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Follow up: More Guns, More Death, More Grief

Commenting on my post, “More Guns, More Death, More Grief,” “andthebuddhasaid” (love that moniker) said:

You make great points and are absolutely right, but you didn’t comment on Barack Obama’s support of the Supreme Court’s decision. Apparently he was in whole hearted agreement. Personally I don’t think that this is the decision to measure his stance on gun control, but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

Well, frankly, I was upset by Obama’s support of the decision, (which came after the post) but not totally shocked. I posted the piece on http://www.dailykos.com, thinking that that supposedly left-leaning community would mostly be in support, and found myself completely under attack by gun nuts, most of them claiming the right to defend themselves in their homes, and saying gun control laws don’t work, in no uncertain terms. Nearly four hundred people weighed in against me, I felt like a sitting duck. (And they call themselves liberals…for shame. Maybe they’re actually Republican plants.) Strict constructionists and others may argue about the original meaning of the Second Amendment and parse the placement of the comma in its words, and argue that such placement means citizens are allowed to own guns, INCLUDING assault weapons, but what I was primarily saying in that post was that two angry teenage boys in a school yard with loaded guns equals more death and grief than two angry teenagers in the same school yard without guns. Give a suicidal individual access to a gun (suicides account for a huge portion of gun deaths, way more than homicides) and see if a momentary urge doesn’t turn into a permanent condition. Compare the homicide rate in the United States of America with its weak gun control laws to other developed countries with strong gun control laws. I’m interested in grief, and more guns means more grief.

If this was about self protection, why not fight for non-lethal methods of self protection?

As for Obama’s position, my guess is that he’ll not appoint judges who are “strict constructionist” or judges obsessed with “original Intent” to the Supreme Court, and while whomever he appoints might agree with the current Court’s current decision on guns, they will not agree on so many other issues that are important to me that there is STILL no choice about whom I will support in this election. John McCain will be a disaster for this country, which has already endured eight years of disaster. Even a few of McCain’s own Republican party admit that he has too volatile a temperament to be President in this volatile world. Here’s a quote from the Huff Post on this:

“The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine,” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), also a senior member of the Appropriations panel, told the Boston Globe recently. “He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”

If Thad Cochran is worried, so am I. Obama, in my opinion, has the kind of mind, focus, conciliatory approach, and even temperament that we sorely need in a volatile world. He is by far the better man. The Presidency is not only about policies; it’s very much about inspiration and vision. McCain has never met a war he didn’t like, and he’s chomping at the bit for more war. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. It seems to me that Senator McCain learned the wrong lessons from his time as a prisoner.

Note to the so-called “Liberal Media”: WHO played the race card?

The only mention I got in Elizabeth Kim’s Stamford Advocate piece about the Lower Fairfield Blog ‘n’ Grog Society was presumably this: “The group keeps growing, bringing together a mix of people that otherwise might not have met.” Indeed, I was just happy to be there as even an invisible part of the mix, the elder of the group by more years than I care to count, and I do agree that I probably wouldn’t have met ManagerMom or SarahAmerica, or Unloaded in real life. Since Kim described many of my fellow bloggers as ranting about one thing or another, I’d like to engage in my own rant today. I’m not a snarky person, but just this once…

Leave it to the Evil Genius Karl Rove and the Merry Band of Blood-sucking, Rovian Protege Geniusettes running John McCain’s Presidential campaign to come up with the perfect boomarang ad strategy for playing the race card. They’ve apparently decided that the straight talk express has no choice but to head right down the low road. In the first week of the new approach, they came up with a campaign slogan, “Country First,” along with direct accusations impugning Obama’s patriotism, with their delightful suggestion that Obama would lose a war in order to win a political campaign. This was followed by their load of malarkey about how Obama had dissed the troops by not visiting a hospital in Germany. Only after all that (and all in one week yet), did they unveil their Machiavellian, slight-of-hand advertisement. All of this was carefully timed, of course, to draw attention away from Obama’s triumphant overseas trip (And two hundred thousand Germans waving American flags instead of burning them is bad because…why?). The ad, as surely everyone knows by now, features images of Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton alongside Obama speaking to that huge crowd in Berlin, and the voice-over: “He’s the biggest celebrity in the world, but is he ready to lead?”

In response, Obama, essentially repeating what he said last month, said:

“They know that you’re not real happy with them and so the only way they figure they’re going to win this election is if they make you scared of me. What they’re saying is ‘Well, we know we’re not very good but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency, he’s a got a funny name.’”

To which McCain’s people, followed by McCain himself, yelled that Obama had “played the race card,” –from the bottom of the deck, yet.

Say WHAT?

I think what we need is a McCain Mendacity Meter, which each day attempts to separate the Overt Lies of the McCain campaign from the Covert Lies of the McCain campaign.

