. A poster over at HuffPo insists that it isn't that the Bush Administration is incompetent; this person insists that conservatism is inherently flawed. Actually, there is much I admire about classical conservative thought. The simple truth is, the group we have running the country right now is dumber than a bag of hammers.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

How Not To Be a Public Intellectual

This is going to be another multi-posting day. I want to give a tip of the hat to atrios for this particular piece on David Brooks. Brooks became well known not too long ago with a book entitled Bobobs in Paradise, thus attempting to coin a term, like "yuppie", that applied to a whole class of people who shared certain characteristics. In this case, Brooks claim was that 60's style readicals had become wedded to 80's style conspicuous consumption. Thus there were rich, white radicals who complain about capitalism and racism; there were these same rich, white radicals who drive big cars, and sometimes even fly in private airplaines who complain about the environment; usually these "Bobos" (short for "bourgioeus Bohemian") were doing this complaining either at Starbucks over a five dollar cup of coffee or at an ethnic restaurant that serves exotic cuisine (here, I suppose they are also bewailing hunger in the Third World). This is nothing more than an extension of a certain social and cultural resentment liberals and progressives are subject to. Not too long ago, I was told by a right-wing person that he knew about "my kind" who "wear birkenstocks [sic] and drive a Subaru". First of all, I am not a part of a "kind"; I don't wear Birkenstocks right now, but I have for the simple reason that they are comfortable; and I have never owned a Subaru (it used to be liberals were made fun of for driving Volvos; perhaps he was thinking Saab's? I don't know). In any event, it is all part and parcel of a certain attempt to portray liberals and progressives as, at heart, hypocrites.
Recently, Brooks published an article in Atlantic magazine on the socio-economic and cultural differences between a so-called Blue county (Montgomery Co., MD) and a Red County (Franklin Co., PA). The author of the article on Brooks went to the same places as Brooks and found that, despite Brooks characterization of Franklin Co. as a bastion of cuisine- and shop-philistines, there was a hearlthy social and cultural diversity. Despite Brooks' contention that you couldn't spend more than $20 on a meal, there were plenty of opportunities. Furthermore, Brooks missed something even an elementary research assistant could have discovered - there are more "Dollar"-style stores in Montgomery County than in Franklin County. In other words, Brooks painted with a broad brush, creating stereotypes. He did little research before setting out, and did very little work to defeat the pre-approved narrative (that word again; see why I hate it?) he carried in his pea-sized skull.
To be a public intellectual means more than providing a certain patina of scholarly or intellectual pretention to an otherwise facile bit of writing (George Will, please take note). Rather, it means satisfying certain basic criteria of intellectual rigor and integrity. It means being able to withstand criticism. It means doing more than probing the depths of one's own sphincter for a story. When the author of the piece at contacted Brooks, rather than offer explanations or defense for legitimate questions, Brooks questsioned the author's integrity, then switched tacks, claiming he was exaggerating for effect, being humorous to make a point. In other words, he made it all up. This is the Limbaugh defense; when confronted to take responsibility for the political effects of his show, Limbaugh consistently maintains that he is not a political figure but an entertainer. It is a dodge, a way to evade responsibility, in Limbaugh's case for an almost pathological fear of the truth. I'm not sure what the cause of Brooks' reaction to a reporter is, but it seems to me to be consistent with so much else in contemporary conservatism. Rather than be answer to a larger public that may not subscribe to its beliefs, they live within a shell, an echo-chamber; when the rare outsider punctures this protective cocoon (of bullshit), that person is an intruder, not welcome, and is treated as all interlopers are usually treated. Thus, Brooks does not wish to be a public intellectual so much as another right-wing hack posing as an intellectual, much as Limbaugh is a political figure posing as an entertainer and Ann Coulter is whatever she is posing as a human being. I can, now, with little guilt, continue to ignore whatever Brooks says or does because he is, like so much else on the right, a fraud, a cheat, afraid of exposure to questions of either fact or value. I don't mind conservative intellectuals; I do mind, however, pretenders who are nothing but self-promoting frauds.

I Am Now an Internet Stalker and a Troll on Right-Wing Sites; YEA!!!

