Sunday, October 31, 2010

Before You Vote 2

A community organizer was reminding grassroots folks about how they learned to vote for the party of Thomas Jefferson, founding father, Franklin Roosevelt, friend of the working man, and John F. Kennedy, "the saint." The Democrats, he said, come to pick our fresh votes like ripe tomatoes every election season, then they go away and everything stays the same.

That was how the late William Velázquez spoke last I heard him several decades ago. The founder of the Southwest Voter Registration Project liked to shock his mostly liberal, Hispanic audiences in hopes of spurring the realization that voting was not necessarily about voting Democratic.

White liberals have had a way of overpromising and underdelivering. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the poster children of this bad habit. President Obama should have taken both to the woodshed a year ago.

I think, I still want to believe, that Barack Obama is just about as genuinely well-intentioned a politician as we're likely to see. But, OK, he does appear bought and sold.

Still, we don't have a choice between Obama and anything else. It doesn't matter that he's only offered too small a stimulus, piecemeal health insurance reform and minor tweaks to the finance industry, when government intervention in the economy and major overhauls are needed.

We can protest and cajole and feel a bit silly.

The Democrats may well pick the field clean of our juicy grassroots votes. But the other guys, they want to set the field ablaze.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Before You Vote

Explaining the U.S. mid-term elections to a foreigner taught me that we may not know what the powerful are up to, but we can gauge the Tea Party, the Dems and GOP.

We know (don't we?) that the so-called Tea Party movement was puppeteered into existence by right-wing Australian magnate Rupert Murdoch's Fox network in the spring of 2009.

There were no, or very few, actual "tea party" gatherings when Fox set the buzz off. At best, there were a few disgruntled, die-hard Republicans who couldn't accept the 2008 electoral verdict that John McCain accepted with elan.

The whole thing was a media-created event right out of the 1976 movie "Network," including the slogan "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more."

Anger and just plain being mad doesn't make up for an ideology or a plan. Aside from misspelling and complete ignorance of the U.S. Constitution and government, what does this alleged movement stand for?

They're against taxes, homosexuals, aid to the poor and any effort to reverse centuries of racism. They're in favor of a new form of racism against immigrant-looking people (absurdity not mine), chastity before marriage and "life" so long as it's not found in war or poor neighborhoods.

Insofar as economic policy is concerned, they essentially want to square the circle: they want to fight the war on "terror," keep government's hands off their Medicare and halt all deficits and debts instantly.

What if every last Tea Party candidate, or a weighty number, wins? It will be fun to watch until we begin to experience the consequences.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hail the Universal Echo ... Echo ... Echo ...

Now that others have taken up my non-theistic ethics1, it seems possible to propose a replacement for the deity: the Universal Echo, or the foil somewhere out in the heavens for our projected hopes, aspirations, imagined superlatives and magical thinking, from which all religions and philosophical systems boomerang.

The idea is vaguely drawn on Feuerbach's idea that “The consciousness of God is the self-consciousness of man; the knowledge of God is the self-knowledge of man.”2 Put simply: God is our own projection, an imaginary friend, if you will.

God has uses. The God of conservatives validates “family values” and war. The God of liberals is herself a liberal, pacifist, blessed-are-the-poor kind of deity.

The Universal Echo is not another god, but a reasonable proposal of which science can probably find evidence. Listening to the Echo is us truly hearing ourselves. Sending thoughts to the Echo, an equivalent of prayer, is allowing our thoughts to go off into the ether, then bounce back from the cosmos and hit us as if new and improved.

In this proposal, I am not offering yet another anthropomorphic magical being. The UE is not someone separate from ourselves, but ourselves extended and truly mirrored back. Visually, we could speak of the Universal Reflection. In sound, we could speak of the Universal Wave. Sensorily, we could speak of the Universal Touch.

We think, speak, look, reach out and come across a universe that bounces back our thoughts, sounds, our search light receptors and our fingers.

Traditionally, religion says that God created the world. We would say that in discovering our boundaries against which all our impulses bounce back to us, our Echo has created a sensory world seemingly out of nothing.

Indeed, we first became human when we became self-aware.

1. Morals Without God, The New York Times
2. Ludwig Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity

Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Williams, the Noose Media
and the Stupidification of America

Never mind that Congress went off to campaign after cutting off aid to the poorest Americans and leaving the unemployed in limbo. Since last night, Washington is abuzz with the lynch mob firing of Juan Williams from National Public Radio, or the (drunken?) calls of Ginni Thomas, wife of the laziest justice on the Supreme Court, to sexual-harrassment whistleblower Anita Hill, or the latest nonsense by candidates for Congress who have not read the Constitution.

I have a brief memo, drawing on my 35 years in journalism, as a reporter, editor and publisher, for NPR Chief Executive Officer Vivian Schiller, who claims that "it is the ideal of journalism that we strive for objectivity":
Re: Juan Williams
There's no such thing as objectivity in journalism. We should try, however, to be fair.
Fox presents the world as seen from a right-wing prism, NPR does so with the lens of liberalish cultural sensitivity and MSNBC offers what passes for a "leftist" view in these United States.

