Do you think David Brooks writes these editorials with a straight face, or is he laughing at his own lies all the way through?
A couple of comments on this:
1. Brooks says "Which candidate fundamentally gets the evil represented by this man [Bin Laden]?" Brooks obviously thinks that it is Bush who gets it, but I don't know how he could say this since instead of actually going and getting Bin Laden, Bush decided to invade Iraq instead. Seeing that video could make you think, "Oh yeah, I remember Osama Bin Laden. Didn't he kill 3000 Americans a few years ago?" because he is so far under the radar screen of the Bush administration and thus, the press. Does Bush really get how evil Bin Laden is? Maybe, but if so he sure doesn't seem to care that much. Does Kerry get how evil Bin Laden is? Yes.
2. Brooks blames Kerry for getting political with Bin Laden and 9/11 and claims that Bush took the high road when seeing the video. Can he actually say this without laughing? It takes an incredible amount of selective memory to say that Bush didn't politicize 9/11. But God bless the man, he can lie to himself with the best of them.
3. Brooks does remember enough about Osama though to attack Kerry for saying that we shouldn't have used local troops to get Bin Laden but that we should use local troops in Iraq. Um, Dave, they're 2 very different things. Of course when you are trying to rebuild a nation, you need to use local troops to establish legitimacy for a new government. Otherwise, it would be even more obvious to Iraqis and the rest of the world that we are really just an occupying, imperialist force. But when you are chasing the biggest villain in the world in rugged country and in a land where the loyalties of everyone are in question, it is absolutely stupid, irresponsible, and criminal to use the troops of Afghan warlords instead of highly trained American fighters to go and get Bin Laden.
Has the Times ever had a columnist as bad as David Brooks?
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Do you think David Brooks writes these editorials with a straight face, or is he laughing at his own lies all the way through?
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Am I being a total asshole by saying that the US should not be spending millions of dollars in usually unsuccessful attempts to recover the remains of US soldiers killed in Vietnam? If you have time check out the article on these missions by Caroline Alexander in the October 25 issue of The New Yorker. (I would link this but The New Yorker only keeps their current issue on their website) I should say that Alexander's not really criticizing these missions. But I am somewhat critical of them. Yes, it's all fine and good to give some closure to the families of these dead soldiers and sometimes giving them surviving possessions of their family members. In most circles, I would be considered a heartless bastard for criticizing this and maybe I will be here too. But there is one example in the article of a mission that cost millions of dollars that produced nothing more than a class ring. And I can't justify spending those kind of resources on soldiers that died 30 years ago. Call me a jerk, but I'd rather spend those resources on soldiers in Iraq or maybe helping the millions of unemployed and underemployed in this nation, or funding some Superfund sites.
Also, this whole process is a continuation of American imperialism in Vietnam. Perhaps that sounds too strong, and perhaps it is. But there are millions of Vietnamese who are unaccounted for from the war with America and we don't spend one damn dime on them, yet we hire Vietnamese workers to go into villages and ask about these dead Americans. Don't you think the Vietnamese might want to be left alone? Don't you think that they have war wounds to deal with as well? Don't you think they might like some closure too?
My heart goes out to the children of soldiers killed in Vietnam who never knew their fathers. I understand that these missions mean a lot to them. However, I also think we should spend our money on the living. Somehow I think that this nation should have higher priorities than spending millions of dollars for a single mission to recover remains in Vietnam while veterans of that war are homeless on the streets of America.
On Good Morning America today Curt Schilling was interviewed. He ended it by asking people to vote for Bush. I really wish he hadn't done that. I really want to like this team. I know that most of the players on the team are probably Republicans. In some way, I don't mind this because most of them are voting their pocketbook. If only the poor would do this we would be dominating American politics.
I understand that athletes have a right to express their political opinions. I certainly admired Carlos Delgado's refusal to be on the field for the national anthem. But ultimately I just wish sports could be a more or less non-political part of American life where I could root for people and teams and not have to worry about their political beliefs.
I wonder how a pro-Bush stance affects Schilling in New England. I know he's a hero up there right now so it probably doesn't really matter very much but considering that it is New England, I don't doubt that his political statement did rankle a few Yankee feathers. The good kind of Yankee that is.
Over the past several years, bluegrass music has had a revival in America, mostly based upon the success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. Though I believe that this trend has reached its high point, as authenticity-seeking yuppies will move on to other forms of music (consider the Cuban music craze after Buena Vista Social Club as another example of this), it has reinvigorated the fan base of this very regional American phenomena. The University of Illinois, as part of their massive Music in American Life series (who knew we needed a biography of Louis Prima?) has recently published The Bluegrass Reader, edited by Thomas Goldsmith. This is a collection of short articles, album reviews, and liner notes about different bluegrass bands and trends.
Overall, it's a solid collection with pieces on the early legends of the form, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, The Stanley Brothers, and Don Reno. Monroe basically invented the music in the early 40s out of Appalachian old-time music, jazz, and country and it quickly spread across the region. There are also many excellent articles on the different revivals of bluegrass, from the folk revival of the early 60s to the new grass people in the 70s to the recent revival. There are good pieces on bluegrass and sexism, a huge problem in this paternalistic musical form and good coverage of most of the major figures in bluegrass history.
I was annoyed at 3 pieces on Alison Krauss, one of the 5 or so most overrated musicians working in American music today. She's a fine fiddler and has a good voice but her albums are boring. I have no problem with people working outside of the bluegrass mainstream. There's nothing wrong with taking the basics of bluegrass and making more accessible music with it. However, why would anyone cover Michael McDonald songs? That is just senseless. With the thousands of wonderful songs in the world, why cover something by Michael freaking McDonald? (And what's with his comeback--seems like I can't turn on the TV without seeing his mug) It's one thing to try and sell albums and it's another to make boring cover of Michael McDonald songs.
There are only 2 real lapses in the book. A good piece on the North Carolina flatpicker and legend Doc Watson would have been very nice. And maybe something on Norman Blake too. And perhaps a better piece on John Hartford. The more substantial criticism is that several articles reference dark times in the music's history when albums didn't sell and (especially in the 70s) when the music lost touch with its roots. But there are no articles from those down periods discussing why things were going so badly. So overall, The Bluegrass Reader is a good, but slightly incomplete, history of this most wonderful of American music traditions.
An interesting question from my friend Scott. Read below.
Do Yankee fans have souls?
This debate has gone on for centuries, and supporters and defenders of the concept have argued bitterly about it. Defenders of the concept of Yankee fans possessing a soul have come from unexpected quarters. Consider Ralph Waldo Emerson, a dyed-in-the-wool Red Sox fan, who opined in his 1841 essay "The Oversoul," "We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE. And, I suppose, that includes Yankees fans. Though not A-Rod."
Another Sox supporter, William James, followed this line of thinking as well. In THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE: A STUDY IN HUMAN NATURE (1902), he concluded that "For human beings, and Yankee fans as well by my reckoning, there are moments of sentimental and mystical experience...that carry an enormous sense of inner authority and illumination with them when they come."