So, it's like this. I have been trying to engage some right-wingers in debate and discussion; I actually succeeded with one guy earlier this week. With another guy I have been less successful. In fact, yesterday, I decided to try posting a comment at his site. I pointed out a simple grammar error (he typed "apro po" for the word "apropos") in an earlier post he had. I also pointed out that I found his lack of compassion for the American possibly injured by running with the bulls sad. He retorted that being partially disabled by a disease he had no compassion for someone who was able-bodied, injuring themselves for thrills. Now, I'll grant that's a legitimate position to take. At the same time, his own disability does not provide an unassailable perch for criticizing others. I told him that in a response that he deleted.
And this is where it gets interesting. You see, in an earlier thread (yes, I read most of his blog, including comments) he had criticized someone for deleting his comments from her blog (and he did so to a ditto-head commenter who was border-line racist, foul, and barely intelligible). I pointed out this minor instance of hypocrisy, and then made a comment about not only not understanding our freedoms, but unable to live under them as well.
That comment was deleted. I responded that I thought he had deleted my comment because I had pointed out to someone who put down "publishing" as his occupation that he apparently didn't know "apropos" was a, one, single word.
I surfed over there this morning - yes, I don't deny it - not only were ALL the comments deleted, but he claims that I am a troll, an internet stalker (actually he uses his own "experience" with me as a segue to some allegation of more serious internet stalking by a left-winger on a right-winger). He also says that "my activities will be closely monitored on this site and others he goes to". I think he means psycmeistr. How very Heinrich Himmler of him, don't you think?
I forgot one of his responses to me; it was that my comments were longer than the original postings. I pointed out, rather childishly, that perhaps the reason that was was because I thought more than he did. Anyway . . .
So there you have it. I am now a troll and an internet stalker, because . . . I went to a right-wing site and rather than scream "Yes!" in the comment section, I actually criticized him. I actually forced him to be accountable for what he said, to justify it. I have visited several times, and commented because (and this apparently makes me out to be a true criminal mastermind) he has a web log on a publicly accessible site that allows comments. I suppose it feeds the right-wing victim/siege mentality to flatter himself on thinking some left-winger is stalking him. If seeking to engage in dialogue - including criticism - is trolling and stalking, I'm guilty. If attempting to draw this person, and others, out is trolling and stalking, I'm guilty.
I shall allow these right-wingers their echo chamber of this strange combination of superiority and victimhood, if that is what makes them happy. I shall allow this person to announce to all those who visit his site that some evil left-winger hsa infiltrated all the carefully placed defenses around his blog and (gasp!shudder!) tried to talk to him like a human being.
This has been an object lesson, I suppose, in my own naivete. I had hoped, I had wished, to actually talk, one-on-one, with a right-winger, try to cut through all the phony rhetoric and nonsense and actually deal as a person with a person. That, apparently, is too much to ask. I will leave this person with a bit of advice, however - if you don't like people visiting your site and leaving comments, turn the comment section off. Better yet, go to your double-super-secret right-wing hide-out where you can all lament in secret all the liberals who want to talk to you. Poor babies.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Casualties of War

