Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Ebbing Right

There has been a lot of talk of this recently, but I would like to try to encapsulate what has been going on in the minds of the right so that we on the left can intelligently promote our own agendas in the changing political and media climate.

Ever since the election, which they wrongly saw as turning on "moral" issues, the right has been scrambling to place itself on the moral high ground.  This has culminated in the utilization of the Terri Schiavo case to express the conservative movement as one centering on "the value of each individual life," as David Brooks writes in one of his recent op-ed pieces in The New York Times.

The conservative plan is to focus attention on the beginning of life and the end of life, and to claim that this carves out conservative possession of "compassion" and of protection of life.  By claiming to protect the unborn and the comatose, the two groups least able to speak for themselves, the conservatives risk no argument from the constituencies they are thereby "representing" and can bully their way through objections that compassion and respect for life are more strongly expressed when aimed towards those who can respond.

After all, aren't those unable to speak for themselves most needing of representation, of surrogates?

This question is based on the conservative assumption that all the rest of us are able to take care of ourselves.  That when we drop into poverty, it's our own fault.  That when our children are damaged by mercury, well, we chose where to live.  That the murderer we kill brought about his or her own death ("We have nothing to do with it," they say, as they pull the switch).  That the enemy has to be killed simply because of choices of their own ("They made us do it," they say, as they drop the bomb).

By focusing on the helplessness of both ends of life (and only at the extremes: they aren't trying to help children or the elderly), the conservatives are deflecting attention from their own failure to follow the teachings of Jesus that one has an obligation to help the less fortunate.  "It's their own fault.  Let them help themselves--then God will help them."  

"We," the conservatives say, "only need to help those who can't help themselves.  And the only ones who can't are those who lack consciousness."

If we allow ourselves to get caught up in questions of the beginnings and ends of life--as the conservatives have made happen--then the questions of real compassion and real aid to the less fortunate get left behind.

And that's what the conservatives want.

For isn't that how many of them see the rest of us, as simply "the left behind"--the people who have abandoned God and whom God will soon abandon?

Fortunately, the plan is failing, the tide is receding.

Yesterday, in one of my classes, I brought up the Schiavo case.  My students, a very conservative bunch, overwhelmingly rejected the right-wing position on this issue.

For them, compassion includes the living, the feeling.

But the tide will go out only if we on the left make sure we don't let the right continue to define the discussion. Every time they bring up their "protection" of the unborn and the comatose and use that to call themselves "compassionate," we need to respond with questions of compassion for those actually trying to live.  That's our strength, their weakness.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Copyleft: The Grateful-Dead Effect

With the Supreme Court considering the MGM/Grokster file-download case, perhaps it is time once again to review what I have come to call "the Grateful-Dead Effect" and the inherent self-defeating silliness of the sort of protectionism represented by the anti-download forces.

Early in the band's career, members of the Grateful Dead decided to assist those fans that they had noticed trying to tape their concerts.  Not only did they start setting aside special areas in the audience (where the sound was best) for the tapers, but they allowed fans to use their newsletters, etc. to arrange tape swaps.

By the mid 1980s, the Grateful Dead had become a perennial top live draw in America.  Their records were never big sellers (they really weren't that good: this was never a studio band), but fans flocked to their concerts (which were good: I know, I saw them four times--not many, by Deadhead standards, but enough to appreciate them).

Why were they such a success as a live act?  In part, because they were so good but, in part, because they did allow tape swapping.  I knew people whose collections topped 100 different shows.  Their vacations, every year, took them to new places on the Dead tour.  They taped, traded, and listened.  They bought ancillary products.  They made the Grateful Dead a successful economic engine.

Of course, there was much more to the Grateful Dead than economics.  But economics is the point, here.  If they hadn't opened things up, the Dead probably never would have achieved the kind of success that they did find.

The Dead were smart (and ethical, and moral, and caring--but, again, that's not the topic).  Sony was not.  One of the reasons (aside from its tapes being too short to hold whole movies) that the Betamax failed was that Sony held its rights too closely.  VHS rights allowed many manufacturers into the game.  Those sets were instantly cheaper and VHS (not quite as good as Beta) took the field.  Apple was not.  It held the rights to copy the Mac too closely.  So it was Windows that came to dominate the field.

The home video system was once called a "tapeworm" eating at the heard of the film industry.  Jack Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America (along with the studios) fought hard against it in the 1970s--and lost.  Today, they are all happy they did lose: at least two-thirds of film income now comes from ancillaries including videotapes and DVDs.  Because they were forced to let things open up, film industry profits soared.

The same will happen with the music industry, if it is willing to open up rather than gather in and "protect."  No one would have predicted, thirty years ago, that ancillaries would one day drive the movie business.  But it happened, and we are all richer for it.

But people are fearful of losing what they have.  Most in the entertainment industry are risk-averse.

Fortunately, the momentum is on the side of the "pirates."  In the long run, they will even be helping those they are "stealing from."

Don't be fooled by the musicians and song-writers the industry trots out to bemoan downloading.  It's these very people who stand to gain the most, in the long run, from this downloading.

They are just too fearful to notice.

[At the risk of seeming shamelessly self-promoting, I would to recommend Chapter 7: The Question of Ownership in my book The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, & Technology.  Get your library to order it.  Also, check out Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig.  And if you really care about the issue, you should be aware of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.]

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, and Technology

 Posted by Hello

Dusty and Aaron at Shakespeare's Sister Posted by Hello

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

The first I heard of the argument that Terri Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state was on Focus-on-the-Family's James Dotson's radio show.  That was about three weeks ago.  I thought it strange that a man who, as far as I know, had never visited Schiavo could make an assertion of her consciousness so baldly and in the face of a medical and legal near-unanimity the other way.

This is so tragic, and so manipulative: Schiavo's own family has been convinced.  They want so much to believe that she is conscious of them that they interpret blinks and involuntary utterances as attempts to communicate.
Not only they: Senator Bill Frist (whose reputation as a surgeon is stellar--though this instance leads one to question his judgment) watched videotapes of Schiavo and pronounced (according to The Washington Post):

"I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

The very idea!  Anyone, in our media-savvy world should know that an edited videotape (even one unedited) is no vehicle for diagnosis--and Frist surely knew that what he was watching was not raw footage.

