31 July 2006

Why Is War? R. Jehn, C. Loving

I started a conversation with Charlie by sending him one of Fred's (of Fred on Everything) columns titled "Jane Fonda's Wall - Thoughts On The Chatter Of Candy-Asses." I thought he might appreciate the dark humour. I guessed wrong. Here is the last paragraph of it that triggered some of Charlie's response.

"If I were designing a memorial to my own taste, I would want an enormous bronze hand rising from the ground, making a rude gesture — no flag, no inscription, just a raised finger. Some might think it vulgar, but soldiers are vulgar. It would perfectly express my feelings about the war, the country, Washington, and the commission that designed Jane Fonda’s wall."

Richard Jehn

I see the point. I have been to the wall three times and I have been to Arlington National Cemetery and I am always awed by the place. I feel a bond with the names inscribed on the wall. I have found guys I knew, my flight commander is there. I don't think the way the writer thinks. War is the culprit; the soldiers aren't vulgar at all, they are usually very young and they are doing what an adult told them to do.

As for Barbarella, she was pretty cute and fell for a line or two and got to have her say. Some hate her, some don't. For awhile I wouldn't go and see her films but got over it, freedom of speech I think it is. John McCain was in the Hanoi Hilton for many years, he could have gotten out any time he wanted. His father John Sr. was Commander of all Pacific forces. All he had to do was say the thing they wanted him to, but he wouldn't. John McCain's grandfather launched his planes in the Battle of the Phillipine Sea knowing they didn't have gas to get back to the carriers, but they had to save the invasion force in the unprotected ships heading for Luzon.

War is interesting and it is amazingly enough always going on. Today there is a war brewing in Somalia and Ethiopia, and in Nigeria, the Sudan, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Nepal, Georgia, and Bosnia isn't done, Turkey will have its way with the Kurds. China will eventually do in Taiwan and North Korea is a fun idea, and that leaves out three that the Americans are in. The Canadians are in Cyprus and in Afghanistan. And maybe Mexico will blow up and Nicaragua again if the elections go the way I think they will go.

Charlie Loving

I'm reading "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning." The journalist, Chris Hedges, wrote it in 2003 after reporting in the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq, Central and South America, and every other place where war has been for the past 35 years. He says some rather powerful things in it. FWIW, it's an anti-war book. And the notion that you seem to maintain, that war is a grand and glorious thing, never did, and never will, fly with me.

--the soldiers aren't vulgar at all--

I think that's debatable. Especially in Iraq right now, there have been some incredibly vulgar things that have happened. The rape and murder of that girl in Mahmoudiya (and the murder of her entire family to try to hide the fact,) the massacre in Haditha, Abu Ghraib, and the numerous other atrocities. Hedges actually argues that war brings out these vulgarities, and perhaps that's true. It makes them no more acceptable.

But you're absolutely right that war is always going on. The mystery is, "Why?"

Richard Jehn

About the vulgar comment, soldiers are a cross section of society and mostly the poorer of that. Rape and murder are quite common on the streets of Seattle and San Antonio and I presume that Canada is not immune.

I think this debate is one that is good. As to the "Why?" Well, I can't tell you why. I have some ideas, but that is a long book.

A soldier who has been sent to a place, Iraq, and told he will serve for six months and has been there a year and is still not going home can become psychologically demented. I saw it in the returning soldiers from 'Nam -- they were nuts, but no one seemed to pick up on it.

The enemy has no uniform. There is no front line. Anyone from anywhere could be coming to kill you and they really do want to. The Iraqi soldier might not be an Iraqi soldier. He might be a bomb. The lady might be a bomb, too. It is stressful. Why do so many of the guys I see at the VA hospital where I volunteer at times seem crazy? In group sessions they burst into tears and collapse in a heap. They have been mind-fucked, if you will pardon that expression. The best of the real guys have been hurt in ways we can't conceive, so when they do things like Abu Ghraib, it doesn't suprise me.

John Charlie, my son, was a Navy medic for four years; he is out now. He was at Gitmo and he went to Haiti, where they set up their small clinic and the line of patients was more than a half mile. The bad guys would beat up the patients to get their meds and so forth. It was horrible. The bad guys were the Haitian police who were supposed to make things safe. One night the Marines (Navy medics are Marines) blew up the police barracks. No one ever knew except them and the patients were safer.

He was on the USS Guadalcanal when they deployed to Liberia. The Marines set up a perimeter around the embassy. The enemy were naked kids spurred on by adults. They were doped up and naked except for their AK-47s. They were 10 and 12 years old. It was totally nuts. He then went back to Guantanamo. He is crazy on one level even today and there is not a damn thing that meds or anything can do. It is like a branding iron has marked part of his brain with this evil that can't be removed.

My father, who flew B-17s in WWII, was afflicted by the syndrome, too; for years and years he would go into a sort of state of contemplation, which is what we thought, but when I turned 30 he told me one night over a bottle of Jack Black that he was guilty of murder. He had dropped tons of bombs on people he never saw. He was a POW and he also saw that side of the war after the Germans shot his plane out of the sky. He could not resolve the crisis in his mind, no matter how honorable the press, president and all made that war against the Nazi machine.

Charlie Loving

Hedges suggests that it hardly takes an extension of the tour of duty to make these guys crazy. I would tend to agree - it is the constant death and destruction that they must dole out that does it.

After I went to Canada, Mom always said that if I'd gone to Vietnam, they never would have seen me again. She believes I would've died. She's probably right. I don't think I would raise a weapon against another human, Charlie, no matter the consequences to me. I tried to explain that to the Selective Service Board in Austin, but they were some of the most closed-minded people in existence.

It is likely the same today. Look at what they are doing to the Seattle fellow who has principled reasons for refusing to go on a tour of duty in Iraq. He offered to go to Afghanistan, but they said, "No, you have to go to Iraq." And now he refuses, because the US is in violation of international law, and they're going to throw him in the brig for nine years.

I appreciate you relating your father's story to me. I'm sure you recall that I knew him, even before I met you. He was my student teacher in grade four or five. I told Mariann about it; here is what I wrote to her:

"I met his father before I met Charlie, when I was 10 or 11. We didn't sort that out for quite awhile after I made Charlie's acquaintance. Mr. Loving was the student teacher in, I think, my grade 5 class. I had the same teacher for both grades 4 and 5 - Mrs. Sayers, at Highland Park Elementary in the northwest of Austin. It's by the old Hancock Shopping Centre on Hancock and Balcones. I remember liking Mr. Loving a lot - he was very kind, mild-mannered, and knowledgable. That's good for kids."

Richard Jehn

I am totally dismayed by the policy of the EEUU. We love Israel for some reason that escapes me. We would let them do anything they want. Perhaps we should do another exodus and send them all to North Alberta and let them fight the people in Yellow Knife and Fort Nelson. Or maybe the bears?

Our foreign policy is such a failure as to be insane. We screwed the pooch in 'Nam and now we are doing the same thing in Iraq. Well duh? Declare victory, folks, and run away.

Charlie Loving

[+/-]

30 July 2006

Influencing the Right, Part II

This was a great read. The RAG was clearly an early predecessor of the "Journalism as Assertion" tendency later developed by Cable News, free papers like the Chronicle and the Web Blogs. My experience with the Queer Cultural Center's non-commercial Web site over the past eight years begs many questions. This Website was entered by 500,000 people in 2004-05. It is funded by a grant and has no advertising. It is clearly directed at a like-minded audience, i.e., it's niche marketing. Our visitorship increases by about 50,000 people every year because it comes up as the first item in every Google search including the words "Queer" and/or "art and culture;" we do not publicize the site or advertise its existence--the search engine does all that for us. We pay someone $15,000 a year to expand and maintain it; it contains more than 10,000 pages of material. I have learned to ask the basic questions about Websites and audience development.

These same issues are relevant to politics and Web-based publications. Could a left-wing Internet publication develop a national readership of more than half a million for a mere $15,000 a year?

Jeff Jones

Ragamuffins -

Hope everyone managed to enjoy the Day of Orgiastic Feasting without doing too much damage to liver and lights - and has managed to stay the hell away from the 5 a.m. mall riots, as Amerikkka begins its annual Month of Religious Spending!

I'm responding late to some things both Alice and Dennis posted earlier. Dennis' was about working with different interest groups and how people's perspectives change as their sophistication increases, and I say, "WOW!!!" That piece totally tracked my 10 years' (1981-91) experience on Austin's Cable Television Commission in the heady days of municipal regulation. And Alice asked us to write about things we've achieved, successes, what worked.

So OK, two birds with one stone: I chaired the Commission during years two and three, arguably our biggest window of opportunity to take advantage of the city's fleeting authority. It was a never-ending challenge to move programs forward which required as little compromise as possible from competing entities and interests. Fortunately, I served with a stellar group of individuals, and we managed to come up with creative solutions to a lot of supposedly intractable problems, never quite doing the "expected."

The public access studio in East Austin, which belongs to the people of Austin and is built on public land, is the achievement, largely, of four East Austin residents, one black and three whhite, of which I was one. Tommy Wyatt, Brenda Trainor, Larry Waterhouse and I stood firmly together on that issue (while disagreeing on lots of other things); had we not done so, access producers would have had a rented studio for a few years and nada-zip-zilch now. Many producers opposed building on the east side, citing their fear of crime (indigenous black people.) The cable company opposed building anything they didn't own. The city had other unsuitable parcels of land it would have rather offered to us than the one we got. It was a three-ring circus getting the damn thing built, and I'm really, really proud of it.

But yeah, watching the process in others, and feeling it in myself, of coming into a situation with a strong-but-limited perspective and perceived constituency, and then having to modify that as other people's legitimate concerns and constraints become apparent, while still trying to "dance with who brung you", was absolutely fascinating. Sitting in the middle chair in the old Council chambers - oh, yeah, the Ham here loved every minute of it!! - I had to hear what folks on all sides of an issue were really saying, setting aside my own thoughts, at least temporarily, re-state their often inflammatory language so that the crux of arguments could be revealed and understood, be the calm mediator, until everybody knew as much about the issue as anyone else; then, after the question was posed as fairly as it was gonna get, revert to my own view to argue for or against and vote it up or down.

Under Madame Chair Wizard's polite (but steely!) thumb, without ever calling it such, the Commmission adopted the principles of democratic centralism. (We had bylaws which enshrined it, in fact!) Once we made a decision on what to recommend to Council, EVERYBODY either ACTIVELY SUPPORTED IT or SHUT THE HELL UP, and we went in assigned teams (someone I trusted plus someone I didn't on each) to do so! Any commissioner who voiced criticism of a Commission decision after the fact faced hostility, criticism, and ostracism from everyone else, mainly because, once we went through our exhaustive, open, public, extremely long-winded hearings and deliberations, NOBODY wanted to EVER re-visit an issue! And we were one of the most effective commissions in City history, imho, in terms of getting what we wanted from Council!

Amazingly, to me, the single issue on which we spent the most hours, over the entire 10 years I was involved, was free speech on the public access channels. Time after time, various very emotional people opposed extending Constitutional protection to atheists, the Ku Klux Klan, nasssty music videos which mock Jesus, fake Hallowe'en news programs ("There's a slime monster in Town Lake, ooooooo-eeek-eeek!"), discussion/depiction of numerous sexual practices, church services, and on and on and on. The key concept that public access channels ONLY EXIST AS AN EXTENSION OF the First Amendment, which ought therefore to be guarded very zealously, was elusive to some, as was the notion that no one is forced to watch television they don't like. But on this issue, unlike some where I maybe saw the Company's p.o.v. a little too sympathetically, or was trying to butter up another commissioner to secure their support for something else down the line, I was NEVER tempted to compromise on Free Speech.

What Dennis said is really important to understand when we consider political process. We also need to know what our CORE VALUES are; the things that are non-negotiable. In my case, these appear to include rampant exercise of free speech; rejection of racism in any public policy; and group processes which result in group decisions, to be upheld and worked for unless and until they are generally seen to be defective.

Al, I dunno if that adds anything to what you were getting at, but it is something I did for a long time that I was pretty good at, and this is pretty much what I think about it now, in terms of what worked and why. People who served with me knew that everybody would get a fair hearing; that we would take however long we needed to get to where we needed to go; and that if they were gonna get stabbed, they would get stabbed in public rather than in the back. We kept no secrets, even when city bureaucrats begged us to do so; our process was utterly transparent; and even the oddest folks who came to the commission were treated respectfully and given eye contact.