And who could possibly deny the presence of a soul in longtime Yankee supporter Saint Augustine of Hippo, who cried out in anguish in Book I of his CONFESSIONS, "Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter it. After that, Thou, please restock our farm system, since the only potential big leaguer in Columbus is the batboy."
So, I posit that, purely in the interest of healthy debate, that Yankee fans have souls.
After seeing that stupid Bush wolf ad too damn many times, I started thinking--are the wolves really only the terrorists or are they maybe the Democrats as well? And the Republicans trying to scare the public by using wolf images remind me that wolf attacks in America are only a myth. There's never been a documented case of wolves attacking humans in America despite our 400 year attack on the animals. So can we deduce that terrorist attacks are just a myth too? Well, I wish we could. But maybe there is a connection between the Republicans using terrorism as a scare tactic and Americans using myths against wolves as scare tactics.
I'm not sure what any of this means really but maybe it means something.
It's nice to see that Nader has fallen to complete irrelevancy in this election. He is not even being discussed at this point. Even if Kerry loses a state by less votes than Nader gets, there's no legitimate way to blame Nader for costing Kerry because at this point, the people who are actually going to vote for Nader would never have voted for Kerry anyway. For someone to vote for Nader after the 4 years of the Bush administration shows that they are so far out of the mainstream of American politics, and reality for that matter, that they are basically irrelevant.
The end of the World Series is always a sad day. Free agency is interesting and all but there's nothing like the end of March to the end of October. And now that I don't live in the heat hell of Albuquerque, those months are all the better. It wasn't the greatest baseball season I've known. Certainly the Red Sox beating the Yankees in that fashion was extremely satisfying. And seeing the Sox win the whole thing is good for all of baseball--now their fans will have to stop feeling sorry for themselves.
It's interesting how hatred of the Yankees has turned so many people, including myself, into Red Sox fans. For many years I really disliked the Red Sox but over the last few that's really changed. I question how much I will care about them in the future now that they've won, but I think the type of players they have really make the team appealing as well.
Anyway, the Sox winning was good, and the Yankees not winning for the 4th straight year was especially good. The Mariners collapse was very bad. Watching Maddux and Clemens move up the wins list was good, watching Randy Johnson losing 1-0 games was not good. The World Series being so uncompetitive and poorly played was a definite bad, especially after 2 great championship series.
So the season's over and soon I will have to quench my sports thirst with basketball which does very little for me. But there is a silver lining to the darkness of a winter without baseball. I won't have to listen to Tim McCarver for a very long time.
Monday, October 25, 2004
I've recently read 2 books on the interactions between people and the environment that are worth comparing. Both are older books, William Dietrich's The Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest, was written in 1992 while John McPhee's Encounters with the Archdruid, came out all the way back in 1971. Despite their age though, both books make us think seriously about how we interact with the environment and about how environmental concerns often clash with the reality of resource use.
Dietrich, who at the time was a reporter for the Seattle Times, went to the logging community of Forks, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula, to exam the effects of the spotted owl crisis. Dietrich writes sympathetically of all sides of the battle: loggers and environmentalists, Forest Service employees and scientists. Forks was at the center of the Forest Service's extreme overcutting schemes after World War II and thus were shocked when all of sudden, protection of the northern spotted owl shut down the forests almost at once. What's really interesting about the story of the spotted owl crisis to me is the lack of understanding by people of where products come from. People make the connection that homes and paper comes from trees, but at the same time don't want any trees being cut. However, lest one think I am anti-environmentalist, the environmentalists were essentially right about everything they said on the spotted owl issue. The timber companies and Forest Service had overcut dramatically after World War II (for more on this, see Paul Hirt's book A Conspiracy of Optimism), the Forest Service was attempting to turn ecologically complex forests into a monoculture, and the continued cutting of old growth timber would have made the spotted owl virtually extinct by now.
The people of Forks are really caught in the middle of this problem--they don't hate the forests but the timber companies have spewed rhetoric into their head for years, and they think the environmentalists are evil, as opposed to the big timber companies themselves, who used the spotted owl crisis as an excuse to move their operations out of the Pacific Northwest, and to British Columbia, the American South, and the Third World because they had basically cut out all of the good timber from the Northwest since 1900. Part of this rhetoric is that the trees are a crop that can be harvested and replanted. In a certain sense, that may be true, but that idea is what is so wrong about the lumber industry in this nation and around the world. By treating the forests as a crop, we overlook and undervalue the complexity of those ecosystems, which is bad on a spiritual level (certainly a less managed forest is more spiritually renewing than a monocrop) but also on a concrete level. For instance, the Pacific yew tree, long considered worthless by the lumber industry was found to have significant cancer-fighting agents in the 1980s, leading for awhile to illegal harvesting of the tree. To monocrop our forests means we will likely lose out on the many undiscovered benefits that a complex forest may bring us.
All this being said, we still rely on trees and the worldwide harvest of wood continues to rapidly increase. Where does this wood come from? What does it mean for the rainforest? Are there alternative building materials we could use? Do we really need to wipe our asses with trees? I don't have the answers to these questions except to say that, like with petroleum products, the government needs to invest in finding alternative technologies that we can use instead of wood. As for the book itself, it's a bit long but is by far the best overview available of the complex issues and history surrounding the protection of the northern spotted owl.
John McPhee considers some of the same issues in Encounters with the Archdruid. I can't recommend the books of John McPhee enough. He is a wonderful environmental writer, having penned such classics as Coming Into the Country, and his 4 book series driving along Interstate 80 with geologists that has recently been complied into the 1 volume Annals of the Former World. He writes with grace and beauty, has sympathy with all sides of the environmental debates, and can make complex scientific questions understandable to a lay reader, a skill that is all too rare and should be lauded.
In Encounters with the Archdruid, McPhee sets up Sierra Club leader and radical environmentalist pioneer David Brower with three icons of development. McPhee and Brower hike through the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Washington with mineral engineer Charles Park, who believes that we should mine minerals wherever we find them, including a giant copper deposit at the base of Glacier Peak. They visit with Charles Fraser, who developed Hilton Head, and who bought up much of what became Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia that he also wanted to develop. And perhaps most importantly, they raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, Floyd Dominy, who designed many of the West's most infamous dams, including Grand Coulee and Glen Canyon and who wanted to dam the Colorado through the Grand Canyon as well. McPhee details the discussions and fights that Brower has with these men as they travel together. Amazingly, Park and Dominy will talk about how much they love nature while having no compunction about radically alternating it as well. To some extent, this is generational--part of a time where human material use of nature was seen as its highest value. But Park and Dominy have a point as well--both state truthfully that modern society is dependent on minerals and water respectively, and that without mining and control over water supplies, our standard of living would fall. Brower has no problem with that. I'm not sure how many environmentalists can say that with confidence. We want to save land and get rid of dams, but do we know the cost of this to our economic well-being and if we do, how many of us are willing to make that sacrifice? Ultimately, it seems that Brower gets the best of both Park and Dominy as it's really hard to justify damming the Colorado or mining Glacier Peak. It's interesting to see how these 2 conversations have dated--we need far less copper today than in 1970 because the rise of fiber optics undermined the need for copper wiring. The dam issue is still very contentious but on the Colorado is starting to become a bit moot because the river is so low with the drought and increased demand for water that many of the side canyons that Glen Canyon flooded are starting to repair themselves as the water level has drastically declined in Lake Powell. I was at Hoover Dam some days ago and it was amazing to see how low the water was compared with pictures of the lake at its height. The Colorado has supply problems that no dams will fix.
