I can not say enough good things about Peter Hessler's 2001 book River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, published by Harper Collins in 2001. Hessler wrote about his experiences as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in a small town in the province of Sichuan in China. Hessler, now the Chinese correspondent for The New Yorker and National Geographic, writes brilliantly about his experiences there and should be read by most anyone interested in the transformations of China, the interactions of westerners and Asians, and those with an interest in travel writing.
I should disclose to those that don't know that I spent a year in the mid 90s teaching English in South Korea, in fact almost at the same time that Hessler was in China. Thus I related to many of his experiences and wished that I had engaged the culture and language of Korea like he did with China. You can't change the past, but reading River Town made me somewhat nostalgic for being in Asia and made me angry that I did not take full advantage of the opportunity that I had.
But even if you've never been to Asia, you will value this book highly. A couple of quick examples. Hessler writes beautifully in chapter 2 about teaching English and American literature to Chinese college students. For these kids, everything is infused with Chinese politics and propaganda and while this obviously makes teaching complicated, the literature also means a lot more to them than to most American students. If you have any questions about this book, pick it up and read this chapter. His discussion of the building of the Three Gorges Dam, which flooded part of the town where he lived, the complications with crazy women wanting to marry a Westerner, trying to fit into the ridiculous drinking rituals that help define Asian masculinity, living with the pollution endemic to Asian cities (In Seoul smog made clearly seeing the buildings across the street challenging on some days), the bizarre and amusing respect Chinese have for both Hitler and Jews, and living through the seasons in a new land all make interesting reading.
But it's not just a book on a westerner in Asia. Hessler also provides enlightening discussions on both the meaninglessness and sometimes vital meanings of Chinese propaganda, stories of survivors of the Cultural Revolution and how that time changed China, the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, and the lives of people of all classes in the town that he lived. Really, this is a topnotch book.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
I can not say enough good things about Peter Hessler's 2001 book River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, published by Harper Collins in 2001. Hessler wrote about his experiences as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in a small town in the province of Sichuan in China. Hessler, now the Chinese correspondent for The New Yorker and National Geographic, writes brilliantly about his experiences there and should be read by most anyone interested in the transformations of China, the interactions of westerners and Asians, and those with an interest in travel writing.
Embedded fairly deep in this story about the resignation of Kweisi Mfune as head of the NAACP is a bit on how the IRS is investigating the organization's tax-exempt status because of an anti-Bush speech Julian Bond made. In its letter to the NAACP, the IRS stated that "tax-exempt organizations are legally barred from supporting or opposing any candidate for elective office."
It's good to know that the government and the IRS are being fair and balanced here. After all, if you don't count the thousands of churches whose pastors made pro-Bush speeches, there are hardly any tax-exempt organizations who are blatantly organizing for the Republicans.
It amuses me to no end that Notre Dame fired their football coach Tyrone Willingham today. Do they actually think that they are going to get a better coach than Willingham? The man who made Stanford a Pac-10 contender is as good as Notre Dame is going to get. They may go hire Urban Meyer from Utah, but is he going to be able to turn around that program? He did a fine job at Bowling Green and at Utah this year, but he's only been at Utah 1 year and he inherited all the players from an already good team. I don't think he's proven that he's the man who can take Notre Dame to a national championship.
Why this is so amusing to me is that the fans of Notre Dame are insane. They really think that in today's world of college football that they should compete for a national championship every year. And that's just not going to happen, no matter who the coach is. The only teams that can really do that are Miami, USC, Oklahoma, and Texas--all because they are in centers of amazing high school football with good weather. There's no way that a team from Indiana is going to bring in enough recruits to South Bend, Indiana to compete every year. But because their fans are off their rockers, they are going to fire the best coach they've had since at least Lou Holtz. I will laugh for the next several seasons as Notre Dame again does nothing at all and then fires Urban Meyer or whoever else they choose.
Check out this interesting link to possible Republican presidential candidates in 2008 from The New Republic. These are all candidates not usually mentioned--no Frist, Jeb, McCain, Giuliani, etc. And yes, there are candidates on there who would probably be worse than W. Care to think of what a Rick Santorum administration would look like? How about Sam Brownback? Or even Colorado's resident lunatic, Tom Tancredo? (And you thought I was talking about Wayne Allard) Time to get those Canadian immigration papers ready.
I'm in agreement with Lawyers Guns and Money and Matthew Yglesias on the Ukraine situation. Clearly we need to support the pro-western candidate, both because he did win and because he is more committed to our values. I guess what I find interesting is the desire among the Russians and the pro-Russian areas of the old Soviet Union (Belarus and eastern Ukraine primarily) to revert to a Brezhnev-era government. What is the appeal? Is it the sense of order? Is it a belief that that period represented a time when the Soviets were a world power and thus Putin and his minions will lead the Russians back to being a world power?
The other issue concerning how to think about Russia and its surrogates is nuclear. Is it better to have a stable if corrupt and pointless authoritarian government or an unstable democracy when we're talking about a nationalistic nation that is aggrieved about losing its empire and has the world's most powerful weapons? My heart says that I want the people of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus to have free democracies but my head is saying that maybe my life is more secure with Putin as the head of Russia and some flunkey of his leading the other 2 nations.
Check out this sobering, if not surprising article, on post-traumatic stress disorder among British soldiers returning from Iraq. Interesting how we're not hearing much about this in America. Oh of course it's because Americans aren't pussies like the Brits rather than because the media is just choosing not to talk about it.
It's amusing to watch David Brooks try to say that Jerry Falwell doesn't represent the Christian fundamentalist movement and then praise another preacher who holds the same basic beliefs as Falwell but who doesn't publicize himself like Falwell. Makes you think Brooks is going to convert to Christianity to get away from his own people, those relativistic amoral Jews.
Monday, November 22, 2004
A couple of things on the Pacers-Pistons debacle on Friday.
1. This is one of 2 huge reasons that I stopped watching the NBA several years ago. I hate this gangster shit that dominates basketball. Why do I want to watch this? The other reason is that the games are so boring when compared to the 80s. For that I blame Chuck Daly and Pat Riley, but that's another rant.