But he wanted to believe the lie.  For his own purposes, Frist wants it to be true, so was predisposed to believe and not to question.  And the tape gave him just enough of an opening, one his belief could expand into "truth."

Now, I don't care about Dotson or Frist.  Their agendas and beliefs are not things I care about.  But Schiavo's family?  It makes me sad that they have come to this state.  These poor people have wanted something so much that they now believe that simply believing will make it true.  With them, I sympathize.

Which brings me to the third of my title triumvirate.  

Lying and wanting to believe lies are integrally connected.  When you come right down to it, few people lie outright to deceive others.  Most liars are also deceiving themselves, making a case in defense of what they hold most dear--evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Take, for example, this lie: "Aaron Barlow is a sex offender."

Do a Google search: you will find over 1,000 entries backing up the lie.  For, yes, there is an Aaron Barlow who sent emails fantasizing about child molestation.  He is quoted as writing:

I wish we could get our hands on a baby or a girl and have some real fun.

That "Aaron Barlow," however, is half my age and lives an ocean away from my home.

Still, if someone wants to slander me, they can repeat the statement "Aaron Barlow is a sex offender," knowing that it is true but being unwilling to look any further--to determine wheter or not I am that Aaron Barlow.  With that, they could dismiss me and anything I may say--and there is very little I could do about it.  The connection of the names is enough; there's no easy refutation to the charge that can't be made to sound like a weasel.

Take, on the other hand, this lie: "Aaron Barlow was a colonel in the Revolution."

Your Google search would tell you that's true (not me, though: my great-great-great-great-grandfather) with over 750 hits.  Here, however, the argument against it being me is way too clear: I would have to be over 250 years old.  My refutation of the lie would be simple and clear.  No one could roll their eyes and say I am "just trying to get out of it... why don't you fess up and accept responsibility?"

Both lies are easily provable as lies... but the first can be argued as true using implication, innuendo, and a refusal to look beyond the immediate.  The second?  No one would bother to argue it--for one thing, belief in it would not further any agenda (whereas, for someone wishing to discredit me, the first lie would).

If there's a possible way to make something seem true to our beliefs, we will make it seem so--even in the face of evidence to the contrary.  All that's need is a "well, it could be true" for people to decide that something is true.

For me, it's just an annoyance, though, that someone in England with my name is a convicted pervert.  The connection and the lie (if it were told) don't mean much.  

In the Schiavo case, however, the lie is destroying a family of good, kind people (not to mention what it is doing to our political fabric).

And, again, that is tragic.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Gannon and Horowitz

In her dKos post today on Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, SusanG writes “We are a country that's been stretched to the breaking point with lies.”

Recently, I have been exploring David Horowitz’s sites for his Front Page Magazine and Moonbat Central: Hunting the Radical Snark. It has been a perplexing and disturbing experience.

It’s not just the lies that bother me, but their artfulness. There’s always just enough truth in them (these people are much more skillful than JG) to ultimately distract discussion from the real issues, allowing the liars to move the debate to a “gotcha” form that does no one any good—except the liars, who can then crow that they’ve been vindicated because they’ve found errors in the statements of others.

In fact, I am pretty sure that the Horowitz crowd deliberately sets out to trap their opponents by making claims that seem outrageous but have just enough truth to allow them to weasel out. Horowitz’s incredible claim that professors make $150,000 for only 6 to 9 hours of work, for example, does have an element of truth—and sets up a “gotcha.” There are stars in academia (as there are in every field) who bring in high salaries (some even beyond Horowitz’s figure), and many professors at research institutions teach only two or three classes per semester (6 or 9 classroom hours). So, no matter how you argue with Horowitz, he can claim he was telling the truth—and will leave the impression that all professors have this kind of life. Few do, of course, and even those work more than 6 to 9 hours a week. That’s only classroom time. It doesn’t include prep time, advising, grading, committee work, or research—all of which are part of a professor’s job. The other extreme is closer to the truth: I have met few professors who work less than 40 hours a week. Many work as many as 60 or more. Horowitz’s lie isn’t in the details that he knows he can defend, but in the larger realm.

Horowitz can get away with this because he lacks the one element that keeps most of the rest of us from lying (even if we were tempted to): accountability. He is accountable to no one. All he has to do is fool enough people to insure that his profile remains high (and I, too, have obviously fallen into that trap—in a certain way, I am helping him even by this small post). That keeps the money flowing in from speaking dates and right-wing foundations.

Here is where Horowitz and Gannon come together: neither has to be responsible for the truth of their words. There is no independent editorial apparatus telling them no, you have to be a little more straight-forward. There is no peer review process saying this isn’t exploration, it is propaganda. They both have taken advantage of this; by doing so, they are both tearing at the fabric of America; with their lies, they both stand apart from the traditions of honest debate that created this country.

With their lies, they become inherently un-American.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

What David (Horowitz) Doesn’t Understand

In an article for his Front Page Magazine, titled ”Why Michael Can’t Read,” David Horowitz tells me, a leftist since earliest I can remember, why I believe as I do. The title of DH’s article refers to Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Berube, a teacher, scholar, and writer who, with Cary Nelson, edited Higher Education Under Fire: Politics, Economics, and the Crisis of the Humanities. Berube doesn’t think much of DH’s “DiscoverTheNetwork, which is a comprehensive guide to the political left,” and has said so, explaining why quite lucidly on his own blog (highly recommended). But DH isn’t just talking about Berube: he believes he knows the minds of the rest of us, too.

Take this comment, for example:

On the other hand leftists don't want to be identified as "left" because they don’t want to be burdened with the history of their deplorable political "mistakes." In particular, they don't want to be accountable for their support for (or appeasement of) our Communist enemies during the Cold War.

Now, I lived in Thailand in 1964 and 1965. I was a kid. My school doubled in size over the Christmas holidays because of the evacuation of civilian Americans from Vietnam. While the US government was claiming no bombing missions originated in Thailand, the Air Force pilots living in my apartment building were disappearing for a few days each week to the north of the country. I was proud of my father when we returned to the US: he was one of the first protesters against the war, participating in silent vigils against the unneeded killings our government was perpetrating. Soon, I was joining him in the protests (though not so silently).