I waited for one of Obama’s surrogates or the mainstream (so called “liberal”) media on the Sunday morning talk shows to address the matter with ANY degree of honesty. Donna Brazile on “This Week” came close to identifying the racial elephant in the room, but backed off before actually explaining, in the face of an onslaught of misogynistic laughter by the males on the the panel when Jake Tapper said the the ad was meant to show Obama as a ditz, like Paris and Brittney. (WHO’S a ditz? McCain graduated from Annapolis 894 out of 899, while Obama was Magna Cum Laude at Harvard Law School). Brazile asked if Tapper was calling Spears/Hilton ditz’s because they were blond, and Tapper said, “No, because they are stoopid!” It was funny, ha ha ha. Perhaps Brazile’s disgust and shock was what rendered her speechless. She should have said, “Now just a minute fellows….” In any case, it seemed taken as a given that Obama was the one who played the race card.

As if juxtaposing two blond, white, sexually promiscuous young women with Senator Obama is anything BUT racist in the first place. Not as overt as the notorious “Call me” ad that helped defeat Harold Ford in Tennessee, but its meaning is exactly the same. And while Terry Nelson, who produced the Ford ad, is now only a consultant to McCain, the newly appointed Steve Schmidt is leading a no holds barred approach, and it sure looks like he’s got a PhD from Nelson and Rove. The new McCain team, according to US News and World Report July 2, “was a long time coming…following weeks of harsh—and increasingly public—criticism by influential members of (McCain’s) own party who say they have been alarmed at what they have seen as the campaign’s lack of focus and poor planning.”

Indeed, the straight talk express has gone the way of McCain’s occasional so-called maverick positions of the past, nearly all reversed under pressure from our beloved lunatic fringe on the right, now called The Republican Party. What we can look forward to, if McCain wins, is four more years of Rovian double talk. More bills that allow pollution named The Clean Air Act. More false choices presented, as in the grandstanding by Congress today (forty Repub members rotating speeches in the dark) demanding a re-opening of the Senate and another emergency “up or down” vote, as if immediate off shore drilling will bring the price of oil down and is the ONLY thing standing between the United States and catastrophe. And more covert race-baiting ads named “straight talk.” Do we see a pattern here?

Such ads do appeal to the basest psychological creations of the Jim Crow south: That uppity black men covet white women. If this wasn’t the ad’s intended psychological message, why not juxtapose Obama with Beyonce, or Denzel Washington, or Bono? If it was just about ditz’s why not choose political ditz’s, like Dan Quayle, who couldn’t spell, or Daniel Inouye, who claims climate change is a hoax. Oh, I forgot, they’re REPUB ditz’s. Well, surely McNasty’s operatives could have found some Dem ditz’s.

Indeed, it is the ad’s diabolical subtlety–which enables “plausible deniability,” exploits a disgusting racial idea that NO ONE (other than perhaps Klansmen) admits they hold, and forces Obama to respond in an equally veiled way– that keeps the subject of race underground and makes the strategy so brilliant. How would Obama respond directly: “They’re trying to tell you that I secretly covet your white blond women”? (Imagine that, when he’s got the ADORABLE Michele as his wife.) Of course not. For God’s sake, the ad isn’t directed at the white liberals who are going to vote for Obama anyway and who probably don’t hold that view, but at Southern (and other) white racists who very well might.

And by the way, the ad also came complete with edited-in audio of a crowd chanting Obama’s name which, juxtaposed with video of the Berlin crowd, is remnicent to anyone who isn’t brain dead of an Adolph Hitler address circa 1937. The not-so subtle conclusion? Obama equals Hitleresk Demagogery and Anti-Semitism. The blogosphere smear campaign about Obama being an anti-Semitic, secret Muslim is nothing compared.

And I haven’t even mentioned all the lies in the ad that follow the Spears/Hilton smear, about more taxes and more foreign oil.

Dubious denials by Obama surrogates, followed eventually by begrudging admissions, belated and weak, that, “Okay, this strategy IS about race,” just aren’t going to cut it. The problem is THIS STUFF WORKS. I know everyone’s afraid of dealing with this directly, but…. I’m really beginning to worry that Senator Obama, like John Kerry before him, just isn’t doing enough to fight back. While my sense is that it simply isn’t in his nature (just like it wasn’t in John Kerry’s nature to fight back when they called him a traitor) I increasingly think Obama needs his own evil genius, or at least a snarling attack dog for a running mate, who will point out McCain’s paucity of ideas, pathetic delivery, right-pandering flipflops, humiliating gaffes, intellectual pigmyism, and elderly demeanor, or at the very least tell it like it is when John McCain heads the race-baiting straight talk express down Obama’s way. How about the Dems produce a commercial showing Obama with his elevated, hope-filled rhetoric and thousand watt smile, juxtaposed with a pasty looking McCain appearing near death before tiny crowd, in front of an institutional green background, showing us his programmed, scary, alien, podlike smile and his pearly yellows? Any Democratic Evil Genius’s out there?

Postscript: The BruisedMuse’s husband points out that Hilton’s parents contributed to McCain’s campaign. I wonder if McCain got the Hiltons’ permission first, or if they’re now trying to get back their contribution.

