Monday, January 30, 2006

A Funeral Dirge for the Republic?

With Alito set to join the Supreme Court, we can only assume that our beloved republic is facing the last, painful moments of her life. Rather than seek to eradicate the fatal but curable illness that has sapped the strength of our fair lady Democracy, Dr. Republican and Nurse Democrat are standing by to assist in her suicide. The fatal dose will be a cocktail of executive power toxins, an anti-balance-of-powers drought, and a poison sure to eradicate all of those pesky, unwanted civil liberties. Without quick, positive action to deliver the antidote, a return to true participatory democracy and massive protest, we who have loved her too well to watch her die will be helpless to save her. Will she rest in peace or rage against the dying of the light?

A few words to assist in applying the antidote:
"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
--Mahatma Ghandi

"In this revolution, no plans have been written for retreat.
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

The revolution will be televised... and webcast... and blogged!
Personally, I think of it this way. The first of my ancestors came to what would be the United States approximately 15,000 years ago. This land is my birthright. This nation is my home. Albeit by negative example, this country has taught me to love freedom to dearly and too well to stand silent while it is taken away. I can never surrender. I will not retreat. I must and will fight with all that I'm worth until they tear what's left of my liberties from my cold, dead hands.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Dichotomy And The Lie

Liberals are big government. Conservatives are small government. This dichotomy is widely propounded in the media, accepted on face value by conservatives and liberals alike. When conservative administrations push big government legislation and policies, liberals proclaim them hypocrites while conservatives accuse them of treason against traditional conservative values.

In the latest big v. small government battle, former Attorney General John Ashcroft's attempted nullification of Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law has been found unconstitutional and the law upheld as constitutional in a 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court, despite the Bush administration's opposition. According to the court, Ashcroft's directive was a violation of the traditional separation of powers between the federal government and the states.

Responses to this decision and the administration's stance have called up the big government/small government dichotomy that supposedly embodies the liberal/conservative divide and has been fodder for ever so many political campaigns of years past. In this week's Newsweek, conservative columnist George F. Will has come out in support of the court's decision and in opposition to the administration's stance on the basis of the "traditional conservative values" of states' rights and small government. In a skillful display of buck-passing, Will claimed that the dissent by the court's three most conservative justices -- Scalia, Thomas, and the new Chief Justice Roberts -- "could be characterized as liberal -- judicial activism favoring the federal government's aggrandizement of its power at the expense of federalism." Will also asks, "So, what is conservative about conservatives' complaints about the court's decision?"

Considering how integral this dichotomy has become to modern political debate, it would be interesting, one would assume, if it were to be, I don't know, a big fat lie. Guess what? It is. Policy standpoints and political ideals are not static. What is liberal in one time period or circumstance would be conservative in another and vice versa. Some standard attributes of the two schools of thought remain static over time, but those are limited.

For instance, consider the very founding moment of our democracy, when the Continental Congress and prominent citizens were debating the nature of the new federal government. It was the liberals who wanted the federal government to be small, because they associated a "big" or strong federal government with monarchy and oppression. Conservatives of the day wanted the federal government to be "big" or strong because they felt that the government should work to further the interests of the wealthy minority and to protect this minority from the "unwashed masses," not that the liberals had a much better view of those masses.

Throughout history, each side has "flip-flopped" many times, wanting either a big or small government depending on which would fit their ideals and agenda at the time or for that particular issue. Conservatives wanted a strong federal government to send in the troops to break labor strikes so that wealthy industrialists could go back to making money. They wanted a weak government to stay out of their business decisions, rather than regulating industry in the name of labor or consumer rights. Liberals wanted a big government to ensure workplace protections and to regulate food quality. They wanted a small government to stay out of local labor disputes.

In our modern times, liberals have been more likely to call for a big government to protect civil liberties, to ensure equal opportunity, to create a safety net against the instabilities of the marketplace, and to protect citizens against oppression by the states. They've wanted a small government to stay out of what they consider personal affairs: reproductive rights, assisted suicide, end-of-life decisions, religion, etc.