Also, the chair still didn't wear a bra, even tho she was on TV every month, and came to virtually every meeting for the entire 10 years absolutely REEKING of her favorite vegetable matter; again, core values, some things just don't change!

Happy Month of Excess,

Dick Reavis wrote:
-- As for the "attack on science," the important part comes from within science. No theoretically-current scientist, I would think, believes that science turns up an "objective" truth. Science was never a body whose theory all held together. What science produces are bits and pieces of practical knolwedge, dependent upon different theories of what knowledge might be. It's a postmodern thing. For the Marxist interpretation, see David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, a very sensible book.

My thoughts on this:

The "post-modernist" rhetoric about the impossibility of perceiving objective truth, while still fashionable in some academic circles, is (and has always been) completely out of touch with the reality of scientific work and with the attitudes of the people doing such work. This is not because scientists are not "theoretically current" -- it is because many (but not all) of the theories that scientists work with both are true beyond sane doubt and are very broad and unifying in their explanatory power. Atomic theory is the poster child for this, but there are many other areas (e.g., plate tectonics, special relativity) that are similarly well established.

Of course there are still plenty of incomplete or tentative scientific theories. In fact, these are the areas where research scientists direct most of their attention, since their job is to extend the established core of science. But these theories are investigated with confidence that objective answers exist. It is philosophers (most of whom are scientifically illiterate) who are afraid to believe in things -- not scientists.

The theories of science hold together quite well, as far as they go. Physics, chemistry, geology, biology, and astronomy all reinforce each other. The "social sciences" do not do as well, but that is because they are a mixture of objective, subjective, and prescriptive elements. Most of politics is a "How do we want things to be?" design argument rather than a "How do things work?" scientific investigation.

Also, science is still far behind the most advanced religious and artistic traditions in its investigation of human thought. But most working scientists are well aware of this, and look to music, poetry, and art for spiritual support, not to psychiatrists.

-- Contemporary evolutionary theory has a problem: it doesn't provide straightforward answers, like the theory that we were taught under the name "evolution." (Accidents as well as survival of the fittest lead to where we are -- and that means that there's no virtue in where we are.)

Evolutionary theory has always acknowledged a central role for chance -- it was the chance survivals and subsequent varied adaptations on the Galapagos islands that Darwin used as his leading illustration of the process. Don't be distracted by the minor novelties or refinements of evolutionary theory that fame-seekers put forth as fundamental changes. Darwin's theory has had a couple of holes filled (genetics in the 1920's, complex systems in the 1990's), but remains little changed (and of course is now massively supported by data).

In any case, I fail to see how virtue could be conferred by being descendants of the proto-Republican organisms most efficient at killing their peers, grabbing things, and spreading their seed. It is this legacy that constitutes the original sin that any thoughtful person must see in himself and other people. But there is also an evolutionary basis for the cooperation that is the most striking feature of human culture, and perhaps for the altruism and hunger for justice that arise repeatedly, even in some middle-class Americans.

Hunter Ellinger

I don't think that you and I would much disagree, except that I would take exception to your comment knocking postmodernism.

I didn't come to that view through the usual route of literary studies. Instead, like everything else, I came to it through the wisdom of the 60's.

Everything one might say about the "truth" of science passes for "truth" because someone "reasonable" believes it. Some people also believe that the world is flat. Belief doesn't prove the truth of anything. Some people hold "unreasonable" beliefs.

Science passes for "truth" because a lot of "reasonable" people believe in it, and because authority of various kinds backs it up. Not many of us know, for example, that the world is round. How could we prove that to unbelievers? We believe, "on good authority," that it is round, or something roundish.

Authority is the civilized face of force. The "reasonable man," the common test of truth, is the docile citizen of whoever holds power. As Mao would have said (had he been consistent), "Truth flows from the barrel of a gun."
Or at least that's way I see it. Since people who agree with me do not hold any power, my ideas are, of course, "unreasonable," "extreme," and the like. I speak for a "truth" that on its face is not true.

Dick Reavis

Yes, there is another "attack on science," coming from yahoos in the U.S., the "intelligent design" folk and such. If the yahoos win, their victory will only be another revival of the backwardness of the U.S., not anything of great global significance, I think.

See, I think it's more entrenched than that, with the Intelligent Design people being only the latest wave pushing the de-education of American kids. Why are daily papers really failing? Jonny cain't reed, y'all. Look at everything deleted from US curricula over the past, what? 30 years? and it's a wonder more jobs haven't been exported to India. "Kids today" aren't taught spelling or grammar, so they don't understand their mother tongue; they aren't required to obtain even rudimentary knowlege of any other language, so they are less capable than multilingual people of understanding differing points of view; and instead of scientific inquiry and independent thought, we teach technical dexterity and mental adaptability to circumstance. When a person educated in such a system is called upon to evaluate theories such as evolution vs. I.D., he or she is most likely to apply lessons learned in kindergarten: "I'm OK; you're OK," if for no other reason than that reading all that science stuff is yucky.

Then, Hunter comments on scientific knowledge:
Many (but not all) of the theories that scientists work with both are true beyond sane doubt and are very broad and unifying in their explanatory power. Atomic theory is the poster child for this, but there are many other areas ... that are similarly well established.

Of course there are still plenty of incomplete or tentative scientific theories. In fact, these are the areas where research scientists direct most of their attention, since their job is to extend the established core of science.

... Physics, chemistry, geology, biology, and astronomy all reinforce each other. The "social sciences" do not do as well, but that is because they are a mixture of objective, subjective, and prescriptive elements ...

Also, science is still far behind the most advanced religious and artistic traditions in its investigation of human thought. But most working scientists are well aware of this, and look to music, poetry, and art for spiritual support, not to psychiatrists ...

Darwin's theory has had a couple of holes filled (genetics in the 1920's, complex systems in the 1990's), but remains little changed (and of course is now massively supported by data). --

And I have to say I agree with all of that 100%, despite the fact that I've spent a lot of time over the last couple of years seriously questioning the nature of "reality" as it applies to people's perceptions and recollections, and to history, as written by victors and survivors...

But, in talking about the relative "virtue" of one's family tree, I didn't think Dick J. Reavis was talking about any "descent," whether from plain old monkeys or Hunter's "proto-Republicans." Intelligent Design, along with its parent Creationism and most world religions, offers the appeal of saying, "Human beings exist for some purpose; were created for that purpose by a power greater than themselves." I think this is deeply appealing to most of us at least sometimes, not so much because it is more dignified than being a monkey's nephew, but because, if there is a power greater than us which is responsible for our existence, then we are, really, when push comes to shove, off the hook for how it all turns out. If it's all in God's hands, hey, I can watch a lot of basketball this week! That is the "virtue" of having a Creator who is running the show!

(Of course, I know that folks in this group who are believers also think along the lines that "God helps those who help themselves (and others)," and aren't looking to religion for an escape clause, so I hope I'm not offending anyone; the appeal of "letting go and letting God" is felt by non-believers and lukewarm agnostics as much as anyone else, and maybe more so.)

Dick, thanks for the info on weekly newspapers; and no, I'm not talking just about the Chronicle-type, events-listings plus metro-chic papers, though there are a lot of them around the country. But they exist in all sorts of small rural places, too. On a seven-week road trip through NM, AZ, CA, NV, UT, CO and West TX last spring, I picked up dozens of 'em. I stayed off the interstates for all but 1,000 of 7,000 miles, so I was in some nicely out-of-the-way places, as well as Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Phoenix. Most of the stuff I saw was totally locally written (except for, say, astrology and/or self-help columns) by a combo of owner-publisher-writers, paid stringers and staff, and jus' folks. In a lot of places, the nearest metropolitan daily has very little of interest or accessibility to small town residents. Ads in the local weekly are other local businesses, and there's always a heavy civic pride component, but that doesn't preclude criticism. I found a surprisingly strong environmental content in a lot of the little Western papers in areas where mining, timber, and ranching are still important.

Just last weekend I picked up two little rags over in Chappell Hill, TX. The "Round Top Register" is a quarterly, nice paper, full-color cover of onion domes in Red Square headed, "Government! Can't live with it, and you can't live without it," there is a HUGE article on the publisher's extended European trip which included a visit to Russia and another on the guvmnt's lame response to Katrina; the cover also sports an Ambrose Bierce quote, "Politics is the conduct of public affairs for private advantage," and is labeled the "Throw the Bums Out Issue." Lots of ads from Brenham through Giddings, real estate, auto dealers, antiques, restaurants, B&Bs. The other one, simply "The Press," is a weekly; the cover of this issue, also full-color, is a "Saluting Veterans" photo of middle-aged black vet in striped overalls and a camo hat, nice; but inside, it is mostly ads, including eight pages of 24 total classifieds, listings, and columns by a variety of individuals, including Bartee Haile on how racism caused something called the "Cart War" in the Rio Grande Valley, right after the Texas War of Independence!

I will try to contact him; photo looks amusingly the same as ever and I'm theorizing he's teaching history someplace in the Piney Woods.

There are a lot of weeklies in Austin, too, including at least one by and for that under-30 crowd which finds the Chron stale and predictable; I'm thinking there's still some hope for basic literacy.


The bias of western science is its certainty of its superiority over all other peoples. Unfortunately it all falls apart where the rubber meets the road.

Number one cause of death in this country is going to the doctor, just adding up AMA figures.

Drug side effects (100,000), mistakes (40,000), diseases caught in hospital (40,000), unnecessary surgery.

We are number 37 in world health, despite spending way the most money. Any nation on the “Western diet” of corporate-grown food has huge epidemics of auto-immune disorders.

And now, sadly, I read today that tens of millions of Chinese are leaving the farm.

Soon they too will have these epidemics, and the American pharmaceutical companies will get richer, hiding the symptoms, as they cannot “cure” dietary deficiencies.

Janet Gilles

OK, I have just eight things to say.

First, we have no proof of the existence of reality, much less that anything in it is true. I have discovered, however, that I have much more pleasant hallucinations when I presume that what I am hallucinating is, in fact, real. That there is a truth of the matter is a fundamental presumption without which there can be no science.

Second, if we give up on truth, we give up on reason. If we give up on reason, on what basis do we set social policy? Brute force. Sometimes policies ARE set on the basis of brute force, of course. We can all cite numerous examples. My point is that reason is our sole bulwark against brute force in policy formation. We should be reticent to jettison it. Is it any wonder that many of the leading postmodernists of their generation (e.g., Heidegger, DeMan) turned out to be Nazi collaborators?

Third, postmodernism is just critical theory without its positive moment. It wants to (and usually can) find ideological content in theoretical formulations. But they follow up this critique of ideology with absolutely nothing, for fear of creating new forms of ideologically-laden formulations. In other words, they reject responsibility for postulating potentially emancipatory formulations. They do the easy job of tearing down without dirtying their hands in the hard job of building up.

Fourth, post-modernism is trivially self-refuting. To say that truth is relative is itself a truth claim.

Fifth, it is "true" that "Everything one might say about the 'truth' of science passes for 'truth' because someone 'reasonable' believes it." This is not to say that truth is relative, but only that belief is. I would agree that belief is relative. I take Hunter to be saying (with, for instance, W.V.O. Quine and Hilary Putnam) that we count as "true" those propositions that, if true, would maximize the global coherence of our knowledge (not just our beliefs,)including our empirical observations, as well as our theoretical knowledge. We are always ready, however, to revise such judgments on the basis of new information. There is no better criterion than this for theory-selection judgments. Falsificationism just doesn't work (Feyerabend is right about this, even in his postmodernism.) But falsificationism's failure does not justify jumping to no criterion at all, as would Feyerabend and, apparently, Reavis.

Sixth, knowledge is not in the head, it's in the library (and increasingly on the Internet.) Knowledge is fundamentally a social product, not an individual product. To ensure that we maximize the global coherence of our knowledge, we should and must encourage diversity in the community of knowledge producers. As my colleague and feminist epistemologist Linda Alcoff once put it, "The justification for diversity in the academy is not sentimental. It's epistemological."

Seventh, although I agree with Hunter about the difference between natural and social science, I want to add two comments. First, natural scientists don't have to worry about what Aristotle called formal cause and final cause. They can unproblematically impose meanings (formal causes) on the objects of their science. Since the objects of social science are potential subjects of science, this is trickier for social scientists. Natural scientists do not study entities that have intentions. This makes causal attribution a whole lot easier for them. Second, and relatedly, the objects of social science -- people and their communities -- can read the products of social science and change their behavior accordingly, appearing to invalidate a theory that actually had merit. Every Marx has his Keynes. This of course doesn't happen to natural scientists. The natural sciences should never be called the hard sciences. They are in fact the EASY sciences.