2. All this talk of "Oh, what are we going to do about these interactions between players and fans" is hypocritical bullshit. The answer is easy--ban alcohol from sporting events. You do that, these confrontations probably decline by 90%. So long as alcohol is sold at sporting events, this will continue. Tell the professional sports league to get out from under the tit of the alcohol cow and we can get back to civilized sporting events.
3. Artest (and certainly Jackson) was wrong, but he was hit in the head with a cup of beer. Those fans should be prosecuted, and not get some suspended sentence bullshit like what happened to those lunatic White Sox fans who attacked Royals 1st base coach Tom Gamboa a couple of years ago, left the poor guy with hearing loss in one ear (as if coaching the Royals wasn't pain enough) and got off with nothing. Totally unacceptable. Jail time for obnoxious fans is another key to stopping this shit.
If it sounds like I blame the fans for this, you're right. Artest is a punk and his suspension is justified, as is Jackson's. But they didn't start it either. The players have been rightfully punished for their part. Now it's time for the fans to be punished too.
UPDATE: In a related story, both Clemson and South Carolina have announced they will refuse any bowl bids after their brawl this weekend at the end of their game. Glad to see administrators crack down, even if they probably only came to this decision as a result of the NBA.
Do you think it's a good idea for the bodyguards of the world's most powerful leader to get into shoving matches in foreign countries over whether they can accompany their leader to dinner on a trip in part designed to smooth over relations with the part of the world that is your traditional sphere of influence after ignoring them for 4 years? No, you say--well you can't be part of the Bush administration. Good job America!!
I ask this of Bill because he clearly smoked some really good crack before he wrote his column in the Times today. Safire claims that changing the Constitution to allow Schwarzenegger to run for president is a civil rights issue. Not that Safire has ever really come out strongly for civil rights before. He must have had an epiphany. I'm sure he's also now for reparations to African-Americans too.
He also seems to believe that the Hispanic population is going to be heavily motivated by changing the Constitution to allow immigrants to run for president. Yes, Bill, I'm sure that Juan and Roberto who are fixing my roof really give a flying fuck whether or not some relation of some bastard who terrorized their families in Guatemala can become president here. I'm sure that's really going to get them to the polls.
Finally, Safire shows how far out of touch he is becoming with political reality in this country. He claims that when this amendment is passed in 2007 (he seems to forget that Democrats still have some power in this country, at least in the states) that Arnie will become VP to McCain or Giuliani. Que??? First, does he really think that McCain or Giuliani can survive the Republican primaries in the South against Jeb Bush or Bill Frist? Second, does he believe they will do better than Arnie? Third, does he really think that Arnie would be willing to be a vice-president?
Then to top it off he says that if this amendment were passed, Peter Jennings could be the Democrats VP candidate. Maybe Safire picked a good time to stop writing for the Times.
It was good to see the latent racism of the Republican party come to the forefront with the failure to overhaul the intelligence system. Bush and his boys are going to learn a hard lesson that you can't use hate as a campaign method and then turn it off once you win. Actually Jim Sensenbrenner has a point about needing to stop immigration. If we had just not let those krauts in the country, we wouldn't have to deal with idiots like him in powerful political positions.
Friday, November 19, 2004
The conventional wisdom about Chilean politics has been that the Pinochet regime killed that nation's long legacy of political protest and that in the post-Pinochet years, Chile is the most pro-capitalist nation in Latin America. But as South America wakes up from its 20 year long activist slumber and social justice again begins to play a major role in regional politics, the Chilean people are waking up too. As Bush visits Chile for the APEC summit, thousands of protestors are rallying against Bush. Chile has a long way to go to return to the level of social agitation of the Allende years, but at least a new generation of activists are beginning to work.
I suggest reading Michelle Cottle's editorial in The New Republic on why Hillary Clinton would be the worst possible candidate for the Democrats in 2008. I disagree with her conclusions about why Kerry was a bad candidate. I don't think he was. But she's completely right about why Hillary would be terrible. Why would we nominate the most demonized political figure since Richard Nixon? Conservatives loved Nixon but there's no way he could have won in 1976 had he been able to run. Same with Hillary. Liberals love her but she is simply loathed by conservatives. Republicans could run anyone against her and win. Maybe even the ghost of Richard Nixon.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
The campaign has started for a President Arnie. You may have seen this on the Daily Show on Tuesday. If one Democrat in a state legislature or Congress votes to amend the Constitution to allow foreign-born citizens to be president, meaning of course 1 particular foreign-born citizen, he or she should be banished from the party.
UPDATE: It seems that David Broder is on board.
I'm sure that we've learned our lesson and won't listen to wild claims coming from Iranian exiles about Iran's nuclear weapon capabilities. What, George W. Bush won reelection? Well it's a good thing that I like the weather in Teheran in July.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
A while ago I posted on my concerns about Harry Reid, the new Senate minority leader. Now that it is certain he will win the position, my concerns are increasing. Not only is he a anti-abortion Democrat, he is also supposed to be even less telegenic than Tom Daschle. Yes, that's right. Less telegenic. Not good.
In addition, it seems the Democrats in the Senate are interpreting their losses as happening because they were too obstructionist to Bush. Reid hopes to be less obstructionist. This is a total misunderstanding of Daschle's loss. My understanding of his defeat is that it happened primarily because Daschle was seen to have lost touch with South Dakota. He recently bought a house in DC where he claimed to be a DC resident in order to receive a tax break. That did not play well in Rapid City or Mitchell. In addition, he had been seen driving around in a Porsche, not a car you see too often in Spearfish. And in western South Dakota, otherwise known as the Progressive Mecca of the nation, he was too soft on killing prairie dogs. In other words, he lost in a divided state on purely local issues. People who voted for Thune might have said that they did so because Daschle was too obstructionist, but those people almost certainly would have voted for Thune anyway.
So in response, we have a weak minority leader who wants to be less obstructionist. The exact opposite of what we need. We need a strong minority leader who will hold Bush accountable for his actions and build an opposition to him. I am happy that Dick Durbin took over the whip slot that Reid vacated. Maybe he will play a very active role. But overall, I find this to be very worrisome.
Perhaps our greatest hope is that since Harry Reid is a Mormon and a Democrat, he is protected under the Endangered Species Act and therefore it's a federal crime for Republicans to attack him.
