Friday, March 07, 2003

The Price of Vigilance

Last night I had an interesting conversation with a man who recently moved from to New York to Chicago in search of brighter prospects. He talked about how he lost his job seven weeks after September 11 and as his options become fewer and the drumbeats for war get louder and louder, he finds himself stuck on the idea that he must get a job "before the bombs start falling."

One of things that he said that really struck me was that he hadn't wanted to care about this war but he was forced to care about it, not merely because the topic has swallowed up media discourse like a relentless anaconda, but because his sense of logic won't let him ignore the absurdity of what is being done and said. I went home with these words tumbling round my head to turn on the TV and watch that farce of a press conference.

I think about this because it has recently dawned on me that apathy is a luxury that no-one, pro-war, anti-war, conservative or liberal, employed or unemployed, can afford anymore. Contentment, completeness, pre-occupation with the self-absorbed routine of living a life, all the little selfish vices that inevitably proliferate during times of peace and prosperity no longer exist for too many of us. For those of us who are safely employed, with no loved ones in danger of being shipped overseas, who have never given much thought to foreign affairs one way or another, we find ourselves wondering why this matters all of a sudden, and what has changed to make us all so uncomfortably aware of what we think. Let's face it; it hurts to care. It hurts to have your eyes constantly open, and to be always listening, and waiting, and turning the same thoughts over in your head. If the lights are always on you never sleep.

But I don't think we can turn them off. Not for the obvious reasons, the threat of terror or whatnot. But because the connectedness of things, the economy, terrorism, the war, the state of the world in general, has become so direct, so obvious that even if you are able to shut out the world and go on with your life, pretty soon the reality of what is going on comes crashing in to destroy the remains of your illusions. When you refill your gas tank, or fly in a plane, or check out a library book, or take a phone survey, or watch TV it ways of seeping in and infecting you with an uncomfortable suspicion that, Fuck, this does matter after all.

As someone who usually decries apathy and selfishness, it feels odd to lament their loss. But those are the things that are as much apart of being human as are altruism, empathy, and compassion. They protect us from the anguish that all is not right, and comfortable, and prosperous, and that there is only so much we can do. They protect us from searing truths that, while necessary, can destroy our sense of self. They allow us darkness and silence and sleep. So I thinks it's okay for me to say being liberal, ant-war, and employed, that I miss not caring and ignoring and tuning out, because benign apathy is only possible when one is not angry or worried or afraid. And I miss being happy and confident and fearless.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

If you missed the press conference, don't worry and rejoice! I did and it spoiled a rare moment of happiness and contentment that was born of talking to interesting and intelligent people. I came home, turned to CNN, and whoosh! Gooey nugat goodness all gone, replaced by sickly pre-vomit feeling.

Why do we do this to ourselves? We know anything resembling spontaneity doesn't go anywhere near Bush. We know that answering questions merely means monologuing for 45 minutes with pauses for breathe in which reporters are allowed to pour meaningless words. We know this and yet we tune in on the off-chance of an entertaining or scandalous anomaly.

What I hate more than the swaggering faux-Texas postering is the attempt at gravity and depth. For the most part, it looked as if someone made Bush take a cold shower. Still. he couldn't hide how hard up he is for war.
I really like essays that get to the heart of all of my knotty, anxious, hopefull, tearing-my-hair-out-frustrated, feelings.

I believe we have to judge every American decision in the context of every other American decision. The United States is a country that has progressed greatly since land-holding, slave-owning white males created it and excluded everybody else from enjoying their freedoms. Of course, almost every American citizen enjoys those original freedoms now, but only because of two centuries of social and legal activism. The United States should receive the Most Improved Country award! But I believe we have improved despite our limited, immoral, and inept politicians. I believe the greatness of our country is not measured by its willingness to go to war or by its ability to win wars, but by its painters, construction workers, poets, factory engineers, novelists, chefs, filmmakers, architects, musicians, social workers, actors, teachers, and other nonviolent dreamers. I believe our country is great not because we've often been fundamentalist and isolationist in our thinking, but because we've gradually and often reluctantly learned to celebrate the complex chemistry of immigration and assimilation. The average American citizen in 2003 is more educated, kinder, and more progressive than the average citizen of any other time in our country's history.