An Iraqi war vet, acting "strange" on a NY to Tampa flight, burst out of his seat and charged the door to the cockpit. He was tackled by some passengers (so much for air marshals). Frightening, especially to those who had to experience it, I have no doubt. Yet, how responsible is he for his actions? How responsible is the Bush Administration?
I know that sounds like another liberal blaming Bush for everything, but please consider some salient facts here. First, this is Bush's war. He sold it to the US as part of a strategy to protect us from a potential threat, but it's really just . . . Bush's war. I have no doubt oil, revenge, neo-con plans for democratizing the Middle East all played a part; none of that changes the simple fact that this is Bush's war. He wanted it, he got it. It is up to him to do it right and take the credit, or mess it up and take the blame.
Second, and following on the last part above, it seems Bush has a knack for doing things exactly the opposite way from that considered the correct way. Thus, not enough troops begin the war; our supply lines were horribly exposed. Had this war been against an enemy not starved and humiliated for a decade by sanctions, that could have presented serious problems. Then, because we had not enough troops to start the war, we didn't have adequate coverage to prevent serious looting and rioting once Saddam fell. The excuse that no one predicted looting is nonsense; what else do people do when civil order breaks down? They loot! The list of mistakes Bush has made in the actual execution of the war could take pages and pages, but I think you get the idea. Bush is supremely gifted in messing things up.
An instance of this particular gift is the slashing of funds for mental health support for veterans returning from Iraq. VA hopsitals and counseling centers are stretched thin as it is, and as they receive an influx of new vets seeking help, the Bush Administration removes funding for assistance.
Further complicating this whole matter is the way the Bush Administration does not discharge soldiers, sailors, and marines who test as mentally ill, sometimes rotating back to active service individuals with serious emotional and mental illnesses often brought on by the war and occupation. Because of recruiting shortfalls (brought on by an illegal, immoral, and now unpopular war) the Defense Department is being forced to do this, because the Bush Administration knows that a draft would be politically unpopular, even though Bush himself constantly calls for sacrifice. Thus, not only are our service personnel stretched the breaking point in a variety of ways, they are being ground down physically, mentally, and emotionally by an Administration too cowardly to take a political risk and introduce a draft, admitting that our military needs outweigh political popularity (of course, the Bush Administration has catastrophically low poll numbers as it is, so it isn't as if they had serious leverage over Congress on an issue as controversial as this).
Finally, we have another prong of the Bush Administration lack of support for our troops; when things go wrong, it isn't the fault of superiors, either military or civilian, it's the troops! Abu Ghraib? We get the bad apple metaphor. Gitmo? It isn't even the troops fault, it's those tricky Muslims and their asymetrical method of warfare. Imagine that, the US being defeated by an enemy that kills itself to win! The "Mission Accomplished" banner on the Lincoln? Zealous sailors. Haditha? The jury is still out on that. The "Haji Girl" rape and murder? Another bad apple. The bodies pile up and for the party of personal responsibility it is too convenient to blame others for their criminal actions.
So now, we have some poor soldier going apeshit on a plane. I have nothing but sympathy for him. Over-worked, blamed for all the errors of those higher up the chain of command, not given the proper logistical support, stripped of any kind of dignity that a noble cause has been served by his sacrifice, and not afforded proper treatment to help him with whatever mental and/or emotional problems he may have, he is now, like tens of thousands, another casualty of war.