So I've been taking some flak from people on the post on the use of the military that I posted yesterday. And perhaps for good reason--my ideas on it may be half baked. Only one complaint to my detractors--post your criticisms on the blog damnit!!!
But seriously, though there are certainly legitimate criticisms of my ideas on a Democratic agenda for the military, I do think it's important that we on the left work harder to promote a positive agenda. Too often our actions, whether talking amongst friends, on our blogs, in the newspapers, or on the radio are simply negative. The best example of this is Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, who criticizes the US for not doing anything about the Sudan, but if we did do something would undoubtedly criticize it as well.
It's very easy to complain about how bad things are and I think we should. But I also think that it's very important that we work on presenting an alternative vision of a future society as opposed to only criticizing the one we now have. We have all kinds of critiques of everything that is wrong today but very little in the way of concrete alternatives. I suppose this is because it's easy to find allies in criticism than in positive ideas--I think all of the readers of this think Iraq was a stupid war but everyone probably has a different idea of what we should do now or what we should do to fight terrorism, etc. And of course these different ideas are fine--we would be braindead if we didn't discuss different alternatives. But I don't think we do this enough and I hope that this blog plays a tiny role in alleviating this problem.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
One of the problems that we have on the left is the Democratic Party's inability or unwillingness since Vietnam to develop a real foreign policy platform. Generally, the left has avoided any real thought of the correct circumstances to use our military. This has left a vacuum on the subject that the Republicans have taken advantage of. Kerry epitomized this. Like most Vietnam-era liberals, he was uncomfortable (until he became a candidate) with the use of the military overseas except with UN approval. Thus he voted against the Gulf War in 1991 when it was clear that Saddam Hussein had no right to just take over another country. If we weren't going to use our military then, when would we? In a New Yorker article on Joe Biden, back in the late spring I believe, Biden tells a story of the discussion to give Bush the right to use the military against Iraq. The real liberal senators, led by Paul Wellstone and Barbara Boxer, simply would refuse to even entertain the idea that we could ever have a reason to invade Iraq or any other country and thus would not consider some kind of Democratic alternative to what was eventually passed.
Although I respect Wellstone and Boxer, this is wrong. We need to retake ground on foreign policy debates. We need to define what our self-interests are and what we will do to defend them. We need to give a message to the American people that we are willing to use our military and tell them when and how we will. John Kerry began to do this in his campaign but the message was not particularly clear, in part because of W's slanders on him, in part because Kerry wasn't always effective at delivering this message, and in part because the Democrats are still trying to figure out what that message is.
Here's what I think the message should be.
1. We will always use our military to protect our citizens when attacked.
2. We will never use our military to invade countries without a clear reason and with an exit strategy.
3. We will always work to build alliances with other nations.
4. It is our duty as the most powerful nation in the world to protect people from genocide.
5. We will keep the interests of the nation's soldiers as an extremely high priority.
Let me expand on a couple of these. #4 would give us the justification to invade the Sudan. We would have to work on a reasonable exit strategy and hope like hell another Somalia didn't happen. But nonetheless, it's clear that the American people are generally willing to accept the rhetoric of giving freedom to the people of the world. Where is that more necessary than in the Sudan? It would be easy to demonize the government of the Sudan and get the public support to invade. We could save hundreds of thousands of lives, work to build a democratic ally in the region, and thus advance our national interests in a humanitarian way. We could do this with an international alliance and hopefully even UN approval. At the same time, we would make it clear that our primary mission was to protect the people of the Sudan from their own government and that we had no interest in controlling whatever resources the nation has (Do they have any?) or to establish military bases or a puppet government in that nation. It could be the kind of mission that Afghanistan should have been.
We could really hammer the Republicans on #5. Not only is there the issue of the National Guard and now the recall of the discharged soldiers, but also the poor treatment that US soldiers receive. I think that if the public knew that our soldiers had to buy their own uniforms, that they had to pay for their meals when they are wounded, and that their medical services and other benefits are being reduced by the Republicans, they would be outraged. We can use this to our advantage if we come out with a pro-soldier platform, as opposed to a pro-military platform.
I clearly don't have all the answers here and I welcome discussion on these points. I think it's an important discussion that we need to start having. But in general, we do need to come up with a real policy of military intervention and engagement with the rest of the world. We need to show America that we are strong on foreign policy and the military and that we will act more in the interests of the United States and more responsibly worldwide. I think that if we can come up with a coherent policy encompassing these points, we can go a long way in taking back America.
Next, Part 5--Economic Issues
Historians are increasingly viewing music as a legitimate subject of their studies. Undoubtedly this has happened in large part because music fans, and especially rock fans, have reached tenure and can write books that might not be so accepted by stodgy academic departments looking down upon such studies. After all, why study the history of rock and roll when there's another book on the Gadsden Purchase to write?
I just finished the Glenn Altschuler's recent history of rock and roll, All Shook Up, published by Oxford in 2003. This is a fine overview of the history of 50s rock placed into a social and cultural history context. Altschuler does a good job discussing the kind of racial and sexual fears that rock and roll caused and how artists had to reign themselves in in order to be recorded and played on the radio. For example, the original lyrics to Little Richard's Tutti Frutti was "Tutti Frutti, good booty/If it don't fit, don't force it/You can grease it/make it easy." Not sure that could get played on the radio today.
In general though, while Altschuler clearly doesn't want to write a dry book he doesn't make a history of rock in the 50s as exciting as it seems that it should be. Perhaps this is something that academics have to deal with when writing about music. Music is something that seems far away from our lives as academics, when we write about it as academics it's hard to not fall into that writing paradigm. On the other hand, we don't want to write fan biographies or to write a book without real analysis. What would be the point of that? I have no answers for this question.
My other criticism of the book is that the conclusion seems a little thrown together. Altschuler strives to show the lasting power of rock music. But he keeps his analysis of rock largely as part of youth culture. While we cannot question that youth culture and rock music are still deeply intertwined, of course people in their 30s and 40s are still listening to new rock bands as well. How many 35 year olds buy the latest Radiohead album? A lot, I would venture to say. So the expansion of rock culture doesn't really get any kind of analysis.