Eighth, I have no time for any of this.

Gavan Duffy

Beware of anyone who would try to convince you with reasonable arguments that reason has no basis in reality. Language cannot exist without a reality we exist in together. If there is nothing, then there is nothing to speak of and no one to speak of this nothing. One must exist in an objective world in order to have a hallucination. The solipsistic fallacy has had a long run. Zeno had his argument about why the arrow would never reach the target. Analysis can never grasp the whole. The eye cannot see itself without reflection. The limitation of science is not a definition of reality.

I think solipsism has had such a long run because people like word games, they like to be baffled by bullshit. Also, mortality is not popular. Many, many people are not happy with cause and effect when it comes to their own existence. Let them jump off tall buildings and tell me about the experience later.

Alan Pogue

Zeno might have something to say about the impossibility of reaching the ground after that jump off a tall building.

Daun Eierdam

[+/-]

29 July 2006

Influencing the Right, Part I

This is another remarkable exchange that took place between some of the membership last late Autumn.

Richard Jehn

Mike Eisenstadt writes:

-- Hardworking and neighborly folks, knowing more or less what the neighbors know, stretch as far as possible what little they do know, to make up a plausible world view for themselves. This they ground their opinions on. That is THEIR heuristic.

Sociologists can get funded to look at this phenomenon in depth. Political activists, hoping there is a way to get folks to understand their own interests better, will get nowhere with this. --

Most amusing! I think there is a bit of truth on both sides of this discussion, as usual; Mike is correct in that the whole concept of heuristics can be fluffed up, it appears, into something incomprehensible and irrelevant to those it analyzes, and Steve and Dennis are absolutely correct in that the Left has been ridiculously inept in being able to talk to people "where they're at." In periods when the American Left has shown signs of life, it has been when it has been a reflector and creator of cultural values, i.e., the WPA-funded murals, photographic documentation, parks and museum construction, and other cultural assets and products of the 1930s from Woody Guthrie to Steinbeck.

The trick is that it IS a two-way process of creation and reflection, and thus a dialectic, as Mr. E. characterizes it. In the 60s, if y'all will recall (smile), WE were the culture, but I can't claim to be any kind of cultural innovator myself; I wore the clothes, listened to the music, smoked the dope, adopted the speech patterns and ultimately the political values of the subculture which accepted me, and in which I found a home. Other people then modeled themselves after US! We talked about this a lot at the reunion.

If the question is, "How do we get that back," the short answer is WE DON'T, but by maintaining a connection with the "happening" culture of today's 20-somethings, we can maybe still take part in the reflection-and-creation process. If we can't understand rap, hip-hop, or dub music, we are just like the parents who thought Elvis was hideous and couldn't understand a word Jerry Lee Lewis sang.

There is ALWAYS a progressive element among youth, and whatever they are listening to (i.e., everything which affects the material conditions of their lives: where do they work? what do they eat? what do they learn?) is where the Left needs to be, first LISTENING, then RESPONDING, within THEIR cultural milieu.

It's not just the Right that knows how to do this real well; the advertising industry taught them; it's called co-optation and we were all there for it. Never will forget the day I saw the Benz commercial using Janis' song --SHIT!!!! But you don't even see the Left using the PLETHORA of peace and justice-oriented musicians at all effectively, much less the artists, dancers, poets, blah-de-blah... Much less the "ordinary" people who are the real cultural mainstays in their communities (the folks whose houses are always full of their kids and their kids' friends, even though some grown-ups are usually at home.) Instead, we seem to have fallen into some kind of crack in the Very Fabric of Time where it's not polite to talk politics at dinner...

Maybe it's time to revive Mother's Grits... with a new cast and crew... an all-star revue? BTW, country music sales are down this year due to hurricane losses throughout the South and high gasoline prices. Good time for a "revivalizing" message to the people?

Mariann Wizard

Mariann talks about "getting it back." We won't. She's right. We won't be the agents of social change in the youth culture. We can get out of our own comfort zone and find younger allies as Mariann suggests. We can also speak authentically to our own issues as aging baby boomers on social security, health care, the war, the appropriate response natural disasters, gay marriage amendments, etc.

I found the "in the U.S. or not" debate to be very interesting. Anyone want to chime in now that France has displayed its own immigrant contradictions to the world? My take on that is that problems are everywhere and the only solace you may have in a foreign country is that you don't understand them in much depth. But, solutions are everywhere, too. Health care is not rationed (according to insurance or wealth) in MOST industrial countries.

I am not so interested in what has failed to work. I face that everyday and become mired in it if I watch the news. I am interested in experiences people have had that worked -- that fostered dialogue and change. We had a great opportunity in the 60's to reach lots of people on the mall or at the student union or in meetings on campus. Even that isn't as true as it used to be. UT students don't live near the university. They commute on shuttle buses. More of them have jobs off campus. And we aren't on campus anyway. So, where -- in what circumstances -- have you felt you have reached out to the most people recently? In unions, in elections, as a teacher....??

Obviously, people are changing in their attitudes on the war. That doesn't seem to be happening (as it did before) through antiwar organizing. There are occasional moblizations of people, but few community debates or teach-ins or opportunities for dialogues. So, is that happening through the blogs seeping into the straight media??

What are your thoughts?

Alice Embree

Alice wrote: "Obviously, people are changing in their attitudes on the war. That doesn't seem to be happening (as it did before) through antiwar organizing. There are occasional moblizations of people, but few community debates or teach-ins or opportunities for dialogues. So, is that happening through the blogs seeping into the straight media??"

If you look at the polling history on the war and on Bush's presidency, you'll see that people haven't just recently changed their opinions. They've been moving from pro to con for several years along a steadily-declining trend line. The reason this has lately captured more attention is that public sentiment has now finally crossed the line from majority approval to majority disapproval. That crossing of the line in re the war occurred sometime in the Spring of '04. And in June-August of this year we saw approval of Bush's overall performance slide below 50% for the first time.

Ostensibly, that's good news for the good side. But it's a shaky situation, mostly because the Dems in opposition don't have any agreed, coherent, clearly-articulated strategy for an alternative course. So what happens in that situation if, for instance, there's another major terrorist attack in the US? Some people might rally round the leader like they did after 9/11, and Dubya would get some of his support back. But a lot of analysts think the more likely public reaction is outrage at the government's failure of due diligence, much like we saw after Katrina. With no clear progressive alternative at the ready, that could then mean broad public support for even more aggressive us-versus-them strategies, which could make the McCarthy era look like the good old days. Scary.

Why is this erosion of Bush support happening, even in the absence of such organizing efforts as Alice mentions? Actually, it's exactly the same trend we've seen for almost every president -- especially over the last 40 or so years -- with or without well-organized opposition. It seems to be the bloom's-off-the-rose phenomenon as applied to our national significant other. There's a little honeymoon after the election, then a steadily-growing disaffection. Even those presidents who manage re-election to a second term usually find their approval rating subsequently sinking to somewhere around 40 percent or lower. It may be that the army of volunteer bloggers has hastened George's fall from grace, but given that this is a recurring phenomenon, it's difficult to give anyone too much credit. It may just be the way these relationships work.

On the other hand, since it is always in the left's self-interest to claim credit for these things, I have come up with an explanation that proves George's decline is the result of another successful communist plot. Bear with me....

Like I said, this declining relationship thing seems to be especially pronounced beginning about 40 years ago. And what other significant relationship thing was beginning to bubble to the surface 40 years ago? No-fault divorce. Just a coincidence? I don't think so. The passage of no-fault divorce legislation in one state after another made it far easier for people to acknowledge and terminate bad relationships without the heavy evidentiary burden of having to prove their partner guilty of some sinful act. Things not going according to your expectations? No problem. Give 'em the boot. And if there's no longer any deep-rooted need for abiding loyalty to an unsatisfactory spouse, why should we stick with that guy in Washington if he's not performing up to expectations? You see? Not a coincidence.

Where did no-fault divorce come from? It was invented by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution. And how did it enter the US? The first no-fault divorce act in the US was signed into law in 1969 by that infamous commie dupe Ronald Reagan, then governor of California -- who thereby ensured via the social domino effect that every subsequent president, himself included, would be entitled to no more loyalty than any other abusive partner.

Is there any way to copyright this brilliant insight? It took me probably 35 minutes worth of intense research and I hate to waste that.

Dennis Fitzgerald

-- It was invented by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution. And how did it enter the US? The first no-fault divorce act in the US was signed into law in 1969 by that infamous commie dupe Ronald Reagan, then governor of California -- who thereby ensured via the social domino effect that every subsequent president, himself included, would be entitled to no more loyalty than any other abusive partner. --

Himself, may one hasten to point out, a DIVORCED MAN?? By gosh, Fitzgerald, you may have hit the nail upon the head! Perhaps this "covenant marriage" thing is really a GOOD idea!!!

You crack me up, Red; reminded me of a WONDERFUL article in the NY Times a couple of months back, an open letter to the Kansas School Board on the subject of intelligent design, specifically, the ONE TRUE Intelligent Designer, The Spaghetti Monster. See venganza.org, where the author, Bobby Henderson, proves that global warming is directly linked, via a statistically significant inverse relationship, to the decline of pirates over the last 200 years.


Okay, in a more serious vein than my last... Alice also asked for examples of experiences that have worked. Here's one of mine.

Regional multi-stakeholder sustainability group

Objectives of the group include:

  • To define long-term goals and short-term performance targets for local economic, social and environmental well-being. (I find well-being to be a clearer concept for most people than sustainability.)
  • To define measurable indicators for assessing progress towards the goals.
  • To annually collect indicator data and prepare a public report on local progress (or lack of progress).
  • To use the findings of the annual reports to identify local priorities (i.e., those aspects of local well-being that are most deficient and, therefore, most in need of improvement).
  • To engage in an on-going discussion of actions and strategies that various local groups (businesses, governments, non-profits, unions, etc.) might take (or have taken) to support progress.
  • To use the collective influence of the group (and the findings of the annual reports) to pressure all elements of the community to support and work towards progress on well-being.
  • To facilitate on-going education of group members and the broader community in re issues and strategies.
  • To promote cooperation among various sectors of the community, continual improvement and active adaptive management.
One significant positive in this approach is that it moves the focus away from what to do (or how to do it) and puts the focus on results (what is achieved). It’s something like, “That’s good your organization is spending a million dollars on 'x' program, but let’s take a look at our indicator results and see if you’re moving the dial.”

As long as the focus is on how to do something, people will always have different opinions and there will always be irresolvable disagreements. But when you focus on a measurable result and when you have agreed on a performance target, that changes the whole discussion. It becomes clear and indisputable that what’s being done either is or is not working.

I started out on this path with lots of trepidation. It looked like a certain formula for dysfunction. How could you possibly put the union federation, the chamber of commerce, government, the Indian band, the environmental coalition, etc., etc. all together at one table and expect anything other than riotous arguments? But – surprise! – there are ways to make it work. It is certainly tricky, particularly at the beginning. There are lots of steps forward and backward. But, ultimately, it is possible to reach substantive agreement on a lot of desired results – and to find ways to work towards those.

In fact, I found that one of the bigger problems is not dysfunctionality, but a tendency for the process to work too well.

Over time, people in the group form friendly and respectful relationships with each other, and they develop an increasingly more sophisticated understanding of the complexities in advancing multiple, often competing objectives. That’s all positive, but it can result in members changing their views to the extent that they cease to be representative of the interests they’re supposed to be representing. It can also result in members no longer challenging and pushing each other as vigorously as they used to – and sustaining that tension is a necessary part of the exercise. So, you have to start easing out old members who have become too moderate and recruiting new members who will be less well-informed but more passionate.

Sorry… I’m straying into the minutiae. I’ve seen so many failures and successes in these things that I could easily write a 500-page how-to and how-not-to manual. But maybe the above is enough to give you the general idea.

Here are a few relevant links for some very different groups working in this general area. I won’t waste your time with my critiques of what or how they’re doing. Enough to say that I think they’re all interesting, but if I were King of the World, I’d make some fundamental changes to each of them.

