Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is Libertarianism the Real Problem?

I'm beginning to think that libertarianism is actually a big part of the problem, on both sides of the political "divide". Right Libertarians say "keep your government hands off my riches" and if people are poor or without healthcare it's no business of the government; Left Libertarians say "keep your government hands off my body" and if fetuses are "terminated" that's no business of the government. I see both as failures of solidarity. They are a failure to see that we should not consider ourselves as solitary atoms moving through space untouched by the needs and dreams and gifts of others: we fail to see that we are parts of molecules and compounds that need one another as much as hydrogen and oxygen need each other to make water.

The question to ask of the Great Libertarian Civil War is, "Cui Bono?" Who benefits from all this noisy, trumped-up "conflict?" Is it possible that it is a way of preventing another faction - a faction that questions the libertarian premises of both "sides" - from having a seat at the negotiating table?

I imagine that amazing progress could be made on several fronts - abortion and healthcare, to name two - if both parties had the fortitude to kick their libertarian factions to the curb, and ask themselves what their constituents actually need.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Joni Mitchell Story

I had a friend who was dying of Cystic Fibrosis, who loved Joni Mitchell - just a huge, huge fan. A mutual friend wrote Joni a letter thanking her for the joy she had brought into our friend's life.

Joni looked up our friend's phone number, and called her one day out of the blue, and talked with her for an hour or so.

William Safire

William Safire, 79, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and language maven for the New York Times, whose penchant for the barbed and memorable phrase first manifested itself in speeches he wrote for the Nixon White House, died Sept. 27 at Casey House, part of Montgomery Hospice in Rockville. A longtime friend and former colleague, Martin Tolchin, said Mr. Safire had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Safire obviously had different politics than myself, but he (along with William F Buckley) was a conservative I could respect. RIP, Bill.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Quit Blaming Baby-Boomers

I get really sick of hearing about how the Baby Boomers Ruined Everything. I mean, think about this for a second: the idea that a bunch of hirsute, peace-loving hedonists (who were themselves but a fraction of the boomers) Destroyed Civilization in The Sixties is just…yeesh. I mean, how fragile would civilization have to have been for that to be true?

“Baby-Boomers” has definitely become a caricature in certain culture-war contexts.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Republicans = "The Borderer Party"

Interesting diary at Daily Kos. The diarist describes the historical origins of the culture that makes up the current Republican base: "Borderers" who emigrated to the United States originally from the borderlands between Scotland and England.

For 700 years, the kings of Scotland and England violently disputed the borderlands between the two countries, while warlords on both sides of the border fought among themselves, the strife ceasing only briefly under the 17th-century reign of James VI. This resulted in the creation of a tenancy system designed to maintain reserves of fighting men for local nobles. The lack of established authority created a power vacuum that was exploited by criminals, including whole outlaw clans that prospered by banditry and rustling livestock. The perennial violence made the region wretchedly poor. It also intensified the importance of blood relationships; loyalty to family and clan were valued more highly than loyalty to the crown. With little or no trust in established authority, borderers resolved disputes through retaliation and payment of blood money.

When the region was pacified in the 17th century, entire clans were executed or banished -- and many of the banished clans made their way to America. "The so-called Scotch-Irish who came to America thus included a double-distilled selection of some of the most disorderly inhabitants of a deeply disordered land," Fischer writes in Albion's Seed (630). Meanwhile, back in Britain, old warrior families were replaced by capitalist entrepreneurs who exploited the region's people as laborers and miners rather than fighters, and rack-renting and eviction became common. This led to even more Borderer migration to American shores.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Few songs I've come across express unrequited love with the poignancy of Linda Ronstadt's "Long long Time."

I wager that most adults have someone in their past the memory of whom, years later, causes a twinge of regret, and an ache for what might have been.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Heat Wave Coming

Every fall in Northern California, the coastal zones get a taste of the torrid heat the interior zones have been sweating under all summer, and such an event is shaping up for this coming week. Highs will be well into the 90s, even in coastal areas, and just inland from the coastal hills the temps will be up around 110.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about this: on one hand, it is nice to be able to go to the beach and wear something lighter than a parka (I'm only slightly exaggerating): on the other, no one near the coast has air conditioning, so trying to drop off to sleep when the temperature in your apartment is 85 degrees is not much fun.

One thing nice about it is what it portends: fall heatwave = rainy season coming soon, which means green grass and new life. Sweet.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

War - What is it good for?

From Democracy Now:

In other Iraq news, an unarmed Iraqi man was killed by US forces in Fallujah Wednesday after throwing his shoe at their convoy. The military says the soldiers opened fire thinking the shoe was a grenade. The shooting came one day after the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi was released from prison after a nine-month term for throwing his shoes at former President George W. Bush.

Here’s the thing: if you’re going to have a military, especially one that is sent to fight as many wars as ours is, you need to desensitize soldiers to the value of human life, so that they will kill without hesitation or reflection.

The military must work against something very powerful. There is a very strong, intrinsically human revulsion to killing our fellow humans. You can talk all day about “it’s ok because it’s war” and “it was you or them” or any of the other nonsense Mother Culture tells you about killing in the particular instance of war, but unless you are a sociopath, the reality of what war actually is -- hellish, brutal, murderous, senseless and soul-destroying -- always trumps that, somewhere inside.

Sending young men to commit warfare is a monstrously evil thing to do, when you peel away the rationalizations, legalisms and veneer of nationalist triumphalism.