Because of our proximity during the first major escalation, we learned a great deal about what was going on in Vietnam, much of it from people who had lived there. We knew right away how much our government was lying and how little the people of Vietnam supported us. We knew this was no war for “freedom” for anyone and we hated being associated with it due to our nationality.

One of the most important things we learned was that the US/Russia stand-off was not central to much of what was going on in the world. The conflict in Vietnam concerned a great deal more than simply keeping communism from spreading. Only myopic Americans who refused to see the world as anything but “good” (the US) versus “bad” (the Soviet Union) thought otherwise. We got ourselves into a conflict that was, frankly, none of our concern through our arrogance, our belief that everything came down to that one dichotomy. It wasn’t “support for (or appeasement of) our Communist enemies” that we were involved in, but support for human rights and self-determination. It’s simplistic to think otherwise—for the world is far more complex than the Cold Warriors ever imagined. I remain quite proud of my opposition to that war and to the Cold War mentality of the time. We did much to stave off the belligerent nature of much US foreign policy, allowing the Soviet Union space to collapse on its own.

Horowitz, on the other hand, still seems to want to make the American left responsible for all the ills of the world:

When Berube and his friends opposed America’s Cold War with the Communist enemy, the consequences of their actions were dire indeed. In Cambodia and South Vietnam, Berube and his fellow leftists—including John Kerry and Ted Kennedy—are accountable for making it possible for the Communists to slaughter two-and-a-half million innocent people after U.S. aid was cut at their insistence. But what if they had been successful in other campaigns? If the nuclear freeze movement had prevailed over its conservative opposition it is very possible that a billion people in the Soviet bloc would still be under the Communist heel. If leftists like Berube and Kennedy, had been successful in obstructing the effort of America and Britain to liberate Iraq, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, Iraqis would still be disappearing into plastic shredders and mass graves, there would be no democracy movement in the Middle East, and the world in general would be a more dangerous place.

Here again is that reductive, limited thinking. Pol Pot and his minions are responsible for the slaughter in Cambodia. To place responsibility elsewhere is akin to blaming 9/11 on Israel. DH’s argument, also, tries to link the slaughter to a cut in aid, forgetting that the fact of the aid itself set the stage for what later happened. Cutting it, at that point, is not what brough the Khmer Rouge to power.

Here again is that arrogance, that it is “our” (US) actions that have impact upon the world. Nothing else matters. A nuclear freeze would have allowed the Soviet Union to continue? Come on! The reasons for the collapse of the USSR were myriad; the tottering regime was going down no matter what “we” did.

Here again is that assumption of US importance. Though Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, life in Iraq has not improved—and many more Iraqis have died. To call this the spark for a Middle East democracy movement is ludicrous on the face of it. To be inspired to fight for democracy, something inspiring has to be taking place. Nothing the US has done in Iraq is inspiring. What shining example has been established? Whose lives have gotten so much better?

Here again is hubris, thinking that slapping down someone weaker than “we” are, someone who posed no threat to “us,” makes the world a safer place. No. The people who actually did attack the US are as strong as ever, and have new recruiting and proving grounds. The international community has been weakened, making it less likely that a cooperative movement against any real arising threat could be established.

At the start of his article, DH writes:

In a recent attack on our site (on March 2) he [Berube] reveals once again the intellectual laziness of the left when it comes to engaging opponents in, well, intellectual argument. On the other hand, tenured radicals like Berube have lifetime jobs and captive audiences, so what is their incentive not to be lazy?

The implication here is that somehow, tenure just drops on people—a gift from the gods. Clearly, DH has no idea what it means to achieve that status. I can’t speak for Berube, but I suspect he is as active as I am. Now, I don’t have tenure; I teach on a year-to-year contract. Of course, I would love to have tenure and hope to earn it—but having it would not slow me down (I want it because I crave the stability it represents, not so I won’t have to work). In my quest for tenure, I wrote a book last year that is now in print, and did it without the help of a staff like the one DH has at his disposal. In other words, I did all the work myself. Right now, I am working on two other books (not to mention the articles I have completed or am writing). Oh, and in addition to research, writing, and teaching full-time, I run my gift-store/gallery and am renovating a house (by myself). I certainly don’t have time or inclination to sit around the house and do nothing—and neither does Berube, I am sure.

Horowitz believes he is reaching into the minds of the left, but they are minds (and lives) whose workings he cannot comprehend. Lives involved in a complex “real” world of work and thought far beyond the simplicities DH’s blinders allow.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Limiting Academic Freedom in Florida

As we have seen, the right often cloaks attempts to limit rights in the guise of establishing them. Dennis Baxley, a member of the Florida House, has introduced a bill that, he claims, would establish certain rights for all students:
(1) Students have a right to expect a learning environment in which they will have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study. In the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, the fostering of a plurality of serious scholarly methodologies and perspectives should be a significant institutional purpose.

(2) Students have a right to expect that they will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects they study and that they will not be discriminated against on the basis of their
political or religious beliefs.

(3) Students have a right to expect that their academic freedom and the quality of their education will not be infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.

(4) Students have a right to expect that freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of conscience of students and student organizations will not be infringed upon by postsecondary administrators, student government organizations, or institutional policies, rules, or procedures.

(5) Students have a right to expect that their academic institutions will distribute student fee funds on a viewpoint- neutral basis and will maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to substantive political and religious disagreements, differences, and opinions.

(6) Faculty and instructors have a right to academic freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, but they should make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own and should encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate, and critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

(7) Faculty and instructors have a right to expect that they will be hired, fired, promoted, and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in their fields of expertise and will not be hired, fired, denied promotion, or denied tenure on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

(8) Faculty and instructors have a right to expect that they will not be excluded from tenure, search, or hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

(9) Students, faculty, and instructors have a right to be fully informed of their rights and their institution's grievance procedures for violations of academic freedom by means of notices prominently displayed in course catalogs and student handbooks and on the institutional website.

I wanted to post the whole thing here, so that discussion can be clear and fully informed. Some of this, of course, no one could object to—that is, until one starts to consider who would be guaranteeing these rights. And that would be the courts.