Brower does less well with Charles Fraser, who was a pioneer in somewhat responsible development by making Hilton Head both green and incredibly expensive. Fraser really dominates Brower who doesn't have a clue about Cumberland Island. In fact, Brower comes across a something of a nut who used false facts when convenient and was really rather uneducated. But at the same time, his passion personally made the Sierra Club into a force to be reckoned with, and he personally stopped the building of the dam at Dinosaur National Monument, so God bless him. But even if Fraser got the better of him through his well-thought out development schemes, the public got the message because before the book came out, public support forced Fraser to abandon his project and the federal government took Cumberland Island over and placed it under the auspices of the National Park Service.
Both of these excellent works really make us think about the balance between environmental protection and resource use. We need a smart plan to allow both on the same tracts of land and to place technological innovation at the forefront of our efforts to live in the 21st century. Suffice it to say that we are not getting that right now with the current administration.
I've been spending a lot of time in swing states lately. I live in New Mexico, spent a few days in Nevada about 10 days ago, and have spent the last 4 or 5 days near where West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky come together. The upshot of this is that I've seen a lot of political ads in different places. And the question I have is, where the hell are the Democratic ads. Especially here in West Virginia, it seems as if Republican ads outnumber Democrats 3-1. Maybe the extra 5 weeks Bush had for fundraising is making a difference here at the end. But it seems as if Kerry is getting hammered here and there is very little attempt to counter this. Getting the Ohio and Kentucky ads is interesting too--I've seen some Jim Bunning ads but none for his Democratic opponent, which is too bad because by all accounts Bunning is falling apart and his seat is coming into play as the election nears. But maybe the problem is that in none of the local and state races have I seen advertisements for have any candidate claimed to be a Democrat or standing up for Democratic values, with one exception proud of having a union endorsement. I really think that Democrats will continue to be on the wane until we are proud to be Democrats and express that, rather than trying to distance ourselves from liberalism and Democratic congressmen in DC.
It is however refreshing to be in rural West Virginia and see a lot of Kerry-Edwards signs. The only other rural place in the country that you can count on seeing this is in the Hispanic villages of northern New Mexico, where I recently saw "Die Bush" painted on a large propane tank. Something about Democratic values still resonates in rural West Virginia. Hopefully that is something we can build upon.
Saturday, October 23, 2004
When involved in a taste test one often eats a saltine cracker between sampling tasty food. In the same way, most of the movies I watch are really good. To really appreciate these movies, sometimes it's good to watch a really bad movie to clean my palate. In this vein, if you've been reading a lot of really intelligent things lately, check out the lates tDavid Brooks column.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Watching those soulless bastards lose tonight reminds me of the worst single argument in the history humanity. A former professor in our department actually said during the 2001 World Series that any it was the patriotic thing to do to root for the Yankees because of Sept. 11. Luckily, he is no longer here.
What can I say? Red Sox wins, Yankees lose. Good wins, evil loses. 4th straight year of watching the Yankees lose. I think it's the only thing that has gotten me through the Bush administration. Even though Francona was tremendously stupid bringing Martinez in for the 7th inning, it was a great job overall. Though that may have been the most senseless managerial move ever. Much worse than Grady Little leaving Pedro in last year.
And I stand by what I said about Lowe on the previous post. I still think Wakefield made the most sense. But God bless him, he pitched a hell of a 6 innings. Should have been out there for the 7th.
I don't know if the Sox can win the World Series because of the emotional exhaustion of this, but at least they will be playing a team with only 1 day rest. And how can you count this team out now.
I am leaving for West Virginia tomorrow for a few days. I should have limited computer access so I hope to be able to blog a little bit, but it won't be as consistent as usual.
Incidentally, West Virginia is a really wonderful place that has a bad rap across the nation. It may be poor but it is poor largely because of how the rest of the US has used that place, as well as for geographical reasons--it's really hard to develop a wealthy economy in a place that mountainous. If you get a chance to spend some time there, I really suggest that you take advantage of it.
Check out Nicholas Kristof's op-ed piece in the NY Times today about the world's lack of response to the situation in Darfur. As any reader of this blog knows I hate George W. Bush's foreign policies, particularly his disregard for the international community. But the Republicans do have a point when they talk about the inability of the UN to respond rapidly to international crises. Where is the response on the Sudan? What point is the UN if they cannot intervene to stop genocide? The UN was of course not designed for such actions but nonetheless if the organization is to play an importanigned for such actions but nonetheless if the organization is to play an important role in the world, it must remake itself to be able to respond quickly to stop situations such as Bosnia, Rwanda, and now Darfur.
Should the US act unilaterally in Darfur? I don't know. Even if we wanted to, we are so overextended now that it seems impossible. But I will argue that it should be the role of international powers to intervene and stop horrible situations like this from occurring. Sanctions aren't enough--what does a nation such as the Sudan care for sanctions? They do not have an oil economy or any other resource that would make the nation's elite worry about sanctions hurting their profits. Military intervention is necessary to put down these militias. In an ideal world this military intervention would contain the US, parts of Europe, and especially an especially strong presence from Arab countries. Unfortunately, the US has so damaged its relationships with the rest of the world that who will step up now to take the lead with the US on the Sudan? I have read that nations such as France and Russia have refused to even listen to the US on this because they are so angry about Iraq. This reflects poorly on those nations, but also on the US that our international standing has dropped so low as to get no respect for even humanitarian uses of our military.
has dropped so low as to get no respect for even humanitarian uses of o
As the Red Sox-Yankees game is about to begin, I want to state up front that I disapprove of the Red Sox starting Derek Lowe over Tim Wakefield for Game 7. Wakefield has traditionally had good success against the Yankees, Aaron Boone not withstanding. Lowe has sucked most of the year. The Yankee hitters have been so impatient this series that Wakefield would have them swinging out of their shoes.
I also disapproved of taking Schilling out last night for the 8th inning for Bronson Arroyo. The way Schilling was pitching, would you really prefer to have Arroyo out there? It worked out I guess, but it was very risky. Schilling is a great pitcher and great competitor and I'm beginning to think a possible hall of famer.
On the NPR show Day to Day this morning I heard a theory that a Red Sox win would help Kerry because people would identify Kerry with the Sox and that both are underdogs that people could get behind. I'm sure that theory has no merit but I like it anyway because both battles are good vs. evil.
