Saturday, August 21, 2004

Just read Garrison Keillor’s e-mail interview with David Talbot in Salon, who expresses the thought that he is writing highly partison polemics against the right these days because he feels the country is “slipping away.” Great words for a thought I have all the time: it’s starting to feel like the mid-1930’s in Germany here: we can see Very Bad Things occurring, brought on by the calculated actions of Very bad People, and yet we seem nearly powerless to do stop it.

Except we’re not. We could vote the bastards out. This exact moment, I’d like to think Senator Kerry will eke out a narrow win. But the big picture indicators aren’t so clear. Economy is improving. Iraq will be better off. Nader is on the ballot in enough states to force Kerry to win big if he’s gonna win at all. And finally, the cause for greatest alarm: 45% of my fellow Americans think George Bush is a wonderful leader.

Certainly some of the blame can be laid at the feet of our lazy, inept and foolish media. But theie ultimate goal is to sell soap. If Americans flocked to cable news channels where all they did all day long was discuss ways we could improve the lives of our fellow citizens, there’d by a dozen such channels. Old Ben Franklin was right in this as in so many things: “When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” We now face the exact danger the good Doctor warned us of. Will we Americans be able to reclaim our heritage of freedom? I think we will, but it’ll be a close thing.

Perhaps it will teach us that we must be constantly on guard against the inherent dangers of a free and democratic society.

I wonder if we aren’t reaping some of the rewards of our inattention (and in the case of some antii-taxers, all out war) on quality public education. Our press corps is so poorly educated that they do not seem to recognize any of the fundamental truths of the political process. They seem totally unaware of their complicity in bringing about the downfall of democracy—remembering that democracy is not a partison concept, but a national one. Again, as old BF put it, “It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”

Indeed, those who would be the masters of our unfree society are actively campaigning against free speech. Anyone who dares to gainsay their lies and foolishness is shouted down as a pariah, a fringe lunatic who should be ignored. Once more, Ben Franklin: “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Aye, Dr. Franklin, aye.
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” America remains at its heart a virtuous nation. But that virtue is under attack by those whose interests in threatens. It is not virtuous to abandon civil institutions like government, schools and libraries in favor of corporations. When I see the members of the US Olympic team mumble through or ignore altogether the words of the US national anthem, I wonder if their children will remember when Olympians were members of nations first, corporate sponsors second. Or will they stand on the platform to receive their gold medal, while the FedEx anthem plays, or the Nike theme song?

My friend Ray likes to think that corporations shouldn’t be treated like second class citizens because, after all, they are comprised of inddividuals: shareholders, employees, customers, vendors, etc. And of course, corporations are composed of such people. But a corporation is by legal definition an entity designed and solely dedicated to the diverting of wealth from all its constituents to its shareholders. It is a model that has many virtues since it allows many people to exchange their commodity (labor, capital, etc.) for a commodity they value more highly (money, power, etc.) But ultimately, the model is just that: a model. It is a means to an end. When we lose sight of that end, we begin to lose ourselves. And boy, have we started to lose sight of the end.

The goal is not to amass more toys than the other kids. The goal is to have as many of us as possible have the greatest number of toys possible. And if that means limiting the number of toys any one person can have so that there is enough to go around, so be it. The slight dimunition in initiative caused by the limit is regrettable and its effects should be minimized. But the limit is not to be avoided for that reason.

Just like helping people in need: helping people in need will no doubt entail problems of people either feigning need when it does not in truth exist, or of motivating some to seek out need knowing that it will be addressed by others’ generosity. Real problems indeed – problems that should be addressed with real care. But not problems sufficiently vexing to forbid the helping of others, or to make that help so niggardly and stingy that it is nearly no help at all. We are a virtuous people – mostly, still. How can we let the moneyed interests convince us not to use our own money to help our brothers and sisters who need it? How have we let them convince us that the best way to help others is solely by helping ourselves. Self-indulgence is not virtue, and those that ask us to celebrate it appeal to our worst selves. Those that ask us to lend a selfless helping hand to our neighbors see the virtue in us. We should thank and celebrate them.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Auto-Bio Update

"I was born of a poor black sharecropper in rural Mississippi in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and three."

That's how a proper auto-biography should start, it seems to me, and should slowly and inexorably build to something like, "And that's why I've devoted the last years of my life to working with my foundation to stamp out child poverty once and for all."

