Friday, May 16, 2003

Late Night Musings: The Morning After

When you’re obsessed with politics and current events and activism, you run the risk of becoming a shrill, histrionic, schadenfreud-ish, diatribic crank, and I think what saves me from becoming more insufferable than I am ordinarily is that I regularly have the fascinating conversations with people that restore my calm.

A writer friend of mine wrote this prose-poem piece drawing comparisons between the hazing at the Glennbrook North High School and the larger themes of war, dominance, sexism, and isolation. He’s an activist and a very gifted writer, but for some time he’d been struggling with putting his rather abstract fury at the war into a concrete piece of writing. The images he had were too small. In the details of the hazing he saw everything that is wrong in the world right now: the false idea in the world that through violence and the endurance of violence comes legitimacy and control, the exclusion of women and their need to create their own context of struggle and triumph, the glorification of the worst.

One thing that we realized in our talk was that while images of the war were censored and sanitized, the video of the hazing was shown and re-shown everywhere. It’s a paradox in this country that we have such fetish for reality TV and while we watch “Cops” and “Worst-case Scenario” and “Girls Gone Wild” we can’t bring ourselves to watch the reality of war. Reality is only fun if it’s a freak show.

Are we hypocrites when we denounce hazing without examining how we legitimize violence? People talk very earnestly about violence in movies, music, video games, and on television but they fail to recognize how complicit we are in the idea of violence. Stories of struggle and triumph are stiff with it. It’s the war hero syndrome. In every way we send out the message a life of violence is more real than an ordinary life. Isn’t that the point of hazing, not merely to create a bond, but a bond based on having survived something horrible? Even those who don’t participate are complicit because we accept that this is the way things are.

This true of most cultures not just ours. And it’s an idea that’s been around forever. But pacifism is nearly as old if not older. It’s not realistic to seek to eradicate violence in the world. Aggressive tendency is more complicated than that, and there are always going to be people who revel in it. But I think that to glorify can be changed. I think that reducing state sanctioned violence can go a long way—not the distance—but a long way, towards making war less of a viable option. More importantly I think, people won’t seek legitimacy through ultimately pointless and tragic acts, and people not inclined to violence will feel more included.

This is just me working through some thoughts swimming around in my head. I have no real epiphany or solution. I’m just sick and tired of this culture of death and martyrdom that seems to pervade everything that’s going on right now.

UPDATE: I can't post the piece because it's still in the draft stages and I don't yet have permission.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

So this has been something of a teeth-grinding week news-wise--with the lusciously funny exception of the Texas Killer Ds. Still, the details of how the Republican Storm Troopers are behaving are enough to make you wish the state would just up and secede. Josh has a good round-up of the details.

Note to Democrats:When the wife-bashing starts you know you have a winner. Regarding the Kerry campaign, I'm pretty well on my way to concluding that my own muddled opinion of him really doesn't matter. What matters right now is getting someone who can drive home to the voters that the current White House occupant is an empty suit. Not hard really if we can get our collective asses in gear.

It's official. Because of Jayson Blair I am forced to cross JOURNALIST off my list of prospective alternative careers. Come on, people. Whenever the debate heats up around reparations or affirmative action, I always hear some cranky white person saying something along the lines of, "Hey don't blame all white people for racism." Fine. So one incompetent and deceptive black journalist shouldn't ruin it for the rest of us.

Anyway, Herbert still rules.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Apparently they don't have enough to do (via Media Whores).

Republicans in Washington and Austin, Texas apparently used a Homeland Security Department agency to track Texas Democratic legislators who left the state to block passage of a GOP-backed Congressional redistricting bill.

This is the same Homeland Security Department that is supposed to be making America safe from foreign terrorists. It's the agency we were told would never be used for domestic political purposes.

But today's edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, in Riverside, California, became involved in the Republican search for 51 Democratic state representatives who went to Ardmore, Oklahoma to break a quorum of the House and block action on the redistricting bill.

Here's what the Star-Telegram reported: "The agency received a call to locate a specific Piper turboprop aircraft. It was determined that the plane belonged to former House Speaker Pete Laney." Laney is one of the Democrats who is fighting against the redistricting bill.

The newspaper said, "Laney's plane proved to be a key piece of information because, (Republican House Speaker) Craddick said, it's how he determined that the Democrats were in Ardmore. 'We called someone, and they said they were going to track it. I have no idea how they tracked it down,' Craddick said. 'That's how we found them.'"

The Interdiction and Coordination center "falls under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department," the Star-Telegram reported

Tom Tomorrow's head just exploded.

"Man, this must've been a pretty shitty year for peacemakers."
While Nero fiddles...

