27 November 2008

OK, Now I Get Why We Still Have Queens

If your mental image of "Muslim" is that of some grimy wacko in the Pakistan Federated Areas (unlikely, if you read this blog), or if your idea of "queen" is some teddibly plucky, frighteningly ancient Britisher...have I got a mind-bender for you.

It's Queen Rania of Jordan, accepting an award for her YouTube channel (told you!), and riffing on Letterman's Top Ten list as she does so.

Tip o' the hat to Juan Cole for this one.

26 November 2008

I Guess I Can't Deny It

I'm fifty today. Half a fricking century.

As Bloom County's Portnoy protested too much on reaching a similar milestone: "But you know I'm still very, very liberal!"

11 November 2008

Letter To a Friend

My friend Jim emailed that he was being driven nuts by his father, who keeps emailing him far-right wack-job memes that are bouncing around teh Intertubes. Jim would debunk them by referring to Snopes.com, whereupon his dad discovered -- surprise -- that snopes.com is a liberal conspiracy too, and thus not nearly as believable as, say, Rush. (I'm putting words in his mouth, here, but I hope I'm getting the gist correct).

I started writing a reply, but after it got to a thousand words I decided I'd just post it instead of putting a pig in the python of Jim's inbox.

Dear Jim:

The damage done by steady lying from those in public office is really profound. I imagine the thought process among the disaffected public goes something like this:

  1. I can't trust the information coming out of those in power.
  2. Therefore I can't trust the information that's widely and publicly available. The big guys are all in it together.
  3. Whom can I trust? Very few people.
  4. Well, actually the people who agree with me seem pretty trustworthy...

As has been noted before, the Internet enables those holding extremist positions to easily find fellows, thereby reinforcing their beliefs. And since those in the public trust have betrayed it repeatedly, few are willing to award the "gatekeeper" function to the mainstream media. Not to mention that the MSM have themselves been little more than lapdogs for at least the past eight years.

Not since the Vietnam War have I seen an administration and its supporting political noise machine so baldy, boldy, and repeatedly stating as fact that which is provably untrue. And this doesn't slot into the simplistic Good vs. Liberal (or Good vs. Conservative) mindset, either. Back then it was Johnson's admin that sold the big whoppers -- Tonkin Gulf, anyone? -- though Nixon certainly wasn't far behind.

I am bemused by Bush apologists, personally. They had both houses of Congress and the Presidency, plus a huge swell of support after 9/11. What more do you need to remake the world? And, in fact, remember their phallic dreams of ultimate power -- "the lone superpower" as well as "the permanent Republican majority"?

But I think we can all agree that the world isn't exactly ponies and rainbows after eight years:

  • Their religion of crony capitalism is wreckage (though the capitalists themselves certainly aren't hurting)
  • Pollutant levels are climbing again
  • Illiteracy and infant mortality are a scandal, in fact on both counts we're verging on Second World status
  • We're facing two and a half wars plus a significantly increased terrorist threat with a depleted, burnt-out military
  • Our dependence on petroleum is exactly what it was in 2000 (but now eight years of the remaining inventory are CO2)
  • Speaking of which, we've lost eight years' traction on climate change to the Denier-in-Chief and his henchmen
  • Our allies turn their backs on us
  • A Russia who was once pathetically grateful just to be our partner is now flexing her muscles in confrontation (see "depleted, burnt-out military")
  • The Chinese position in just about every market but baby food is significantly more dominant
  • Oh, and we've spent more American lives than were lost on 9/11 just to get utterly mired in a country for no strategic advantage whatsoever. (As is common American practice, I'm ignoring the tens -- or possibly hundreds -- of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths as just a "cost of doing business".)
  • Iran, nukes or no, is now well on its way to undisputed dominance of the Middle East. (Who can stop them? The Israelis? It is to laugh. Lebanon in 2006, hello? The vaunted IDF got their asses handed to them. And sure as hell we can't do squat.)
What's their excuse? The Democrats, who were team players at first and later did no more than protest supinely? Or (again with the Vietnam analogies!) was the problem that we were too soft on the countries we bombed and invaded? That Bush & Co. were too hamstrung by the Constitution? Was it the fifty red-eyed fanatics in West Pakistani caves? (Although their Saudi financial supporters -- ah, there's real power, and a real enemy. Oh wait, the Bush family is in bed with them too. Never mind.)

More and more I come to realize that the political tacticians have done a marvelous job of casting a citizen's choices in binary terms. You're either a liberal or a conservative, and the problems all stem from the other side.

Well, I like to think I've got a slightly higher standard. I cut Clinton no more slack for NAFTA, failing miserably at health care reform, or getting caught with his wanker hanging out -- and lying about it -- than I give Bush for his laundry list.