Conservatives on the other hand, have wanted a small government to deregulate industry and to not intefere with the states' decisions to legalize segregation, ban abortion, or legislate "morality." They've wanted a big government to bail out major industries, promote industry-friendly trade policies, and control dissent.

Often, as in the case with Will's stance on the court's Oregon decision, a liberal and a conservative can come to the same conclusion for different reasons. Will and some other conservatives take the states' rights stance to support the decision and oppose the administration's position. Liberals are in favor of the decision and against the administration's position, because they want the government to stay out of "end-of-life" decisions, which are deemed a private matter. Both are small government positions taken for two very different reasons.

As Will's article proves, conservatives can disagree on the same decision based on their own personal view. On one side, the administration's stance is an attack on states' rights. On the other, the law violates the "morality" of the religious right and other conservatives. The size of the government is not the only "conservative" consideration, instead this is a battle of competing conservative values. Liberalism has nothing to do with it.

So, why the lie? Because it has worked in the past and continues to work now, mainly for the conservatives. The lie allows them to sell themselves as the party of personal responsibility, while the other guy is "stealing" your tax dollars to pay for "welfare queens," "racial quotas," and "queers." It also allows them to pander to small-town prejudices. After all, you know what's right for your community, not those guys in Washington. And finally, when a conservative administration gets caught in its "big government" ways or conservative justices vote against a decision they like, it can be "characterized as liberal." The lie is a convenient weapon in the conservative arsenal. It's time that we disarm them once and for all.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

An Angry Jewish Rant

I've decided to give myself permission to have an agry rant once in a while. If screamed or printed invective upsets you, read no further. This is not intended to be a logical or reasonable argument for any political point. I'm just a really pissed off Jew right about now. So, here's the rant:

Stop f***ing comparing everything and everyone you don't like to Hitler and the Holocaust, you stupid freaking jackasses! I don't care if you're liberal or conservative. I don't care how legitimate your complaint is about these people or practices. I don't care how bad or evil they are. He or she is not Adolf freaking Hitler! And (put your favorite form of murder against the unborn, animals, people, etc. here) is not the Holocaust! You are degrading the lives and deaths of tens of millions of people with your stupid, exaggerated analogy and making yourself and by extension your ideas look like the dumb side of ignorant! Here's a little history lesson for you.

Hitler was a subhumanly brutal, psychotic, megalomaniacal dictator who planned and carried out an obsessively organized plot to overthrow the government of Germany, invade and occupy all of Europe, parts of Asia, and much of Africa; exterminate 12 million civilians (6 million of them Jews); create a climate of such terror in his own country that no one would speak out publicly; and start a world war leading to the deaths of tens of millions of soldiers and civilians. George W. Bush is not Hitler! Saddam Hussein is not Hitler! Despite being a really big dyke, I would rather get down on my knees and suck the Shrub's and Saddam's shriveled little dicks than shake hands with Hitler any day of the damned week, even the Sabbath.

The Holocaust was the organized, systematic persecution and murder of 12 million people in an attempt to wipe out entire groups of people, entire cultures, and one of the world's major religions from the face of the earth. And lets not forget the mass sterilization and "euthanasia" committed against 200,000 Germans. Or the Kristallnacht pogrom. Or the SS death squads that, according to their own records, executing more than one million Jews, Gypsies, members of the intelligentsia, and other political undesirables. Or the boiling hot/freezing cold train cars filled with people packed in tighter than we permit animals going to slaughter to be packed, for days with no food, water, or sleep! Or the forced labor concentration camps, the slave labor camps set up in occupied territories, and the extermination camps where most who entered died within 24 hours. Or the use of slave labor in German industry. Or the brutal, torturous human experimentation, much of it performed on children. These people--after suffering as much as the Nazis could make them suffer--were killed by starvation, disease, mass shootings, electrocution, beatings, exposure, hypothermia, heat exhuastion, lethal injection, gassing, and much more!

Legal abortion is not the Holocaust! Assisted suicide is not the Holocaust! Industrial slaughterhouses and farms are not the Holocaust! The secret and not-so-secret prisons of the "war on terror" are not the Holocaust! Neither Saddam Husseins vengeful murder of Kurds and Shia nor his infamous torture rooms are the Holocaust! Nothing is the Holocaust! It may be genocide. It may be systemic brutality. It may be a crime against humanity. But it is not and never will be the Holocaust!