Fraser Basin Council Home; Indicator Reports

North Island Woodlands Advisory Group Home; Plans & Indicator Reports

Portland Multnomah Progress Board

UN Millennium Development Goals Home; Indicators

Dennis Fitzgerald

Once again, Dennis has hit the nail on the head in my opinion. (Thanks)

Until or unless there is some catastrophic even that changes the nature of the world we live in, which may or may not happen and is certainly not something to be wished for, the process Dennis outlines is the way in which change is going to occur. It is, indeed, probably the only way in which a critical mass of support can be generated.

David P-H’s earlier message rightly quoted Frederick Douglass that “if there is no struggle, there is no progress,” but Dennis drops the other show. After the struggle comes the process of creating change. If we are not engaged in that process – as participants and facilitators – then we leave it to those with other interests. It is at that point that we have to shift the focus to objectives – what can (not should) be done – and to engage everyone in the process to the extent they can be engaged. And, yes, that’s where compromise and concessions to the reality of the moment come into play.

And, as Dennis so rightly notes, we also have to be aware of the co-opting nature of that process and constantly work to encourage new demands and new passion from below.

Either path alone – only “struggle” or only “compromise” – is a dead end.

Enough of theory.

On another note, those of you who see each other all the time know the importance of personal connections to keep the spirit alive and thriving. The rest of us have to rely on less frequent encounters. So my thanks to Mary Walsh and David P. Hamilton for two extremely enjoyable and life affirming lunches last weekend here in the DC-area. I was amazed at the power, confidence and wisdom they had to share.

If you are in the area, come visit.

Doyle Niemann

[+/-]

28 July 2006

Socialized Insurance - P. Spencer

The “debate” concerning Social Security came and went rather quickly in 2005 – mainly because a large majority of working people know a reasonably well-run program when they see one. As in all such programs, adjustments have to be made to match up with changes in our national situation. The large “bubble” of population growth called the “baby-boom-generation” will require an adjustment. Insurance companies use “actuarial” tables to predict costs; this is essentially the task for the Social Security Administration and Congress now.

“Actuarial tables” is a term that means what it sounds like it means. It contains the actual statistical data for rates of death, injury, property damage for overall populations and, often, for specific subgroups of people. Insurance companies use the data to estimate pay-out for different types of loss, then add a fudge-factor for unpredictable loss, throw in operating expenses, and add in profit to derive a price for insurance for you and me. Of course, they also fund a squadron of lawyers to fight pay-offs to you and me, when their tables and calculations do not adequately cover extreme conditions.

So, basically, an insurance company is like a bank in that they don’t actually do anything for their money. They just take it in, sit on it (actually invest it in hopes of increased profit), and dole out less than they take in - most of the time. In another sense an insurance company is like a government agency. Both the overall cost of insurance and, particularly, their profit are more like a tax than a market transaction. The majority of us get nothing for our money. Even people who have certain kinds of loss, such as a fender-bender, often avoid requesting reimbursement from their insurer, because their auto insurance rate (cost) will probably increase. We only put money into their system, because we have little emergency back-up in the U.S.A. nowadays.

How about if we combine the relatively well-run Social Security system with the notion that other forms of insurance are essentially an overpriced tax? That is, let’s socialize insurance in all forms – automobile, life (death), health, property. There would actually be little change noticed by insurance company staff or customers. Staff would still be needed to administer the system. Customers would still pay in – except at lower rates – and would still have to prove loss.

Some differences would be seen, though, soon after the start-up. First, there would be less quibbling and legal wrangling over payments for loss or for healthcare – that is, tactics designed to make the customer give up. Second, there could be more counter-pressure on medical costs with a monolithic, customer-oriented insurance provider. Third, some lawyers would be unemployed – almost always a good thing.

My viewpoint is that such an agency would insure only the basics and would not insure high-risk items, such as real estate below sea level and on sand islands. These would be left to the private insurers. Would we allow private insurers? Why not? We’re not talking state control of business here – I am recommending a competitive approach. People should be able to join or leave. The government agency (or co-op) would simply provide the capability. If the private, capitalist approach works better for the customer, fine. The real problem, however, is that creation of a program like this takes something like that which created the Social Security system in the first place – i.e., a socially-responsible government.

We are, of course, aware that we have no such thing currently. Most of us probably doubt that there has been more than one socially-responsible government in this country for the last century. And some of us might argue that this one example was responding in as small a way as possible to political necessity. Social Security works, but 1) it barely covers the rent; 2) it is now a slush-fund for the fiscal irresponsibility (read ruling class grants, breaks, graft, etc.) of our federal officials; and 3) the benefits are attacked regularly by the same officials (they must hope that they never win the argument, since their federal-level slush-fund would disappear).

Speaking of slush-funds for the ruling class, that is what insurance companies are. Almost all of the big insurance companies were started or taken over by the minions of the usual suspects (banks and investment houses owned/controlled by the petroleum/mineral/chemical/weapons/transportation conglomerate that has run this country since the Civil War). These folks figured this scam out about the same time that they realized that wage-slaves were actually better for their interests than property-slaves. Here was another perfect type of exploitation: the ruling class could get working people to put their own meager money into a non-interest-bearing account owned by members of the ruling class; the ruling class could then use this money for expansion of the interests/property of the ruling class; and the ruling class could skim a percentage of the funds for – I don’t know, how about “keeping it safe”?

Wow. What a scheme. And it’s not only worked perfectly, the ruling class has improved it by having their politicians create laws to make certain forms of insurance mandatory and to bring in government assistance when the pay-out might be above normal levels. It’s all so well-established by now that the only debate one hears is about which insurance company charges the lowest premiums.

Well folks, I think that it is time to bring this up to the forefront. We have some momentum on our analyses of international affairs; we have some traction on economic disparities; we have a lot of fellow-travellers with disrespect to politicians and their “mainstream” ideologies. By and large we don’t have elements of a practical plan, other than get out of Iraq – which is, of course, first and foremost. We need to develop the elements of a plan, and I strongly suggest that “socialization” of insurance is an obvious element that will be well-received by a broad segment of our citizenry.

Paul Spencer

[+/-]

26 July 2006

Peace Action - A. Embree

I want to alert you all to the Austin Peace Action Thursday, July 27th. See below. Also, Code Pink Austin is participating in a rolling fast through September 21 (Bring the Troops Home Fast) with fasters who have volunteered for each day. We'll try to get publicity for this fast each Friday 5-7 at the Capitol. And as Rich Bowden says below, Willie Nelson is fasting with Cindy Sheehan as well. PLEASE LET FOLKS KNOW ABOUT JULY 27TH.

Alice Embree

Musicians and all People of Peace:(From InstrumentsforPeace.org) Thursday, July 27, from 5:30-6:30 pm (rush hour!), Instruments For Peace (a network of Austin musicians and other creative people) invites your participation in a rally on the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, 1st Street and Lamar, Austin, Texas.

Instruments for Peace is calling for everyone to come and protest the carnage of the ongoing war in Iraq, and the rising tensions in the Middle East. We want as many people as possible to bring musical instruments, banners, home made signs, American flags, etc. and/or costumes. Bring your organizations' flyers to hand out to joggers. Some ideas: Iraqi flags over child-size "coffins"? Some women will be wearing Iraqi style clothing and will be carrying simulated dead babys. US flag-draped coffins?

Part of the marching brass band from the Million Musicians March are assembling to play. We're wanting to be as big and loud and creative as possible. A Veterans For Peace banner? A listing of Iraq War casualties? Large signs/banners perhaps can be reused at future events.

Media will be alerted. We encourage folks to alert their media contacts also - and we invite everyone to spread the word via text messaging and email.

Let's raise our Voices to end the War in Iraq, and focus this event on the innocent civilians, mostly children, who are the victims of our corporate war-making machine.

Instruments for Peace

P.S. Something else you didn't hear in the corporate media: Willie Nelson is fasting for peace with Cindy Sheehan and thousands of others!

[+/-]

24 July 2006

Conyers vs. Bush

I wanted to update you on the lawsuit I have filed against George W. Bush and members of his administration, referred to in legal parlance as Conyers v. Bush.

You are likely familiar with a number of steps I have taken to challenge the legality and constitutional grounds of the Administration's actions. From the lead up to Iraq, to the Downing Street Minutes, to the outing of a CIA agent, to warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens, I have called loudly for the Bush White House to explain itself.

I decided to file suit against the President in Federal Court in Michigan, along with 11 Senior Democratic Members of Congress. This suit was necessary because of a clear violation of the constitution. When the President signed the Deficit Reduction Act (which "reduced" the deficit by cutting taxes, health care benefits, and student loans), he signed into law a bill that had not passed the House and Senate. A different version of the bill passed each house of Congress with a multi-billion dollar difference in funding for life-saving medical equipment.

Anyone who ever watched Schoolhouse Rock knows this to be a problem.

Given the stakes involved I felt it was imperative to aggressively take this fight to the courts. The President's lawyers tried to get the bill dismissed, but late last week I responded with legal filings that stand up for the rule of law and the Constitution and hope to bring the President, and our United States government, back under the rule of law.


John Conyers, Jr.

[+/-]

International Folk Art Market - D. Hamilton

Having been associated with a viewpoint called internationalism, allow me to describe a recent event in which Sally and I participated, the International Folk Art Market, sponsored by the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. It just completed its third year and will doubtless continue to occur the second weekend in July for the foreseeable future. It was perhaps internationalist in a more conventional and benign sense, but it was an inspiring spectacle regardless.

The market takes place on the large plaza in front of the museum and in the adjacent parking lots. It was designed to provide a money-maker for the museum and a venue for folk artists from all over the world and has succeeded in both objectives. It started in 2004 and was a huge and instant success. That first year, they sold about 15,000 entrance tickets, three times what they had expected to sell. The next year attendance jumped another 5,000 with 300 one-hour early shopper tickets selling out at $50 each. This year's attendance jumped another 5,000. It has now joined Indian Market and Spanish Market to become one of Santa Fe's signature events.

This year, there were 106 rather spacious booths for artisans from 36 countries. There is a selection process that remains somewhat opaque to me after a year of discussing potential candidates from Guatemala. There are now hundreds of applicants. It's like getting a band in SXSW [South-by-SouthWest]. Successful applicants all have Santa Fe sponsors who help with travel arrangements, housing and visas. We are joining the museum partially because we feel it may improve the chances of Guatemalan Maya nominees we sponsor.

Regardless, the market ends up with a fantastic collection of people and artistic talent in many different mediums from almost every corner of the globe. At this point, adjacent booths might be from Peru, Malaysia, Botswana and Romania. Next year they may go for continental groupings. Many of the vendors are in traditional dress, often quite elaborate. But there were also the lady basket makers from the Sudan who looked exactly as if they had just stepped out of a Darfur refugee camp because they had.

They always sat on the ground working, neither chairs nor inactivity being within their normal experience, and looking about at the admiring and wealthy American folk art lovers in total amazement, some heavy culture shock was going on. We heard that they originally wanted to sell their baskets for ten dollars each but their sponsors made them sell them for more, hopefully much more. They were perhaps at the extreme end of the vendor sophistication spectrum, but it was doubtless the culmination of a lifetime's work for many artisan participants. The one vendor from Guatemala, a sculptor and painter of ceramic birds and figures, almost made enough at this event to support his family for a year. I talked to a Haitian tin sculptor who sold out the first day.

Besides the artisans and their wares, there are ethnic foods and a continuous entertainment schedule that aspires to the same authenticity and diversity as the folk art. The peak internationalist moment is at the post-market party for vendors and sponsors in the museum auditorium. It's a big cocktail party with an extensive food buffet and music where the most incredibly eclectic groups of people are mingling and sharing experiences with their global colleagues. It usually ends in a spirited conga line like no other you have ever imagined.

Sally and I are not artisans and so we don't have a booth. We participate as guests of the museum shop selling our collection of Maya traditional textiles. Scott and Arina Pittman attended this year and will attest to this being an uplifting event showcasing a fascinating array of artists, mostly from humble origins and traditional cultures. It may not change the world, but it powerfully acknowledges the work of a deserving few.

David Hamilton

[+/-]

Fragile Families - C. Loving

We are still working on the project for Fragile Families in Texas. I have been talking it up with folks here and there is interest. The International Center might be the place to do this?

One thing that keeps coming up to haunt us is why is it that there is such a breach between Latinos on the street and African Americans. The read I get is down right hatred between the groups. No understanding of the cultures. It seems that on some level the two groups will deal with each other, but in the ghetto it is Katy bar the door. Even in schools there is a gang or group mentality that prevails. It also seems to follow as the people grow up.