And then the Greek language comes out with another word; it is the word agape. Now agape is more than romantic love. Agape is more than friendship. Now agape is understanding creative redemptive goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love, which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And when one rises to love on this level, he is able to love the person who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. And he is able to love those persons that he even finds it difficult to like for he begins to look beneath the surface and he discovers that that individual who may be brutal toward him and who may be prejudiced was taught that way—was a child of his culture.

-Martin Luther King

War and deep, agape love cannot coexist together: you can either do one thing or the other, never both.

There was a saying half a century ago in the protests against Vietnam: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In other words, if you have the world’s most powerful military, then it will tend to be the card you reach for first: it is your strongest suit.

I don’t ultimately blame the soldier who blew away that civilian: I’m sure he was a frightened kid who reacted instinctively (but tragically) to a perceived threat to his life. I ultimately blame the power structures that put him there; a power structure that uses violence to maintain its power in the world.

I have a hard time with folks who try and wave it off with some explanation like “Well, what is one to do? In a fallen world, war will always be a fact of life...”

Well, no.

War is there because we either support it, at least tacitly, or else we don't do enough to stop it.

So now we see how it is
This fist begets the spear
Weapons of war
Symptoms of madness
Don't let your eyes refuse to see
Don't let your ears refuse to hear
Or you ain't never going to shake this sense of sadness
I could hold you in my arms
I could hold on forever
And I could hold you in my arms
I could hold on forever

Ray Lamontagne, Hold You In My Arms

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Little Humor

Hillaire Belloc was a prolific Catholic writer from the late 19th century through the early 20th. Among his writings was a satire of the common "Cautionary Tales" of the Victorian era. Cautionary tales were often stern, priggish and humorless, and were used to instruct children on the prospective consequences of misbehavior (with titles like, "John, Who Attempted to Light the Stove Himself and Suffered a Terrible Fright"), concluding with a moral lesson - "And this is why little boys should check with mother before lighting the stove."

Friday, September 04, 2009

1 American = 60 foreigners

This is from an interview with Barry Goldwater conducted by either the Army Times or Stars and Stripes, I forget which. It made such a powerful impression on me that I remember it word-for-word. I can't link to the article because it dates to pre-internet days. I am 100% confident that I am not in any way mis-representing what he said: I suspect someone who has a Lexis-Nexis account can find the article. It is from one of the two publications I mentioned, between January 1986 and October 1987.

The interviewer asked him how the Vietnam War might have gone differently, had he been elected in 1964. His answer:

"I would have gotten every B52 I could get my hands on, and flown them all over North Vietnam. They would have dropped leaflets that said, "We'll be back in 3 days." They would also have said the next thing they dropped would not have been leaflets.

If they didn't quit the war, I would have made a damned swamp out of North Vietnam. I mean that: I would rather have killed 2 or 3 million North Vietnamese than the fifty thousand American boys we lost."

[UPDATE] The irony of course, is that he ended up getting a grim two-fer: 50,000 American deaths and 3 million Vietnamese.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Interesting Article

Stanley Fish writes an interesting essay at the NYT blog about the decline in writing standards he noticed among his graduate students.

I'm pretty agnostic when it comes to "teach the canon" versus "let's expand our horizons beyond dead white men" debates. Stanley is too, apparently:

The arguments pro and con are familiar. On one side the assertion that a core curriculum provides students with the distilled wisdom of the western tradition and prepares them for life. On the other side the assertion that a core curriculum packages and sells the prejudices and biases of the reigning elite and so congeals knowledge rather than advancing it.

Have we lost our way or finally found it? Thirty-five years ago there was no such thing as a gay and lesbian studies program; now you can build a major around it. For some this development is a sign that a brave new world has arrived; for others it marks the beginning of the end of civilization.

It probably is neither; curricular alternatives are just not that world-shaking. The philosophical baggage that burdens this debate should be jettisoned and replaced with a more prosaic question: What can a core curriculum do that the proliferation of options and choices (two words excoriated in the ACTA report) cannot? The answer to that question is given early in the report before it moves on to its more polemical pages. An “important benefit of a coherent core curriculum is its ability to foster a ‘common conversation’ among students, connecting them more closely with faculty and with each other.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Margaret and Helen

Margaret and Helen are a couple of octogenarian best friends who have one of the more amusing blogs out there. They are (fairly) liberal, but 20 years too old to be ex-hippies.

Margaret is it just me or did combing your hair become optional when going out in public? I’ve been watching news clips of these town hall free-for-alls and we have definitely become a nation of tired, poor, and huddled masses clearly tempest-tossed, but without access to a good beauty salon. Universal Hygiene – now that is something I could get behind. And all of them are asking for their America back. I wonder which America that would be?

Would that be the America where the Supreme Court picks your president instead of counting all the votes? Would that be the America where rights to privacy are ignored? Would that be the America where the Vice President shoots his best friend in the face? Or would that be the America where an idiot from Alaska and a college drop-out with a radio show could become the torchbearers for the now illiterate Republican party?

I fear that would not be the America they want back. I fear that the America they want back is the one where black men don’t become President.

I remember that America. In that America people screaming at public gatherings were called out for what they were – an angry mob. Of course, they wore sheets to cover up their bad hair. Let’s be clear about something: if you show up to a town hall meeting with a gun strapped to your leg, the point you are trying to make isn’t a good one. Fear never produced anything worthwhile.