More guns, more death, more grief

Every day now, it seems, we have to eat more of the poisonous fruit that has grown out of the election and re-election of George Bush. Yesterday’s 5 to 4 decision by the Roberts Supreme Court endorsed a so-called “personal right to own guns,” and overturned precedent of seventy years. What happened to Roberts and Alito’s promises during their confirmation hearings that they would honor precedent whenever possible? We can’t have “activist” judges, conservatives scream.

The net effect will be more guns, more death, and more grief. More mothers and fathers will suffer unspeakably over the tragic and unnecessary deaths of their children. More sisters will grieve over brothers. More brothers will weep over sisters. More grandmothers and fathers will have to bear watching their children endure the worst possible thing that could happen to them. Perhaps the honorable Justices who think there should be MORE guns in this society and not fewer guns would like to provide funds for grief counseling for the victims of their decision, one which completely defies decency, reason, and common sense. Oh, I forgot, Congress provides funds.

According to Adam Liptak’s news analysis in today’s NY Times, the precedent in this case was a 1939 decision in which the Court, in United States v. Miller, upheld a federal prosecution for transporting a sawed-off shotgun. A Federal District Court had ruled that the provision of the National Firearms Act the Miller defendants were accused of violating was barred by the Second Amendment, but the Supreme court disagreed and reinstated the indictment. This was followed by decades and decades which a majority of “courts and commentators regarded the Miller decision as having rejected the individual-right interpretation of the Second Amendment.

The court’s slim decision is yet another in a long line of devastating and destructive decisions that have followed from the stacking of the Court with conservatives. Here’s NPR’s Nina Totenberg, writing a year ago, about this matter.

“For conservatives, this term was pretty close to the best of times, and for liberals, it was pretty close to the worst of times. Although Roberts and Alito both promised at their confirmation hearings to honor precedent whenever possible, in their first full term together, they effectively reversed a number of key precedents. In each case, it was by a 5-to-4 vote.”

And the trend has only escalated during this current term.

During the arguments the appallingly arrogant and seriously misguided Justice Antonin Scalia, the darling of the right, parsed the meaning of the words “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Justice Scalia argued that “the prefatory statement of purpose should not be interpreted to limit the meaning of what is called the operative clause.” His word-parsing, semantic argument is not unlike the argument over the placement of the comma in the clause that has been going on for some time now, and which, for all I know, may even be part of the decision. How do we argue semantics over common sense? That’s what I want to know. The “liberal” Justice Stevens argued more globally and sensibly that the majority’s understanding of the Miller decision was not only “simply wrong but reflected a lack of respect for the well-settled views of all our predecessors on the court, and for the rule of law itself,” and was “based on a strained and unpersuasive reading of the Second Amendment.”

As the kids say, “Whatever.”

The net effect will be more guns, more death, more grief.

I so well remember a conversation I had back in 2004 with a young woman who said she was going to vote for George Bush, because he would keep us safe. I decided not to address the “safety” argument, and pointed out that the reelection of George Bush would lead to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, which I knew she cared about, and many other laws that she counted on without even realizing it. She looked at me and shrugged, “Never happen.” Well, it IS happening, and it will continue to happen…

And it is yet another reason to support Barack Obama for President. John McCain comes right out and says he will continue to appoint conservative Justices like Scalia and Alito and Roberts to the Supreme Court. We cannot and SHOULD NOT just shrug that off, we should take John McCain at his word. Here’s yet another case of the unquestioning acceptance and operational reality of “doublethink” in this country. WHO are the “activist” judges?

Let’s do some real straight talking. If John McCain is elected, we can look forward to even more poisonous decisions by the Supreme Court, with majorities that will not be so slim.

Immersed in the language of our dissolving country

their cronies

and the poor

American landscape

disappearing in the rockets and red glare,

battle hymns of them and us.

Who are these people who

hang unbroken in creation

stimulate their Jesus action figures

steamrolled by flat-out hucksters

stupefied by the complex,

stream across the detritus of America

abrogate treaties, inform parades

circumnavigate the globe with their

misbegotten little wars,

sell any crapola like Good News,

stir any Orwellian double talk into their soup,

eat any fiction they find strewn across the open plains,

while little girls spread their legs

and people die without good reason

and we eat the poisonous fruit.

What is human without a microphone?

To which country did my grandfather Abraham come,

carrying his clothes on his back?

The democratization of opinion: reason and science in the balance. Yet another reason not to support John McCain.

Mildred, I think we have a problem. Our culture is facing a “democratization of opinion” that seriously threatens its core post-Enlightenment values of reason and science.

Yesterday, a quote in a NY Times article called “Philadelphia Set to Honor Darwin and Evolution,” by Jon Hurdle, caught my eye.

“…polls shows that a majority of Americans believe God created man in his present form and that the number of people who accept the evolutionary model of human origins is declining.”

A MAJORITY? The numbers DECLINING? Can this possibly be true?