Having spent years in Africa and Latin America I have encountered this over and over again. There has to be some sort of key to open the door to change the attitudes? I talk to my Mexican friends on the border and in the interior and they just plain have an attitude about the African American, they don't like them. Why? I ask and they just mumble platitudes and the same old tripe that goes down with racist commentary from White people and the poor white trash we see out and about. What Bush said was true racism is not dead in America.

You can look to the immigration flap and see how the Latinos are disliked as well. It is a sociological thing. Tribal and religious ideas enter into this. I am not quite sure. Muslims and Jews, Christians and Hindus, black, white, red, yellow, green or what have you it seems to be almost insurmountable.

Yet if a coalition could be formed it would be most powerful and a force to be feared by the politicos. It would have clout.

Any comments on this?

Charlie Loving

[+/-]

23 July 2006

War and Hope, Part IV

This is the last of this series. This is where the 'hope' part of the message becomes most apparent.

Richard Jehn

I am finding these extended, thoughtful posts really interesting. The save-the-world topic is a set of arguments that improves in quality after the first few salvos get us past our shorthand versions and inspire us to defend and extend our thinking. Here are some contributions from my perspective.

[1] I don't mind being seen as unpatriotic. It's true, and I look forward to the day when national patriotism seems as quaint as Texas patriotism does today. One of the main contributions we can make to American political discourse is to push the idea that America and Americans have no special rights, and that we should be willing to abide by the rules that we want others to follow (and perhaps even let them help decide on the rules). The irony is that this idea is fully compatible with American traditions about equality before the law, due process of law, and democracy, which remain powerful and useful political ideals in spite of the serious shortfalls in their application. The most pressing problem with the neocons is not so much that they are thieves (so are the European ruling classes), but that they are vigilantes. Even bourgeois law offers evolutionary potential, and keeps the peace in a coarse way.

[2] Americans are not all that different from others, even if our flaws are particularly obvious just now. Greed and generosity, ignorance and wisdom, and fear and hope are prominent in all societies, often mixed in the same individuals. Many conservatives I know are painstakingly honest, excellent parents, and generous with their time and money within the boundaries they draw. Their fear (of other races, lifestyles, or countries) is partly from provincial ignorance, but also often reflects a sober awareness of the dangers of the world. While I agree that we shouldn't waste political energy trying to convert the neocons, we should use every opportunity to encourage our compatriots to expand the boundaries of their community and to show by example how one can live large and more lightly at the same time. This is why the hippy-ness and feminism of the 60's has had more cultural impact than the leftism. But one thing leads to another, and once people get used to a large world successfully shared with diverse others, most of them lose interest in conquest.

[3] A critical factual issue where I differ from many who have spoken is the question of how limited the resources of the world are. The assumption by many on both the left and the right is that sharing resources fairly would leave everyone much poorer than middle-class Americans are right now. I see this as profoundly incorrect – instead (if we can manage to make it through the next decade or so without irretrievably poisoning ourselves), we are on the verge of science-driven productivity increases from computers, genetics, and nanotechnology that will dwarf those of the industrial revolution. Much of this progress will take the form, exemplified by electronics, of greater utility combined with much smaller cost and resource usage (including much less energy). While I do not deny the danger of some fatal stumbles from this increased power, anyone who wants to shape the future needs to realize that this is the way things are going – we all are going to be rich or dead, not mostly at subsistence while fighting about how big to make the ruling class.

[4] There is a vital political message here – we no longer need to steal from poor countries to live well. We can also afford to produce things cleanly, with no net environmental impact. In fact, we will all live a lot better if there are no poor countries, as few poor people as can be contrived, and fully sustainable production processes for all human needs. How well America's children and grandchildren live will depend much more on how quickly we make this transition than on how much oil we can grab. I don't pretend that this tech-optimism analysis will placate the truly greedy, as is shown by their pathological pursuit of wealth (and tax cuts) even after they have more money than they can effectively use. It also will not replace the need for a vanguard whose desire for a fair world comes from the gut rather than an intellectual analysis. But this analysis will encourage those who would like to see a fair world but who lose their nerve because they are afraid that the price of that world would be poverty for themselves or their children. We need to show them that their fear should be in the opposite direction.

[5] I'm not an unbridled optimist, and see the tunnel as well as the light at its end. In particular, I see three places where this future is at substantial risk. Unsurprisingly, Bush is spectacularly wrong at all three. Each risk is a sector that is worthy of as much political work as we can manage or inspire.

[a] The environment – even with the much greater capability for remediation that I expect to see soon, we are being wildly reckless on greenhouse emissions (runaway positive feedback is a distinct danger) and self-destructive on air pollution by poisonous substances. We may luck out and get through this with only moderate damage, but major disasters could disrupt things enough to get us stuck in authoritarian poverty.

[b] Feminism – one element in my optimism is the decrease in population growth that prosperity has been shown to cause in every modern culture that has experienced it. This in turn is largely a consequence of improved status of women in the culture (generally accompanied by less oppression of gays and lesbians). Any successful attempt to return women and children to being valued primarily as possessions could set off population growth that would absorb the wealth increase. While I doubt that feminism can be reversed in the current developed countries, Bush's encouragement of religious fundamentalism and attacks on birth control in the underdeveloped world are clearly having tragic consequences, and could conceivably lead to eventual conquest of the low-birth-rate cultures by high-birth rate ones.

[c] Property – the shift (exemplified by computer software and entertainment items) of economic value toward tiny-cost-to-copy information and away from costly-to-replicate stuff is steadily undermining the already-shaky moral foundations of the concept of property. The US response has been to adopt and expand draconian "intellectual property" laws and to attempt (with some success) to force the rest of the world to follow them. This is the mechanism to ensure that the head start that the US and Europe have on the world will widen rather than narrow as other countries develop. Probably we can depend on Brazil, China, and India to lead a repudiation of patents at some opportune moment, but this will be easier for them to do if people in the developed countries cooperate in discrediting them.

Enough already. Now let's hear from the Luddites.

Hunter Ellinger

Amigos y amigas: for several years now, our resident psychic, Ms. Kate Braun, has prepared a quarterly e-letter for her friends and clients, about seasonal traditions, celebrations, gardening, and the natural cycles which govern lives and universes. I had been so swamped lately with doo-dah, I hadn't read the Fall Equinox message until just now. I think it's well worth sharing tonite.

Some of the terminology and concepts Kate deals with aren't always easy for me to wrap my material-girl leninist brain around; when that happens, as Brother Dennis so wisely suggests, I know it's time to take a deep breath - and let it out... take a deep breath - and let it out... take a deep breath - and HOLD IT!!!!

Tip o' the wizard hat to our Elder Statesman, too; thanks, Scott, for weighing in on the expat-inpat issue. You & Arina already know my interim solution: dropping in to visit all my long-lost friends! I'll look forward to seeing you in Costa Rica in a year or 2!

And now here's Kate, on the changing season; it's a little lengthy, maybe, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the final paragraph to us all at this very moment (I have included just the final paragraph, rdj):

-- As you focus your thoughts and intentions on balance, I urge you to keep in mind the Mars retrograde that begins on October 1, 2005. Mars retrograde is a time of fiery energy. It will be easier to become angry and to let the anger escalate. It will be harder to be even-minded. Mars will be retrograde until December 9, 2005. For more than two months we will all be challenged in our efforts to not lose our tempers. Keeping the yin-yang symbol visible during this Mars retrograde may prove helpful as we strive to not lose control. --

Re that last 'graph on Mars retrograde: when exactly did we start getting irritable in the group? I rec'd Kate's message on 9/19 (doo-doo-doo-da-doo-doo-doo-da; theme from twilite zone). Hunh! What a "coincidence" - Oct. 1, wuzzit?? Damn, she's good! (Just don't ask her how to win the lottery!! ;-•)

Maybe that whole inpat-expat discussion is kind of a yin-yang thang, as Scott suggests? David pH, do you feel that your frequent travels to Central America have a calming effect, or otherwise help you deal with the undeniable stress of residing in the US? But when you first return every time, especially, is there your sense of outrage immediately provoked? I recall standing beside an obvously overheated, borrowed vehicle on 290 E, in the States 3 days, broad daylight, no cover for an accomplice to hide behind, August, as HUNDREDS of cars whizzed by, most with driver or passenger clearly seeing me on the edge of the highway, thumb out, hood up, look of absolute innocence for AN HOUR AND A HALF (had no cel phone then) until a nervous woman - our age - reluctantly stopped, quizzed me thoroughly before unlocking her car, and drove me to the nearest service station.

In Belize, or Southern Mexico, if your vehicle breaks down, it may be an hour and a half before anyone comes by, but they will stop, and they will remain and help if they can or watch you work on the damn thing, and so will every other vehicle that passes, until you are on your way or someone at least gives you a ride.

Unless, of course, they are Guatemalan bandits, in which case they rob and possibly kill you; David, honey, your chances with the bandits would not be the best! Sally would probably be fine.

Maybe you make the transition too often; there is definitely a culture shock in border-crossing and I think it affects even very experienced travelers such as yourself. Maybe this leads to blocked energy which can release as anger. I suggest this, guapo, just because such roller-coaster effects can also have negative effects on physical systems, and we don't need to hear that you have blown a gasket over some new imperial vomitorium pork contract. Calma, calma; would less frequent but longer travel cycles be more restorative and less stressful?

Balance, that's the ticket. (go-libras, go-libras, go-libras...)


Wow, Hunter, Can I forward this widely? It's great!

If/WHEN we start an online RAG this should be one of the first articles!

It is such a hopeful message, and hope is good.

To comment on another thread I've been following: Not to encourage censorship, (self- or by others) but to state my viewpoint, contempt isn't helpful for bringing about change, while hope is. I want to learn how to better find common ground with people with whose beliefs I differ, and this sort of hope, discussion of what sort of future we want to see, is an important part of the process. I agree with (was it Doyle?) who said that if we listen enough we can find points of agreement below the differences we have with a majority--I think he said 99%--of our opponents. Our fears for the future, for our children, for the earth compel us to protest, to struggle and to use whatever weapons we have at hand--but if we only return what we receive, the cycle of violence contiues. Contempt is understandable as we face the contempt of our opponents, but giving back in kind, "an eye for an eye" well, as greater than I have observed, "makes the whole world blind."

For me, whatever helps me open my heart to my opponents, whatever shows a way to disarm myself, to listen, to see more clearly the direction we can walk together -- these are the "weapons/arms" I want to take up in our struggle.

Thanks, Hunter.

Paz--Val Liveoak

While I agree with everything that you have said up to this point - I part company with the technology will save us all message. This isn't Luddism on my part, it is a direct result of watching technology increase the pace of environmental destruction a thousand fold since WW II.

I am particularly alarmed with the genome projects and the rush to patent life, particularly seed, and even more particularly Monsanto. There is an incredible amount of hubris in thinking that we have the knowledge of how natural systems work to the extent that we can tweak life systems and not be concerned with the consequences. Those consequences are already rippling through natural systems affected by GMO's released by large corporations.

While technology has much to offer it has an unhindered path right now with no ethical, or biological boundaries, and to my mind, it is incredible dangerous to all life forms.

I do agree that we are nowhere close to reaching the tipping point with our natural resources, in terms of agricultural. We could feed twice the existing population on existing agricultural lands if we would stop treating agriculture like another industrial process. There are serious problems with other resources like, timber, aquatic life, and most of the minerals used for energy and manufacturing. These resourses are already past the sustainable threshold and some may be unrecoverable, even if we stop using them now.

It is this shortage that may be the finger in the dike. Without oil we will be forces to slow our pace of growth and there is nothing to replace petroleum as an energy source. Natural gas is good for about eighty years, coal for 150 years and uranium about eighty years. The renewable sources of energy will never come close to supplying the energy needs at current demand - unless, of course, we uncover Tesla's secret files.

While there might be some light at the end of the endless tunnel around intellectual property rights. I see as a much greater danger in the corporate movement around the world to gain owernership of those elements critical to life. Water is one of the fastest commodified resource in the world. The people of Cocabamba, Bolivia just managed to fight of a takeover by the Cheney crowd of their municipal water utility. Agricultural seed is fast falling into the hands of Monsanto, Ciba Giege, Royal Dutch Shell, and Archer Daniel Midland. The famous "green revolution" was a Nobel prize winning game of taking over the agriculture of the third world.

If corporations control water and food the game is totally in their hands - and they know it. We are playing in technological fields where our ignorence exceeds that of a 2 year old child and there are no adults around to control that technology.