Nonetheless, if you are interested in how rock music intertwined with the social history of the 1950s, particularly analysis of its racial and sexual components, this is a fine book and would also be a useful book to someone wanting to teach a history of American music. Probably not useful to assign, but certainly a useful reference book with several good stories and the kind of analysis that would make a history of music relevant and interesting.
Monday, November 15, 2004
Here's an interesting article from the Washington Post about Chuck Hagel running for president in 2008. This would be an interesting candidate and almost certainly a better president than the current (OK, that's not hard). What they're not mentioning though is that no outsiders get the Republican nomination for president. Hagel would be a tough candidate for us to beat but no divorced Episcopalian who has criticized the war is going to survive the Republican primaries. And on the outsider wing of the Republican party, it's going to be harder for him than McCain or Giulani because of their national prominence and popularity.
I would be shocked if anyone but Jeb is the Republican nominee in 2008. Nonetheless, it's an interesting article and worth checking out.
I've criticized America a lot lately. But we are a unique country in a lot of positive and amusing ways. For instance, I was at a Dave Alvin concert on Saturday and when he introduced the band he discussed all the people his drummer had played for, including David Allen Coe (don't know if it was on any of his country porn albums). Then he ended it by saying that the drummer (from Springfield, MO) had once played on a gospel album by John Ashcroft!!! He must be the only person to even know both of those guys. What other country could this happen in? This is also the same country where Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggert could be cousins.
Even if you hate US politics, it sure as hell is an interesting place.
Example number 4 trillion of unintended environmental consequences. How strong do you think the earthquakes will be if, as some are planning, we dump millions of tons of carbon dioxide underground to stem the effects of global warming?
Friday, November 12, 2004
Check out this article from The New Republic by Brad Carson, the loser in the Oklahoma senate race. He brings up a point that I think we've all been skirting around. The cultural conservatives are not just fighting a culture war--they oppose modern liberal thought in all its forms.
Are we heading into a period where antimodernists are more powerful than anytime in American history? I think the answer in undoubtedly yes. One may argue that these strains of antimodernism have been in rural American culture as far back as the early twentieth century with the Scopes Trial and the popularity of Billy Sunday, and probably much farther than that if you get back into the rural Baptist churches of the South. But it was never the national movement it is today. Antimodernists never held the balance of power in a presidential election, much less have one of their own as President.
What I doubt many of the evangelicals realize is that they are fighting the same war as Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalists. This rapidly changing globalized world has made a lot of people insecure--the Taliban, Hindu fundamentalists in India, the Israeli settlers, and American evangelicals, among others. In a sense of a broad worldview, the W-Coburn-DeMint-DeLay-Thune-Santorum-etc supporters have a hell of a lot in common with Osama Bin Laden. They both basically want a religious state where everyone conforms to the same viewpoints and coercive methods to achieve that conformity is accepted. Of course, there is a great deal of difference between Osama and Santorum as well but that's more obvious. What's amazing to me is how far evangelical antimodernism has worked into the mainstream in America.
If you all have any good ideas how to fight against this tide, let me know.
I've read a lot lately on the left showing indignation over the idea that we are denigrating to the conservatives in middle America and that is why they have turned against us so strongly. And some of this talk has good merit. After all, Kerry never once said that people in Alabama were a bunch of racist Klan members or that the major pastime in Nebraska was tipping cows. On the other hand, conservatives are open in their contempt for California, New York, and Massachusetts with that Catholic sinner Ted Kennedy. Conservatives have taken a public stand on the culture wars and places such as Seattle, Portland, Santa Fe, and Boston are places that they see as evil and aren't afraid to say so.
But I say to the left--come on and be honest. We do denigrate red states. We do denigrate their culture. And sometimes it's for good reason. In the latest issue of Harper's there's an excerpt of a Christ-centered math textbook that is taught at Bob Jones University. A lot of people are comfortable with that. It is absurd and deserves to be made fun of. So does the teaching of creationism. So does homophobia, Bible-thumping preachers, racism, big hair, people who still listen to Def Leppard and Poison, etc. We denigrate that stuff and mostly for a damn good reason. There is a culture war and we need to confront it.
However, there are also a lot of damn good people out there in red states that are offended when we gratuitously make fun of them. And Hollywood, TV, comics, etc. do make fun of Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, etc. a damn lot. Let's take a quiz, readers. How many of you would never live in the South? If you would, how many highly educated people do you know who wouldn't live in the South? I have lived in the South (Tennessee and, briefly, Georgia) and would again. But a lot of people, even educated people who've never been to the South wouldn't. Why? Because they hold cultural stereotypes about people they've never seen and never want to see. To be honest, Southern and rural stereotypes are almost as bad as racist stereotypes--perhaps there's less history behind them but they come from the same dark spot in our hearts.
So while there are many things about red state culture that we can and should denigrate, there's a lot of good people out there too that we should meet and be happy to have them as allies. I suggest 3 ideas to help us make these connections.
1. Be honest with ourselves about how we feel about red state culture and be honest with the world about it too.
2. Try to visit red states and get to know people in those places if you don't already. And if you live in, say, Seattle and know only liberals and lefties, take a weekend and go out to Dayton, Pomeroy, or Clarkston. It's not that bad. Well, maybe Clarkston is.
3. Attack the bad parts about rural culture. At the same time, attack the condescending parts of urban culture toward rural culture. Rural people have a point. We need to recognize this and try to bridge the gap.
Like all of you, I'm sad that the Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, is resigning. The architect of No Child Left Behind, Paige was the superintendent of education in Houston before joining the Bush cabinet. In Houston he revolutionized the school system, drastically cutting dropout rates while raising test scores. It came out earlier this year that the reason this happened is that the Houston school district simply made up the numbers.
Even though he made up his credentials, led the Houston school system into systematic fraud to look good to the government, and was only in the cabinet because he's one of the dozen black Republicans in the nation, he might be less incompetent than most other Bush appointees. At least his failings can be traced to lies instead of idiocy. Somehow I prefer that.