The article isn’t focused on why these unnerving statistics are true, but rather on an effort by nine Philadelphia academic, scientific and cultural institutions to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s seminal work, “The Origin of Species” by increasing public understanding of evolution. It is a good thing when recognized authorities attempt to counter the increasingly successful effort by the “faith-based” community to place its ideas about creationism and/or “intelligent design” on the same playing field as science. And it is a good thing that the event will feature John E. Jones III, a federal judge who ruled in 2005 that teaching intelligent design in public classes was unconstitutional.

However, those of us who worry that America is heading inexorably backward, perhaps even backward into a new dark age, are not appeased. The question in my mind at least is WHY are more and more people accepting and clinging to pre-Enlightenment ideas?

One reason is that our opinion leaders, including our current President, are themselves confused. Here’s a piece from a Washington Post article from 2005 on George Bush’s remarks about evolution and creationism/intelligent design:

“Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about,” he said, according to an official transcript of the session. Bush added: “Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. . . . You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.”

There are those so disgusted with George Bush that they simply shake their heads in disbelief when he speaks, but the fact is he IS the President, and (even though some might argue) the country actually elected him, and the point he was making proves my premise, which is the nonsensical idea that many people nowadays hold that all opinions are equal.

Later in the article:

With the president endorsing it, at the very least it makes Americans who have that position more respectable, for lack of a better phrase,” said Gary L. Bauer, a Christian conservative leader who ran for president against Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries. “It’s not some backwater view. It’s a view held by the majority of Americans.”

Gary Bauer is a man with whom I probably don’t agree on very much, but on this issue he speaks some truth. Whether “intelligent design” is a “backwater view” or not, and whether a majority of people believing it makes it “respectable” are debatable points, because “debatable” and “respectable” are subjective issues on which people may legitimately disagree. But there can be but there can be no debate that the view IS held by the majority of Americans, because this is an observable fact. We have seen over and over in these last eight years what happens when public policy is made according to opinion and/or faith-based ideas rather than evidence and facts, and nowhere are the dangers of doing this more apparent than in the pseudo-debate over evolution vs. intelligent design. What’s been happening in this arena is that those who believe in creationism have in this and many other areas done an end run around established expert opinion by creating their own colleges and think tanks and PhDs. This is of course aided and abetted by the democratic nature of the Web and its increasing influence.

In almost every area, the Web eliminates the need or desire for traditional cultural authorities who have been vetted and approved by some established entity. The Web (and even Cable News) asks us to “vote” on everything, either directly or through our clicks–from our favorite books, to whether we think there is life on other planets, to whether “intelligent design” belongs in the science classroom. If everyone can be a critic, no more do we need consult literary critics or writers who have studied writing and literature. If everyone is or can be a citizen journalist, no more do we need to consult actual journalists who adhere to established standards of reporting. And if everyone is a scientist, no more do we need to consult—

Uh-oh.

Yet NO reputable scientist–religious, agnostic, or atheist–supports the idea of intelligent design as science, and it remains essential for citizens of this country to employ enough critical thinking to understand at least that in certain cases we must defer to our established experts, even if our natural psychological tendency is to seek out those who agree with us.

And now we come to John McCain. According to evolutionary biologist and UC professor Jonathan Eisen on his blog, The Tree of Life when John McCain was asked about evolution, he said:

“I think Americans should be exposed to every point of view,” he said. “I happen to believe in evolution. … I respect those who think the world was created in seven days. Should it be taught as a science class? Probably not.”

Probably not? Well, I’m glad John McCain at least “believes” in evolution, and I SUPPOSE this is a better position than Bush’s even more egalitarian, “democratic” stand, but I have to wonder, along with the progressive Website Think Progress, how much more pandering McCain is going to do in his current effort to shore up the Republican base in his “lurch to the right”

Here is a quote from Think Progress.com’s 2007 reporting on the issue:

February 23, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will be the keynote speaker for the most prominent creationism advocacy group in the country. The Discovery Institute, a religious right think-tank, is well-known for its strong opposition to evolutionary biology and its advocacy for “intelligent design.” The institute’s main financial backer, savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson, spent 20 years on the board of the Chalcedon Foundation, “a theocratic outfit that advocates the replacement of American civil law with biblical law.”

McCain has an ambiguous record on whether he supports intelligent design in the science curriculum. In 2005, he said it should be taught:

Daily Star: Should intelligent design be taught in schools?

McCain: I think that there has to be all points of view presented. But they’ve got to be thoroughly presented. So to say that you can only teach one line of thinking I don’t think is – or one belief on how people and the world was created – I think there’s nothing wrong with teaching different schools of thought.

Daily Star: Does it belong in science?

McCain: There’s enough scientists that believe it does. I’m not a scientist. This is

something that I think all points of view should be presented.

If John McCain wants to ally himself with these people, that’s his right, but at least he should speak truth to them, plainly and clearly. No, there are NOT enough scientists who believe that it does. Thank God for that.

And by the way, God help us if we have to suffer through another four or eight years with a President who’s mind is so muddled that he speaks as McCain does in sentences like those quoted above.  Here’s another pair of facts to consider: Barack Obama was magna cum laude; McCain’s class ranking at Annapolis was 894 out of 899.