When You Dance With the Devil, the Fat Lady Never Sings

First of all, I admit it, OK? While I don't post there, I do still read Huffington Post. It is, at least, a good round-up of stories, and the occasional blog post is worth a glance. Tonight, getting ready to go to bed, I read through some of the comments on a story on Colin Powell, and I can't say as I disagree with them. In an interview, Powell was saying how we need to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Of course, he is correct, and we should all be thankful that he has said so. At the same time, we might as well all be honest and admit that, on this, Powell is a few years too late and billions of dollars - and hundreds of thousands of lives - short.
Since the late 1980's when Colin Powell was NSC chair, then chair of the Joint Chiefs, he has been treated as a singular individual, a man of worth and stature. He had a great bio, had worked his way through the ranks, seemed a soldier's soldier, and in a country besotted with race guilt and prejudice, the fact he was African-American in an age only beginning to place its toes beyond legal white supremacy further inoculated him from criticism. I remember reading, back before the 2000 election, when Powell's name was put forward as a possible candidate for a cabinet post if the Republican's won, about Powell's role in the Nixon White House in developing a damage control strategy after the My Lai massacre story broke. I also remember a critique of the so-called "Powell Doctrine" that appeared in The New York Review of Books. These were the first rumblings that Powell may no longer be as untouchable as many had thought.
When Powell announced his party affiliation, I was neither surprised nor disappointed. He was, after all, a career military man who had come through the ranks at a time when liberal and left-wing ideologues and intellectuals, if not Democratic politicians, derided the military. The Republican Party must have seemed quite congenial to an ambitious army officer. That the Republican Party was quickly replacing the Democratic Party as the protector of white privilege and power, with Nixon's "Southern Strategy" of using the race card to swing the Confederacy to the Republicans may have given him pause, but Powell's racial identity must have been secondary to his identity as a military officer.
Powell appeared on the dais at the 1996 and 2000 Republican National Conventions, a lone black face in a sea of whiteness; a lone thoughtful moderate on a whole host of issues the party had announced it was hardening its conservative positions on. Many people wondered aloud at the disconnect. I didn't then and I don't now. Powell wanted power and prestige. In the Democratic Party, he would be one of dozens of supremely competent persons of color able to serve at the cabinet level. He would also face the questions of serving a party that, to many in the press and public, had problems with the military. With the Republicans, he could use his race to his own advantage, gaining a position of authority, and appearing on the national stage as a moderating figure in a political atmosphere becoming increasingly unhinged as the right wing took over.
Secretaries of State, since the end of the Second World War, have not been as important in formulating foreign policy as they were previously (with the possible exception of Dean Acheson; Truman, however, was an old-school politician which is probably why he trusted Acheson implicitly). With the passage of the 1948 National Security Act, creating the Department of Defense, the CIA, and the National Security Council with a cabinet-level Presidential Advisor on Naitonal Security operating out of the White House (the State Department is a couple miles away in Foggy Bottom), the State Department is less a source of policy than an implementer of policies developed by the national security bureaucracy. The classic example of this was Kissinger in the Nixon White House, who ignored as much as possible Secretary of State William Rogers, and created an entire foreign policy (and a disastrous one at that) outside normal diplomatic channels. The thrust of all this bureaucratic and political manouvering is that, while excellent on paper, the Secretary of State in fact carries little weight in most administrations. Most Presidents, even those who have zero foreign policy experience, feel they have the ability to conduct foreign policy without the aid and assistance of the people who are trained in diplomacy and negotiation. This is why, for example, Bill Clinton appointed Mickey Kantor to head up the team negotiating economic treaties; Kantor was an economist, and Clinton wanted someone who understood the finer points of macro-economics, not someone who could negotiate.
Powell stepped into a situation that was clearly, had he been paying attention during his career, a no-win situation for him. Retired from the military, a successful, popular author and speaker, Powell could have become an elder statesman, working the think-tank and University circuit to nudge, if not policy perhaps dialogue and debate about policy, in directions he felt were in our best interests. Instead, Powell took the bait dangled in front of him and became our Secretary of State.
Almost immediately, it should have been clear to anyone watching that Powell had no voice in this Adminisitration. He saw no need to heighten tensions with North Korea and announced publicly his desire to sit down with them; almost immediately, the President announced this was contrary to developing American policy. This one incident, more than any other in my own personal recollection, told me that Powell was an empty suit at the Cabinet table, and if Powell had any integrity at all, he would have walked up to the President and said, "Fuck you very much for making me look like an ass all over the world, Mr. President," and handed Bush the keys to the executive washroom on the eighth floor at Foggy Bottom.
Instead, he ate his fair share of crow, and struggled gamely on. The nadir of Powell's career as Secretary of State was the disastrous appearance before the UN Security Council. Powell himself is known to have looked at a draft of the speech he was given and tossed it across the room, calling it "fucking bullshit". The speech he gave fulfilled that same description, so his hissy fit was unwarranted. As full of lies and half-truths as a Joe Lieberman campaign commercial, Powell spoke for all the world to see, and while the press lapped it up like puppies at the tit, the rest of the world knew it was all nonsense. Nevertheless, within weeks the United States invaded Iraq, and we are there still; over 2500 American men and women are dead, tens of thousands of Iraqis, most of them innocent women and children, are also dead. Tens of thousands more on both sides are injured, and most will be scarred physically and emotionally, for the rest of their lives. There is no end in sight to the madness, either. Guantanamo Bay Prison is just one of the horrible abortions this "War on Terror" has produced, a stain on an already bloody record of American perfidy.
Powell can sit safely in a chair and tell people he thinks the United States should close Gitmo down. He has the right, and I also think he has the duty. I also think, if there is such a thing as justice in the Universe, Powell should be man enough to say that he understands he bears some responsibility for Guantanamo Bay prison. If there is anything like justice, Powell should say that he played a role in starting an illegal, immoral, unjustifiable war. I don't expect him to do that, however, because Powell is still hoping, perhaps, that the Democratic Party might rescue him from the political wilderness; why else would he have dined last evening with former Pres. Clinton?
Powell has got to know, now, after all these years, that all the compromises with a party that has used his talents and gifts and ambition, and yes, his race, have led to policies that are destroying the United States, the country Colin Powell took an oath to serve and defend. These compromises must tell on him. He must hear the fiddling in the background, announcing another reel is about to begin. Powell has danced with the devil far to long not to know this particular ball never ends.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Let's Humanize the Nazis: Why I Don't Like Godwin's Law