Is it just me, or is Trans-Siberian Orchestra the worst band with a popular following today? Any band that seems to be made up of equal parts Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Dream Theater, and Wagner is bound to be both terrible and pretentious. A lethal combination that wins Trans-Siberian Orchestra my worst band award.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
James McMurtry has been writing some of America's best songs for the last 15 years yet his following is still quite small. I understand that Live in Aught-Three has sold well and I hope to God that this is true. McMurtry's songs resonate with scenes from middle America and not in that sappy bullshit way that bad country songs do. All the wrinkles are there. In "Out Here in the Middle" he talks about the Great Plains as the place where "the center is on the right and William Jennings Bryan preaches every night." Which is true enough. In "Rachel's Song", a song about a down and out mother he sums up the alcoholic creed by describing a drunk and driving accident that should have killed her and she thinks "I ought to give up drinking but I don't believe I will." And his most well-known song, "Levelland" he asks the question that I think anyone who's ever been to the Llano Estacado of eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle wonders about:
"Flatter than a table top
Makes you wonder why they stopped here
Wagon must have lost a wheel or they lacked ambition, one"
Which is the goddamn truth.
Another great song is "Choctaw Bingo." This album was introduced to me by a friend on a drive back from Las Vegas who said that this song was the best he had heard all year and it's hard to argue. I was getting sick on this drive and was fading and was still in eastern Arizona. Listening to this song got my attention and made me aware of the world again and able to drive back to Santa Fe. It's a crazy family story about the northern Texas-Southwest Oklahoma crystal methamphetamine region, as he describes it. I don't want to give this song away but I will say that it's worth buying the album for this song alone.
As for the music itself, it's basically country-rock-singer-songwriter stuff. The trio is good enough for this music. McMurtry's voice isn't the greatest in the world but it works with this band. It's strong enough and emotional enough to convey the emotional power of a song like "Lights of Cheyenne" and the fun of "Choctaw Bingo."
I can't say enough good things about this album. The songs are just great, great, great. If you are in the mood to buy some music and you're not sure what to get, buy this album. It will be one of the best investments you make this year.
Ever since Yasser Arafat got sick, editorial after editorial has described him as a corrupt terrorist who killed thousands of innocent Israelis. Now these editorials say, we have a chance at peace, something that W has also said now that Arafat has died. This anti-Arafat rhetoric has sickened me. Was Arafat perfect? No. He turned out to be a poor administrator and corruption was a problem. However, is he at fault for the situation in Israel-Palestine? Is he the one who has forced the Palestinian people into poverty and second-class citizenship in the region? Was it Arafat who forced millions of Palestinians off of their land after World War II and into a state of permanent poverty with the approval of Britain and the United States? Hell no.
Let's also remember who started the second Intifada. It was Ariel Sharon who decided to go strolling with Israeli military figures at the Temple Mount in a direct challenge to the Palestinians. It is the Israelis who have never been able to admit that they treated the people of Palestine in a way not altogether unlike the way they had just been treated in World War II. It's the Israelis who don't want Palestinians to achieve economic and social equality within the state of Israel. And frankly, Israel deserves the lion's share of the blame for the suicide bombs that have killed thousands of their people.
After all, what was Arafat and the PLO to do? Their land had been stolen from them. Racism abounded and still abounds in Israel. They were forced to live in horrible conditions in refugee camps. At least until the Camp David meetings in 2000, Israel never offered any sort of settlement to begin stemming some the problems that led to the rise of the Intifada and suicide bombers. Barak should receive credit for making the offer and Arafat scorn for rejecting it out of hand. But since then, it's not as if Israel has continued to make reasonable offers. Their response was for Sharon to start the Second Intifada, then to elect him prime minister and for the oppression of the Palestinians to continue.
It was time for Arafat to pass from the scene. He did all he could do and by now he was a negative influence on solving these difficult problems. He should have accepted Barak's offer and put the ball in Israel's court to follow through. He should have been less corrupt. But for peace to really have a chance in Israel, we need Sharon to pass from the scene too and new Israeli policies to combat anti-Arab racism, get the settlers out of the West Bank and Gaza--by military force if necessary, give the Palestinians real economic opportunities, and give them the state that they need and deserve. Then we'll start talking about a real solution.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
One of the most important fronts in the task of taking back America is to reclaim the moral high ground on "family values." I place this quotes because family values are of course defined as Christian values and really conservative Christian values. We can and must take back both rhetorical and factual ground on these issues.
First, we must stand up to the anti-abortionists. We need to adopt the Clinton mantra of making abortion legal, safe, and rare. Of course abortion is not an ideal situation for anyone. But it must be made available to all women. In the late 1990s, it was impossible to have an abortion in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is completely unacceptable. Most Americans support Roe v. Wade. We need to remember this and stop cowering under the rhetoric of the evangelicals.
While perhaps adoption is a better option than abortion in many cases, it is not supported. The government should play an active role in supporting adoption. The thing that bothers me the most about the anti-abortion movement is that they will stop at nothing to prevent women from having abortions, but they don't give a shit what happens to the unwanted and impoverished children. Then when they are 16 and shooting each other in the parking lot of their local 7-11 they want them thrown in prison. These people are the ultimate hypocrites when it comes to family values and we need to point that out consistently. The way we do this is through making economic programs the core of our family values program.
We need to make an argument that Americans have a history of helping each other and acting as a community to solve problems and that these are family values. We must argue that food stamps, Medicaid, and Head Start are family values. We need to argue that raising the minimum wage is a family value. We need to argue that the right to health insurance is a family value. And when the conservatives come out against these things, we need to throw it in their faces and accuse them, without mincing words, of not supporting family values. We must be aggressive in these arguments in order to make the Democratic party the party of family values. I believe that such a strategy would have a high chance of success and would play a major role in helping us take back America.
Next--Part 4, Foreign Policy
It seems more likely that Harry Reid of Nevada is likely to become Senate Minority Leader. I feel really uncomfortable with this for several reasons.
1. By all accounts, he's not telegenic. In a perfect world this shouldn't be important. But in this world it is. Especially when Bill Frist has little else going for him but being good on TV. We need a good face and voice for this job, not someone who gets the job because he's next in line.
2. He's anti-abortion. Given the importance of the Supreme Court in this 2nd Bush term, we need a leader who is going to go to the mat to protect Roe v. Wade. Will Harry Reid do that? I'd feel a lot more comfortable with someone I knew would use abortion as a litmus test on Court nominees.