Mike Hargrove was named the new manager of the Seattle Mariners today. Surprisingly, I care little. Hargrove is a fine manager I suppose. But why would he take this team over. They are so far away from contending that it seems he will quickly become frustrated. Perhaps Mariners ownership convinced him that they are going to spend the money to make the team competitive soon. But I don't see how this happens. I suppose they will go waste a ton of money on Carlos Delgado or Adrian Beltre. But even if those guys hit 40HRs for them next year, they still are only a .500 team considering their 2 below-average OFs, a terrible situation at SS, an aging and expensive 2B, and a very shaky pitching staff.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
I ask this question because I am concerned that even if the Democrats actually get more votes, Republican lawyers will throw the whole thing into the courts and the results will be overturned by Republican appointed judges. I usually don't like conspiracy theories, but the rhetoric is already building up with Republicans complaining of foreign voters and voter fraud, including voting the dead. They clearly have a well-thought out strategy if they lose.
If this worst-case scenario happens, meaning Kerry wins the electoral college but the election is overturned in the courts, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of democracy in America. That sounds terrible and ridiculous, but is it unrealistic?
For those of you who didn't see this or haven't read about it, here's the transcript for Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire last week where he called Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala "partisan hacks" and called Carlson "a dick." He also made fun of Carlson's bow tie, which needed to be done for a very long time. You have to read down a bit to get to when Stewart comes on--Carlson and Begala blather on for awhile about nothing at the beginning of the show.
On the next episode, Bob Novak, "douchebag of liberty" according to Jon Stewart, looked into the camera and said that Stewart was "uninformed" which is pretty amazing, but then again, Novak has been lying into cameras for a very long time now. And what's with his 30 year old 3-piece suits?
Seriously, these guys as well as Ted Koppel and so many others in the mainstream media just don't get it. They're irrelevant to almost anyone under the age of 35 years old. Everyone knows they're full of shit except for themselves. They actually believe they are important in American life. I don't know, maybe middle age people really say, "I really need to watch Crossfire and Hardball tonight so that I can understand the issues of today." But somehow I don't think so.
Really there are 2 outlets for interesting news on television right now--Fox and Daily Show. Fox just lies but everyone knows it and let's face it, partisan news is much more of a tradition in American history than Ted Koppel, Arbiter of Politics and his brand of "objectivity."
Monday, October 18, 2004
In his editorial today in the Times, William Safire discussed Kerry and Edwards mentioning Mary Cheney, something that has caused a surprising and absurd uproar. To close the column, Safire quotes Joseph Welch, the Army lawyer who attacked Joseph McCarthy, asking Kerry, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
It's completely amazing that Safire would resort to that kind of quote for a situation like this. Actually this quote has been on my mind quite a bit lately.
For example, who would you say has less of a sense of decency, Kerry discussing Cheney's daughter's sexual preference or Cheney claiming that a Kerry victory would embolden the terrorists? Um, I'd say the latter is much, much more indecent.
Safire should be ashamed to use that quotation over a matter this trivial.
Over 1100 Americans have now been killed in Iraq. Thank you W. Interestingly, all the soldiers killed this month are American. If this continues for the rest of the month, it will be the first time that all the deaths in 1 month have been Americans.
I just got back from Las Vegas. What a bizarre place. There's no point in critiquing the cultural aspects of the city--it is what it is. What I will say about the place is that perhaps it is the most American of cities or that it represents a certain Americanness. In Las Vegas, you have the Disneyified entertainment, the glutton of Americans in the buffets (as well as the mediocrity of them which is pretty representative of my parents' generation of food). The lack of understanding over the environmental consequences of that city is most certainly American--although there were hundreds of people at Hoover Dam when I was there, I wonder how many made the connections between its existence, its environmental implications, and the existence of Las Vegas. I think whether you love or hate Vegas, its ultra-American qualities make it an extremely interesting place. I can see why so many people study it.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Over the last 20 years, historians have thought about early America, or colonial America, as the period is more commonly known, in increasingly complex ways. Given the relative lack of written texts for the period, the cultural studies phenomenon has become more popular in the field. I recently read 2 new works in colonial American history and combined, they show the rich new ways that historians are interpreting the era. They both also demonstrate both the potential and downfall of cultural history.
Jon T. Coleman's Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, makes a significant contribution to more than just colonial history. This excellent book should also be read by western historians and environmental historians. Coleman argues that the historical interactions between Europeans and wolves in North America is part of biological competition for space and domination. Americans wanted land for their livestock without competition from any kind of predator, especially wolves. In addition, Europeans had a long history of antipathy toward wolves that they brought over to America, justifying not only killing them, but also torturing them in the process. Coleman discusses the process of wolf killing moving west, from southern New England, to the Northeastern Woodlands, which he defines as the areas west of the Appalachians but north of the Ohio River, to Mormon Utah, to the federal government killing the last remnants of wolves in the lower 48 during the early twentieth century. Coleman convincingly shows why Americans hated wolves and the cultural reasons for killing them.
Vicious is the first large-scale study of the evolutionary history Dan Flores called for in his influential but often derided article, "Nature's Children: Environmental History as Human Natural History," where he argued for human history to be considered in an evolutionary context. Coleman does this, arguing that Europeans' desire to kill wolves was largely evolutionary in nature, though with specific cultural connotations that Native Americans did not have, such as torturing wolves before killing them. But how do you prove such a claim? Historians can make the claim that humans are hard-wired to act in certain ways but that is both empirically questionable and politically dangerous--if we are hard-wired to kill wolves, shouldn't the federal government then not protect the predators?
One of Coleman's more interesting points is the importance of the sounds wolves made and how that struck fear into the hearts of colonialists and frontier settlers. Interestingly, the history of sound in America is a growing field. Richard Cullen Rath's How Early America Sounded is an interesting addition to this literature. Rath argues that since early America was an aural and oral rather than written culture, historians need to uncover the history of sound to gain a greater understanding of the period. Rath demonstrates the connections 17th century European-Americans made between sound and civil society. For instance, early communities were designed to keep all homes within earshot of church bells. This both kept the church center to society, kept people within control of civil authorities, and made sure people were safe. Sounds also had much greater divine power 350 years ago--thunder was believed to kill rather than lightning and was a sign from gods for all 3 major colonial American groups--Europeans, Indians, and Africans. Nonlingusitic verbal communication was also a concern for colonial Americans--Quaker services and the rants of religious extremists frightened people who lived on a frontier and needed to maintain civil order.
The greatest weakness of this book is not the questionable empirical evidence--again, how do you prove what people thought about sounds?--but rather the use of too much theory over more common sense evidence. In considering why European-Americans ideas about sound changed in the 18th century, Rath draws on theorists as diverse as Jurgen Habermas, Benedict Anderson, and Marshall McLuhan, to say that the rise of a print-based culture and public sphere made sounds have less meaning for colonists. Another way to put this that would draw less on theory would be to say that the Enlightenment began, people began to take an interest in science, and the idea that thunder was a direct sign from God became more discredited. But Rath never directly discusses the Enlightenment and this weakens his book significantly.