The idea of a judge deciding what is appropriate in a classroom is quite a scary one. For legitimate reasons, a courtroom must be carefully controlled. A classroom, on the other hand, has a quite different purpose, and one most judges are in no position to evaluate. Imagine a court trying to determine if an instructor “persistently introduce(d) controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.” Judges tend to be lawyers, people whose business it is to pare things away, to get to the core of a particular. They want details, particulars—things relevant only to the issue at hand. In a class, on the other hand, the purpose is quite different. Often, it is to examine nuance, to see what connections may be there, and to broaden discussion. To move beyond the details of the particular to the universals involved. Could a judge, trained and expert at paring down cases to their essentials really be in a position to judge a methodology aimed towards movement in exactly the opposite direction? Controversy serves a pedagogical purpose quite removed from what is desired in a court of law. A debatable question is professor’s favorite, for it opens up possibilities for disagreement. A judge wants to end debate. In a classroom, agreement isn’t the goal; examination is. Final answers are not given nor are they desired.

There are many other problems inherent in this “Bill of Rights.”

Ultimately, if passed, it will kill academic freedom in Florida’s public universities by, among other things, bringing the courts directly into the classroom.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Distant Echo of Jack-Boots?

Probably not, but enough has been going on recently to give me pause.

As a college professor, I have naturally been following the brouhaha surrounding remarks by Ward Churchill, Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. What concerned me was not so much Churchill’s own statements (injudicious, at best) but the reaction. Outraged people (most of who hadn’t actually read Churchill’s words, but were reacting to media characterizations of them)—some of them in the high reaches of both state government and the university—called for Churchill’s ouster from his job. They were quickly joined by David Horowitz who, through his Front Page Magazine website, the blog Moonbat Central: Hunting the Radical Snark, and other avenues, has long been attacking what he sees as the narrow-minded (to say the least) leftist radicals who (he claims) dominate higher education. Media Matters for America has been keeping track of what he has been doing.

Attacks on university professors such as those put forward by Horowitz give me pause. In my own classroom, I make no secret of my political persuasion. To do otherwise, I believe, would be dishonest, especially in my field, American Literature. Our literature, of course, has always been tied in to our politics. The only way that my students can competently judge the information I provide about the literature (and, by extension, about the politics) is to have a complete framework available to them. My choices for the course are going to reflect my mind-set; the students have a right to know as much about why I make those choices as they can.

At the same time, because my students know my views, we can debate honestly. I quickly let them know that my respect for them goes up when they correct my mistakes (and I do make plenty) and when they argue intelligently for their own beliefs. If I hid my views behind a fiction of “objectivity,” my students would never learn to trust me or challenge me. They would never know where I stood.

So, I am understandably concerned when any outside political agenda threatens to muzzle freedom of speech on university campuses. If I did not have the freedom I enjoy, I could not teach effectively. I take heart in the fact that the First Amendment to the Constitution contains no exceptions:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

It doesn’t say “except in schools” or “only when it agrees with a certain agenda.” I practice freedom of speech in my classroom, and expect my students to do the same—and reward them when they do.

Anyway, back to the story!

In following the Churchill story and then the Horowitz crusade, I eventually found I could not keep my mouth shut. I was reading the following post on Moonbat:

The Party's Over, Mr. Brock

"The back and forth with the Soros attack site MediaMatters has become so tedious that not even I the target am interested anymore," complains David Horowitz in a recent blog entry.

Horowitz hit the nail on the head. The swarm attack methods employed by Soros media assets such as David Brock are designed to produce numbness, apathy and exhaustion in their targets. No sooner do we refute one lie, than we discover that Brock and his network of "media activists" have told half a dozen more. As long as we play by Brock's rules, Brock will always win, simply because he and his team can lie faster than we can expose their deceptions.

We have tired of the game. We invite Mr. Brock – along with any other misguided commentators, blogospheric or otherwise, who wish to follow his lead – to say whatever they like concerning the hapless student persecuted by assistant professor of criminology Robert Dunkley at UNC.

Remember, these are the same bloggers and other media commentators who insinuated only five days ago that neither Professor Dunkley nor his victim even existed. Clearly their chatter means little in the grand scheme of things.

Ironically, Mr. Brock, you've done us a favor. You have brought to our attention some colorful and enigmatic personalities on the blogosphere, such as Dr. Mano Singham, and exposed the dreadful gullibility of others whom we had previously credited with greater discernment. It's been instructive and fun.

But now it's time to get back to work, doing what this Web site was designed to do; exposing the malevolent designs of the left, and calling to account those who fund its seditious and destructive activities.

Posted by Richard Poe

Poe is a columnist for Front Page Magazine and Managing Editor of Moonbat Central.

As a fan of Media Matters, and tired of seeing repetitive lies such as those asserting that Brock is a ‘Soros Media asset,’ I posted a comment:

If you really are tired of the game, what you need to do is be forthcoming. Stop generalizing; start giving specifics. If, for example, you want to connect MMFA to Soros, show proof. Repeating yourself (the old Leninist trick) doesn't make it true.

And just who, and how many, said that "neither Professor Dunkley nor his victim ever existed"? Show specific instances... and don't cherry-pick posts to twist them to reflect what you want them to say. Show the whole thing.

Sure, there's much untruth needing exposing. But you need to be clear and absolutely truthful if you are going to attempt it.

Poe responded with a new post:

Professor Accuses Moonbat Central of Using "Old Leninist Trick"

Aaron Barlow, proprietor of the Barblog, has accused us, in a comment posted below, of employing an "old Leninist trick." He writes, "If… you want to connect MMFA [Media Matters for America] to Soros, show proof. Repeating yourself (the old Leninist trick) doesn't make it true."

Barlow informs us that he is a "professor" of some sort – though without saying where he is employed or what subject he teaches.

Professor Barlow, I confess to some bafflement. Surely it has not escaped your notice that each and every time we make reference to the Soros-Brock connection on this blog, we provide accompanying links – such as this one – which back up our charge.

Have you bothered clicking through any of those links?

Perhaps you have. And perhaps you have found the evidence presented therein unpersuasive. That's fine. If you find our evidence faulty, let's hear your critique of it. But you have not given us a critique. Instead you imply quite falsely that we have presented no evidence at all.