3. Who the hell is Harry Reid? Harry Reid has not exactly been a national leader. Wouldn't John Kerry make a hell of a lot more sense as Senate Minority Leader. He's proven himself to be pretty articulate, smart, and will take a stand on important issues. He may be a northeastern liberal but he's one known nationwide and who has the respect of a lot of people, even many who didn't vote for him. What do we gain by Harry Reid? He's from a state trending Democrat but would Reid as Minority Leader really make a difference in the Democratic nominee carrying NV in 2008? Sure didn't make a difference with Daschle. If he represents the future of the Democratic party, meaning ever more conservative on social issues, I'm not sure if that is a party that a)will win or b) I want to support.
I for one would really like to see John Kerry as Minority Leader. I hope the Senate Democrats pick a real leader for the job. Maybe I'm not giving Reid enough credit. Maybe the senators think they are picking a real fighter. But early signs are not positive.
I thought I'd let David Brooks off the hook for awhile. Didn't want to beat a dead horse. But he keeps goading me. And he really did it today with his editorial in the Times.
Brooks discusses the importance of "exurbia," by which he means suburbs that have taken on a life of their own and have little to do with the central cities they originally were built around. He extols their virtues and then wonders why his book about them didn't sell.
Mr. Brooks--you're book didn't sell because someone smarter than you already wrote about it. Perhaps you have forgotten about Joel Garreau's Edge City. Though I haven't read your book, I have my doubts that it says much Garreau didn't say and he didn't attach the political and moral values to these suburbs that I'm sure you did.
Brooks describes these cities as "towns with ample living space, intact families, child-friendly public culture, and intensely enforced social equality." In other words, white.
Any smart discussion of these cities needs to admit their faults while also discussing their virtues. You can talk about these being a good place to live while also admitting that ample living space means environmental destruction (particularly in the I-4 corridor in Florida that he seems so fond of) and that intensely enforced social equality means that social diversity is not highly valued. And that brown people aren't always welcome.
But rather than intelligently discuss these places, Brooks sees them for what he wants to see--Republican paradise. White people with big houses and women who would still rather take valium than divorce their cheating husbands. Brooks seems to like these places because it is there that people are still trying to live a 1955 stereotype. And they're white.
Again, to Mr. Brooks. I've already identified why academics and people on the left didn't read your book. You couldn't tap into market of the people who live in these places for the precise reason you like them. They're white suburban Republicans. Not exactly the most self-reflective or intellectual people. If you really want to reach these people, write a Harlequin romance or Tom Clancy book. It couldn't be worse than this column.
Monday, November 08, 2004
Friday, November 05, 2004
The issue of gay rights is perhaps the hardest policy issue that Democrats have to decide over the next few years. To what extent do we push for increased gay rights and at what political cost will such gains come. There can be little question that gay marriage cost us the election. We underestimated the power of bigotry in this country. I don't think we will again anytime soon.
I think we have to halt the movement for gay marriage for the time being. We are living in a time similar in some ways to the 1920s and 1930s when there was significant support for real laws to stop lynching in the South. However, although it was the moral thing to do, it was never done because at the time it would have been political suicide. (Note--I'm not comparing not allowing gays to marry to lynching. That would be offensive. But there are some historical parallels here) Sadly, the nation was just not ready for real civil rights legislation before World War II. But slowly a new generation came to power and with a great struggle, not only were anti-lynching laws passed and enforced, but of course many other great civil rights gains were also accomplished. On gay marriage, I feel that we are in a 1930 mode. Many of us know that there is no good reason to not allow gays to marry. It is simply discrimination. But the nation as a whole is not ready. To come out and actively support gay marriage might play well with the Democratic base (see the mayor of San Francisco) but it means that we will lose elections both on the national and local levels. However, a new day is dawning, albeit slowly. Even conservatives under the age of 40 mostly don't care about gay marriage and thus in another 20 years, gay marriage could be accepted throughout the nation, though again, not without a significant struggle in, say, Alabama.
However, even if the nation is not ready for gay marriage as a legal institution yet, it may be ready for significant civil union legislation. Obviously, we are not going to get that on a national level right now. But surveys show that a lot of the people who oppose gay marriage have no problem at all with civil unions. I think that's the answer. To abandon the gains we have made on gay rights would be simply immoral. We just need to scale back the rhetoric some and some of the legal challenges for "marriage" as such and work toward civil union legislation in many states. Of course, it makes sense for us to start in states like Washington, California, and New York, but I don't think it would take too many years for that to spread to more moderate states--perhaps an Arizona, Iowa, or Missouri.
By focusing on civil unions with all the benefits of marriage, while not discussing marriage at all, I think we can go a very long way in undermining the evangelical hold on the Republican party and begin to retake America.
Coming this weekend--Part 3--"Family Values"
Dear exit pollers and others who define "moral values" as meaning oppression of gays, women, and other non-white Christian conservative groups and who do not define moral values as fighting against poverty and oppression and for human rights and equality.
I'd just like to tell you all to fuck off and die.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Check out this editorial by Katha Politt in The Nation about why so much of our progressive rhetoric about untapped reservoirs of progressive voters may just have been wrong. I believe this to be true and we'd better figure out what to do about it.
A couple of thoughts on why Bush won New Mexico.
1. Gay marriage. That was really bad among Hispanics who usually can be counted on to vote heavily Democratic. Many Hispanics are uncomfortable enough with the Democratic position on abortion. Combined with gay marriage it turned enough to Bush for him to win.
2. Bill Richardson. Richardson had 1 damn job this year and that was to make sure that Kerry won the state. But he was very quiet on the election until late October. There was 1 commercial with Richardson when there should have been several. And there is talk that in Richardson's home power base of the Hispanic villages of northern New Mexico there is some discontent because he is focused on national and international issues over local issues because of his ambitions. Could part of Richardson have wanted Kerry to lose to set him up in 2008 to be a strong candidate? I hate to argue that, but for a politician with an ego his size, it's not impossible.
UPDATE (11/5/04): Richardson is taking major heat down here for dropping the ball on Kerry. He was very defensive yesterday in a press conference when confronted with these questions. This could be seriously damaging for him.