I was not even aware until yesterday that there was such a thing. I saw it referred to in the course of comments over on Glenn Greenwald's blog, and my brother explained it to me: The first one to call the other a Nazi loses. First of all, such a debating rule is fine under certain circumstances. As we consider the descent of the United States into extra-Constitutional rule, I believe it has no place. This post is about why I think that is so.
First of all, in general, I do not like historical comparisons and analogies. They are invidious and open up issues of myopia and "cherry-picking" (a good phrase, I suppose; I think I'm becoming like Bill Safire, God help us!), and allow opponents to show us how misguided we are. History is a very bad teacher, usually, because we never can and never will know enough about anything in the past to make truly intelligent judgements about them. History involves unique events; by definition, uniqueness resists the analog's desire to draw comparisons. History is about understanding the past on its own terms, sometimes even in its own words. It isn't a school from which we can learn much of practical use, except perhaps, "Let's not be quite that stupid again" (always a useful lesson, I think).
The problem, however, becomes complicated precisely because of the last and only real lesson history can teach us; in the words of Professor Moody, "Constant vigilance!" (Did I violate my own standards by quoting a character from Harry Potter?). When we seek out the past to understand the present, there are a multitude of options available to us, and in the current American situation, my own favorite is the Vietnam War era, precisely because none of the major players now in power served in the active-duty military during the Vietnam War; indeed, they actively sought to avoid it through deferments or National Guard duty. In so doing, and yet cheerleading the war from the sidelines, they failed to learn any of the vital lessons the War, both in the actual military conduct of operations on the ground and in its broader socio-political implications. Their ignorance, born of arrogance, has been horrible for us, and tens of thousands of dead and wounded Americans, Iraqis, Britains, Italians, Poles, Koreans, and others.
Having said that, as we look more closely at the actions of the Bush Administration, from its very beginnings, we see troubling parallels. The President withdrew the US from the ABM Treaty and the Chemical Weapons convention. The President withdrew the Kyoto Accords from consideration in the United States Senate. The President removed the Land Mine Ban from the United States Senate. Once the terrorist attacks occured, and in the ensuing months and years, there have been scads of things done that, to put the matter as pointedly as possible, practically invite comparisons with German National Socialism: the PATRIOT Act and the Enabling legislation passed by the Reichstag after the Reichstag Fire; the hordes of pundits on the right typing in lockstep, some on the payroll of the Administration; FoxNews and the Volkischer Beobachter. An assumption that diplomacy is for weaklings, and that we must show strength to the world through military force. I could go on and on, sadly.
Here we run up against Godwin's law, though. Drawing such historical comparisons, as I said before, are tricky, and no analogy is perfect, yet the parallels are eerie. More to the point, in seeing these similarities, and drawing attention to them, too often people are accused of "going too far". Godwin's law is invoked, and discussion of the issue at hand ceases, or at least the person who wants to "go there" is excluded, because Nazi analogies are considered beyond the pale.
I have one simple question: Why? Are the Nazis and the history of the run up to, and subsequent rule by, the Nazis somehow not a part of human history? Are the German people exempt from consideration as part and parcel of European history? Are we complacent because the Nazis were so horrific, and because so much of the post-WWII commentary focused on certain aspects of "the German (sometimes Prussian) national psyche" that led to the rise of the Nazis, thus protecting other people from considering the possibility that they, too, might be in danger of becoming like the Nazis?
I find all of this ludicrous in the extreme. The Nazi era was a part of history; its rise can be traced, and has been traced, through a variety of causes, circumstances, and horrible concatenation of events that have marred the history of one of the world's truly great people. It is precisely because the Nazis are a historical phenomenon, and because the events and causes (I hate using that particular word in regard to history, but until someone comes up with a better one, we're stuck with it) are easily understood, that we must not consider the Nazis an aberration, but rather part and parcel of the history of the world. Nazi uniqueness is the banal uniqueness of all historical phenomenon; as such, there is no reason not to look to that era for information and understanding to keep the exact same thing from happening here. As long as the Nazis are considered monsters and inhuman, as long as their political philosophy and the actions that flowed from that philosophy are considered outside the bounds of discussion and discourse, we cannot fully come to terms with the Nazis themselves, nor can we snatch something from that era - the real possibility of preventing those horrors - that is the only real useful result of historical study. We must, as the title says, humanize the Nazis to remind ourselves how horrible human beings can be. We need to humanize the Nazis so that we can prevent anything resembling them from arising again.