Professor Barlow, I do hope the rhetorical methods you have employed on this Web site do not reflect your behavior in the classroom. When your students present you with evidence which you find tiresome, annoying or inconvenient, I hope you do not simply pretend that they have failed altogether to provide you with any evidence at all – and then grade them accordingly. We take a dim view of such practices around here.

Posted by Richard Poe

Poe is referring to my own blog, where I do, in fact, simply indentify myself as a ‘professor.’ The blog is unrelated to my professional activities, so I do not identify the details of my profession there. It is not needed, no more than it would be necessary for a doctor to identify his or her specialty or hospital affiliation on a personal blog. Anyhow, if anyone does want to find out where I teach, they can easily do so: all that’s needed is to click on the link about my most recent book. There’s an “about the author” there. So I never considered identifying the specifics of my profession necessary for the blog.

What bothered me about Poe’s post was his attempt to link Soros and Brock through links (not proof) and that last statement: ‘We take a dim view of such practicies around here.’ That bothers me still, for Horowitz and his crowd have taken active part in campaigns against college professors.

After following Poe’s link about a Soros/Brock connection (simply to another Moonbat page—it offered no proof), I responded:

You link back to yourself... that is not proof of a financial connection between Soros and Brock--but a further example of the lie repeated seeming true. Neither is the "fact" that Brock defends Soros. Find a real link, and I will concede your point. But find proof, not further inuendo.

As to the rest of your comments, well, I won't even bother...

Soon, I received an email (because it was a private communication, I will keep the sender’s name and email, and other details, private):

Subject: skimpy bio

Your bio is rather skimpy on facts. Where do you teach?

I knew, of course, where this was coming from, so did a search on the author. Among a few other items, I found this letter to the editor:

Who cares what U.S. allies think?

Unlike Mr. ********, I couldn't care less what Europeans, Canadians or Australians think of my country's foreign policy or its solution to the current problem of Iraq. I will accept criticism from our equals - and no country he named falls into that category.

Through world wars and the Cold War we have given our critics the freedom to espouse the opinions they do.

Germany, France, and Russia have strong financial interest in seeing that Saddam remains in power and that the U.N. sanctions are lifted.

The Canadians? Considering how they have gutted their own military in recent years they should be content to support us and continue to enjoy the freedoms they have, which they only enjoy because of their convenient geographic proximity to us. They can even join us as allies, providing their usual token number of soldiers to make themselves feel they are relevant in all of this.

Long after we have liberated the people of Iraq, who will no doubt be dancing in the streets once Saddam is dead, I am sure Mr. ******** will still be sucking up to every critic we have.

Unlike Mr. ********, I am not ashamed of our position at the top of the global food chain. We have earned it.

Realizing the type of person who had written, I emailed back only:

Subject: Re: skimpy bio

Does it matter?

And got this:

Actually it does......I can call myself "Professor" ******** easily enough. But with no record indicating where I teach it would mean nothing.

And responded:

Sure, but that still doesn't explain why you would care to know why I call myself that. Is there a reason you need to know?

If you really are concerned, you can certainly find information about me. You don't need me to tell you--though I will, if you really do have a legitimate need.

It's my decision to decide just how much information I wish to present on a web site. There are many who put up much less than I do. I am not required to put up more information.

However, if you have a good reason for wanting to know more about who I am and what I do, I certainly will give you more information.
As I have nothing to hide, and know that anyone who spends even a minute linking from my blog can find out all the details of my professional career, I left it at that.

Still, I continue thinking about Poe’s comment: “We take a dim view of such practices around here.” I have no worry that the Horowitz crowd will target me (frankly, I am not important enough), but the dampening of both freedom of speech and effective education that even such distant and implied threats forebodes does bother me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

It May Be Idiocy, But It Sure Ain't New

This last weekend's bill on Schiavo astonished me. And more: the image of Bush flying back to sign it--fleeing his own past where he had signed a Texas bill allowing hospitals to decide to disconnect indigent patients--confuses me. After all, most Americans (and, particularly, most conservatives) want to keep the government out of their personal affairs. This whole affair flies in the face of that. And in the face of common sense.

My confusion, my lack of understanding of why all this was happening, led me back to Barbara Tuchman and her book The March of Folly:

A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests.  Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity.  In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be.

That's how she starts the book.

Unfortunately, Tuchman provides no answers or antidotes for this phenomenon, merely chronicling it, as her subtitle says, "From Troy to Vietnam."

Still, in a very strange way, it is somehow comforting to know that our current leaders are no more idiotic than human leaders have been since the dawn of history.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Oh, what a tangled web we

we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

Sir Walter Scott's bad poetry? Sure. And didn't Al Franken say it all on the subject anyhow? Probably.

But I can't stay away from the lies.

Why does the right persist in telling lies, and retelling the lies even when they've been caught out. Even when they've admitted them? How do they justify themselves?

Kurt Vonnegut, in his Mother Night has a main character, Howard W. Campbell, Jr., who lied for a living and--according to him--lied for the allies in WWII while playing the Nazi propagandist.  In his "Editor's Note," Vonnegut writes:

To say that he was a writer is to say that the demands of art alone were enough to make him lie, and to lie without seeing any harm in it.

The demands of art. Hmmm. The demands of the end; the demands of the result.  If the result is good, there is no harm in the lie.
Maybe that's it (I don't really know, but I'm willing to posit that). But there's another side to it, and that's part and parcel of my not really knowing if that is it or not.

That is, we on the left don't know if the end is good, don't know if we are approaching truth or myth. Hell, we just aren't sure of much of anything.

We on the left are relatives of Joseph Heller's Chaplain A.T. Tappmann in Catch-22:

There was no way of really knowing anything, he knew, not even that there was no way of really knowing anything.

That makes us easily mainpulated by the Howard Campbell's of the world (whether they are really spies or not). We're not willing to stand up firmly for our beliefs, let alone expose the lies of others. After all, we recognize our limitations.

We are not true believers or even "false" true believers. So, no matter how egregious their lies, we cannot argue against them.  We haven't the arrogance of knowing that the end justifies the means.

Somehow, we need to find another way of getting our points across. We can't win by continuing to argue with the right--not when lying is its stock-in-trade.