I was to depressed yesterday to think about this much. But here's why I think the Democrats win in 2008 and maybe why all of these reasons won't lead to a Democratic victory.
1. Iraq--We're still going to be in Iraq in 4 years. How many Americans will have died? The numbers of people opposed to the war will rise. And disgust over the incompetent way Bush handled Iraq will lead to a Democratic victory.
Why it won't help--People are patriotic and may decide to vote for the Republicans no matter how stupid and futile the war is because they believe that our leaders would not lead us astray in such a matter. Look at Nixon in 1972.
2. Terrorism--Let's face, we will probably be attacked within the next 4 years. This seems especially likely because Bush is creating new terrorists all the time. And an attack would undermine his aura of protecting Americans from terrorism. And if we're not attacked, how long can the Republicans use Sept. 11 as a campaign issue.
Why it won't help--If we are attacked again, it's possible that people will be even more willing to give up their rights to an increasingly fascist regime in exchange for security. And if we're not attacked, maybe people will look to the Republicans as saviors and be even more willing to give up their rights to an increasingly fascist regime in exchange for security.
3. The economy--Outsourcing of middle-class jobs is going to be a huge issue in 2008 I believe. The deficit will be enormous in 4 years and it will become increasingly clear to the nation that Bush only cares about his cronies. Unemployment will likely be up.
Why it won't help--The county in Ohio that had the greatest job losses in the last 4 years voted for Bush. People just don't seem to care that much about the economy unless there is widespread economic disaster. Even when they lose their jobs because of Republican policies, they don't care so long as there is a party that opposes gay marriage. No one cares about the deficit because no one understands it. And will the Democrats have a legitimate opposing position? After all, Democratic lawmakers have been complicit with free-market expansion.
4. Social issues--How much bigger can the evangelical movement get? We're down to a Democratic core. Evangelicals are big in Minnesota, Oregon, Iowa, Wisconsin, but either Kerry still managed to win those states or they were very very close and very winnable in 2008. We don't have senators in right-leaning states anymore, except for the Dakotas and maybe one or two others. It's hard for me to see how the evangelical movement hasn't peaked. Plus they look at W as a messenger from God (seriously). It's hard to see how that gets transferred to another candidate easily. Maybe Jeb but maybe not. Plus Jeb has a Hispanic wife and thus non-white children (Bush Sr's "little brown grandchildren") That could cause the latent racism of many Republicans to pop up.
Why it won't help--The evangelical movement is rapidly growing among Hispanics. It has swept through Central America over the last 20 years and with so many connections between the US and Latin America today it is becoming a powerful force across the continent. That will make it harder to win the Southwest than many of us may think. This could be a really big deal. Plus maybe the movement among whites continues to grow as well and the upper Midwest becomes harder and harder to win.
Although I played devil's advocate here, I feel really optimistic for 2008. I believe that we will be in a better position in 4 years on all 4 of these issues.
And remember, for as depressing as this week has been, 49% of Americans agree with us. We don't need that many more for us to win and take control of government again.
Over the next week or so I am going to outline ways that I think we can and should work to take back America. The general idea of this is, "How do we work on different issues to regain a majority of Americans to our side?" I want to start with a discussion of the environment. Environmental issues played a very small role in the campaign but I think they will be increasingly important in 2008. Here's a few thoughts on how to make the environment a more helpful issue for Democrats.
1. My major argument is that we have to change the environmental movement from one focused on wilderness protection to one focused on people's everyday lives. Yes, protecting wilderness in Utah plays really well on the coasts. And we're never going to win Utah anyway so to hell with them. That was Clinton's philosophy when he created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument just before the 96 election. But what about working on wilderness issues in Arizona, Colorado, or even Montana. Are those states really unwinnable? Even Montana just elected a Democratic governor. And is the alienation that the creation of wilderness causes really worth the wilderness area itself?
People who work in these states, particularly in the West, see environmentalism as something that steals jobs from working class people. They identify the loss of jobs with the Democrats. And then they vote Republican. Even Idaho used to vote for relatively progressive Democrats. Not any more. And environmental issues are a big reason. People see that Democrats place more value on owls, bears, and wolves than working-class westerners.
We need to change the goals of the environmental movement from saving land that is used by wealthy travelers to one that is concerned with the everyday lives of people around the country. That means using resources to work on air pollution, water pollution, environmental justice issues, and workplace environments. In West Virginia, we need to not attack mountain top removal coal mining because it destroys the mountains. We need to talk about it as bad because of how it effects people who live near these mountains. We don't need a lot of votes from West Virginia to push it back to the Democrats.
We should not protest the WIPP facility near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The people of Carlsbad want it, and hey, if you're going to create nuclear waste, storing it in salt thousands of feet below the ground is probably the best thing to do with it. Rather, we should make sure that it is stored safely and that the people of Carlsbad know that we want to create more jobs for them, rather than close WIPP and take away their livelihood. We don't need that many more votes from New Mexico to make it a solidly Democratic state rather than a swing state.
We need to support sustainable forestry rather than work to shut the forests down from work altogether. We could make Oregon and Washington stronger Democratic states with a reasonable forest plan and maybe even turn Montana back into a swing state.
Overall, we need to focus on local environmental issues. Focus on making industries clean up their pollution without costing localities jobs. Focus on creating jobs through environmental technologies. And most of all, turn environmentalism back to the 70s when it was people-oriented. We need an environmental movement focused around working-class people rather than land protection in inaccessible places. If we can do this, we can go a long way to taking back America.
Tomorrow--Part 2, Gay Rights
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Well it looks really really bad. Maybe there's still a shot in Ohio but assuming there's not, here's my analysis of why we lost. And hell, even if we win here's some issues we have to work on. No use crying I guess so here's some analysis:
1. Gay marriage was huge. I don't think we can overestimate how big this was. Whether a state was voting on a gay marriage amendment or not, the specter of gay marriage brought out evangelicals in numbers that are even higher than 2000. This didn't get a lot of play before the election as a major issue but I think we will find out that it was vital to Bush's victory.
2. Patriotism among minority groups. Of course Kerry won the minority groups but not by as large of margins as Gore did in 2000. For some black and especially Latino families with a family member in the military, I think a connection was made between a vote for the president and a vote for what that family member was doing. It may have been enough to make a difference in some states, particularly New Mexico if we lose it.