Of Sports Metaphors and Learning to Play Nice

The folks over at Faith in Public Life aren't happy with me. This would probably not bother me too much, except the source of their discomfort is a symptom of something both insidious and maddening. I will admit that my thoughts and opinions concerning a variety of issues are evolving, partly because of this blog. Because I am forcing myself each day to work through what it is I think and why, previously held absolutisms are drifting off the page. Just to take an example (before we move on), not long ago I wrote about heresy. I no longer hold the position I advocated in that particular piece, and it is because I have thought more and more about a whole cluster of related issues that I do not advocate the Church going after cetain groups any more.
In any event, to the issue at hand. First, some background. Yesterday, at Faith in Public Life, a blogger wrote a post (again) on Barack Obama's speech. I suppose this is exactly what I feared; a "liberal" makes a speech to progressive Christians, and suddenly he's a hero. In any event, in the course of the post, the author wrote the following:
Attacking our team for using words like "secular" actually undercuts the good side.

In one sentence, the writer of this post lost all "creditability" (a word he uses in a sentence further down the same paragraph as the above quote) with me. I said as much in a comment I made. I was, in fact, incredulous at the way in which the issue was portrayed:
Team? Good side? What is this, football? Skins versus shirts? C'mon, this isn't a game. The faith concerns of conservatives are just as legitimate, and just as good, as the faith concerns of liberals and progressives.

The same writer chided me a bit later, saying, "Cheer up, Geoffrey, politics and the sports metaphor have a long and useful relationship in the English language." Apparently, the person writing this felt that it was alright to sound like Norm on Cheers when discussing issues of faith and politics because other people have done it before. I was a bit nicer than that in my reply, but the point I made was simple - it is intellectual integrity and rigor I am after. I am also after, since it is about faith (supposedly, it is in the name of the web site), a little humility. Another writer, posting before I responded, told me that, in fact, conservative positions were in fact not good in his humble opinion. Now, we have moved from six-grade ways of speaking to dismissing out of hand the views of others. I was actually quite shocked to read that. Right there, in a nutshell, in the original post and the responses to my post, is the reason "progressive religion" is held in contempt by the religious right. It is arrogant, presumptive, and yet lacking in any seriousness or depth.
Later in the day, anothe article appeared, entitled "Fair Minded Words Kept in the Family". Essentially, the article is a smack down on me, precisely by not singling me out as the author does others, for discussing the issue without getting, in this author's words, "personal". First of all, I wasn't "personal". Heated, yes. Vehement, in fact (by the way, I love that word, "vehement"; I use it alot). I was not personal. The article insisted that we need to model a way of discussing issues for the "blogosphere" (a word I have used but now detest, like "netroots") that eschewed some of the uglier ways of debate out here. I couldn't agree more; the problem, of course, is that there was nothing untoward in the debate that had been going on. I was expressing my dislike not only with the metaphor, but with its implication as well, viz., that this was a question of "us" versus "them", the good side and the bad side, meaning liberal Christians versus conservatvie Christians. Not only do I not accept the metaphor, I find the thinking behind it unChristian. In refusing to grant an equal seriousness and an equal legitimacy to those with whom we disagree, we have precisely failed to set a higher standard of debate - which was my original point to begin with.
I will no longer go to that site, not because my feelings were hurt, but because I now see that it has all the qualities I detest about so much of liberal and progressive Christianity: it is elitist, clubby, and at the same time paternalistic and authoritarian. I am, happily, still not a member of an ilk. By the way, is there an Ilk's Lodge somewhere?