The next time you even think about comparing anyone or anything to Hitler or the Holocaust, I want you to go to a Holocaust museum or Auschwitz or the Anne Frank House. Then, find someone who survived the death camps or the slave labor camps or the Nazi occupation. Ask them to tell you what it was really like with the real Hitler during the real Holocaust. If they've got a number tattooed on their arm or some other horrible scar from those days, stare at it really hard for a really long time. Then, lift your head, look them in the eyes, and tell them how appropriate you think your little analogy is. Tell them that so-and-so is just like Hitler. Tell them that such-and-such is just like the Holocaust. If you can actually open your mouth to say such a vile and reprehensible thing, then you have either no brain or no soul.

Evolution v. Intelligent Design: Countering the Mythology

I, like so many others, have been following the evolution vs. intelligent design debate rather closely. It is both disheartening and infuriating that this public debate has been full of lies, half-truths, intellectual dishonesty, and logical fallacy.
Part of this is the media's fault, as usual. Some media coverage has been biased towards one side to the extent of misrepresenting the other. Other coverage, following the fallacy of balance and its half-assed practice in today's mainstream media, has simply pitted one irrational, dogmatic extremist against another and ignored the complexity of the issues.
The media, however, cannot take all of the blame. The state of the current debate on this topic is far too dependent on the ignorance of the masses. Science education and education in general are in such a poor state that most people don't have the information and tools necessary to understand the topics, much less to argue them.
Rather than arguing for one side or the other, which will change nothing, I'll weigh in here on the useless noise and nonsense that passes for "truth" and the basic facts people need to get a full grasp on each "side's" strengths and weaknesses. I will not claim to have achieved the ever-elusive ideal of objectivity, just that I'm trying to be fair. However, my readers have a right to know my biases if they're going to determine my reliability. So, here they are: I'm a believing Jew, an evolutionist, and an intellectual committed to honesty and courage in the realm of ideas. Now, let's get to the good stuff.
Is evolution fact or theory? Well, it's both. It all depends on how you use the word evolution. Unfortunately, the distinctions between fact and theory have been ignored in the mainstream debate so that both sides can make their arguments appear stronger than they are. The fact of evolution is simply that the many forms of life have changed and increased in number over time. I will refer to this fact as "biological change" from now on to prevent confusion. (References to "evolution" will refer to the theory.) The theory of evolution attempts to explain how and why biological change happened in the first place and continues to do so. Evolution, however, has nothing to do with the origin of life, only how different types of life arose from one or multiple common ancestors. There is currently no single, widely accepted scientific theory as to how life came to exist in the first place.
Opponents of evolution have claimed that it is "just a theory." They're right, but what does that mean? It doesn't mean that evolution is just a wild idea some old guy pulled out of his hat in the nineteenth century. Evolution is simply not a proven fact. Science doesn't work with certainty or claims of absolute truth. A scientific theory is, amongst other things, provisional and correctable. In other words, a theory is the best and most widely accepted explanation we have for the evidence right now, but it may not be correct. Further evidence can uphold, alter, or disprove the theory. As Einstein said, "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." This is science.
This is also why Darwin's theory and modern evolution are two very different things. Darwin's work laid the scientific foundation for the theory, but other scientists have improved it based on new evidence that Darwin didn't have and on the theories of other scientists. Some intelligent design proponents have tried to use Darwin's admission of possible flaws in his theory to discredit modern evolution. This is ridiculous, since a flaw in Darwin's version does not necessarily apply to or disprove the more advanced modern theory.
This modern version is currently the best explanation for biological change, but it does not "disprove" the existence of the supernatural or an intelligent designer. Neither evolution specifically nor science generally has anything to do with the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural. Science "assumes" that their is a natural explanation for everything and that supernatural explanations are unnecessary as a basic working principle. This assumption is also provisional, so science makes no claim that it is absolutely true.
Of course, many have argued that evolution makes the supernatural "unnecessary," therefore the supernatural does not exist. Regardless of the actual existence of the supernatural, this assertion is simply wrong. Existence doesn't depend on necessity. Evolution itself refutes this. A random mutation may create something that is not necessary to the species. Later, this characteristic may become useful or destructive, but its very existence had nothing to do with necessity, only randomness.