Both Vicious and How Early America Sounded are interesting contributions to the history of colonial America and the history of sound. Both books are on the edges of historical writing today and should be applauded for the risks they take. By understanding how humans act within an evolutionary framework, how they relate to animals, and how they comprehend sound, Coleman and Rath have gone a long way to increasing our understanding of colonial America. Coleman and Rath are some of the most imaginative historians working in the field today. I do recommend both of these books strongly, particularly Vicious. But let me challenge these works a bit. Are these ways of understanding colonial history really as satisfying as classic books in colonial history such as the work of Perry Miller, the social history of New England from the 70s, or Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom? For the New Cultural History to revolutionize how we think about the past, historians need to produce books as convincing and satisfying as Morgan or Miller. Then we will know that cultural history is vital for our understanding of the past.
Amazingly, a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, my erstwhile favorite NBA team, has found a new way to get into legal trouble. I thought they had committed every crime in the books short of murder, but no, there are crimes I couldn't imagine.
I don't like to take advantage of someone's death for political purposes, but hey, the Republicans have been doing it for 3 years with the victims of 9/11 so I guess it's fair game now.
If John Kerry does not mention and hammer home the death of Christopher Reeve tomorrow he is asking to lose. Reeve's vigorous support of stem-cell research is something supported by the majority of Americans and is opposed by Bush. Kerry needs to hammer this home--stem-cell research could have saved Superman!!! Obviously, it would be taking it too far to make Bush complicit in the death of Reeve, but Kerry needs to point out that even if there was a direct connection between stem-cell research and the rehabilitation of quadriplegics, Bush would not support helping the disabled.
I don't know why I bother taking apart David Brooks' editorials for the Times. Maybe they just rankle me just the right way, like a burr that gets inside your pants. But his editorial today really irritated me.
First, Brooks makes the statement that the physical landscape influences our view of politics and the world. Fair enough, I think, this could be interesting. And then Brooks' usual simplistic view of the world takes over. He goes on to argue that the sparsely populated South and West are more likely to have a Goldwaterian view of the world, meaning individualistic with little government interference in their lives. Well this would be a legitimate view if it actually made sense. What are the problems here? Well, the South isn't sparsely populated. Has David Brooks ever been to the South? Even the rural South has very few areas where people live miles apart from each other. Second, the South and West look nothing like each other. The landscapes of the South and the West have, approximately, nothing at all in common. Third, he blithely ignores the enormous influence of the federal government in the South and the West. I guess if you ask people in Arizona or Alabama if they want big government in their lives, they'd probably say no, but if you were to ask them what they thought about the federal government abandoning all support of water projects or taking all defense installations out of their states, they'd start having uncontrolled bowel movements. He opposes this idea with that of the cities--people in the cities, Brooks argues, like big government in their lives. For the sake of space I'm not going to get into this.
Next, Brooks decides that this dualistic frame of mind applies to how people view foreign policy. So somehow living in the same region as the Monument Valley means that people automatically think that the US should go alone in foreign policy and those in South Boston believe America should build international alliances before going to war. I shouldn't even have to discuss how this makes no goddamn sense.
I recognize the need for the New York Times to have conservative columnists. I don't like William Safire, but that's because I don't agree with his politics. David Brooks is simply an incompetent thinker. He consistently breaks the world out into 2 either/or categories. His mind seems to have little room for subtlety. Can't the Times find a competent conservative thinker in the world to write for them?
This is somewhat old news, but I think it's worth discussing anyway. California has recently passed a law that gives permit to drivers of cars that get over 45mpg to drive alone in carpool lanes and not have to pay tolls on some bridges. The only cars that get these mileage rates are Japanese hybrids. The response of the American auto industry--claim that this is a "Buy Japanese" law. Rather than actually produce a car that gets good mileage, the auto industry impinges the patriotism of the California legislature. The CEO of Ford, Bill Ford, is the one who actually said that this was a buy Japanese law because it doesn't support Ford's first hybrid--an SUV that will get 29-36 mpg. The direct quote from Ford:
"AB 2628 (the bill) puts our workers and shareholders at a competitive disadvantage precisely when Ford is entering the hybrid market with a family-oriented, no compromise SUV. Ford would not consider asking the California Legislature to support a 'Buy American law.' We are chagrined to see that AB 2628 amounts to a 'Buy Japanese' bill."
So clearly the California legislature is anti-family because they won't include SUVs in their bill. How did American families ever survive without SUVs anyway? They are pro-Japanese and anti-American as well.
Of course this letter is an excellent example of the problems with the American auto industry over the past 30 years. Rather than actually produce small, efficient cars, they are pushing ahead with ever larger SUVs. Their first hybrid--an SUV. What would a Taurus hybrid get, 50mpg or so? But hey, like our president, Ford is no compromise all the way. Regardless of the realities of oil prices or Iraq, real Americans don't compromise.
And of course the public wants SUVs. Fine, if you want to pay $50 to fill it up. But Ford should just produce hybrids that use alternative energy more efficiently rather than complain that their 30 mpg hybrid won't get to use the carpool lane.
Monday, October 11, 2004
Here's the link to part 4 of Orcinus' superb series on the rise of pseudo-fascism in America. Although I highly recommend that you read all parts, here's some of the highlights with extra thoughts by me.
1. The extreme right-wing press has reached the point of pseudo-fascism. Of course the extreme right-wing press today is really pretty mainstream. When you have Ann Coulter calling liberals traitors and Sean Hannity comparing liberalism to terrorism, you have reached a point where fascism is near. The more mainstream that these ideas can get, the more they will be accepted by everyone who is not a liberal. They dominate AM talk radio, they are to be found on Fox and in best-selling books. They are reaching the mainstream of the Republican Party with people like Cheney and Ashcroft. Another 4 years of Bush and they may be very prominent within the mainstream rhetoric of the Republican Party.
2. Is there another time in American history when one party has ostracized the other party so strongly? Perhaps in 1799 and 1800 when the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts and imprisoned Jeffersonian editors. At that point in our history we reached a real crisis in the republic. Would the democratic experiment succeed? The voters in 1800 turned out the Federalists and thus began 24 years of Jeffersonian administrations. This helped save democracy. Will that happen in 2004?
Usually in American history, as partisan as this nation's politics can get, one party has generally respected the other. But not now. The Republicans are out for total dominance and want to send the Democrats into oblivion to create a 1-party state. And if they succeed in this, it's difficult to see how democracy as we have known it survives in America. That doesn't mean that a Bush victory means the end of democracy, but it could mean that if the Republicans consolidate their gains and win again in 2008, we may be in some serious trouble.