When President Bush hit a long, low drive on the golf course this weekend with the snowcapped Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background, it was one more sign that major combat operations in Iraq were over. True, it never hurts to visit what will be an important swing state in the 2004 election, of which more later, but Mr. Bush's two days in the high desert air were his first extended downtime since the bombing of Baghdad and showed that the White House was ready to have him seen engaged in some postwar R & R

...Rome burns.

Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. . . . They're not a problem anymore."

Members of the U.S. intelligence community bragged to reporters that the terrorist band was crippled, noting that it hadn't attacked during the assault on Iraq.

"This was the big game for them — you put up or shut up, and they have failed," Cofer Black, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office, told The Washington Post last week.

Of course, the other way of looking at it is that Al Qaeda works at its own pace and knows how to conduct operations on the run.

Al Qaeda has been weakened by the arrest of leaders like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But Osama, in recent taped messages, has exhorted his followers to launch suicide attacks against the invaders of Iraq. And as one ambassador from an Arab country noted, the pictures of American-made tanks in both Iraq and the West Bank of Israel certainly attracted new recruits to Osama.

The administration's lulling triumphalism about Al Qaeda exploded on Monday in Riyadh, when well-planned and coordinated suicide strikes with car bombs and small-arms fire killed dozens in three housing complexes favored by Westerners, including seven Americans.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Belated Speakeasy Run-down

Overall the Speakeasy over at Women And Children First was fun if a little insular. The problem with having events like these is that they tend to turn to commiseration fests, and it's easy to get bogged down in simply talking about how much things suck. I think I'm ready for the next step.

One thing that was said was that we don't put value on fiction anymore and that while fiction literature isn't effective for immediate political actions it's an important tool for learning how to empathize. Rosellen Brown had particularly interesting story about a judge who read her books because she thought if she was going to be a good judge, she needed to understand the people coming into her courtroom. Empathy is in short supply these days. We expect that presidents read the histories and biographies. What about the classics?

Anyway here's my plug to the writers on the panel:

Aleksandar Hemon

Rosellen Brown

Sara Paretsky.

The Great Texas Escape

Moving with exceptional stealth and tactical coordination, more than 50 Democratic state lawmakers in Texas packed their bags and quietly slipped out of the state under cover of darkness late Sunday and early today.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry immediately dispatched police to track down the missing legislators, arrest them and bring them back to do the state's business -- even asking neighboring New Mexico if the Texas Rangers were empowered to make arrests there. (New Mexico's attorney general -- a Democrat -- said no.) But all signs were that the legislators were on the lam -- some, perhaps, fleeing to Mexico -- putting them beyond the reach of Lone Star justice and of GOP ambitions.

And thus the Onion-ing of America continues. Read this whole story and I guarantee you'll laugh at least three times; Once at the high covert-ops drama, once at the Repubs sputtering indignation, and once for the irony of the Dems finding a backbone by turning tail and running.

Monday, May 12, 2003

I wasn't going to touch the Jayson Blair-New York Times scandal but I think I'd be remiss if I didn't say a few of things.

1) Journalistic Fraud? In our Liberal Media? I am shocked.

2) Don't let him be Black. Don't let him be Black....Noooo!

P.S. The fact that he is Black and the fact that he is incompetent are quite possibly mutually exclusive. God knows he's not the first young hotshot of dubious ability to be in a top position in media.

Yes, You're Paranoid. Yes, You're Being Followed

A lot of you (okay maybe 3 of the 5 people that read this blog) are probably unaware of the rather heated debate between various liberals about the circumstances surrounding the 9/11 attacks. I don't want to get into the particulars of the theory because they take too long. The question I have is why are we so quick to dismiss conspiracy theories?

For one the label "conspiracy theorist" has all sorts of yucky hermetical, X-File-ophile, grassy knoll-ish connotations. And when you are a discontented liberal with a clear-cut polical agenda to pursue, you don't want that image. You want to be taken seriously.

For another, the rational mind has a tendency to dismiss the irrational. It's too horrible/outrageous/ill-conceived to be true therefore it must be false. This is totally understandable. It's good to trust rationality. The mistake is the assumption that rationality, or at least your version of rationality, is a widespread state of mind.

The problem with this particular conspiracy theory is that when the rational mind picks through the evidence, separates the wheat from the chaff, it can't help but think the unthinkable. But since the label of "conspiracy theorist" acts like a big red C sewn to the chest, the information is never shared.

My opinion on this particulary theory? It's entirely probable, nay likely even. Stranger and more diabolical things have happened. I'm vain enough to hate being wrong so I'm going to stop short of saying yes it's all true. More to the point, I think skeptics should be a little open to the fact that something far-out might be true, and even if it's not, the conspiracy theorists aren't wrong to wonder.