So, now, we move on to intelligent design. Here, too, there is some confusion as to the meaning of those words, confusion that both "sides" have dishonestly exploited. There is an intelligent design theory and an intelligent design movement. They're not the same thing. Basic ID theory is that natural explanations aren't enough and that the evidence "implies" an intelligent cause behind it all. The ID movement is the political agenda of those trying to get ID into schools and/or evolution out of them or to force schools to play down the validity of evolution.
First, opponents of the idea state simply that ID theory is not scientific. Again, they're right, but not in the way you think. Saying that ID is not scientific has nothing to do with its validity as an idea. Science operates within certain set rules, as discussed earlier. ID violates the founding scientific "assumption" that there are natural explanations for everything. Science simply isn't the right field for a debate on the existence of the supernatural. An analogy might be useful here: If your car is giving you trouble, you don't take it to a doctor. The doctor doesn't have the knowledge or tools to assess your car's "health." In the same vein, if you want to examine the existence of a deity or deities, angels, ghosts, etc., you don't go to a scientist. You go to a philosopher or metaphysicist or theologian, because they at least have the right tools and information.
Although the existence of an intelligent designer is outside the realm of science, some of the minor claims of intelligent design can and perhaps should be examined scientifically. For example, the claim of specified complexity is easy to examine without violating scientific standards. Opponents of ID within the scientific community simply have to answer three questions according to the evidence: 1. Does specified complexity exist in nature? 2. If not, why does it appear to exist? 3. If so, how can it be explained without appealing to a supernatural cause?
Now, what about the movement? First, not every proponent of the theory is in favor of the political movement's full agenda even if their research is being financed by it. We will include as a proponent only those who believe that it is a "scientific" theory, not those who may appreciate the idea from a philosophical or theological standpoint. On a program called Uncommon Knowledge, Jonathan Wells, a biologist and senior fellow at the now-infamous Discovery Institute, said, "Well, I think intelligent design is a scientific theory but I would not require students to study it because it's too new." Wells, misguided as he may be on that point, at least has the honesty to admit that ID theory is not yet developed enough to be included in the science curriculum.
But, you may ask, don't they argue that students should be taught that evolution is flawed, that it's "just a theory"? Yes, but what's wrong with that as long as it's done honestly? Students in any science class should be taught that any scientific theory is correctable and provisional. Teaching that any theory is perfect or absolutely "correct" or even completely provable is dishonest and promotes a kind of dogmatic orthodoxy that contradicts the fundamental ideals of science. On the other hand, students should not be led to believe that these possible flaws completely discredit the theory or that intelligent design theory is "scientifically" as valid as or better than evolution.
"But they're out to destroy science and the American way of life!" Hold on, Chicken Little, it's not as bad as you think. Yes, some extremists within the movement would love to replace science with biblical literalism and destroy the separation between church and state. Some proponents, on the other hand, simply believe in the theory and think their ideas should be given equal value with evolution. They may be wrong. They may be misguided. But they're not all bent on destruction. Some are actual scientists committed to discovery and explanation, regardless of the validity of their ideas. (The best amongst them know, like Jonathan Wells, that the theory, whatever its strengths, simply isn't there yet.)
Finally, despite the most heartfelt desires of the right wing extremists and their ill-fated agenda or the claims of orthodox evolutionists, intelligent design proves neither biblical creationism nor Christianity. At its best, the theory may be able to provide some convincing philosophical arguments for the existence of an intelligent designer, but it can never prove that the designer created the world in six days or that this is the deity of any particular religion. Religious doctrine depends on the divine inspiration of sacred texts, the identity of prophets and messiahs, and the validity of moral guidelines. These are all outside the focus of the theory.
So, this is the basic framework of the real debate. Any arguments about the truth of the ideas should operate within it. Intellectual honesty requires that we assess each idea based on its actual strengths and weaknesses and that we avoid discrediting an idea based solely on our commitment to our own competing doctrines and orthodoxies. Intellectual courage demands we do so despite our irrational fears that entertaining an idea that opposes our own will somehow destroy the foundations of our favored systems of thought. Giving an idea fair and reasonable consideration doesn't mean that we're promoting any opposing agenda or weakening our own.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Convict the Real Criminals

Yet another low level officer has been convicted for one of innumerable war crimes in Iraq. Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, Jr., was found guilty of negligent homicide in the death of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who died in custody in 2003.