Scott Pittman

Is it technology that has led this destruction, or just the classic combination of population growth, shortsightedness, and greed? In places where the effort is made (e.g., developed-world water pollution), the environment has improved in the last few decades. I agree that some of this is the exportation of pollution along with manufacturing, but this is not necessary -- cleaner methods are only moderately more expensive.

There are two issues in the comments Scott makes here -- [1] how dangerous the technology is [2] who owns it. I agree about the dangers, but do not think this will slow down the nanotechnology uses even if it should, since they are less sensitive than the medical and agricultural uses. On ownership, the world will have to choose between being enslaved and changing its definition of property. It seems to me very unlikely that property will win that fight, although it will be one of the main political events of the next decade. Even in capitalist countries and business circles, resistance is growing to overreaching patents because they slow subsequent innovation.

The water issue seems to me somewhat less drastic, and similar to the problems of landless farmers. There is in fact a need for more development, including water resources, in many countries. While I would much prefer to see this development done under public rather than corporate direction, people can always nationalize things later if what is being built is actually useful. The critical issue here is for populist governments to be possible, and for them to have enough power to resist the IMF when needed. Not a small challenge, but also not a new one, as is shown by some recent successes in South America.

Hunter Ellinger

-- we all are going to be rich or dead, not mostly at subsistence while fighting about how big to make the ruling class. --

Wow, what a concept! And how threatening that must be to the ruling class we now have! This is pretty heady stuff, Hunter!

Definitely agree with you on the primacy of environmental matters at this time, with deployment of clean fuel sources at the top of my short list - but wanted to get back on this one partly because of a group David pH left off his list of contemptibles, at least as a specific subgroup, altho I think most would fit neatly within his several categories of religious fanatic: the anti-scientists. Gotta say that these folks are for sure on my no-fly list, which generally tends to focus more on behaviors than beliefs, but not in this case.

Between the "debate" on evolution vs. "intelligent design", the "issue" of whether or not global warming is human-powered or a "natural cycle", and so forth, the Bush administration has the worst record in history on rejecting its own science advisors' advice, on every topic.

Our little baby boomer demographic has a very distinct advantage in that we benefitted, to some degree or another, from the post-Sputnik science fad in education. It is a distinct agenda item of the far right to reduce the ability of the population to discern logic from cant, and to cast science and the scientific method into disrepute. ("Burn the laboratories!")

Fortunately, science doesn't respect international borders one bit, and even if the US continues to push its educational system into the Dark Ages, all of the advances Hunter mentions may be possible anyway. But say; "genetics"; are you talking about GM food?? Bionic tomatoes? BTA corn? Big controversy, as you surely know, with many on the Left in the "Luddite" role in Europe and here; NOT in Africa, Asia, etc., where the idea of reliable, pest- and rot-resistant crops is quite attractive to many. Milk and "select cuts" from cloned cows, I read this week, will soon be available. To the extent that the science of genetic modification is bought and paid for by the big ag corporations, it is intended to never be replicated without their profits coming first. Is this part of what you're getting to with the patent repudiation thing?

Fascinating; more, please!


Before you bio-engineer a food supply for a population, you need to test it for a few generations.

This is impractical, so they want to just get it out there and feed people for less money etc.

The likelihood is that the “food” will produce unforeseen consequences.

There already is a “western disease syndrome” composed of auto-immune diseases such as asthma, ms, allergies, etc. That is, diseases that those of us who live in the West and shop at supermarkets for food grown on depleted soils, picked green, and weeks from picking to table, get chronic diseases unknown or rare among those who pick their own food or buy from local farmers. There is no grant money to look into why this should be so.

The good news is that this has made the pharmaceutical companies over the last ten years leap to the top of the fortune 500, and the grant money goes to find a drug to treat the symptoms.

Are we losing the war on cancer because our immune systems are attacking our bodies rather than defending them?


The government subsidizes agribusiness, leaving the small farmers steadily going under, and our immune systems weaker every year.

Janet Gilles

Scott and Hunter, thanks so much for this little dialogue, it's the best I've read in ages, maybe ever. And in my view, goes right to the core of what the real issues are on a global level. It's so commonsense, isn't it? And, of course, the caveats always (rightfully) come down to the mindset / consciousness / motivations of the folks who make the decisions, set the policies, spend the money. As one whose main focus has been on this "inner" dimension of needed change for many years now, I often get discouraged by all the well-meaning activities of people who are plucking at leaves trying to make a better tree ... but you guys today made me feel encouraged again.


Carol Neiman

[+/-]

22 July 2006

War and Hope, Part III

This is the next-to-last part of the conversation. I will wind it up tomorrow sometime. My heartfelt gratitude and admiration to the participants in this chat who allowed it to be posted here.

Richard Jehn

-- As far as I can see, there is no better plan waiting in the wings, ready to take off running as soon as the Bush League crumbles. --

Ain't it the truth! The failure of the opposition to propose alternatives is one of the signs of worsening fascism, isn't it?

-- It struck me that this was one more example of how we are so often very clear and outspoken about what we oppose, but frequently not very clear at all on exactly what the viable alternative is – and by “viable” I mean immediate and effective, not some more utopian vision.

In my view, this has been a failing of the left not only with respect to foreign policy but with many, many other issues as well. There is a pervasive feeling, I think, that what fundamentally needs to happen would likely have such a significant impact on our privileged circumstances that… well, it’s just not saleable, so why even attempt some big effort? I guess my response to that would be, because what we’ve been doing just ain’t working good enough. --

In Alaska last year, working on an initiative to legalize marijuana totally for people over 21 (we got 44.75% of the vote; 60% went for Dubya in the Presidential race); we heard the question a lot, "But what will you replace the marijuana laws with?? How will "regulation" work?" We didn't have a real good answer to that ("the legislature will then gut the initiative...") until we got some help from a cat named Howard Wooldridge, an ex-Michigan highway patrolman who works with Law Enforcement Against Prohibiton. Howard says, "If you have a cancer cut out, what do you replace it with??" We don't have to know all the answers about what it will look like.

My dear brother-in-law, Ed Vizard (who sends greetings to the Ragstaff, by the way) told me today about something he'd seen on TV where one character tells another to essentially get a grip and make something of his/her life (I'm not clear on the details); character 2 says, "Well, I don't think it's as easy as that!", and character 1 says, "BUT WHAT IF IT IS???"

I think you're right, Dennis: a major change in how people view themselves and their entitlements is both in order and potentially saleable; we will never know if we do not try. And the mixture of action and advocacy, at different levels as opportunity presents, sounds a lot like "talking to people where they're at" (you sly ol' SDS dog)!

Then, perfect example; Val comes up with the info about CITGO being Venezuelan-owned; kewl; I used to have a credit card from them; maybe I'll get another one! I like this MUCH better than the deal about everybody not buying gas on one day; big yawn and never gonna happen; this is economic activism. "Girlcott" - you slay me, Val! This is something I can send to my most redneck cousins (well, the ones who've had electricity installed), and just have!

Dennis adds:
-- More importantly, virtually nobody as far as I can see is making a big effort to knit those isolated examples together into something that resembles a coherent illustration / vision of what our feasible alternative society might look like.

There was some talk at the reunion about Seniors for a Democratic Society. To do what? Conduct a replay of the (mostly male) grandstanding and inevitable spiral into factionalism? Maybe it’s time to modify the game plan. --

We need the visioning, but with the realization that no plan is gonna be set in concrete; we need the hell-bent-for-leather fighting the parasites, from here and from everywhere; we need lots of visible alternatives in our communities; that seems like a full plate, I'll pass on the grandstanding.

It is so good to have you "back", Dennis!!

Mariann Wizard

Bravo Dennis!

-- I think there is a third strategy – Fight, Flight and Light. (Maybe “illumination” would be more appropriate, but it doesn’t rhyme so well.) Light doesn’t mean you set aside the fight, just supplement it. Accentuate the positive. Give people some tangible alternatives. And devote as much energy to identifying and promoting those as we do to opposing the bad stuff. --

Life is based on ironies – or contradictions, if you like to think dialectically. Action breeds reaction; thesis breeds antithesis, leading (ultimately) to a synthesis, which starts the process over again.

But it’s never as simple as that sounds because life isn’t a mathematical model where all the factors are clear and visible. While we may have some remote idea of the forces at work in the world around us, the process of predicting what will actually happen is an exercise in futility. Given that, I think Dennis has it: what we need to do is to continue to do what we have always done – work to make things better in any way we can.

We can never escape the privileged position we have in the world. The fact that we can even write or read messages like this or that we aren’t sick and hungry is abundant proof. But that doesn’t matter. We can also admit that at least some of the privilege we enjoy today, including the ability to travel to other places, will quite possibly disappear and that the real, practical future for ourselves or our children and grandchildren may be very different. There is, after all, a limit to how long a small group of people in a particular place – the US of A – can continue to absorb such a large portion of the world’s resources.

No one in their right mind should wish for the “collapse” because the consequences will be felt by the “innocent” far more than the “guilty” – and that certainly includes many that we know and love.

Building on Dennis’ comments, In the grand, eternal dialectic of change, we can (and I believe must) do what we can to provide tangible alternatives to the present – both large and small. Whether it be lessons in sustainable agriculture, the promotion of alternative sources energy and energy conservation, the development new and more sustainable models for housing and cooperative association, the process of political education and mobilization at all levels, all kinds of “consciousness” raising, the promotion of alternative understandings of spiritual and personal power, or simply the fostering of reflection and insight on the world we live in – all these and much more are part of the process.

No one can say whether any of it will make a real difference. There were, after all, many who predicted the collapse of the Roman Empire and worked hard to reverse the tide over several hundred years of decline. Nonetheless, I am convinced that, in the process of trying to change the future, there are valuable sources of meaning and affirmation to be found. And, hell, it is a lot more fun than sitting quietly by while the world goes to hell in a hand basket.

If that’s not enough, remember that the fall of Rome led to the Dark Ages, where literacy all but disappeared and the daily lives of those left surviving degenerated in some gruesome ways (which goes back to my point that collapse is probably not something to wish for our children and grandchildren and those following behind us).

In this perhaps too bleak context, I also agree with Marian that David HP’s formulation is a good ideal and well worth remembering.

Our goal is a stable world population living under democratically chosen cooperative governments, with a sustainable global economy that protects the environment and human rights, and justly distributes the available resources.


Doyle Niemann

I read Dennis' words, Mariann's words, Alice's words, etc., and it all sounds good. But I notice that amid all the talk of expat vs. non-expat, CITGO, personal revelations and Bush-bashing, there is only a teensy little bit of thought/talk given to Planet Earth.

So for your consideration I offer this: there must be breathable air, potable water, and good dirt for life to exist on this planet. The votes we place in the election booth, the causes we espouse, the charities we donate to, need to include this vision. With transportation costs rising, it would be good for each/all of us to consider making some changes in where and when we buy our groceries, for example. Think farmers' markets instead of supermarkets. Eat what's in season. Nag the politicians to recognize the fact of global warming and the effect it's going to have on the planet. Boy/girlcott genetically engineered foods. Eat more heirloom varieties of fruits and veggies (i.e. the non-hybrids that have been around forever as in Marglobe tomatoes, not Burbee's Big Boy). Support local businesses whenever possible.

My psychic colleagues often speak the phrase: As above, so below. I believe that energy-flow goes both ways, and as each of us here "below" makes choices, we are affecting the "above" whether we realize it or not. It's easier to shop at HEB, but is it Right Action? There are always alternatives. I urge that we be more open to them in more aspects of our lives than what we are currently labelling "politics" or "activism".

Alice's idea is good. She's right: there's lots of fine writing in this group and it deserves to be made more accessible to more people. Kinda like an electronic Rag, yes??? I have a friend in Massachusettes who wanted a first-hand account of the DC march. I forwarded Doyle's report to her and she is quite pleased to have read it. It would have been simpler if I could have directed her to a website she didn't have to join to read (and she wouldn't have qualified for the Rag-group 'site, anyway).

Kate Braun

Thank you Kate, for remembering mother earth. Water is the looming shortfall, far more than oil.

And the great epidemics of our time have already begun, striking those on the "western" diet of corporate grown food. Childhood asthma, arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders are diseases of the West, and not places like Mexico city with its farmers markets and bad air. No federal grants look into the causes of these new auto-immune diseases (our farming and shipping) but rather into the (profitable) cures.