Movie Review: Grief is the backdrop for the wonderful film, “The Visitor”

Grief is both the thematic underpinning and the overarching aura in an absorbing, powerful film called “The Visitor.” While this low-key, underplayed film is humanistic and realistic in the extreme, memories of the dead loom over the characters like silent, watchful ghosts. The Visitor was written and directed by Tom McCarthy, who several years back gave us another extraordinary film, “The Station Agent.” Like that earlier film, The Visitor explores issues of identity and place, belonging and connection, but this film also looks at immigration and other post-9/11 issues, and indicts the US government for its arbitrary, callous policies. It is a mark of McCarthy’s mature sensibility that the film makes this indictment quietly and subtly, by engaging us with a charismatic and likable young man living an attractive, authentic life, and then arbitrarily taking that life away from him. This stands in contrast to more traditional “Hollywood” fare, a movie like “Rendition”, which makes its indictment with a bludgeon. And the immigration issues, while crucial to the plot and deeply disturbing, are clearly secondary to the psychological and interpersonal matters this gifted director wants to explore. His vision is psychologically sound, particularly evident in the way he deals with grief.

“The Visitor” revolves around a depressed, middle aged economics professor named Walter Vale, played by the subtle actor who so memorably played the ghostly Fisher patriarch in my favorite television series of all time, “Six Feet Under.” With his hunched shoulders, immobile expression, furrowed brow and everyman face, Richard Jenkins literally inhabits this character. It’s a restrained performance, yet highly effective. While neither the circumstances of Vale’s wife’s death nor when she died are ever specified, it is clear that Vale continues to carry the weight of his grief, and that grief has transformed him into a silent, somber, disaffected man, lonely and isolated, floating through life, or rather going through the motions of his life, teaching his class, attending faculty meetings, pretending to work on a fourth book, and returning every night to his neatly kept suburban home.

It’s not that he isn’t trying to find some avenue back into the world, and some enjoyment or at least engagement in life. He’s been taking piano lessons, but while it is clear here that both he and his wife loved music, she was the pianist, and as the movie opens we find him dismissing his fourth piano teacher, played to spinsterish perfection by veteran actress Marian Seldes. I can’t help mentioning here that Seldes eerily reminded me in this role of my own elderly spinsterish piano teacher of long ago. Her name was Alma Drum, and she used to place a pencil under my hands just the way this one does with Vale. Miss Drum was as petite as she was stern and humorless, with her helmet of gray hair. Miss Drum would by now be about a hundred and thirty years old. (Hmmm, maybe I should meditate on her for a while, and do a post on her.)

We get some sense that Vale must have been something in his heyday, and we find some hope that he can actually make a spiritual comeback when circumstance forces him goes to present a paper at New York University, and he arrives at a Village apartment he and his late wife owned, but he hasn’t been to in years. There he finds a pair of young, undocumented squatters in residence, Tarek, a Syrian musician played with winning charm and charisma by Haaz Slieiman, and his girlfriend Zainab, who is originally from Senegal and makes jewelry which she sells from a table on the street, the character played with with wary fierceness by exotic beauty Danai Guiria. These two freak out when he arrives; they think they were living in the apartment legally, and they offer to leave immediately. Walter agrees, but then realizes the couple has nowhere else to go, and changes his mind, for reasons even he doesn’t quite grasp. They stay, and Walter befriends them, first Tarek, who embodies youth in all its impetuous enthusiasm, and eventually Zainab, who is aloof and wary at first, but who gradually comes around. Now we begin to see some sparks of life in this graying, somber character, as Tarek introduces him to the lively New York City jazz scene, the filmaker here celebrating New York City in all its diversity. Finally, Walter Vale begins to take the first steps out of his isolation, most particularly in a scene of extraordinary power in which the reluctant Vail joins in an African drumming circle in Washington Square Park, a balding white man in a suit amidst the primarily black, hip drummers, dancers, and percussionists.

But then Tarek is arrested for no wrongdoing while with Walter in the subway, imprisoned in the kind of unnamed, unidentified detention center we’ve been hearing a lot about lately, this one somewhere in Queens. The arrest and the imprisonment are both arbitrary and capricious, a disturbing reminder that human rights are being violated every day in this country. Continue reading

Political Surprise: Dreams From My Father: Barack Obama is a real person and a real writer

For many months I’ve resisted the urge to read either of Senator Obama’s books, particularly the first, “Dreams from My Father,” the memoir written before he became a political candidate. Why? Because I had thrown in my hat, such as it is, with Senator Clinton, and was afraid that I would be so moved by Senator Obama’s memoir that it would undermine my support of Senator Clinton.

Fifteen years ago on the eve of publication of my second novel, in response to a moment in which I expressed grave self-doubt, an editor at Dutton named Michaela Hamilton kindly reassured me that I was a “real writer.” I think I suspected that I would find in Senator Obama’s memoir akind of kindred spirit, a “real writer”, to use Michaela’s words, someone to whom the “‘real writer” in me could truly relate, someone who understands what it takes to search one’s own soul honestly and carefully and accurately, and put that search on the page. Now that I’ve finally read the book, I find that my concerns were well founded. I have discovered not only a “real writer,” but someone who by breadth and depth and force of his personality and background, and by brilliance, honesty, clear thinking, and sheer talent, has rendered my past support of Senator Clinton, an admirable person in many respects, irrelevant.