I'm not going to argue that Welshofer shouldn't be convicted for his crime -- although three years seems a bit light as a punishment for killing someone who was completely helpless at the time -- however, I will argue that we need to go much further. Why aren't we investigating the real criminals: George W. Bush and the high ranking officers under his command?

Bush is the commander-in-chief of the United States military. He sets the tone for the conduct of war. He and his administration have created those murky grey areas where officers like Welshofer operate. He and his administration are (whether through direct orders, implications, creating an "environment," or simple incompetence) responsible for establishing war crimes as standard operating procedure in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and secret CIA prisons around the world. He is, at the least, seriously derelict in his duty to ensure that our men and women in uniform conduct themselves in accordance with U.S. and international law.

So, too are the generals and other officers in the field derelict in their duty to enforce the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Geneva Conventions, and the rules of war. "I didn't know," the favored claim of officers in charge of prisons and interrogation sites, is less than an excuse. It's an admission of dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer. It is their duty to know and to ensure that all operations under their command are conducted within the bounds of the law.

But why aren't we investigating these real criminals? Because any real investigation would determine that these war crimes aren't isolated incidents or cases of low level grunts taking matters into their own hands out of confusion, ignorance, or cruelty. This is standard operating procedure. War crimes are far more widespread than these few famous cases reveal.

No, I wasn't there, but I was smart enough to read a book by someone who was and you should be too. Your current reading assignment: Love My Rifle More Than You by Iraqi veteran, former Army sergeant and Arabic interpreter Kayla Williams. Williams will give you a guided tour through the realities of this war built on lies and a first-rate education on the crimes committed not just against Iraqis but against every woman in uniform.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Katrina: Going Home Again

Eight thousand people (out of a normal 70,000) have returned to hurricane-ravaged St. Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans. Some have returned just to reclaim what they can before moving on or because they can't imagine going anywhere else. Many, like my friends Linda and Roy mentioned in this NY Times article, are deperate for normalcy and lonely for home, not just the place but the people. But even as they begin to rebuild, they ask themselves whether they should. No one knows the ultimate fate of this area. The government could come in with new building codes, making their rebuilding efforts moot. Or it could decide that any one of their neighborhoods is best for "greenspace reclamation" rather than reconstruction. No one knows how many or how few of the former residents will come home again and what home will look like years from now.

Most of my family lived in this area before Katrina. My sisters and brothers and I grew up here. Although I lived in New Orleans prior to the storm, this is what I thought about in the days and weeks following that horrible summer day. This is what I still mourn for now.

Home. The street where I learned to ride a bike. The park where I played volleyball and tennis, my little brother played soccer, and my nephews/nieces played soccer, baseball, and basketball. The movie theatre where I fell in love with B movie horror. The elementary school theatre where I sang in our high school's production of Little Shop of Horrors. The places where I taught my nephews/nieces how to throw and catch, how to swing a bat, how to dribble. The crawfish boils and barbecues in sun-drenched back yards. The much-welcomed water fights in the drenching heat. Sneaking over the levees to go swimming. The pick-up games of football before the boys realized I had boobs. The pool hall where I learned to take teenaged boys for their money. Just beat 'em and you play all day. All the little hangout spots where my friends would congregate when school was out. The restaurant where I had my first real job.

Each of these memories has so many faces attached. Friends. Family. Classmates. Teachers. Teammates. Neighbors. Ex-girlfriends. The innocent crushes of youth that shifted with every hormone surge. So many faces that I may never see again.

I'm gone to stay. So is my family, no matter how desperately we miss the place. Not everyone can or will go home again. But it's nice to see some people have.