The time for that kind of talk, as they say, is ending.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Thoreau on Schiavo

The right to life trumps the right to privacy? Since when did we have a hierarchy of rights? I thought all rights were created equal, so to speak.

There's something extremely confusing and dangerous going on right now, and this Schiavo case is at its center. People on the right are falling all over themselves to compromise their own principles.  And not just on rights, but on the place of government. And they are doing this even though the majority of the population thinks they are wrong.

But why? Why this extraordinary legislative action?
I have been reading Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience," and some of his comments are appropriate to the situation. Thoreau was an advocate of minimal government, just as the right is (supposedly). He wrote, as part of his explanation of his position:

The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.

And that is exactly what is happening now.  Our government is being stolen.  No longer does it reflect the will of the people.  Certainly, it doesn't in this case.

One of Thoreau's next statements would have seemed (before this weekend) to be at the center of the philosophy of the right:

For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it.

Yet they are forcing governmental intervention into the business of one specific family faced with a tragic situation.  Tragic, no matter the result.

Speaking of the government of his time, Thoreau wrote:

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today?  I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.

I have been horrified by our contemporary government for some years (though not as much as many of you, who have been screaming much louder than I--who may have been much more on the money than I). Until today, however, I had not felt disgraced by it. Move over, those of you much more radical than I have been, much more worried by the right: I want a seat on your bench.

This disgrace makes me extraordinarily angry, more so because I can't make any sense of it.

Not unless, and this scares me nearly to death, this is another wedge, another (but even more nefarious and calculated) step towards greater government in the name of less, of diminuition of individual rights in the name of greater needs.  Towards a totalitarianism formed in the name of freedom.

I hope not... but I fear, I fear.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

If the Fascist Shoe Fits...

The word "fascism," as many of you know, comes from the "fasci di combattinmento" of Mussolini conceived at the end of WWI. It means "bands of combattants." Most simply, it is the "true believers," those able to put aside differences permanently in an aggressive push for the common goal.

A great deal has been written and proposed as a basic philosophy for fascism, but it has been extremely hard to pin down. One thing has been at its core, both in Italy and Germany: a militant nationalism.
Bush may not be Mussolini or Hitler, but his rise to power does have similarities to their own. All three used a cadre of dedicated backers coupled with financial backing from high levels of corporations and industry.  All three first came to power through means of dubious legality. And all three started out with claims (soon proved false) of being unifiers, not dividers.

Those on the right who claim outrage at comparisons between behaviors of the current government with those of Hitler's Germany need to be a little more circumspect. The parallels only run so far (I pray), by they are certainly evident.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Emerson, No. 2

The other day, I wrote a diary quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson in relation to the blogs.  Today, allow me to continue:

Hundreds of writers may be found in every long-civilized nation, who for a short time believe, and make others believe,  that they see and utter truths, who do not of themselves clothe one thought in its natural garmet, but who feed unconsciously on the language created by the primary writers of the country, those, namely, who hold primarily on nature.

A lot of what passes for political thought, especially on the right, comes from this remove, from an unwillingness to grapple with things in themselves, but who see the world only through a patina of words.
Emerson goes on:

But wise men pierce this rotten diction and fasten words again to visible things...

Emerson is writing about the use of imagery in discussion, but the analogy can also be extended to contemporary political discussions.

Too many commentators talk about words, not about actual experience from direct knowledge of the world.  This allows them to retreat (sometimes accidentally, I must admit) into lies and distortions.  Discussions moves to who said what, and not about the issue at hand at all.

To me, what I see going on here at dKos and at the other left-leaning blogs is an attempt to take the words back, to use them once again to talk about things of the experiential world, of nature, instead of letting them be little more than comment in words on other words.  We are figting comments that don't illuminate, only obscure--and we will win.

Friday, March 18, 2005

They Never Seem to Learn

On his revitalized web site, Jeff Gannon calls himself "A voice of the new media." Yet his is only up to his old tricks.

Gannon was always a good argument for a little bit of training before going into the journalism field--more, certainly, than a two-day "institute.' Maybe he feels it his duty to continue to be a cautionary tale.

When a legitimate news outlet quotes someone, it either gives the source of the quote (along with the venue) or gathers the quote directly (through its own representative, generally the person whose by-line accompanies the story). For reasons both of self-protection and user verification, a clear line is presented between the source of the quote and the news outlet. Even in an opinion piece, where the "rules" are a little looser, the writer is expected to give at least the when and where of the quoted utterance.

Though Gannon's unprofessional lack of attribution has been frequently pointed out (and Gannon certainly is aware of what Media Matters For America has said about his work--he has even responded), he has not reformed his methods at all.  For example, in an article under his by-line and copyright, dated March 14, 2005 and titled "Bush Scores With Faith-Based Initiative Ruling," Gannon quotes Jim Towey as though he had been present when Towey spoke.  Certainly, he gives his readers no idea who was present or where he got the quote.

We can be assured Gannon himself was not at the briefing where Towey spoke.  He has become such a high-profile figure that his presence would have been noted. Where, then, did Gannon get his information? He does not tell us. If it was from a wire service, that service should be credited.  If he got it off the web, he should tell his readers what the site was.  But he does not.

Gannon is not reporting, even now, merely recycling the reporting done by others--and doing so without attribution. Anyone can do that; most of us would feel ashamed, though, if we did and called it "reporting."

Were I a working journalist, I would be outraged at Gannon and the many others now doing the same sort of thing. They are demeaning the profession.

Do I hear anything from the journalist community?

Just loud silence.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

"I am not solitary"

In Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes:

I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me.

Right you are, Ralphie.  Why is it, then, that so many so often put down bloggers as solitary beings cut off from human contact?

Even one of my office mates, a professor of professional writing, refuses to see the bloggers as more than solitary nerds unable to sustain real human contact.  

There's a further passage from Emerson that relates to blogging:

Standing on the bare ground,--my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifed into infinite space,--all mean egotism vanishes.  I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me...

That's what bloggers are at their best.  I hope others come to see it, too.  For this is where the truth is--not in any cliche of cut-off beings on the fringes of society.  

Posts From Old Blogs and dKos

I am going to be re-posting some of my old blogs from 2001 here, as well as my recent ones from dKos.