But Bush's list is longer and worse than any American president's I can recall. If Democrats really were anywhere near as narrowly partisan and as willing to trade damaging America for electoral gain as the Gingrich Republicans or today's neocons, Kucinich's impeachment motion would have been taken up long ago. I mean, if lying about sex is impeachable, recall that we've had:
  • Illegal warrantless wiretaps (if they were legal, why idemnify the telcos?)
  • Politicizing the DOJ (firing attorneys general, political litmus tests for hiring)
  • Outing Plame
  • Torture
  • Iraq
Any one of those is impeachable. Bush had five.

Not to mention that they were so appallingly incompetent that, even without that pesky obstacle of the Constitution or federal law, they couldn't find their asses with both hands, a GPS, and a satellite photo. It makes you weep -- the Katrina, Afghanistan, and Pakistan debacles might not be impeachable, but I defy your dad to present a comparable-scale f***up in the past half-century -- and Bush had THREE of them! (And the little stuff that humiliates us abroad, like Alberto Gonzales as AG and trying to nominate Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court.)

And's it's four if you count the real biggie, which really belongs in both columns. When you lie the nation into a war, destroy a country, then reveal that (a) you had no plan to fix the wreckage and (b) the people you sent there to improvise were largely inexperienced and chosen for their political loyalty...Jesus. It sounds more like the Soviet Union, which gave us object lessons for eighty years in both incompetence and evil.

And let's not even talk about the Bush crew's attitude toward science. That personally irked me, not only because I saw valuable research go begging for eight years while McDonnell-Douglas got billions to build weapons to fight the nonexistent Soviet Union, but because I knew the problems could not be wished away.

The crux of the problem with these people was their hubris -- they believed that wishing something were true and saying that it was could make it so. This actually works depressingly well in the electoral arena, but as it turns out, Not So Well when you're confronted with what the Soviets used to call "objective circumstances". "Major combat is over." "Heckuva job." "We do not torture." "Tax cuts will stimulate the economy."

Words have power, yes. But words alone rarely solve anything, especially when they're lies (or, at best, wishful thinking).

Did your dad believe in democracy when the Republicans bestrode the world like a colossus? Why not now, with the biggest popular-vote margin in twenty years and the biggest electoral margin in twenty-two (and that was Clinton's, by the way)? What, is Obama so smooth that the American people couldn't see through him?

I have more faith in democracy and the American electorate than your dad, it would seem. I suppose there's some chance that we have elected a monster in Barack Obama -- that's the risk we take every four years. But, overall, the system works. Heck, we've survived Bush.

04 November 2008

Rebels Win! Empire Defeated! Vader Pissed Off About Wasting His Endorsement!

Well, not really that last one. If Cheney really gave a rat's patootie about McCain, he would have either endorsed him much earlier and more publicly, or shut the **** up.

Anyway, I don't want to be petty, not after that glorious speech. Just three moments I want to share with you:

  1. When McCain mentioned Obama, his crowd booed. When Obama mentioned McCain, his crowd applauded. Listlessly, true, but they were polite.
  2. McCain was interrupted by jingoist chants of "USA! USA!". Obama's crowd -- even before he started hammering the phrase in his speech -- kept affirming "Yes we can!"
  3. Jesse Jackson, in the crowd at Grant Park, with tears running down his face. From that hotel balcony in Memphis 1968...to this.

Whoa. Democracy Actually In Action

Wish I'd taken a photo, but I didn't want the pollwatchers to come down on me. I dropped the kid off at elementary school this morning and went straight to the polls, which had been open for all of 40 minutes.

We vote at a high school, and the usual setup is a tiny little arts room with all of five little marking booths, four little old ladies, and a scanning machine. I've had to wait for three or four people ahead of me perhaps three times in the 12 years I've lived here, and I vote in every single election.

Not a trace of that cozy familiar scene this morning! An entire gymnasium, one entire wall lined with booths, a veritable herd of poll workers of all ages, and...a...a LINE?

There had to have been 120 people waiting -- maybe more like 150. I never stood in one place longer than 30 seconds, though, that line was moving. And ebullient, too, the whole atmosphere was one of folks barely restraining themselves from high-fiving the poll workers, their fellow voters, even the sullen teenagers stalking past on their way to class.

This could be huge. I blush to admit that I puddled up the other night talking about it with my kids. See, I remember growing up among overt racists, and the civil rights movement. I remember George Wallace being treated as a serious presidential contender instead of as a race-baiting nutball on the lunatic fringe. And I remember Dr. King's murder, and the resulting riots.

Remember, I said. This is history, I told them, and you were there. Always remember this day -- you watched your mom vote for the first black man ever to head a major-party ticket in this country.

We are better than the racists. Better than the haters. Better than the bombers, the torturers, the plunderers. We are America, and today we threw down the gauntlet to Washington: Are you as good as the people you would lead?