Janet Gilles

-- it is a lot more fun than sitting quietly by while the world goes to hell in a hand basket. --

Fun - real, honest, belly-laughing, giggling, warm, true fun - is our most revolutionary offering.

Saw a multi-colored, hand-lettered poster on the back of some newish looking hatchback here in SE Studentville today: PEACE: It's NOT JUST for HIPPIES ANYMORE!


Then Kate says,
-- There are always alternatives. I urge that we be more open to them in more aspects of our lives than what we are currently labelling "politics" or "activism". --

For me for the last 2 or 3 weeks the "alternative" has been driving north across the river to the "Mexican" HEB on E. 7th, rather than shopping at the "student" HEB right here on E. Riverside - NOT a nice alternative either way one cuts it, and I swear IT IS a TEMPORARY cost of moving, but at least the 7th street location stocks vegetables! Say, do you suppose there is any chance whatsoever that Wheatsville would ever expand over here? Montopolis would be primo; oh lord help me Kate if I have to start organizing a food co-op out here I may have to become a Breathairian!

But yeah - we have to implement the knowledge in our own lives of what it means to live lightly on the earth, and the consequences of living not-so-lightly. I am a total thrift shopper, buy as little new as possible, especially clothes and household stuff. The mall gives me hives. Abhor the concept of landfills. Trying to eat lower on the food chain. Everything you said about real food is great, and let's don't forget that farmed salmon is nasssty, disease-ridden stuff, which is spreading disease to wild salmon stocks - buy wild Alaskan! (I'm not gonna say that about catfish, at least until I have to. I don't think there is any other commercial source of catfish.)

Mariann Wizard

Fight or Flee, 2.
To Mike Eisenstadt.

"Because Americans are stupid." Johnny Depp, when asked why he lives in Paris.

Actually, it's hard to imagine being more alienated than I feel in the USSA. I've spent several months in France in the last few years, spent 2 ½ years there while in the US Army in the 60's and feel much less alienated there than here, although my French is only fair at best. In France, 80 to 90% of the population opposed the invasion of Iraq and that opposition has only increased. In France, over 10% of the population voted for one or another of the various Trotskyist parties in the first round of the last presidential election, not to mention similar numbers that voted for various Green and Communist parties, let alone supporters of the so-called "socialists". Today, a transportation workers strike shut down trains, planes, buses and metros all over France, yet 72% of those polled supported the strike as necessary to preserve the rights of labor. James Baldwin also said that when he was in France, being black and gay were largely irrelevant. And that was in the 1950's. Baldwin may have felt closer to southern American whites "in some ways", but he sure never moved to Mississippi.

But France is not the point. The point is that Amerika is the principal enemy of human progress, if not survival. You might say that I should qualify that by saying American capitalism, but the vast majority of the American population supports that particular economic system on the perceived basis that it makes them materially richer than anyone else. (Not true, but they believe it anyway.) As much as Ragstaffers might like to indulge in happy talk about how we can inspire Americans away from their addiction to domination and exploitation with our enlightened lifestyle choices, organizing Amerikans to oppose their own privileges is minimally a very tough row to hoe. About the only thing you can realistically do is throw your "sabots" on the gears, like counter recruiting potential soldiers. When the going gets really tough, that will get you arrested for trespassing now and treason later.

Your main point is that it's more comfortable here. "Here at least we are at home with the language and some of the customs and where there are millions of others who when we meet them we feel comfortable with and akin to" and we can exist "safely below the radar". Speak for yourself. I just returned for a weekend exile at Sam's World casino in Shreveport. I didn't meet anyone I felt comfortable with who hadn't been recently imported from Austin. Instead, I felt adrift in a sea of obese honkies and blacks doing their best to mimic decadent honkie values.

My basic point is, our country is beyond redemption except possibly in the wake of some cataclysmic economic and social disaster. You can organize until you drop and it won't change that fact.

I wish some of those who live outside Amerika would offer us their perspectives. Bob Bower has lived in Mexico for 17 years. Jeff Jones has a condo there where he thinks of retiring for much of the year (although he otherwise lives in the most progressive part of the US). Jim Franklin has a house in France where he would be living if he could make enough money there. David McBride lives in Berlin. Gilbert Shelton has lived in Paris for about 15 years and before that, Barcelona. Janet Gilles tried Barcelona for several months last year.

On a very basic level, the real ideological enemy is nationalism, especially ours. So be a Lennonist. "Imagine there's no country. It's easy if you try." It's what to do next that isn't so easy.

David Hamilton

David H wrote:
-- Your main point is that it's more comfortable here. "Here at least we are at home with the language and some of the customs and where there are millions of others who when we meet them we feel comfortable with and akin to" and we can exist "safely below the radar". Speak for yourself. I just returned for a weekend exile at Sam's World casino in Shreveport. I didn't meet anyone I felt comfortable with who hadn't been recently imported from Austin. Instead, I felt adrift in a sea of obese honkies and blacks doing their best to mimic decadent honkie values. --

Yes France is not full of fatties, at least not yet, or godly creationists, as in the US, and they wisely avoided Bush's mad adventure in Iraq. But France is a capitalist country, open to all the currents of commercial culture from Hollywood, etc. The major industries that were once owned by the state have all been privatized. That includes the telephone company, Renault automobiles, Electricite de France and Gaz de France (which have the monopoly) all of them are privately owned. Stock shares in them are bought and sold. They have gone over to American style big box stores, frozen meals have their share of supermarket aisles, packaged bread has its aisle (quaintly called pain industriel-industrial bread). Artisanal foods are encouraged by the government although most cheese, for example, is industrially produced and of course much cheaper than artisanal cheese. It has become difficult to find a bakery which still does real old-timey French bread.

The difference between US and France is partly political, there is a consensus to maintain a generous social service net, high minimum wage levels, housing subsidies, full health coverage for citizens, etc. and partly cultural and partly aesthetic: they have a thousand years of architecture where almost every propect pleases; we have unimaginably ugly architechure mostly made of 2x4s and tar paper.

But unlike the US where immigrants easily become Americans, the expat will never become French, for the most part his circle of friends will be other expats with whom he will speak English. For me, this is or would be maximally alienating. In Amerika, one may feel alienated from the majority with their sick culture, selfish politics and mindless religions, but there are millions of secular like-minded fellow Americans to complain to and conspire with if we wish. We are all indelibly American culturally speaking. Some of us may feel "at home" living abroad, others never will. YMMV

Mike Eisenstadt

Without reference to any particular message, I find a disturbing number of the comments being posted here show a real contempt (implied or implicit) for the majority of our fellow citizens. I hear them frequently characterized as typically ignorant, selfish, malevolent, etc... basically bad or anyway stupid people. As opposed to our fine enlightened selves.

I can only speak from my own life experience, but I haven't personally come across very many people that I would describe as bad. I've found a lot of people who disagree with me pretty vigorously on all sorts of major issues -- especially on what should be done to address those issues. But I've also found (mainly through involvement in a lot of multi-stakeholder planning groups) that most of us share pretty much the same core values. I could write you an extensive statement about the kind of world we'd like our granchildren to inherit that would get maybe a 99% approval rating right across the country. The heated disagreements would surface mainly in our opinions about how to get from here to there.

There's always a lot of complicated "stuff" that goes into determining whether we hold this opinion or that opinion. I can't claim that my opinions are always right (although, of course, they usually are), and I've learned some useful things from people with completely "unacceptable" opinions.

Bottom line, I don't feel very comfortable making wholesale attacks on the honesty, intelligence or personal integrity of people who don't see things quite the way I do. Beyond that, just looking at it from a pragmatic point of view, contempt is a pretty shitty mindset to be working with if your political objective is to change the opinions of those other people.

Dennis Fitzgerald

-- Nice Women Don't Make History --

I like that!

My aphorism for the week: The best way to predict the future is to create it. (My son's birthday is this week, and I'm predicting the next generation will have some ideas about making history!

Now, on to today's discussion(s)!

DENNIS writes:
--I find a disturbing number of the comments being posted here show a real contempt (implied or implicit) for the majority of our fellow citizens. --

Hmmm - now, Dennis, I'm not seeing that many yet, c'mon, how many is disturbing?

Of course, DAVID pH has just quoted Johnny Depp on the stupidity of Americans, etc., and he and EISENSTADT are engaged in an interesting exchange on the expat vs inpat issue. Personally, as long as we have BRO. MEACHAM guarding the Raggates, I hope not to see a lot of self-censorship (as distinct from editing; editing always good!). I mean, if that's all we ever heard out of someone, fine, criticize it. But the occasional expression of frustration, dismay, and/or shame for what are, to some degree, cumulative policies of freely elected governments is, I think, permissible. We're among friends here.

JOHN M. comments on contempt maybe having something to do with the end of the world as we knew it; well, maybe so; in which case, let's get it out here in the sunshine of our love and look at it. Anger is a form of energy; it can fuel positive actions. (Hi, John!)

But look here, David, Eisenstadt is right when he points to the community of left Americans; nobody else is gonna work to change this bee-yatch but us, and if we all left, there would go the fight. Bo-ring! (Which is actually one of my serious issues with long-term self-exile; I am accustomed to living in what the Chinese called "interesting times"; be hard to just watch the bananas grow, or pull a shift at the tractor factory ... Also, I would challenge your statement that the week-end you spent "marooned" in a Shreveport casino was necessarily spent among the Undead!

A, what the hail were you doing in a casino? were you hawg-tied or doped up?
B, who did you think would be there? geniuses? (Sorry if I step on someone's toes here, but indoor gambling of any kind is just ignurnt [with the ponies you at least get fresh air]!)
C, Shreveport is a decent-sized town. There is something there worth doing, somebody there worth meeting. Did you look through the yellow pages for organizations? Read the paper for community events? Ask the waiters where's the actual haps?

You have to think of it as a village in Guatemala or Mexico, David, is the trick; you will think I am joking around but IT IS ALL TRUE; this is how I survived SEVEN YEARS (a right Biblical number) in deepest Johnson County, TX, "below the belt of the Metroplex":

PRETEND you are a visitor from another astral plane, and it is your mission to gain the confidence of the locals. Think Cap'n Kirk & Spock! The thing is, progressive beliefs have been so stigmatized and demonized over the last 40 years that many people, especially in small, conservative towns and rural areas are reluctant to express criticism of the government. In some areas, also, neither politics nor religion are much discussed among polite strangers, as they are known to start arguments. But if someone else opens the floodgates, you better look out; you will find fellow critics! Just establish that initial rapport: oh, do you drink beer? I drink beer, too! let me get this round!

My Aunt Flo, who is as closed-minded, opinionated, knee-jerk-flag-waving and self-righteous as any 80-year old in the country, went to New Orleans last year with a niece on her side of the family and said niece's husband, active duty military personnel on leave. Flo had a ball, of course, so NOW she is foaming at the mouth over the neglect and malfeasance of flood prevention-thru-relief efforts and, deep down, the tarnishing of her valued memories. One of the reasons people enjoy travel, you see, is that our memories form a mental construct which, in our minds, never changes; remains charming, inexpensive, gorgeous, unspoiled, or whatever it is we enjoyed, forever, until the TV shows us something real real different. So, like a Bad Angel, this niece over heah is perched on her e-mail shoulder, trying to help her build a bridge from her outrage to a more critical view of our economic system. All politics is personal.

-- in fact, I think it's illegal for active duty personnel to criticize administration policy (correct me if I be wrong). --

NO IT IS NOT!!!!!! Military personnel DO NOT GIVE UP THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS; nor, if Nuremberg meant anything, THEIR OBLIGATION AS MEMBERS OF THE HUMAN RACE, to criticize government policy.

During the Vietnam era, of course, many GIs, sailors, airmen and marines spent time in various stockades, and/or were discriminted against in grade and pay raises, for doing just that, within and without the GI coffeehouses/press, and the military would dearly love for its inmates to believe that they "cannot" speak out, but this is NOT TRUE. It is extremely encouraging to see so much dissent (and even, if reports can be believed, cases of outright mutiny) among US forces now in Iraq. Military folks do have to be careful that their criticism of policy doesn't cross certain lines which could put other troops in danger. You are, of course, quite correct that such dissent was a bit later developing within the military over Vietnam, and, I would add, later developing among civilians. The cycle of deceit is growing shorter. If an electronic RAG is in the works, an electronic GI anti-war press may not be far behind!

Hug hug, this is so fun; rollez les bon temps!

Mariann Wizard

Once again, my thanks to Dennis for putting things in a good perspective.