The memoir is remarkable, and not only because it was written by a politician. The man is a real person–authentic, self-aware, probing, searching, honest with himself and with us, willing to be vulnerable, and most important, able to offer us a big piece of his interior life on his journey of self-discovery, not some made-up, faux patriotic, self-serving, self-deluding version of his interior life, but the real thing. Given the ghost-written pabulum served up by so many other politicians, “Dreams From My Father” is a revelation, a call to action, a sanctuary of hope that this man really can begin to build bridges across cultures and countries, and change the world. At the risk of sounding like I’ve bought into a cult of personality, I’ll say that I believe the country and the world needs such a man. How refreshing and different and hopeful it would be to have him as President.

What politician has ever, or would ever write these words?

“Sometimes I would find myself talking to Ray about white folks this or white folks that, and I would suddenly remember my mother’s smile and the words that I spoke would seem awkward and false. Or I would be helping Gramps dry the dishes after dinner and Toot would come into say she was going to sleep, and those same words–white folks–would flash in my head like a bright neon sign, and I would suddenly grow quiet, as if I had secrets to keep.”

Or report the following outburst out of the mouth of a young friend, chastising the future candidate for sucking up:

…All that stuff about ‘Yes, Miss Snooty Bitch, I just find this novel so engaging, if I can just have one more day for that paper, I’ll kiss your white ass.’ It’s their world, all right? They own it, and we in it. So just get the fuck outta my face.”

Or present us with this wonderful paragraph?

Three o’clock in the morning. The moon-washed streets empty, the growl of a car picking up speed down a distant road. The revelers would be tucked away by now, paired off or alone, in deep, beer-heavy sleep, Hasan at his new lady’s place–don’t stay up, he had said with a wink. And now just the two of us to wait for the sunrise, me and Billie Holiday, her voice warbling through the darkened room, reaching toward me like a lover.”

The contrast with other “political” memoirs is, of course, astounding. I won’t dwell on that, however, except to point out the most compelling disparity, the one between this man, Barack Obama, and our current President, George Bush, who is revealed in Scott McClellan’s new book, “What Happened.” Continue reading

Parental Grief in China. A call to action for its citizens?

After the devastating earthquake in China, the world was witness to horrifying scenes of parental loss. A May 28th Times article with a headline, PARENTS’ GRIEF TURNS TO RAGE AT CHINESE OFFICIALS, pointed out:

Bereaved parents whose children were crushed to death in their classrooms during the earthquake in Sichuan Province have turned mourning ceremonies into protests in recent days, forcing officials to address growing political repercussions over shoddy construction of public schools.

It seems parents who lost their children were doubly enraged at the Chinese government. Mourning the loss of their only children, these parents first blamed the government for limiting them to one child, and secondly, were enraged at the shoddy construction of their children’s schools, which were reduced to rubble amidst other buildings that remained standing.

Here’s an “if/only” thought: What if the United States had a little more patience and a lot more common sense? Instead of enacting elaborate democratization schemes that attempt the impossible task of imposing democracy at the muzzle of guns and tanks, what if we just “helped along” the righteous indignation of people who are victims of their own government in ways that matter to THEM? Abstract concepts and philosophies mean nothing to people when their babies are being killed. Human beings will eventually rise up naturally (perhaps with a little subtle, smart help) against whomever is killing them and their children. They will object to being killed whether the instrument of death is their own government treachery, or the United States government, however benign its motives, in its misguided wars.

The “resource curse” theory, according to Wikipedia, suggests that “states whose sole source of wealth derives from abundant natural resources, such as oil, often fail to democratize because the well-being of the elite depends more on the direct control of the resource than on the popular support.” This may be true. It is certainly true in the case of Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive regimes in the world and a so-called ally of the United States. But the answer is still that you can’t impose democracy at the muzzle of a gun.

The “Have You No Shame” Factor

When I put my Bruisedmuse into the blogosphere a few weeks ago, allowing that I am an admitted left leaner, I swore I’d try to be as “fair and balanced,” as I could, to borrow a phrase from Fox News, which I think should be renamed The Doublethink Network (see my posts on doublethink). I tried in one post to differentiate between outrages of tactics and outrages of policy, and admitted that tactical outrages come from all sides in politics, in greater or lesser degree. My knowledge of psychology leads me to allow, for example, that possibly the catastrophic blunders of the Bush administration were not made by inherently evil men, but only (mostly) misguided ones who believe themselves patriotic Americans, acting in the best interests of the country. (I’m willing to hear arguments that this is not the case.)

However there have been a few days when I couldn’t help but think that the comments by at least SOME on the right wing really, REALLY have to call into question their very HUMANITY. This is the “Have you no shame” factor. You know it has happened when a wave of righteous nausea comes over you and you feel as if someone has punched you in the stomach.