UPDATE: There was a comment in the "Fair Minded Words . . ." post leeting me know that I was not, in fact, getting personal. My mind is so much more at ease.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lions and Tigers and . . . Ahmed? Oh my . . .

If you read the comment in the post "The Words We Use Matter", you will see the latest response from psycmeistr. I am put in an "ilk" again - is that bigger or smaller than a cohort? - and told that I don't realize that there are a billion Muslims that want to kill me, or at least make me convert, thus I have to support the President in all he does without question. I am told I just don't get it.
If that's the case, I like not getting it. I prefer to keep my head buried in the sand; at least Ahmed can't saw it off with a dull butter knife that way!
I am treating this with humor, but I am not belittling the views or the person who holds them. The views are honestly held, and while they are put forward in a way I can only describe as "vehement" to be polite about it, I refuse to insult this person's sense of concern by saying that he is either delusional, or racist, or ignorant (even though I called him that before; I suppose I can't take it back because it is already out there, as Billy Crystal said in When Harry Met Sally). The goal here, even if he doesn't like it, is an attempt at dialogue. I put that in the comment section of his post for yesterday, and he hasn't deleted it, so it's there for all of those who view his blog to see. I am upset by the refusal of so many on the left to take seriously the views of those on the far right, to dismiss them out of hand, to label them as racist, as stupid, to refer to them in horribly scatological terms. I am under no illusions that the person will resist the attempt; he as much as said so in his comment to me yesterday. I am also under no illusions as to how long this will take. I refuse to give up, though, no because I am a masochist, but because the only way to break through the drivel that is our current public discourse - the name calling, the generalizations, the mutual animosity, even hatred - is to try to connect, one on one, as individuals.
In all honesty, while I consider his views as seriously held, I can't help but feel they are simply wrong. In truth, not only do I not believe there is "Ahmed" "waiting to saw off my head with a dull butter knife" (I want to make sure I quote him; don't want to be called a plaigiarist a la Ann Coulter), I believe it is demonstrably untrue. Not only do I believe that Iraq has nothing to do with the phony "War on Terror", I know it to be demonstrably untrue.
The world is a big, scary, complicated place, with all sorts of people willing and hoping and even occasionally capable of doing this country great and terrible harm. I do not believe, however, that for this reason we need to surrender our Constitutional rights and freedoms. I have used this line before, and while I didn't know who originated it, I found out yesterday that Ernesto Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary said first, "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." That is my position - especially so close to the celebration of our Independence from Great Britain - and I will not budge from it. This is where I begin my understanding of how we deal with terrorism: we do it without fear, without compromise, intelligently, proportionally, and calmly. This is the beginning of the discussion, not the end.

I Make an Ass of Myself. Apologies Aren't Enough

Last week, I got an email from a woman who I knew when I was in high school. Truth be told, she was ny first real girlfriend, whom I broke up with for some reason lost in the mists of time. She proceeded to go out with one of my best friends for the next year or so. I was extremely stupid about the whole thing, and my only excuse then is that I was sixteen and being stupid comes with the territory. In any event, I was very pleased to hear from her after nearly two decades. One of the great gifts of the Internet.
My reply was all chatty - what a great family I have, how wonderful my kids are, etc., etc. Yesterday, I emailed her again, because I had not received a reply. In this second email, I apologized for being chatty, and proceeded to ask her about her family, kids, etc. I also told her, "If anyone deserved to be happy, it's you." After sending her the second email, just to see what might happened, I put her name in my search engine, and the first item that came up . . . was her husband's obituary from last year.
I was stunned. Absolutely stunned.
I did the only thing I could think of; I sent her another email, telling her what I had done, and apologized as profusely as possible. The problem, of course, is that apologies aren't enough in a case like this. For the second time in my life, separated by a quarter-century and all the miles in-between, I managed to hurt a young woman who wanted nothing more than to wave to me, let me know she remembered me, perhaps. I have agonized over this particular incident but I can't shake the feeling that I have made myself look like the biggest ass in the world (that is, in fact, exactly how I described myself to her). Part of me wants to make the excuse that I couldn't have known, but of course, I could have known, by doing a week ago what I did yesterday afternoon. It took me less than a minute to find what I found. Would it have been difficult for me to have done that last week?
I am left with a terrible feeling in my gut, a terrible feeling that there is nothing I can do to make up for the pain I must have caused her. It isn't like I need more guilt in my life - I have children that provide me with that, thank you very much - but I have to accept the responsibility for the hurt I have caused. There is nothing left for me to do but go on, knowing that I have done a great wrong to someone, and no apology, no act of contrition on my part can make up for it.
With that in mind, let me just say, here and now, one last time: I am so sorry. If you can, if it's possible, please forgive me.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hate American Style