3. The sense of Bush as a religious figure. This is odd and frightening. But people on the right, especially the evangelicals really see Bush as a religious figure. In some ways, perhaps this shouldn't be that surprising for those who have witnessed the rise of the fundamentalist right. Perhaps we should consider Reagan as a sort of John the Baptist for W's Christ. Christians really see Bush as their president and the savior of Christianity in this nation. Therefore, attacks upon him are not only political, but also personal and religious. If you are attacking W, then you are attacking God's will. This kind of symbolism could easily shade into fascism if the Republicans decide to capitalize it and actually create symbols of W and Jesus, or other powerful symbols, as has happened many times before in right-wing dictatorships. Look into the comparisons between Eva Peron and the Virgin Mary as an example of this.
Christians really believe that they are oppressed today. How this is possible, I don't know, but it's not that different from white males believing that blacks and women have all the advantages in today's society. Check out this quote:
Says Delores: "There is an agendato get rid of God in our country." Chirps the
reporter: Certainly not on the part of John Kerry, who once entertained dreams
of entering the priesthood. I'm almost laughed out of the room. I ask why Kerry
goes to mass every week if he's trying to get rid of God. "Public relations!" a
young man calls out from across the room. "Same reason he does everything else."
Cue for Delores to repeat something a rabbi told her: "We have to stand
together, because this is what happened in Europe. You knowonce they start
taking this right and that right. And you have the Islamic people . . . " She
trails off. I ask whether she's referring to the rise of fascism. "We're losing
our rights as Christians: yes. And being persecuted again."
Who will save Christians from oppression: W. He really seems to be considered a messenger from God. Read about the new pro-Bush movie on the Orcinus link for these incredible connections--God, nation, and W. Dealing with this kind of imagery is going to be very tricky if Bush wins again. This is perhaps the most scary part of the whole story of the rise of pseudo-fascism in America. No other time in American history has a president been endowed with heavenly power. The connection of God and the president is something that is a legitimate threat to the separation of church and state in America and perhaps the integrity of the republic itself.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has endorsed Kerry. In doing so, they have set out the case against Bush and for Kerry about as clearly as anyone could. I don't know if a newspaper endorsement will make the difference in Missouri but if it changes some minds in the St. Louis suburbs, maybe it will.
By continuing to use this "You can run but you can't hide shit," Bush does just that. He can't campaign on the issues and he has to use the same rhetoric for his Democratic opponent as he did for Al Qaida. Check out this article talking about recent campaign rallies where the audience is chanting that line along when Bush says it.
What does it mean when you use the same language against your Democratic opponent as you do against terrorists. Of course, it's stupid in any case. But do the Republicans really believe that Democrats are as great a threat to this nation as Al Qaida? If they do believe this, to what lengths will they go to preserve power? If they lose a close election, will they cede power?
Perhaps I am overreacting but this is a disturbing rhetorical trend. Undoubtedly for Rove, Cheney, and the other brains this is probably just campaign rhetoric but would it be that surprising if your average Republican really believed this. Certainly Cheney has suggested it when he said that a Kerry victory would encourage the terrorists.
See Bill Safire desperately look for something for Republicans to cling to coming out of the 2nd debates.
Are Polish-Americans even a recognizable constituency anymore? This isn't 1920 or even 1950. Do Polish-Americans really follow Polish politics? I question this. Maybe they do but I'm not so sure about this.
And of course the reelection of John Howard in Australia means for Safire a confirmation of Iraq when in the real world it meant that Australians were happy with their economy.
I think male Republicans, including Safire and Pat Buchanan (who's still a Republican regardless of what he says) really gets off on that masculine Bush rhetoric--"You can run, but you can't hide." That turned them on in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and now in the debates. Well I guess like Theodore Roosevelt, Bush has to use cheap masculinity to make up for real weakness (physical for TR, lack of a soul or ever actually being brave for W).
Saturday, October 09, 2004
Definitely my favorite post-debate moment was on MSNBC though it had nothing to do with the talking heads.
In the background the partisians were battling with each other putting Kerry and Bush signs in front of each other. Then someone had this huge sign that towered above the rest saying:
Now that's something America can unite around.
My general view on the second debate is that it probably was a draw all things considered. Even though Kerry clearly was right on many issues, how much being correct really matters is questionable. Bush's style undoubtedly fed his base. That kind of aggressive masculinity really may appeal to certain males. But Kerry did a good job thwarting anything Bush said and it didn't to me seem like Bush really got any points on Kerry.
I did think the logging reference was stupid. Why mention something like that? It just gives the Republicans something to make fun of Kerry for. Not sure what the perceived advantage of that was?
What in the hell was Bush talking about when he said he wouldn't appoint the kind of Supreme Court judge that would approve of the Dred Scott decision? It's really good to know that Bush has no intention of appointing judges that would reinstitute slavery in the United States. Maybe that's what it means to be a compassionate conservative. Seriously, that was an extremely weak answer by Bush who if he was ever honest would have said something like, "I want to name judges that will interpret the Constitution according to present neo-conservative priniciples and that will protect the investments of me and my friends."
Kerry's weakest moment was on the environment. He should have just destroyed Bush on this, pointing out the many ways that Bush is a horrible environmental president. He could have said that this presidency has done more damage to the environment than any in the last 100 years. But he didn't. I hope he is more aggressive on that point in the final debate.
If nothing else, this debate continued to show that Kerry is competent and would be a better president than Bush. We'll see if the improvement in the polls continues. Finally, Kerry is really a fine debater, much better than I thought he would be.
UPDATE: See Lawyers Guns Money for much better analysis of the Dred Scott reference than I could possibly ever give.
Friday, October 08, 2004
We frequently hear about the lack of voter participation. There are of course several reasons for this which I won't get into right now. But just to give you an idea of what voter participation used to be like, the 1914 elections in Washington (offyear elections) witnessed 94.6% turnout of registered voters. This was exceptional even for the time because women had just got the right to vote in WA and because of massive organizing around temperance issues. Nonetheless, what would it take for this to happen today?
Thursday, October 07, 2004
I didn't think the decline of Ralph Nader could go any lower. But it has. He has accepted money from the same people who funded the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (also known as the Lying Bastards for Evil). He also took money from the Club for Growth and the idiots in Oregon who have been working to pass anti-gay ballot measures for 12 years now. It is sad to see this man lose all credibility. Had he died 10 years ago he would have been seen as one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century. Now he's pathetic.
Bob Dylan just released his autobiography and from the excerpts I read in Newsweek it actually looks pretty interesting. He discusses the period between 1972 and 1997 as one of slow artistic decline which I thought was really honest and true.
But the reviewer for Newsweek couldn't understand how he could say that since that period produced such masterpieces as Shot of Love and Infidels. Now if you think those are great albums, you probably shouldn't be reviewing music in a major news magazine. Shot of Love? Infidels? Please. At least he didn't discuss the greatness of Planet Waves or the transcendental mysticism of Slow Train Coming.
Over the past week I've seen 3 excellent concerts that show the wonderful variety of American music.