The implicit elitism of some comments recently is disturbing. If we believe, as we say we do, in a "democratic" society, we must always fight to win the majority to our side. And we can only do that if we respect them as individuals and find ways to find common ground.

If we decide that is impossible, we should drop all this talk about being "democratic" because the only alternative is a totalitarian one. No matter what label is put on it, a society in which an elite minority who thinks they know how things should be done imposes their will on the majority is a "totalitarian" one.

Like Dennis, I have found few people with whom I cannot find some common ground. Unfortunately, they may not yet see things my way, but that problem is as much mine as theirs. And certainly, the only way to change attitudes and the relationship of power is by my -- our -- taking responsibility for changing it.

In the end, there is nowhere to hide.

Doyle Niemann

Whew! you folks generate an enormous amount of thought provoking words, and just when I think I have composed something that will make me look like I belong in the same group - you come up with a whole new tangent.

I'm just going to jump in here and do a short stream of consciousness bit - last time I did this you all laughed at me!

I am spending the month of December and part of January looking for a home (read rathole - or redoubt) away from home in Costa Rica. I plan to spend four to six months a year there and the remaining time in the USA.

I chose Costa Rica because:

1. I can be completely self sufficient for food and shelter there with much less hassle than in a temperate climate. Currently my wife (Arina), and I are about 50 percent self sufficient for food and shelter, and with canning and drying of food that is sometimes pushed to 65 or 70%.

2. Costa Rica has no army, no oil or gas reserves, and has Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez. I don't think that Costa Rica will be the object of near-time imperialistic agression from the United States because of the lack of fuel (I may be surprized with the current movement of the capitalistic world to privatize and monetize water - which Costa Rica owns in abundance). I admire Arias as a practitioner of democratic
principals and rumour has it he may run for president again.

3. I need a break from fascism - I have always stressed out over the governance of this country which has usually been expressed through anger and adrenaline. At age sixty five I need recovery time from the toll that both anger and adrenaline take on my body. Not that I expect to live much beyond 100, I would like these "golden years" to be untarnished as much as possible. I don't want to leave the impression that I naively think Costa Rica is some humanistic and social Vahalla but in comparison to "my country tis of thee"....

4. I have seriously pursued social justice, economic equality, and other various utopian concepts all of my adult life, and semi-despairing of being able to pass on the torch to the next generation I want to have more fun. I have never had fun doing political actions, except in that I met you, the most human and lovely people in my life, which is some compensation - but not enough!

5. I have a lot to contribute to a third world country in the way of political saber, and in my profession, Permaculture. I have taught in over 28 countries and the United States of America is by far the most difficult place to promote self sufficiency and environmental awareness.

I am not concerned with language (my Spanish is about fifty percent), or cultural integration. I feel more at ease in Costa Rica with the difference than in the US without the difference.

As far a sensitivity to elitism I am losing it and I suppose it is in direct response to the elitism of the bible thumpers and the wingnuts running our government, business, industry, schools, and etc. I have had it up to here!!! (Got to watch the stress levels, and heart rate.)

In kinder moments I take "elitest" heart by thinking of myself as a member of that class called the "cultural creatives" which, supposedly, represents 1/3 of the population of these United States. There are still those "modernists" and "cultural conservatives" representing some 60% that distrupt my sleep at 3am and send me pacing
around my kitchen table seeking answers within my impotent thoughts.

In my simplistic descriptive world I look at our citizens (us) as those who are so full of fear that only buying something or hating something offers relief, and those others, also filled with fear, who confront fear with acts of compassion, grief and heroism - it is the latter class to which I aspire, and the former whom I most often
dismiss as being the orphaned children of a culture that has totally lost its rudder, compass, and navigation charts. I must say that I am not terrible compassionate toward my lost brothers and sisters even when cognizant of the reasons they have been chained into a cycle of fear with corporate solutions.

End of stream.....for now...

Scott Pittman

In the spirit of self-criticism, I asked myself, am I really such a contemptuous elitist as some Ragstaffers say? So I sat down and started writing a list of categories of people I held in contempt. After an hour, writer's cramp forced me to stop.

So, I guess you got me there.

Let's be explicit and review some of my list. Hope you don't find it too "disturbing". Your criticisms of it might help me gain insight into my shortcomings. Naturally, some categories overlap.

1. Republicans. Tried to think of exceptions, but failed.
2. 75% of Democratic Party politicians. Actually, more like 95% of white Democratic Party politicians, Doyle and Lloyd and a couple of people in California excepted.
3. The half of the Green Party leadership who thought it was a great idea to tacitly support a more efficient war on Iraq and "A Stronger America".
4. The Ruling Class. George Soros excepted. As you all know, this category has numerous subdivisions: oil, insurance and pharmaceutical company executives, billionaires, etc.
5. Racists of all races.
6. Misogynists. Also women who hate men, a group for which there is, strangely, no specific term I am aware of.
7. Homophobes.
8. Zionists and anti-Semites.
9. Christians who take it seriously enough to let it influence their political beliefs.
10. Muslims who regard women as a human sub-species. (See 6 above.)
11. Mormons in general. (Isn't Moroni Latin for moron?) [The above 4 categories can be lumped under "Western male sky god salvationists".]
12. Religious fundamentalists of any stripe. (the Dalai Lama and Jehovah's Witnesses excepted, the latter due to their refusal to pledge allegiance to state power, a stance that got them sent en masse to the Nazi gas chambers - too.
13. Missionaries. The whole act is ethnocentrism at its worst. My God is better than yours thinking.
14. The remaining supporters of the War on Iraq. This could also be called the irredeemably brainwashed America-can-do-no-wrong crowd or true believers in American exceptionalism. (See 20 below.)
15. Mainstream news editors and conservative pundits, i.e., propaganda prostitutes. Subcategories include professional torture apologists, war justifiers, the perpetually gullible embedded "journalist", etc.
16. People who self-righteously get all their news from Fox and Rush.
17. Neo-conservatives and neo-liberals.
18. Generals. Coronels only merit scorn. This category could also include CIA agents, but lately, some retired ones, e.g., Ray McGovern (See ), have been very right on.
19. Miscellaneous: Hummer owners (exceptions for male owners who can prove they're compensating for a 2 inch erect penis.); American dentists (exceptions for those who do a month a year working free in remote Third World areas), mobile home manufacturers, crack dealers, tobacco and alcohol consumers who oppose marijuana legalization, corporate morticians, male anti-choice militants, big game hunters, etc, etc, etc. Well, if that doesn't cover a majority yet, let me throw in one more. I've saved the best for last.
20. American nationalists, aka patriots. Whereas all the above are assumed to be Americans too, here the specific qualifier is required. There is a profound and fundamental difference between American nationalism and, for example, Vietnamese or Palestinian nationalism. The aggressive nationalism of the world's predominant military and economic superpower seeking worldwide hegemony is the issue, not the independence of long oppressed and distinct ethnic entities. It's an issue we have always danced around by shifting the blame for our national misconduct to bad leaders or imperialism or misguided choices. It wasn't really "America" that was the problem, just its wicked capitalist rulers. Actually, the problem really is "America" in several respects. One is the previously mentioned American consumption of 25% of the world's resources by 4% of the population. A more accurate extrapolation of the problem would have less than 1% consuming about 15%, but the generally supportive mindset of the other 3% is crucially important. Another sense in which nationalism itself is the problem is the ability of our capitalist leaders to forever manipulate the population by putting issues into a nationalist context. We have to invade _______________ because it is in our national interest. One can dispute that notion, but one cannot say fuck national interests and advocate replacing them with international interests. The only immunity to such manipulations is by being anti-nationalist in principle. When gas hits $4 a gallon, a majority of American voters might very well favor invading Venezuela or Nigeria or Mexico for their oil without apologies. Nationalism is a mental construct, an organizing principle that we should escape from and reject in order to call ourselves liberated.

We have long focused on the issue of capitalism and much, much less on nationalism. However, WWI and WWII were both fought over the issues associated with competitive nationalisms. The capitalists and the communists were allies. Together those two wars cost the world between 75 and 80 million lives, largely in Russia/Soviet Union with over 30 million dead. (Note: Total US casualties for both wars combined were around 500,000 or 1/60 of Soviet losses. D-Day and the whole western front was a sideshow.) The Germans lost both wars and as a result now have the world's most sophisticated perspective on nationalism.

United with their historic enemy France, they form the nucleus of the world's greatest transnationalist experiment, the European Union.

Whereas we may correctly see the current situation in Iraq as a capitalist/imperialist war of aggression for control of oil, it is always justified on the basis of nationalism. Other than civil wars, virtually every war for the past several centuries has been between nations and the issue has been competitive national interests. If all those wars cost 100 million lives in the 20th century, will we be able to break that record in the 21st?

Nationalism is a manifestation of testosterone run amuck and has a heavy male bonding component. It grew out of tribalism and is closely related to Jets vs Sharks, Crips vs Bloods, Longhorns vs Aggies, Cowboys vs Redskins, etc. It has many classic cinematic depictions, such as the ape tribes fighting over the waterhole in the first sequence of "2001: A Space Odyssey." The notion that our nation stands for elevated principles of freedom, liberty, democracy, etc, is so much obfuscation in defiance of history and reality. It was never true, still isn't and never will be, at least not in my remaining lifetime.

Of course, the problem is how to organize around anti-nationalism. They will call you unpatriotic and then you're toast. That's true and therein lies the problem for all of us higher consciousness "radicals" who happen to have been born here.

Hence the question, fight or flee? If you choose to stand and fight, on what principled basis? Would it be principled to just ignore the issue of nationalism as inexpedient?

Actually, I've almost given up on organizing for a more progressive or even benign America. Oh, I attend every peace march I can, went to Crawford several times, write letters to the editor regularly, my car is a rolling demonstration and I plan on starting to attend the activities of the Vets for Peace group here - might even get into some counter recruiting. But my heart, or more likely my head, isn't really into it. I've grown conflicted about saving America from the consequences of its foibles. The Iraq War is a good thing if it leads to a chastened America that forswears future imperialist wars and opts instead or international cooperation. Short of a cataclysmic reshuffling of the social deck, the objective conditions are not favorable to such serious domestic changes and I no longer have time to await the apocalypse and subsequent victorious revolution. Nor would I any longer be remotely satisfied by likes of John (For A Stronger America) Kerry who would have been the richest president in our history.

If this sounds elitist, consider that many of us middle class professionals might fall pretty close to that 1% consuming 15%. That sounds pretty elitist too, and in a much more tangible way.

When you go to a sporting event and they play the national anthem, do you stand and place your hand over your heart? Why?

If your answer is anything other than peer pressure, you've got a problem.

[p.s. to Mike Eisenstadt on French privatization. France has a mixed economy. So does everyone else, North Korea included. As a small business owner, I favor mixed economies. The issue is where you draw the line between public and private. I like where the French draw that line more than where we do here. I think you probably agree. We also agree about the architecture.]

[p.s. to Doyle on democracy. Dear Legislator, are you really going to leap to the defense of American democracy? Last I heard, it was best characterized as an oligopoly run by a capitalist economic elite who buy politicians principally by means of bribes known as campaign contributions so as to receive special interest legislation that results in transfer payments to the rich. Voting in elections above a local level lends credence to fraud. You probably have a more nuanced view.]

[p.s. to Mariann. Went to Sam's World casino in Shreveport because that's where my wife, the set decorator, has gone until December in order to find employment in the film industry. Her housing is paid for and somehow Sam's World is where the producers thought would be the most appropriate location. She's moving to an apartment this week. Ran into Nightbyrd, the talent agent, who was there too and he has a similar excuse. We went to the hotel bar and asked for a dark beer. They said they had Michelob. Asked for a margarita instead and they brought lemonade with a shot tequila. But they did have a buffet with all the fried mystery meat you could eat and customers falling off both sides of their chairs at once.]

David Hamilton

I am well aware of the faults of the current democratic process and the way in which elites and money exercise undue influence. My point was that if we believe in any kind of democratic society -- as in students (or seniors) for a democratic society -- we have to be willing to engage those who do not now share our view and win them to our point of view.

That process may be far more difficult than any of us ever imagined and the cumulative weight of fighting for democratic principles may be getting heavy for many of us. It may even be impossible. But if that is what we want to believe in, that is what we have to do.

In the grand scheme of history, it may be that our willingness to fight for our ideals may be more important than the outcome at any given point.

Doyle Niemann

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