Situation Normal: All Fucked Up

QUOTE But he knows the life ahead of him is unlikely to match the one he had planned, in which he was going to attend college and become a teacher, get married and have children. Now, he hopes to volunteer in a school. His girlfriend from before he went to war is now just a friend. Before he left, they had agreed they might talk about getting married when he got back.
"But I didn't come back," he said. UNQUOTE

This quote is from Jason Poole, a 23-year-old Marine corporal, featured in the New York Times article linked to above about the new faces of the "walking wounded" returning from Iraq. This is war. This is why we don't send young men to fight unnecessary, illegal, and unjustified wars. The sacrifices they make of their lives, their livelihoods and their sanity should never be made in vain. They should never be made for a lie. When we talk of George W. Bush lying to get us into this war, the cost in dollars isn't the problem. This is the problem. This is the real cost. This and the lives of 2,225 soldiers so far, so many of them so damned brave and far too young.

"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" How do you ask a man to give himself and everything he associates with the word "I" for a lie?

"But I didn't come back." Corporal Jason Poole, United States Marine Corps, Age 23
Semper Fi, Jason.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Real Enemy

Osama bin Laden is at it again. He's just come out of hiding to release a tape threatening attacks within the United States and offering a "truce" on so-called "fair" but unnamed terms. Weren't we supposed to be kicking this guy's ass? Wasn't he the main enemy in this "war on terror" in which too many young Americans have given their lives? Have we forgotten?

No, we haven't. We, the people of the United States -- especially those of us who were in New York, DC, or near that Pennsylvania field on 9/11 -- have not forgotten. We'll be seeing this guy and that day in our nightmares for years. Our "leaders" have, but that's old news.

It only took six months for George W. Bush to go from demanding Osama "dead or alive" to claiming, "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." (3/13/02) A year after that, we were off to fight the "real enemy" in Iraq, because of course Saddam Hussein had "nuke-u-lar" weapons and was an immediate threat to America.

Of course, it's also old news that the nerd crew over at MythBusters have built more dangerous weapons than Hussein and probably have more technological skill and equipment than anyone who was under the employ of the dictator we all loved to hate. But Bush had his "priorities."

Surely, the resources used to "liberate" Iraq could have been better spent on catching Osama and securing the homeland. Despite all the chest thumping involved in setting up the Department of Homeland Secuirty, it's also old news that America's security is only slightly more effective than it was on Sept. 10, 2001. In fact, even Bush admininstration officials like Rumsfeld and Cheney have admitted that another attack is inevitable. Bush's priorities again. It is, after all, more important to make sure that your friends have highly paid, influential jobs with fancy titles than to actually do the job you're supposed to be doing.

Here's the new news. The leader of the organization that managed to infiltrate our country and carry out the largest terror attack in history is threatening to do it again. It's highly unlikely that bin Laden is making an empty threat just to scare us, because he knows very well that our military isn't going to just pack up and go home. He's just making sure it looks like he gave us a chance before blowing up innocent people.

We all remember where we were on 9/11. Now, we get to remember where we were on (insert date of pending terrorist attack of unknown nature but known origin here). We can all imagine now what we'll feel then and what we'll want done, but I wonder: What will our president's priorities be?

He'll probably make sure we take it to the "real enemy" and attack Canada. They have oil too, you know. And that constant niceness must be a cover for something. I'm sure some of their leaders have probably harbored dreams of "weapons of mass destruction" or "weapons of mass destruction related programs." Hey, they even have an attack plan and so do we. So, we don't have to worry about being caught with our pants down or our Humvees unarmored this time.

Remember the atrocities they committed against Native Canadians back in the day? We'll be welcomed as liberators. Really, we will. Plus, we won't have to worry about not speaking the language of the country we invade. Except Quebec, but they're French, so....

Yeah. That's the plan. As soon as bin Laden attacks, we invade Canada and take Irshad Manji captive. She's Muslim. So what if she's a liberal, innocent, and a courageous critic of the Islamic "foundamentalists." She might know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows Kevin Bacon... erm... I meant Osama. And hey, many Islamic fundamentalists have "corresponded" with her. We can just confiscate her hate mail. There's got to be loads of valuable intelligence data there that can help us find Osama or at least someone who may have seen one of his tapes.