Today is such a day. The issue over which I’m in a stew involves the so-called gaffe by Senator Obama, who after a year and a half of campaigning mentioned that his uncle was one of those who liberated Auschwitz. The point of the story was about treating veterans right, and Senator Obama said-I’m paraphrasing here–that family lore has it that his uncle spent six months in the attic when he got back from the War, presumably suffering PTSD or some other disorder that might understandably come from having seen that place.

The fair and balanced network, FOX NEWS, then “interviewed” Karl Rove and others for their comments on this “developing story,” while the following screed crawled across the bottom of the screen: OBAMA MISSPEAKS: SAYS HIS UNCLE LIBERATED AUSCHWITZ and OBAMA’S GAFF ABOUT UNCLE’S SERVICE RECEIVES MINIMAL PRESS. (I refuse to give Fox even a link on my blog.)

Like the minimal press of Fox News? What do you call Fox News? The Bruisedmuse?

Menachem Rosensaft wrote a brilliant piece on the Huff Post today that captures the “have you no shame” factor here. Quoting a bit of Rosensaft:

It started yesterday when the RNC put out a statement slamming Obama for referring to Auschwitz as he related a family story on Memorial Day. Instead of merely asking for clarification, the RNC smeared Obama’s “dubious claim,” and suggested — tongue in cheek — that perhaps Obama’s uncle “was serving in the Red Army.” They went on to say that the story raised questions “about his judgment and his readiness to lead as commander in chief.”

And what is the “dubious claim” that raises such questions?

Rosensaft goes on:

It turns out that Obama’s great uncle — the brother of the grandmother who largely raised him — served in the 89th Infantry Division of the United States Army, which liberated Ohrdruf, part of Buchenwald. But astonishingly, that only served to fan the flames for those on the right who saw an attempt to use the heroic service of Obama’s uncle against him. In their breathless attempt to damage Obama, Fox News has stooped to a level that is truly depressing.

This morning on the program “Fox and Friends,” one of the hosts said: “It wasn’t Auschwitz. It was a labor camp called Buchenwald.” Just in case the point was missed, she repeated. “It wasn’t Auschwitz, it was a labor camp. You would think you would want to be as specific as possible if you are telling one of these anecdotes.” Meanwhile, a news “crawl” at the bottom of the screen reinforced, in bold letters, that this was “a work camp, rather than an extermination camp.”

Here are some facts about Buchenwald, which is one of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps. At this “work camp,” prisoners were often worked, starved, tortured, or beaten to death. Sometimes they were simply murdered. Roughly 250,000 people were imprisoned there between 1937 and 1945, many of them Jews. Over 50,000 people lost their lives.

At Nuremberg, the world was shocked to learn that some of Buchenwald’s victims were skinned, and the human skin was then used to make lampshades, book covers, and other keepsakes. Buchenwald was also a site for the infamous Nazi “medical experiments” on prisoners, which were often nothing more than crude and horrific forms of torture.

To take just one anecdote about the “work” done at Buchenwald, prisoners had to build the camp road, and camp guards used to shoot those who were not carrying stones that were heavy enough. In the final days before liberation, some 10,000 prisoners from Auschwitz and Gross-Rossen were marched to Buchenwald, adding to the horrific scene that awaited American troops.

The big gaffe is that it was his GREAT uncle and it was Buchenwald, not Auschwitz? And this raises questions about his readiness to lead? Excuse me? On what planet do these people live?

I would just like to point out a few of the other occasions on which I have felt the “have you no shame” factor in my gut:

  • When Rush Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox of faking Parkinson’s symptoms
  • When the United States Congress rushed in to stop the removal of Terry Shiavo’s feeding tube
  • When Rush Limbaugh and others accused Cindy Sheehan not only of being nuts but of making up her son’s death in Iraq.

We live in a country in which an increasingly uneducated public is increasingly incapable of the critical thinking and reality testing that are CRUCIAL to the continuation of democracy, as Al Gore says in his book, The Assault on Reason. It’s as if every version of reality is being given equal weight and succor, to a chorus of okays and hallalulah’s by opinion leaders and the mainstream press. As an example of the failure of much of the public to accept (or learn) any reasonable version of reality, I quote Newsweek:

Asked to name Obama’s faith, 58 percent of participants said Christian (the correct answer), compared with 11 percent who answered Muslim, 22 percent who did not know and 9 percent who said something else.

Some semblance of HUMANITY, however, should at least be a minimum requirement for being allowed to pontificate (with crawls yet) in either the American mainstream media or the United States Congress.

Recount: A Movie Review, more on Doublethink

On Sunday evening, like millions of others, I squirmed and suffered through “Recount,” HBO’s dramatization of the battle for the 2000 election, Bush v. Gore. I suffered not because the movie was dull or one-sided, and I definitely recognize that “Recount” was one-sided, though not egregiously or inaccurately or offensively so. (I’m sure my friends on the right were GREATLY offended.) Though I certainly don’t agree that there is an overall or general “liberal bias” in the media (for a great book on this subject check out Eric Alterman’s “What Liberal Media: The Truth about Bias and the News), I do agree with the great film blogger Chuck Tryon who pointed out in his post on the film on Monday that:

It’s difficult to watch the film without being acutely aware , to borrow from Leonard Cohen, that the the good guys lost.