This also gets to the heart of why I am a liberal and why liberals don't--and can't--hate America. It is living here that enables us to see our both our failures and our victories and the endless possibility buried in both.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

More on nerdiness .

Oh it's on now.

It's time for Bernard Goldberg and Ann Coulter to defend their books, Bias and Slander, which supposedly prove an old saw-- that liberals dominate the news media...Alterman says the charges leveled by Goldberg and Coulter are "so extreme that, well, it's amazing neither one thought to accuse 'liberals' of using the blood of conservatives' children for extra flavor in their soy-milk decaf lattes."
    Even the conservative Boston Herald admits Alterman's "extensive documentation and persuasive logic" demonstrate that "unabashed conservatives dominate the media."
    So has a challenge: We're inviting the three authors to debate at the National Press Club, with a neutral moderator and a live audience. We’ll invite C-SPAN.
    Alterman has accepted. Will Coulter and Goldberg? Or will they hide behind their publicists and speaking fees?

Hee hee hee. Excellent.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

How deeply in denial is Bush?

It's a question worth lingering on for a while it seems to come up over and over again. Let's take a look at this snippet of what’s going on in Dubya's head.

But he insisted that he has paid attention to the protesters.

"Of course, I care what they believe. And I've listened carefully. I've thought long and hard about what needs to be done," he said. "And obviously some people in Northern California do not see there's a true risk to the United States posed by Saddam Hussein. And we just have a difference of opinion."

Asked about protests overseas, the president initially downplayed the extent of the problems he has encountered with normally friendly nations.

"There are two nations in Europe -- France and Germany -- who do not see Saddam Hussein as a direct threat. And we just have a difference of opinion. But there are a lot of other nations who do,"he said.

Now, giving him the benefit of the doubt, downplaying opposition is something presidents do. Yes, Mister Nosy Reporter Liberal Media Scum, there is opposition out there and the fact that it is as big as it is should have me worried. In fact,,I should be mucking up my pretty executive boxer shorts right now, but you see, I can't admit that because to admit fear is to admit defeat. And I am the leader of the free world. Therefore I never admit defeat.

But look at that Northern California remark. Now, if Bush really had paid attention to the protesters I'm not sure he would have been so publicly dismissive. I say publicly because privately he probably does think that the protesters are just a bunch of Bay Area liberals en masse, but publicly he would want to display a bit more sensitivity and awareness. But this is Bush we're talking about, the same man who can look the President of Brazil in the eye--in the presence of Condoleeza Rice--and ask with a straight face,"Do you have blacks here too?" The man has all the sensitivity of an impotent porcupine. Two theories thus emerge:

1) He knows exactly how large and varied the protests were and simply doesn't care. Remember this is also the same man who stole the presidency with the minority popular vote and still had the coke-sniffing, pretzel-choking gall to say, "I know what the American people want." Therefore the millions around the world might as well be a biased few located somewhere between Berkeley and the Castro.

2) He really doesn't know. This is a man who never admits to failure and makes no apologies for his ignorance in matters of state. All his life he’s been sheltered and shuffled from one comfy position to another. Whatever mistakes he made are rarely alluded to by our SCLM. Protesters are kept away from him as though they the might contaminate them with bacterium of actual compassion and understanding.

My guess? A combination of the two. He doesn't really know, and doesn't care about what he doesn't know. Why bother with the real world when in the world of your making there is no public dissent, the war is making pretty colors on FOX News, the oil is pouring into the SUV tanks of the under-appreciated ric,, and reelection is only a few thousand disenfranchised voters away? Bush doesn't need reality. He has the power to make his own. Unfortunately, he makes it our own too.

Monday, March 03, 2003

It's amazing what four days away from the computer screen can do for your eyes and head. In fact I think my recent change of title was due to the fact that my hours staring at a computer screen had resulted in nearly unrelenting headaches and eye strain. Meanwhile I am horribly behind on current events. I make no apologies or excuses as there were pressing personal matters that preempted blogging. But I'm back now. Not that you missed me with Atrios always at the ready. Also, check out the review of Eric's book over at Salon.