The Washington Post lobbied hard for the construction of bridges that meant an economic boon to its parent company; its editorial staff preens as journalists, instead of gossipmongers and cheerleaders for whoever has power (in its majority black city), if white. The Washington Times lives in a Moonie world all its own (I double-dare you: juxtapose their front page with that of any two or three other newspapers for a week).

The question goes beyond political freedom of the press. There is a variety of opinions within the permissible range disseminated in this country.

Ever hear that the Soviet Union had no inflation in prices for basic necessities from 1927 to 1991? Or that Israel gets more U.S. foreign aid than all of Africa? Or that General Motors purposely destroyed once viable non-polluting mass transit systems in the United States?

No? Well, think about it: who owns the mass media? Even "free" blogs, like this one, exist at the pleasure of Mr. Google. Never mind the broadcast and cable networks, the newspapers, the wire services, held by a few neo-feudal newspaper families or by gigantic corporations or by modern-day robber barons.

This is why, when Congress left town at the end of September with a continuing resolution to fund the government -- except for a few billion in the TANF Emergency Fund and except for a permanent extension of unemployment insurance for the throngs that have been out of work for more than 99 weeks -- no one said anything.

The owners of the media don't give a damn about the depredation of our society, the fruits of which they partake of generously, if it doesn't sell advertising or air time. And the uneducated don't read and don't watch news.

I have waited and waited for someone to lift up their cry to the empty heavens. How can we sit by as the poverty rate rises, welfare is cut, and people are abandoned to live in cardboard "homes" without saying a word?

I kept my counsel precisely because I cover these things professionally in journalism. I'm not supposed to vent opinions. Or as one grizzled editor used to say (in my cleaned up version): if you cover the circus, don't make love to the elephants.

Enough! The words of Allen Ginsburg come to mind: "America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Notes from a Bisexual Ax Murderer

A woman I've been spared meeting face to face began an e-mail exchange by interrogating a male acquaintance of a friend of hers as if the man was guilty until proven innocent. This began with whether he was "bisexual" and cascaded downwards. A woman who hates men that much should try women.

Indeed, an increasing number of women could use some finesse in the way they approach men in whom they might have an interest. Especially when the person in question is not a total, absolute stranger, but someone who comes recommended or is in some way a known quantity.

Women seem to feel that their negative past experiences with men entitle them to be rude.

One woman I know asks men she might date whether they have ever declared bankruptcy. Another asked whether the Mercedes in which she was being driven had been bought new or used.

Honey, if you're that interested in my bank account, good-bye.

Sure, some women are preternaturally stupid about money in a romantic context. One story of woe included moving in with and co-signing the purchase of a house with a man she'd known only three months: yes, he was interested in her money.

Still, not all men are cads, prefer men and have the law after them. Indeed, men weed out women by observing discreetly; a little discretion in sizing up other people would go a long way. Espy subtly, without implying the man is a criminal before you've met him (even as a "joke").

Besides, in all my ax murdering I have always had to catch the victim unaware. For some reason, women don't want a date once I tell them I am an ax murderer. Women!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Europe's Columbus Day

Some 518 years ago today, Luis Torres, a Spanish Jew, became the first European on record to set foot in the New World. While we still debate the fateful consequences, I am struck by the comments of a contemporary European, to whom Christopher Columbus is a minor 15th century figure.

Indeed, in modern Europe, only Spain celebrates October 12 as a national holiday. In the Iberian peninsula, it is the "Día de la Hispanidad." The holiday that celebrates the common language and culture of the roughly half-billion people worldwide touched in a fundamental way by Spain, starting October 12, 1492.

Why would the other countries celebrate the day? Italians in the New World claim the Genoa-born Columbus as their own, but apart from a few historians Italians in Italy largely ignore the explorer.

Otherwise, the other Europeans associate the New World with the Spanish plunder and enslavement of which Eduardo Galeano memorably wrote.

Of course, the French forget about Haiti and Quebec, conquered just as savagely as were the francophone countries of Africa. The British forget their fateful invention of biological warfare against the natives of New England, just as they forget their invention of the concentration camp in Africa.

The Europeans just didn't have much of a chance to despoil in America. They had to wait to do so in Africa and Asia.

Moreover, Europeans think in centuries, so anything less than half-a-millenium old  is "new" — as are nations such as Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Across the Atlantic, the dominant narrative is still one about plucky European emigrants who somehow chucked their Europeanness and became American.

And Columbus? My unscientific sample said Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press in 1450, or polymath Leonardo DaVinci, born in 1452, were far more significant.

To Europeans, that is.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Revolution Will Not Be

In 1971, Gil Scott-Heron composed one of the poem-songs that in many ways  represents that era, called "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." It looks as if in 2011 the revolution will not be; the Republicans will put the last few nails into the coffin of "change we can believe in" and it will be back to "no, we can't."

Scott-Heron's song, which has the elements of what later came to be rap, hip-hop and the myriad of related genres of which I know very little, had a point, which he made in his last stanza:
The revolution will not
The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.
To read the whole lyric, which is a beauty, click here.