Indeed, I found the film quite lively and even suspenseful, given the predetermined outcome. As a suspense writer, I certainly know that narrative drive and suspense can be produced with out resorting to obvious questions of “who done it, or “who’s going to get it.” (I wish ALL suspense writers knew this, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment.)

In any case, “Recount” was worth watching if only to see the performance of the amazing Laura Dern as Katherine Harris, she of the pursed mouth and “awesome cougar tits” (Check out this Wonkette link to vote on who has better tits, Laura Dern or Katherine Harris). Harris seemed plenty nutty back in the Bush v. Gore day, circa 2000, but went on in history to prove herself one of the great nuts of all time when she ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate on the “win back America for God” ticket.

Tryon goes on to say:

But while the film acknowledges many of the troubling problems that cast doubt on the legitimacy of Florida’s vote–the illegitimate purging of thousands of names from voter rolls, the divergent standards used to identify the “intent” of voters, the problem of political appointees overseeing election results, “Recount” is forced to stop short of asking some of the more troubling questions about how elections are conducted and how they are covered.

Indeed, this point gets at why I was squirming. I squirmed through “Recount” simply because as this interminable primary season grinds to an end (some kind of end, PLEASE!) I couldn’t help but wonder what we have done in the interim to address these myriad election irregularities.

One of my all time favorite literary moments is in Anna Quindlan’s novel, “One True Thing,” when the protagonist, Ellen Gulden, asks her dying mother why she stayed with her philandering father all these years, and her mother says (paraphrasing here) that she sometimes plans to leave him but every morning she gets up and puts the coffee on and begins her day. In other words: INERTIA.

No, I am not making some subtle comment on Hillary Clinton’s reasons for staying (with her philandering husband, I’m not talking here about staying the race), although inertia probably applies, but it is and has always been my contention that about 95% of life is conducted according to the dictates of inertia.

You could probably fill Yankee Stadium with all the reports that have been written just in the last few years by well meaning committees on various pressing subjects. Inertia rules the day. Is there any reason to suspect that anything at all has been done to address the election irregularities revealed by Bush v. Gore, problems like unequal protection, purged voter rolls, wildly uneven standards, elections overseen by political appointees, and so much else?

Just thinking about inertia in the face of all that as we move into general election season is enough to make me squirm.

I also found myself squirming to have to watch Republicans in action vs. Dems in action. How organized and single minded Repubs are. How able to stick to their talking points. Oh, that Baker–so poised, so sure. A brilliant performance by Tom Wilkenson.

I’m sure other smarter folk than I have pointed this out, but Democrats seem constantly undone by their own philosophy of liberalism. You can see this play out in the Democratic primary/caucus mess that has led to the Clinton/Obama situation in which we find ourselves now, the arcane and uneven rules by which in some states there is a winner-take-all and in other states proportional allocation. Democrats are so busy worrying about being fair that they often cut off their noses to spite their faces. We’re so busy allowing a broad selection of all points of view as all good liberals should (see the discussion of the word “liberal” below) that the Republicans with their authoritarian nature and single minded devotion to message run over Democrats time and time again. I’m not sure what the answer is, because I would not have us become what we rail against, but still…

And speaking of Orwellian doublethink, according to my trusty Shorter Oxford, which is hardly short, the word “liberal” means:

directed to a general broadening of the mind free in giving; generous; open handed; unprejudiced, open-minded esp. free from bigotry or unreasonable rprejedice in favor of traditional opinions or established institutions, open to the reception of new ideas; favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms; in politics favoring free trade and gradual political and social reform that tends towrd individual freedom or democracy.

I don’t think most Americans would claim to be proud of being narrow-minded, and so the reason for a general acceptance of the world “liberal” as a derogatory epithet has to lie elsewhere. Here too I think inertia plays a role. Most people are too busy or simply don’t care. It is a psychological truth that when one side yells louder and more often, absent any coherent and equal countervailing message, the louder, more frequent message is most often absorbed.

Dems, are you listening?

Thoughts Out There: Say What? Who’s the Elitist?

According to Wikipedia, George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty Four defined “doublethink” as …

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them . . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth

Evidence that we are living inside a doublethought world is now everywhere, no more need even to hide it. During the last presidential election cycle we had a substantial portion of the population believing that candidate John Kerry, a genuine war hero, was actually the traitor in the race, while the deserter George Bush was the patriot. Now we seem to have a substantial portion of the population believing that candidate Barack Obama, the African American son of a single mother, is the elitist in the race, while John McCain, whose family’s storied history, according to Salon, stretches back to Carroll County, Miss., where McCain’s great-great grandfather William Alexander McCain owned a plantation, and owned 52 slaves, is actually the  …er, what? Man of the people?

How can this be?