I first read about this story this morning at Crooks & Liars. There was a note about it at Faith in Public Life - Blogging Faith. Now, Markos has info at his site (click the post title to go to Daily Kos and read the story). I am ashamed to be a Christian and an American today.

UPDATE: I found out last night, reading Kos, that the guy who posted the names and addresses lives in Chicago. I emailed both Durbin and Obama to see if ti was possible to begin some kind of investigation, perhaps in concert with the Senators from DE, into this harassment. Trust me, I'm not holding my breath on this, but at least I tried something. I asked for a reply from Obama (Durbin doesn't offer the option), and I hope it isn't that I get on his mailing list!

The Words We Use Matter

In thinking more about my encounter with the person at psycmeistr, I have been considering more and more the language we use when we contact one another. He assaults with cliches, uses political rhetoric, does not so much address me as he does a certain target audience with which he can converse, over my head as it were. This is not speech or argument with another person; I'm not sure what that is, to be honest. To fail to address another individual as an individual, to refuse to deal with that person as a unique character - to refer, indeed, to "you and your ilk"; I have an ilk? - is to attempt to deny personhood. We all know, in the infamous words of Chief Justice Roger Taney, that non-persons "have no rights we need to respect". It is sad, really, that this person would attempt to dehumanize me, because I fail to see what this person gains from it. First of all, if he wishes to engage in an argument, or debate, he must first consider that the points I am offering are - at least potentially - legitimate. Second, and more important from the point of view of this particular post, the interlocutor must consider the very real personhood of the other before them. I cannot deny the individual uniqueness of "psycmeistr"; as much as this person would wish to present a personality to the world through the blog, the fact is much more complicated. This person is an individual. I cannot and will not deal with a "personality"; I will happily engage with a person.
In recognizing this person as a person I defy any attempt this person may have to dehukanize me, to make me a type, part of an ilk. By dismissing anything I would say in this manner, this person thinks it possible to ignore my arguments out of hand. The words of a non-person have no meaning, no existence, no moral force.
Yet, I refuse to surrender to such a transparent, and transparently evasive, ploy. At one point, for example, this person called me his "enemy". Enmity, to my mind, requires several things, not the least of which is a certain knowledge of the person whose enmity we would challenge. This person knows nothing about me except what I have presented in posts and emails. I have been (except for my initial post, which at least got his attention) polite and thoughtful, while still forceful and forthright in maintaining my particular positions. I have responded to questions. I have offered prayers to this person's son who is serving in Iraq - prayers that are sincere, honest, and heartfelt, by the way.
There is a serious question here, even more serious (to me) than the issue of enmity discussed immediately above. Why is it that this person, and so many on the right, see politics not as an argument, a dialogue, but a contest to be won or lost? What gain is there in such a "victory" as calling a person who has addressed certain concerns to you a "fucking bastard"? How does that prove one's point? How has that advanced mutual understanding, our shared belief that there are serious problems that need serious solutions? Perhaps I am asking the wrong questions. Perhaps I am naive enough to believe that a person such as this feels that there are shared probelms, and thus there is a necessity for shared solutions. Perhaps I am naive enough to assume that all Americans truly believe we need to hang together if we are not to hang separately.