As you may see, I stopped blogging soon after 9/11, starting again seriously only in 2005.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Virtue of the Filibuster

In The Federalist No. 10, James Madison wrote:

By a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Factions, in Madison's view, are to be avoided--and to be stymied from taking the unchallenged control they desire.
In fact, Madison argues that  protection against domination of the whole by a faction "is the first object of Government."

He went on to write that, in a well-constituted republic:

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states: a religious sect, may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it, must secure the national Councils against any danger from that source: a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wiched project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union, than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.

The filibuster has been one part of what has been, to some extent at least, a republic whose checks and balances keep it from falling away from the vision of its founders.  That is, we've enough protection against the tyranny of factionalism to keep us from descending into fascism or totalitarianism.  Or, we have had.

Let the filibuster go, and we are taking a step down a very dangerous path--one our founding fathers warned us against.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Oh, How We Have Fallen!

In Citizen Soldiers, his book on the US Army in Europe in 1944 and 1945, Stephen Ambrose wrote:

The U.S. Army in its treatment of POWs compiled a record of decency and efficiency in an area in which all other countries, save Britian and Canada, must hang their heads in shame.

Once, we had much to be proud of.

Today, I am worried.  Ours really was, once, the greatest country on earth, morally and physically.  Now?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Commission For Africa Report

From the Introduction to the report:

Our starting point was the recognition that Africa must drive its own development.  Rich nations should support that...

Right... and if Africa is ever going to stand on its own feet, the rest of the world needs to stop telling Africans what to do.
There are plenty of competent Africans, people who can make appropriate decisions and support real development on that continent.  Sure, there are huge problems with corruption and government--but even these came about because of initial actions by outsiders--not by Africans.  The corrupt Africans certainly took advantage, but they are not the ones who made it so easy through their own arrogance and blind self-confidence.  We are.

[If anyone is interested, I co-wrote an article on the problems of African development (on a small, village scale) that appeared a couple of years ago in Parallax Online, a journal dedicated to globalization issues.]

Sure, we need to support Africa and Africans--financially, especially--but we should always remember to let them take the lead.  We (and by that I really mean the United States) have to stop telling other people what is good for them!

Surprise! Hypocrisy From "Focus on the Family"

Not a big one, but emblematic:

Yesterday, during an interview with Mel Gibson, James Dobson referred scathingly to critics of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ who spoke without having first seen the movie.

Later,  in the very same interview, Dobson criticized Million Dollar Baby, though he admitted he hadn't seen the movie.

He'd heard about it, he said.  That was enough.

Good enough when he wants to criticize, but not for others, I guess

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"Gannon" on Counterbias

A number of things Guckert said in relation to Counterbias's softball questions make comment almost too easy:
What would liberal bloggers do next that they could have any influence on? Character assassination and conspiracy theories seem to their niche.

One point about this is that it is a bit of a character assassination itself--characterizing the blogs without reading them.  Anyone who does read dKos or AMERICAblog, for examples, knows that the agendas are broad and vigorously followed.  Guckert's statement is clearly aimed at the deliberately uninformed.  Also, he statement about charater assassination and conspiracy actually reflects the blogs on the right more accurately--as anyone who really reads blogs knows.  Finally, Guckert's character has never been assassinated.  He actually did and said the things that have been brought to light!  If anything, he assassinated himself by his own actions.  As to conspiracies, well, the jury is still out, in his case.

Helen [Thomas] and I have always treated each other cordially. While I am sure we disagree on many issues, I would never want to interfere with her ability to be a journalist and I'm sure she feels the same towards me.

Amazingly, Guckert still believes he was taken seriously as a journalist!  What nerve this guy has!

But, then again, he would have to have nerve to even contemplate going from male escort to White House "journalist."

As far as my reporting, I am proud of my work over the past two years.

Yikes!  Proud of plagiarized articles?  Proud of presenting quotes lifted from websites as though he got them himself?  I won't bother to go on with this one!

I will continue to be Jeff Gannon.

Given that he is not Jeff Gannon, but James Guckert, this is a rather astonishing statement.  He was not a real journalist, he just played one on TV!  Now, somehow, he believes in that role.  Just astonishing.

Hey!  But what else could we expect?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bush: Getting Credit Where Credit May Not Be Due

Listening to so many who opposed the Iraq war, like NPR's Daniel Schorr, now saying that Bush may have been right, that his invasion of Iraq may have opened the door to democracy in the mideast, reminds me of a story my father told of an experience he had while serving in fighter control during the battle on Leyte Island and in Leyte Gulf in 1944.
Units like my father's were expected to secure an area, clear it, lay down a metal runway, set up a fuel depot and radio tower, and provide a haven for carrier pilots who could not make it back to the flat-top.  Once their initial tasks were completed, they would often have long periods of time with nothing to do.

Dad, seeing all the spare electronics parts lying around, decided to build himself a radio receiver.  He was proud of what he had constructed, so invited all of his buddies to the unveiling.

He was sure the thing would work and, when he plugged it in, the set immediately began receiving.  Everyone applauded.

But my father was confused.  He had plugged the set in, yes--but he had not turned it on.  He examined the set, trying to figure out how it was working.

The first thing he did was pull out one of the tubes (this, of course, being the days before transistors).  Then another.  Then another part.  His friends watched, starting to chortle.  Soon, my father was surrounded by all-out laughter.

He'd forgotten--they all had (because they lived with it and had for so long) that they were right next to a powerful radio transmitter, right under its tower.  Somehow, the vibrations were even in the power line, going from there to Dad's speaker.  The reception he was getting was more like that one hears about from a tooth; it was not reception through the device he had created.

To the end of his life, Dad used this story as a cautionary tale: if something is working and people think you did it, smile and nod.  Let them give you the credit, even though you may have no idea of what is going on or why the thing is working.

Bush and his cronies understand that lesson.  They claimed credit for the thaw in relations with Libya, saying that was a result of their tough stand vis-a-vis Iraq (even though it was the end result of a process that had started years before).

Now they are claiming that their invasion of a sovereign nation has sparked democracy in the mideast, basing their argument on the fact that they said it would, and that it does seem to be happening.