I first saw a concert of cowboy poetry and music headlined by the great cowboy singer Don Edwards. So few people today have ever heard cowboy poetry or music live and it's a wonderful thing. Let's face it, this is a lifestyle that if it's not dying, it's not exactly thriving. Why someone would decide to be a rancher today is beyond me. It's a dead-end economically. The work is both extremely difficult and dangerous. On the other hand, there is something wonderful about being that independent I suppose. In any case, like many American folk traditions, cowboy music evokes values and places both past and present that can resonate even with modern urban audiences. Cowboy music might be the most regionally based music still left in America today. At least bluegrass and Cajun musicians tour nationally--even Don Edwards, perhaps the most famous cowboy singer around today, along perhaps with Riders In The Sky, doesn't often play outside of the West I don't think. So see this kind of thing if you get the chance. Don Edwards is a wonderful singer and a surprisingly excellent guitar player. Also, for a truly wonderful album, check out High Lonesome Cowboy, which Edwards did with Peter Rowan a couple of years ago. It's a great combination of cowboy and bluegrass.
Then I saw something called Fire Into Music, from the creative jazz scene in New York. William Parker was on bass, Hamid Drake on drums, Jemeel Moondoc on alto sax and Steve Swell on trombone. This is a folk music of a different kind. It's really indigenous to a small group of musicians in a few of our large cities. There's not a hell of a lot of money to be made in this kind of music so see this when you get a chance at well. I suppose this could be considered a descendant of the kind of free jazz that Coltrane was playing in 1966 and 1967. But it's more than just noise. The complex levels of sound and sheer talent it takes to play this way is truly overwhelming. The energy and spirituality coming out of these musicians served as an almost conversion experience the first time I heard it. It's not conventional music by any means. And it's more appreciated in Europe than it is in the US. But this kind of creative music is a wonderful form of American music and one that continues to thrive and evolve at the same time that mainstream jazz has become a form that appeals to mostly middle-age yuppie white men.
Finally, I saw perhaps the greatest American music form, good old rock and roll played by the great Dave Alvin. Alvin, formerly of the Blasters, has a wonderful understanding of what rock and roll should be. He can do many things, from traditional American songs to rockabilly to country to punk and he understands that all of this can make some really great music. He is also a top-notch guitar player and a great songwriter. This was probably the best rock and roll show I've ever seen. To compare him to most rock acts today shows his real understanding of the music and the limited understanding many other bands have. So many rock bands today really haven't listened to much outside the genre except for maybe blues. And you can make some really great music if your influences are older rock and punk bands and maybe some blues. But you can make such greater music with influences from border music, jazz, folk, country, etc., along with rock and blues. And that's what Dave Alvin does.
A wonderful week of music here in New Mexico. I am lucky to have been able to experience it.
The sheer variety of American music is amazing. How many other places on the earth have developed as many music forms as America, especially ones that are still active. Even as the music industry becomes more and more under the control of corporations with bland money-driven acts, beautiful music is being made all over the nation for those with the curiosity to find it.
Read the 3rd part of Orcinus' series on pseudo-fascism and the conservative movement. Though this isn't the strongest column in the series, it's still worth reading for a understanding of Republican campaign methods and speeches during the convention and how similar they are to various aspects of fascism. I really recommend this series for those interested in current politics.
Though I missed the first 1/2 of the Edwards-Cheney debate, I understand that Cheney used the exact argument David Brooks used in his NYTimes editorial that I attacked in a recent post which said that we should use El Salvador in the 80s as a model for Iraq. I'm not going to go over why this is an incredibly stupid argument again. But that this was used verbatim by Cheney means one of two things:
1. David Brooks is a whore for the Republican Party.
2. The Republicans actually got this from Brooks.
I hope to God that it's the first one--that Brooks is a terrible editorialist is clear and that he would just turn Republican talking points into columns wouldn't be that surprising. If it's actually #2, I'm even more scared for a second Bush administration. If they are so desperate for ideas that they are taking them from bad newspaper columns, God save this country.
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Check on this article on the lack of flu vaccines in America this year. This is what happens when you rely on a tiny number of giant drug companies to provide for you. Something happens at 1 of them and a lot of people are going to die.
We don't usually think of disease as a real threat to us anymore unless it's some extremely rare disease like anthrax or smallpox that could be acquired by terrorists. Or maybe something like SARS that is foreign and weird. But of course diseases like influenza can wipe out hundreds of thousands of people very easily such as in the flu epidemic of 1919. If we only rely on a small number of large drug companies to produce vaccines, another 1919 could happen very easily.
One of the major effects of globalization is the spread of disease around the world extremely quickly. It's really only a matter of time before a major disaster strikes. We already see how the globalization of tree diseases and bugs are wiping out trees across North America. There is almost no way with a global economy that this won't happen to humans at some point.
Monday, October 04, 2004
I just saw a bumper sticker that said Mission Accomplished with the Mission x-ed out and replaced by nothing. But hey, let's give Bush his due. He's accomplished more than almost any president since FDR or at least LBJ. A quick listing:
1. He managed to turn Iraq into a center of terrorism.
2. He didn't go get Osama Bin Laden when he could.
3. He set the US up for record deficits.
4. He oversaw the decline of democracy in Russia.
5. He eviscerated 40 years of environmental regulations.
6. He made his friends even richer through enormous irresponsible tax cuts.
7. He did nothing to fight AIDS in Africa.
8. He allowed the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Haiti.
9. He tried but failed to foment revolution in Venezuela.
10. He completely screwed over poor school districts through No Child Left Behind.
11. He is responsible for the deaths of over 1060 Americans in Iraq and thousands of Iraqis.
12. He allowed North Korea to develop nuclear weapons.
13. He alienated traditional allies in France and Germany.
14. He did nothing to stem global warming.
15. He did a bunch of other bad stuff that I'm forgetting right now.
My friends, if those aren't some serious accomplishments, I don't know what is. Another 4 years and you might even see the beginning of the end of the world, which would definitely play real well with the evangelical base.
UPDATE--How could I have possibly forgot the erosion of our constitutional rights with the Patriot Act?
3 notes about the Mariners horrible season.
1. Congratulations to the great Ichiro for ending with a major league record 262 hits. Is he as amazing as many Mariners fans think? Probably not. But he is one of the most exciting players in the major leagues. And he is certainly better than his detractors give him credit for. A friend of mine heard a really stupid argument maybe a month ago or so saying that Mark Kotsay was as good as Ichiro because their OBP were similar. Well that's just a stupid argument. Ichiro probably should walk more and I suppose Kotsay is something of an underrated player but to say that they are near equals is the Moneyball idea gone bad. Because not only is Ichiro better, he is more exciting to watch which puts fans in the seats with Ichiro jerseys on their backs. And that means more money for the team to spend on players. If Moneyball really means winning while using your resources as efficiently as possible, I'd say that the revenue a player generates is pretty damn important and Kotsay ain't generating any.