Scott-Heron was cognizant, as I wasn't, that even in 1971 we were already in George Orwell's 1984 (a date with the reversed last two digits of the year in which the novel was published, 1948). In the USA, Big Brother did not need to force anyone to watch television; everyone had been addicted to it, worse than they were to become addicted to crack. I should know: I was a recovering TV addict. Television tells us what to think.

To some, George Orwell is the man of the Left who unmasked Stalinism. He was a reverse "useful idiot," to use Lenin's fateful phrase: his writings were put to use to serve the interests of the capitalist elite he detested.

Just as to others, Karl Marx is the man whose ideas led inevitably to 1917. Yet, despite Lenin's clever dialectical word games (such as calling his own minority a majority, bolsheviki), Marx expected socialism to arise first in advanced Germany, not in backward autocratic Russia, much less in China, one of the societies Marx had in mind when he coined the phrase "the Asiatic mode of production," in his view a deviation.

For my part, I expected socialism in the United States. Not through a revolution, nor through an evolution à la Eduard Bernstein, but through the very Marxian process of the internal contradictions of capitalism. So far, I have not been disappointed: capitalist society is in a very advanced state of decomposition.

Obama has failed to rescue capitalism, as have the social democrats of Europe. Once President Palin is inaugurated, the system will be allowed to run wild again.

The revolution will not be.

Monday, October 04, 2010

How to Buy "Honor"

Apparently a group called Shirat HaNefesh, associated with another group called Jews United for Justice is going to honor David and Carla Cohen on October 24. Last time I met Carla Cohen, owner of Politics and Prose, she was up there on the podium race-bating with the best of 'em, self-hating Hispanic Linda Chávez.

I called to Cohen's attention that Chávez, a thank-God-she-wasn't secretary of labor nominated by George W. Bush and a woman who has done everything possible to gut the very affirmative action that allowed her to ascend socioeconomically, is hardly a good and representative Hispanic author.

When I asked her what Hispanic authors she had had in her store, she mentioned Carlos Fuentes. Now Fuentes is a major Latin American novelist, but he is a Mexican from Mexico, not a U.S. Hispanic. I realize that to a lot of Anglos, including Carla Cohen apparently, we're all "Mexican," but really we're not.

I pointed this out to her. Any U.S. Hispanic writers at P&P?

"Are there any?" she asked. I could have given her a list, but what would have been the point. Anyone wishing to find out who they are, click to find a list here.

These groups I have never heard of are obviously rewarding Cohen for donations, as her store is quite successful.

Otherwise, I can't imagine what kind of good work is worth honoring from someone who has given a platform to self-hating racists like Chávez (who is also a gay-baiter, but that's for another time, perhaps) and who doesn't even know there are Hispanic (or Latino if you like) writers.

Some "justice," JUJ.

Friday, October 01, 2010

A Plan for the Pope

A heated post-mortem on Ratzinger's trip to Britain prompted me to come up with some way that the pope could allay all the criticism of his papacy. The problem is that Ratzinger has yet to apologize for many things personally, so that his mealy mouth mumblings about the faults of others in countries in which he has never set foot are meaningless.

Here are three steps that would silence, or at least subdue, critics:
  1. Release Archbishop Bernard Law (emeritus of Boston and now a Vatican official), and all others like him, who are hiding from prosecutors, investigators and lawsuits behind the sovereign immunity of the Vatican, from charges arising out of their conspiracy to hide or protect the rape of children, as well as to aid Nazis in exile and other criminal elements, and extradite them to countries with jurisdiction over their crimes.
  2. Depose, without retirement pay or any benefits, and hand over to secular authorities every single bishop worldwide who headed or in some way administered a diocese at the time of a rape of even one child by a cleric or employee of the diocese and its associated organizations.
  3. Release all capital of the "Institute for Religious Works" (aka Vatican Bank, aka Mafia and CIA money laundering machine) to pay for the treatment, rehabilitation of, and restitution to victims of conspiracies in which church officials engaged worldwide, ordering all dioceses in the world to do the same, without demanding onerous court processes from claimants (perhaps a simple process of claim arbitration would do).
If Ratzinger did all this without reservations and clever loopholes for friends, a papal apology for the actions of others would not even be necessary. Of course, by the logic of these steps, Ratzinger himself would have to resign from the papacy without retirement benefits, given his tenure as archbishop in Munich.

This would still not allay personal charges against him.

To do that, Ratzinger has to come clean concerning his own personal complicity (albeit minor) for the deeds of the Hitler regime he supported. He has to reconsider the authoritarian, Germany-first worldview he suckled at the Nazi teat as a teenager. He must reject the ill-advised ideas of those German-bishop mentors who had publicly prayed for the success of the Führer and attempted a postwar whitewash of Germany.

Finally, he ought to apologize and seek to make restitution for his violation of the human rights of those he judged guilty of theological error, without due process, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In brief, the only just and fair outcome for Ratzinger is to be stripped of all status and possessions, to recant and acknowledge his errors and wrongdoing publicly, then live the rest of his natural life in a small cell on bread and water. Perhaps with piped-in recordings of his recanting played in a loop.