So, that's our next "priority." Who cares if it does nothing to further our cause or secure our nation? Are you anti-American or a secret Canadian operative or something? Just what have you been reading? Oh, we'll find out. You can be sure of that. Support our troops.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Blame Them!

"Blame the liberals!" echoes from the walls of conservative strongholds. "The liberals have ripped the moral fabric of America to shreds. It's their fault that we have all this rampant homosexuality, divorce, abortion, crime, teenage pregnancy, unwanted and abandoned children, dysfunctional families,.... Blame the liberals!"

The conservatives regularly decry the breakdown of morality in America. It would be nice to just say that they're wrong on everything, nice but intellectually dishonest. There has been a breakdown in "morality," although we liberals prefer the term "social stability." So many things are more common now in an increasingly destabilized America, not all of them negative despite the conservative rhetoric.

The easy finger-pointing at the opposition, however, is where conservative "logic" becomes detached from reality and burgeons into insane, dogmatic high drama. It would be nice to acquit my fellow liberals of the petty psychodrama of this bizarre "blame game," nice but intellectually disonest. We've all had a role in the insane struggle to get all the social ills game pieces on our opponent's side of the board. Somehow, this is how we've come to measure victory, not on the strength of our own positive accomplishments but in ensuring that all the negatives are viewed solely as the other guy's fault.

Intellectual dishonesty and cowardice are the orders of the day. We spin and spin until the poll numbers turn out in our favor, until our side has the upper hand in the battle to win minds and votes. Real progress becomes a political strategy, not a goal.

We push for what sells, not for what works. Finding what works would require an honest assessment of our own failures as well as our opponent's. Sadly, few have enough commitment to honesty and courage to admit their own faults and limitations in the name of progress. Even fewer are willing to make the sacrifices that justice, freedom, and progress demand. Doing is far harder than selling, too hard for most.

Restabilizing our society will require both sides to face the inadequacies of the status quo. We have to abandon the easy rhetoric and sound bite mentality that make us popular, but can never make us right. We must reinject logic, reason, honesty, courage, and unvarnished self-reflection into the ways that we assess and address the problems of our society.

So, let's begin with just a few things we can all do with a little less of, shall we?

For my fellow liberals: Stop pretending that how someone says something is nearly as important as what they're saying. Political correctness and mastery of the euphemism of the day are supposed to demonstrate respect for human dignity. They can neither create nor replace it. A bigot can use the "right" word just as well as you. On the other hand, a lot of people who truly respect other human beings just aren't up on their p.c. vocabulary. Applauding those who only use the correct words grants refuge to ignorance and condescension. Marginalizing those who have the right thoughts but not the correct words can only harm our pursuit of a better world.

In the same vein, drop the jargon. Using big words doesn't make you intelligent or right. In communication, this obsessive focus on demonstrating your intellectual "superiority" in order to prove the value of your ideas is just noise and nonsense. Let's try communicating instead of masturbating, okay? We have to be able to talk clearly and realistically with the people we fight for, because we need their input to succeed. Clear, realistic, and often simple language is the only means to both clarity of thought and successful communication.

For my conservative opponents: Stop pretending that holding something as an ideal is the same as having it in reality. Yes, pure egalitarianism and meritocracy are very nice things to believe in, but they don't exist. It would be nice to say that everything is just personal responsibility because everyone has the same chance, but it just is not true. Until it is, individualism without restraint is disastrous, injust, un-American, and unholy.

For everyone: Stop the demonizing. Yes, true evil exists. Some people will simply never be decent human beings. But painting the opposition with that old "the worst/weakest amongst you is you" brush doesn't get us anywhere. Ignore the extremists and their complete detachment from reality and total lack of reason and/or compassion. It's too easy to knock down straw men to make yourself feel and look better, but your fantasy of superiority will never create real and lasting change. Face your opponent as he is, yourself as you are, and watch the world change before your very eyes.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Welcome to My New Home

Liberals In Exile has moved due to hacker damage. So, welcome to my new home. I began Liberals In Exile on Blue Lemur with a letter to the world. I'm reposting it here for old times' sake.:

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,--
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
--Emily Dickinson--