My auto-biography isn't going to quite fit that mold. More of a, "I watched a great deal of TV as a kid, mostly Pop-Eye, Hercules and Mighty Mouse, and on Saturdays quite a bit of Bugs Bunny." And building in essentially random lurches to something like, "And so, as the end of my days approach, I cherish fondly my 15 year plaque for continuous service in the Deli/Appetizer Department, and look forward hopefully to the grandkid getting out of the joint and into a halfway house, hopefully for good this time."

So I'm a bit daunted by the prospect, and have more or less resolved to start work on my little tale in whatever random bits seem to pop onto the keyboard.

Like when I was 14 or so and went to Montreal with Rickety Basket, and we drank and (I at least) made out with a girl.

Fahreheit 911

Just saw Michael Moore's movie. Very impressive.

I was expecting a loose, wallowing, sloppy mess, similar to some of his previous work. Instead, I was treated to a much tighter, much less self-indulgent, much more patient and thoughtful work. Kudos to MM, and Hazzah! for the Republic.

Amongst my reactions:

- Rather than being shocked or disappointed at the Preznit's failure to act once told of the attack on WTC, I found myself feeling sorry for him. He seemed to be clearly disengaged from the reading with the kids activity. Instead, he seemed aware that he should be thinking Serious Thoughts and perhaps Doing Something. I mentioned this to Kathleen who pointed out that those were exactly the reasons she found it so damning. Had he stayed engaged with the kids, or not shown any understanding of what he was told, then he'd be aloof, neglectful. Rather, he was perfectly aware of the potential gravity of the news, and rather than deciding on a course of action (even if that course was to continue the reading activity), he seemed palpably unsure what to do. Probably the right view.

- Intense anger at the crappy lives we subject far too many of our countrymen to. Notably the gaggle of young black men who are ripe targets for the Marine recruiters, who seemed so bright, so thoughtful -- in short, so capable of contributing to society, yet likely destined not to realize anything like their true potential. Also true of Lila Liscomb, who's been abused horribly by the economic tumult in her region, and whose grief over the pointless loss of her son would touch the hardest heart.

- Strong sense that, contrary to the Conventional Wisdom, this film can and will change people's minds. There's developed a strand of CV that says the film is largely preaching to the choir, and that few marginal voters and no Bush supporters would have their minds changed. Crap. I don't see how one could absorb the information in this film and not come away with the sense that the Preznit lied us into Iraq, and that we are failing miserably in the basic blocking and tackling of so-called "homeland defense."

- An overwhelming desire to do something so that the young black guys (ripe pickin's for the Marine recruiters), Lila Liscomb, and hell, all those poor soldiers in Iraq, even those two dumb bastards trolling the parking lot at the down-market mall -- all of them-- could hold jobs that gave them both adequate income as well as real respect and dignity. Do Something like start a business that could grow large enough to make a real difference.

Double dare any comments on this one...


I'm resolving to spend at least some time every day writing, so I might as well do it here.

I'm a bit worried about my work appearing in public, but somehow or other that seems to be part of what's compelling me to do it.

I heard that dreadful Fleetwood Mac song "Don't Stop Dreamin' 'Bout Tomorrow" on the radio yesterday. I am also reading Bill Clinton's auto-biography. Together, a Clintonian interlude in my thinking.

Clinton's book is thoroughly enjoyable -- so far. I'm about half way through, and he's toying with running in '92. He's a wonderful writer, and has led an interesting life. In the spirit of his own philosophy (as reflected in that damn Fleetwood Mac song), I'm looking forward to the next volume.

I'd like to start writing my own auto-biography, and it occurs to me that my impulse to do so is in fact forward looking rather than historical (thanks, Bill.) I'm about at the mid-point of my reasonable life expectancy, and taking the time to do a summary will of course be helpful to my own efforts that great things lay ahead (some pretty great things are in the past, after all). But I'm thinking of it more as a note to the "generations a-comin.'" My own mother lies unconscious, unlikely to survive more than a few more days or weeks. My father is in OK shape, but the effects of aging have left him more or less bed-ridden and unable to care for himself. (A woman at his old-folks-home, Kirkland Village, has evidently completed a biography of him as a labor of love.) So thoughts of mortality, of the finite nature of the life, are heavy in the air, and are no doubt afflicting my own psyche. Hence, the thought about the mid-life auto-biography.

Stay tuned. With God's grace, more tomorrow.