Well, my father said that radio would work--and it did.  But the responsibility was not his.

I think we will find that the reasons for what is going on in Palestine, Lebanon, and elsewhere are not related to the US invasion of Iraq, that there have been many other, more significant, forces at play.

In the meantime,  however, Bush is going to take as much credit as he can, deserved or underserved.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Why Be Honest?

This may be old hat to most of you, but it bears repeating:

From Plato to Leo Strauss and his neo-con children, the idea of the 'noble lie' has had a terrible fascination for those certain that they know best--yet who find their ideas rejected by the masses.  It's great; it gives them an excuse to manipulate without guilt.

Somewhere, deep in one of the so-called "think tanks" of the right, the "truth" of the need for the 'noble lie' is being pounded into more and more neophyte pundits, readying them to go out and lie to us with straight faces, secure in the "knowledge" that what they are doing is for our own good.

How else could there have developed the Ann Coulters, the Rush Limbaughs, the Bill O'Reillys, even the Cliff Kincaids?  How else could they sit in front of the cameras day after day, lying and lying again, doing so without apology?  Never even admitting the lie when they are caught?

It's too much a pattern; somewhere behind it must be a plan.  There must have been a directed discussion on this point, beginning twenty years ago or more, a discussion that David Brock was a part of when he wrote his Anita Hill book, a discussion that continues to this day (fortunately, Brock found he couldn't continue the lies and opted out).

It's a movement, an incredibly dangerous one, for it is inherently anti-democratic--even while its minions cheer the so-called "spread of democracy."  You cannot both support democracy, which is based, after all, on the idea that the people are competent to make decisions when given accurate information, and support lying to those very people.

Yet the members of this movement lie and lie.  And lie and lie.  They are destroying the very foundations of our republic.

Sorry if you've heard this too often but, in the face of consistent and increasing lying, pointing it out has to be consistent, too.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Spirit giveth life (to the blogs)

There's a Quaker statement from 1656 that, I think, says something important to us diarists and bloggers: "these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light that is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth light."
In my branch of the Society of Friends (Quakers) there is no hierarchy of the sort one finds in most institutions--especially religious ones.  There's no preacher, merely a clerk who convenes the Monthly Meeting for Business.  There are no elders, merely a committee of Ministry and Oversight.  These, like all of our other committee memberships and positions, are rotating: no one person can serve any function continually.  We try to keep away from anyone becoming the one who can tell others what to do.

There aren't many of us, but Quakers of this sort have been around for hundreds of years without falling into hierarchy.  It can be difficult: there are times when each of us secretly wishes to bash another over the head rather than hold her (or him) in the light.  Still, we have managed.

Recently, there has been talk about the blogs, that eventually someone is going to have to make some order of them, or they will never be taken seriously.

Looking back at the Quaker tradition, I disagree.  If they need committees, bloggers are perfectly able to constitute them, and to do so without compromising independence (reliance on the Spirit, not the letter)--and to do so without help from authority.  Already, bloggers hold each other to surprisingly high standards (I, at least, have been taken to task justifiably--and more than once) while respecting the rights of others to their views (well, for the most part... all right: there IS the troll thing... ).

The quote I give above often accompanies our Quaker books of Advice and Practice, the nearest thing we have to a creed.  We use it to remind ourselves to give advice and not rules.

To my way of thinking, the blogs will live as long as bloggers, too, stick to advice, not rules.  

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

On Being Left Behind

Sometimes, the legacy of the New Critics gets the best of me, and I end up getting carried away with a close reading.  That's happened today with "no child left behind" and the "left behind" books.
First, I have a sneaky suspicion that being "left behind" might not be such a bad thing.  I guess that goes back to my own education.  

Return with me, if you will, to a basement in a town in Michigan, circa 1967: a group of kids (including me) sitting around a turntable, listening (for the umpteenth time) to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's album "Freak Out," singing under our breath to the lyrics of "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" with its rejection of "the great midwestern hardware store philosophy that turns away from those who aren't afraid to say what's on their minds--the left behinds of the Great Society."

Even then, I wanted to be a "left behind."  I hated my school, and I did not do well there.  Nor had I in the one before, nor did I in the one after that.  I wanted out; I did not want to go in the direction "they" wanted to take me.

And I was not alone.

Today, the juggernaut I wanted to escape from goes on, but now its sights are set on heaven, not simply the Great Society here in this world (though many feel that is their earthly reward for the constancy of their belief).  Now, they have exhanged the idea that we "non-believers" (of whatever sort--then it was simply belief in the rewards of material gain) will be left behind in the quest for material goods for a grander vision, one that includes those goods and heaven too!  And, now, they have made my position even clearer.  In the sixties, I wanted to be left behind.  Now, "they" are telling me I will be left behind--and are telling me so with pride.

Used now in that series of books by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the phrase "left behind" carries with it a feeling (one that Frank Zappa was using ironically) that anyone with any sense wants to be on the train, the car, the boat, the plane, or--yes--the bus (Ken Kesey: even you were a bit elitist with your 'Are you on the bus or off the bus?').  It does not leave room for the millions of us who never wanted to go in that direction; it assumes that everyone should (at least).  There's a smugness in the phrase that I find distasteful, at the very least.

Deep down, there's also that coupling of "left" with "behind."  It's the left that is standing in the station (in this view) while the train to glory pulls out.  This one is certainly implicit in "no child left behind."  The sense is that "we" can do better, with our reliance on standards and testing, than did those leftists who so long controlled our schools (uh, not!).  Clear-eyed conservative guidance can undo the damage those fuzzy liberals have caused: that's the implication of "no child left behind."  (Thing is, it really doesn't consider the children or learning--but that's another topic).

Enough for now.  

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Christianity and the Ego

My understanding of the teachings of Jesus is that he encouraged people to believe and act for the love of God.  Their own salvation was not so much a goal but a reward.

Today's Rapturists seem to have turned that around: They have made the reward their goal; love of God isn't important to them for its own sake, but because it brings them salvation.
It becomes an ego thing, not a love thing.

I know: I am only going to attract trolls by this--but I couldn't help writing it after listening to Air America yesterday morning, when they interviewed one of the guys who has written that "left behind" series.

So I'll leave it at that!