2. Congratulations to Edgar Martinez for a really great career. Is he a hall of famer? Probably not. A great player and a great hitter. But I don't really think he's one of the truly great players of his generation, which to me is what matters much more than numbers. It's stupid that being a DH should count against him, but I'm sure it will for many voters, particularly those from NL towns. But is his career better than a dozen other marginal candidates for the HOF, I don't know. Regardless, he is the greatest Mariner ever and I hope they at least retire his jersey soon.
3. I'm sad to see Bob Melvin go. I don't know if he's the greatest manager, but it sure as hell isn't his fault that the Mariners were ancient, that they traded Carlos Guillen for Ramon Santiago, that they signed Rich Aurilia, Raul Ibanez, and Scott Speizio, or that Rafael Soriano was hurt all year. He may be taking the fall for this but it's Bill Bavasi who should go. I guess the only advantage to this is that when they suck next year it's Bavasi that will have to take the blame. And only when he goes and the Mariners hire a decent GM will they again compete in the AL West. We should start a bad Bavasi contract Hall of Shame. His Mo Vaughn contract is clearly the first inductee, but Rich Aurilia isn't far behind.
Sunday, October 03, 2004
As you may have heard, John Eisenhower, son of former President Dwight Eisenhower has declared that he is voting for Kerry. A nice moral victory I suppose. But this provides an opportunity to consider how Dwight Eisenhower would fit into modern American politics. Usually these counterfactual arguments are fruitless and this one may be as well. However, looking a bit at Eisenhower's beliefs may help us place the current political climate into perspective.
Eisenhower came to the White House at a very interesting time in American history. Democrats had controlled the White House for 20 years and had radically changed American life, instituting the New Deal and Fair Deal. However, since 1946 Republicans had controlled Congress and America was certainly headed in a conservative direction. When Eisenhower entered the White House in early 1953, McCarthyism was at its height and with the election of a Republican president there was significant pressure from the conservative wing of the Republican party to dismantle the New Deal. Wisely, Eisenhower chose not to do that. If anything, he ratified the New Deal by being a Republican who didn't dismantle that. In fact, in some ways he expanded government presence in American life, primarily through the interstate highway system, the largest public works project in American history. Eisenhower recognized that to get rid of social security and other popular programs would kill the Republican party for many years and that rather than pander to the right-wing base, he would lead--a nice contrast to today.
Eisenhower was undoubtedly a conservative man. He did not believe in radical change, which is really the sign of a conservative. He believed in relatively balanced budget and a realistic foreign policy. Of course there are many Eisenhower initiatives that I disagree with, especially in foreign policy--the development of extraordinarily powerful nuclear weapons accelerated under his administration, and the use of the CIA to overthrow the governments of Iran and Guatemala was inexcusable, especially Iran considering the long-term disaster that led to for US foreign policy. His leadership on civil rights was not exactly stellar either.
However, who among us would not take John Foster Dulles over Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney, Wolfowitz, etc. in running America's foreign policy? He could be a bastard, but at least he was competent. Of course, Powell is our Secretary of State today, which was Dulles' position under Eisenhower, but Powell has so little control over foreign policy that he is essentially irrelevant.
Overall then, would Eisenhower vote for Kerry or Bush. This is an impossible question to answer. But I do think that today's Democratic party has a lot more in common with Eisenhower than today's Republican party, something that is personified in John Eisenhower deciding to vote Democrat for the first time at age 82. Both Eisenhower and the Democrats believe in a balanced budget. Democrats, at least the moderate and conservative wings of the party, are advocating a foreign policy based more about realism, negotiation, and building alliances than the Republicans, positions I believe Eisenhower would more or less approve of. The Democratic party is really fairly conservative--they like Eisenhower, want to hold on to the fundamental aspects of the New Deal while today's Republicans want to destroy those gains of 70 years ago.
I think this discussion illustrates how far right the American political system has gone in the last 50 years. Today's Democratic party is now where the moderate Republicans were in 1954. Today's Republican party is where the far right of the Republican party was in 1954, out there with the John Birch Society. Mainstream Democrats of the mid 1950s in America, such as Adlai Stevenson would be well to the left of the Democratic party of today. This is disturbing. For many reasons--the wealth of many Americans, right-wing radio, Fox News, lack of Democratic leadership, etc.--this nation has moved far to the right over the last half-century with immense consequences to us and to the rest of the world. Only when the left shows real leadership will the equilibrium of the mid-20th century return to American political life.
Friday, October 01, 2004
Why isn't Kerry using Edwards more? John Edwards should be a key and central part of this campaign. Yet you never see him. If I'm the Democrats, I'm using Edwards everywhere I can. I have him making policy statements, appearing with Kerry, focusing on states like Wisconsin and Minnesota where Kerry should win but maybe isn't and states like Louisiana and Tennessee where Kerry shouldn't win but maybe could. Kerry clearly made the right choice with Edwards but he isn't using him like Clinton used Gore or even like Gore used Lieberman. The Clinton-Gore team was a tough ticket for many reasons but part of it is was that they were a team who came across as 2 complementary people. We just aren't seeing that with Edwards.
It is now clear that Kerry won the debate. All the polls say so. More importantly, except for the real lunatics, the Republicans are saying that it was a draw, which means Kerry kicked his ass. Many other blogs and columns have been written on this so I will just contribute a few thoughts.
1. I was all ready before the debate to write a post after the debate slamming Kerry and saying what a bad candidate he was. But he actually came through big. His points were good and he looked rational, as opposed to Bush who could only say that he was staying the course. Which would be fine if the course was even remotely working. But he was saying this on a day when 40 Iraqis children were blown up. So that's a hard argument to make. Kerry is back in the race.
2. I think Kerry will take advantage of his victory to even the polls after the 3rd debate. Bush's strength was the the war on terror. He couldn't win that debate. What's going to happen in the debate on the economy? Bush can't possibly run on his domestic record. In this he faces the same problem as his father. All he can talk about his tax cuts, but the deficit will be the obvious rebuttal. Unless Kerry screws up, I think he wins all 3 debates.
3. Kerry should have taken greater advantage last night of Bush cuts to the military. If Bush supports the troops, why is he making them now buy their own uniforms (which my nephew had to do recently)? Why is he cutting education benefits? Why are VA hospitals getting cut and access to them getting cut? Why are wounded troops having to pay for their meals in the hospital? These kinds of questions are Democratic gold but they haven't mentioned them. Very disturbing and it reminds me of 2000 when they also were timid.
4. The most annoying thing I saw last night was Andrea Kramer on Hardball talking about security Moms and wondering how Kerry would play with women who are afraid their children will be killed at school. As I discussed in an earlier post, do any of these women exist?
5. I was amused by Bush saying that he knew that Osama Bin Laden had attacked America as if he was both proud of himself and surprised that he knew it.
I think we have to be pleased. Unfortunately I won't be able to watch Edwards make Cheney look terrible on Tuesday but I look forward to Friday's town hall meeting debate. Again, why is it on a Friday? Are they trying to ensure that no one watches it?