This blog will be, amongst other things, my letter to the world. I will rarely speak of myself or my personal life, unless the intersection of personal and political demand it. Instead, this will be a running account of my thoughts on the social, political, and cultural events of our day. However, as I've often found it helpful to know at least a bit about the person behind the ideas in my own reading, I'll open with a brief personal introduction that, I hope, will give you a fuller, more nuanced understanding of my scribblings.
I was born into the lower classes of the Deep South and was raised in the area that comprises the Bible belt. From my Southern roots, I inherited a substantial traditional streak when it comes to personal character and responsibility to the interests of the community. From my experiences with the deprivations and degradations of poverty, I learned a radical, proto-socialist view of economic justice and the myth of the American dream.
For most of my life, I was an above-average, overall "good kid." (This is, unfortunately, with the exception of the many neighborhood fights I engaged in due either to some slight against myself or attack on my little brother, the runt.) I excelled in academics, dabbled in sports, actively participated in extracurriculars, attended church regularly, and volunteered my time to organizations like the Special Olympics. I was even a cheerleader my freshman year and JROTC cadet sophomore year.
Perhaps I would have remained the "All-American" kid if I were not, as a friend has described me, "militantly engaged" in the world around me. As it was, experience and education eventually led me to a personal and political transformation.
First, an encounter with my 8th grade Louisiana history teacher forced me into an acute awareness of my racial background. To the casual observer's eye, I appear to be just another blonde haired, blue eyed "white" girl. Only a select few have noticed that my coloring is simply a result of recessive genes inherited from my two biracial parents or that my facial features are rather non-Caucasian. My teacher was, unfortunately, of the first category and so felt comfortable insulting Native Americans in a classroom lecture on the state's early days. Her error was quickly corrected by my infuriated "Excuse me?!" and another student's comment on my Native American background.
Before this, my awareness of my heritage was limited to my family's discussion of our lineage and the occasional comment from a relative about how I had inherited this or that physical characteristic from my non-white ancestors. Afterwards, I pursued my heritage with a vengeance that led to a more radical view of what it meant to be Native American, to "pass for white" and to be biracial in a country obsessed with the white-black dichotomy.
Later, at the age of 16, I discovered that I had been raised to believe something about myself that was wholly untrue. Like everyone else, I was socialized with the understanding that I was heterosexual. Unlike most, I wasn't. The discovery of my "lesbianism", the process of coming out, the loss of so much due to my sexual orientation, and my pursuit of information and education to guide me in my "new identity" radicalized me perhaps far more than anything else.
It took a long time to temper the rage that filled me when I was suddenly an object of discrimination, harassment, ridicule, and even physical attack. After being forced to leave home and school for the sake of my physical and psychological survival, I went on a three year binge of sex, alcohol, and self-discovery. More than a decade later, I am comfortable with being gay. I am not now, nor will I ever be, comfortable with the treatment of LGBT people in this country. Much of my work as an "activist", writer, and journalist has focused on the injustices of a homophobic/heterosexist society.
I am no longer the "All-American" kid. I'm a biracial, Jewish (I converted.) lesbian and liberal to the core. I'm a creative rebel with a lot of causes. I'm a pragmatic democratic socialist with influences by Plato, Aristotle, Thorstein Veblein, John Stuart Mill, Upton Sinclair, George Orwell, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and many others. I am a radical in a nation where the acceptable "left" is still right of center. I'm a liberal in exile. Which leads us to my "qualifications." I have a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of New Orleans and a Master's in journalism from NYU. I am a perpetual student obsessed with history, philosophy, and politics. I am a Raw Story columnist, Altar Magazine book reviewer, the former associate editor of a small LGBT mag in New Orleans, and a freelance journalist appearing in various mags from time to time. Like most young writers, I'm still struggling to build a career in difficult economic times. (The cycle of poverty is, to my great distress, not as easily broken as some would claim. Talent, hard work, and education are rarely "enough" in and of themselves.) With time and effort and a stubborn streak wider than the Mississippi, I'm certain to succeed eventually. Perhaps I'll be one of those rags to riches stories you read about from time to time.
Until then, this blog is my letter to the world with hope that someday, the world will answer.