3. Most Americans don't give a shit about the economy unless they are directly and majorly affected. This may be the lesson from Ohio if we do in fact lose it. If an economy is really bad and they blame the president for their job loss and the other candidate has a credible plan to change the economy, I think people will vote out an incumbent based on the economy. Otherwise, for a lot of people it's not that important when compared to gay marriage or patriotism. And no one almost at all gives a shit about the deficit.
4. The Democrats need a candidate who can talk to white working class voters in their own language. John Kerry couldn't do that. Even though his programs made sense and even though he turned out to be an excellent debater, he just can't relate to white rural voters in West Virginia, Missouri, or Ohio, states that we should be winning. We must do a better job attracting rural voters.
Two final thoughts:
1. The downfall of the Democratic party is in identity politics. I hate to say this because what part of identity politics hasn't been more or less correct. But nonetheless I believe it to be true.
2. What's really depressing is that this was a loss with a candidate clearly superior to Gore, with Nader as an irrelevancy, with a party more united than it has been since perhaps the New Deal, with a ton of money, and with an unpopular war and mediocre economy. And we still lost. Fuck.
After I get some sleep, a post on why we win blow the Republicans out in 2008.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
In my very late prediction, I have Kerry 297, Bush 241.
I have Kerry winning Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa
I have Bush winning Hawaii, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado
What it seems to come down to is Kerry winning either Ohio or Florida assuming he doesn't lose Michigan or Pennsylvania, an unlikely scenario.
Good news on the weather front--heavy snow is expected in southeastern New Mexico today which to say the least is an extremely pro-Bush part of the state. With the race this tight here, that could make the difference.
On the other hand, 46% of the electorate here either voted early or through absentee ballots. That's an amazing number. In any case, the snow may not matter so much with those kind of numbers.
A few election thoughts:
1. If there is a higher power, it had better come through big today.
2. In my most pessimistic moments today, I think the Republican goons in Ohio will cost Kerry the election. Even if it doesn't cost him the election, the fallout from this will make Florida look like child's play. Cheating in Florida is one thing, but proto-fascist thuggery is a whole other ballgame.
3. In my most optimistic moments, the numbers from early votes, which have shown Kerry up by more than the poll numbers suggest, make me feel that Kerry will win, that it will be clear by this evening, and that it will show the disgust that over 1/2 of the nation feels toward this administration.
Monday, November 01, 2004
Yes, there are elections taking place in other parts of the world these days. And while none of them have the worldwide significance of the United States, check out this story on Uruguay's election of a left-leading candidate.
I cannot really claim to be an expert on current affairs in Latin America. Nonetheless, I do have a pretty good knowledge of the region's history and some knowledge of current affairs. So I'll spout off a bit about me. Believe any of it at your own risk.
Uruguay has just joined a number of nations who have elected left-leaning regimes in the past few years. Venezuela is of course the most famous (notorious depending on your outlook) but also Brazil, and to a lesser extent Argentina and Chile have elected left of center candidates recently. With the exception of Venezuela, this has all happened without the US seeming to care. For over 100 years, the United States has intervened in Latin America in order to crush regimes that seem unfriendly to US interests. There are many examples of this: among the most famous are of course Guatemala in 1954, the Bay of Pigs in 1961, supporting Pinochet in 1973, the Contras throughout the 1980s, Grenada in 1983, and Venezuela in 2002. I'm sure you're all familiar with the disastrous attempt of the US to support the Venezuelan coup against Chavez, something that only strengthened his support among working-class Venezuelans. There are numerous interventions before WWII as well that are less well known today. Perhaps the most famous is creating Panama because Colombia wouldn't allow us to build the canal through their nation and then let have sovereignty over the region.
Why have so many countries in Latin America turned to the left recently? The reason is pretty clear to me--the US supported regimes that cracked down on dissent between the 60s and early 80s implemented free market reforms (Pinochet's advisors were heavily influenced by Friedman and Hayek I understand) that were complete failures. Many historians believe the major reason that the military gave up control in southern South America by the 1980s was that they didn't want to be blamed for the economic failure that was increasingly obvious. Plus they had already killed most of the "communists." The US tried to build this region up with a series of client states that would have the potential to be major economic and political players in the region. And they failed. The economy of South America has mostly collapsed over the past 5 years, with Argentina being the most well-known example. Uruguay has also struggled mightily. As free-market capitalism has failed in South America, many nations are tentatively beginning to reject its main principles. Venezuela has perhaps gone a bit farther in this aspect than Brazil has or Uruguay is likely to, but nonetheless there is a widespread rejection in South America of supply-side economics, which is a necessary first step in bringing greater social equality to the region.
Why hasn't the US stepped in more strongly to protect its interests? There are several reasons I believe. First is that the US-backed coup in Venezuela was such a complete fraud and disaster. I believe that the Bush administration is somewhat hesitant to repeat such an embarrassing episode.
Second, clearly the Bush administration's priorities are elsewhere in the world. The US has traditionally seen control over Latin America as absolutely vital to its interests. Bush has generally ignored the region, of course focusing on the Middle East and war on terror. Although I completely disagree with nearly everything the Bushies have done, it probably does make more sense to make the Middle East the most important global priority--with the exception of Venezuela and to a lesser extent, Mexico, Latin America doesn't have the black gold we need for our economy to survive. And of course the only real reason the US backed the coup attempt in Venezuela was because of its oil.
Third, with the exception of Venezuela and of course Cuba, these new leftist governments have laid off the anti-American rhetoric that was so common among backers of social change in the region during the 1960s-1980s and they have not been relatively market friendly as well. Thus, the US has not had a real logical reason to work to overthrow these governments. Now, its easy to look at the Arbenz government in Guatemala or the Grenada situation and say that those weren't legitimate threats to American capitalism in the region either but nonetheless, it seems that with the region as a lower priority today than in the past, we've moved away from knee-jerk reactions to these governments.
Although widespread social revolution hasn't happened in Latin America, the growing spread of left-leaning governments in Latin America does deserve a great deal of attention. It is a particularly interesting and welcome phenomenon as the results of supply-side economics and free trade policies have deeply affected people on the ground through Latin America.