Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai Reflections. both Indian and Pakistani

I'm sure there are many other examples, but here are two links reflecting deep introspection sparked by the Mumbai tragedy. One is from an Indian perspective, the other is of Pakistani origin.

As is often the case, finger-pointing becomes the most common response to any such tragedy. That was and continues to be the case in America following the destruction of the World Trade Center. Instead of wondering why they do it, most people are satisfied to jump to the conclusion that it makes no difference why. All we need to do is find out who they are and eliminate them.

This response is, of course, counter-productive, since every certified "terrorist" killed leaves behind a family and peer group who may or may not have supported what was done, but whose response to the killing of their friend or family member makes them closer to the cause for which the person died than the cause resulting in his death.

Rarely there are those who look inward.
Here are two.

India cannot pin all the blame on outsiders

...unlike 9/11 there is evidence of an entirely domestic element at play. In recent months there has been a spate of bombings in Indian cities. Responsibility has been claimed by the Indian Mujahadin - one of several fronts for the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi). It is through Simi, Indian officials fear, that international terrorist networks have begun to penetrate more deeply into India - often through links with the Gulf.


despite the multi-religious and multi-ethnic origins of terrorist violence the Indian authorities have, until recently, tended to treat only Muslims as terrorists. So while Muslim “terrorists” have been subject to extraordinary laws of detention and trial in special courts, Hindu nationalist “rioters” have been tried in regular courts, or, more usually, not been punished at all.

One of the principal complaints of Indian Muslim groups is the failure to bring to trial any of the Hindu ringleaders responsible for pogroms in Bombay in 1993 and Gujarat in 2002 in which more than 4,000 Muslims died.


While “Untouchable” and other low-caste groups are actively promoted into universities and prestigious state jobs, India's 150 million Muslims, who make up 13 per cent of the population, hold only 3 per cent of state posts. They are even less well represented in the police.

There are signs that the present Congress-led coalition recognises these problems. On taking office in 2004, Dr Singh's Government abolished the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), which, the Prime Minister argued, was propagating rather than preventing terrorism.

And from the Pakistani side...

I am a Mumbaikar: In Prayer and in Solidarity

The solidarity I feel with Mumbaikars is deep and personal.

The first time I ever visited the Taj Mahal Hotel was with my wife. We had been married just weeks and were not staying at the Taj but went to the historic “Sea Lounge” at the hotel for tea and snacks during a short visit to Mumbai. We went to the Oberoi Hotel the same visit in the naive and mistaken belief that we would find Bollywood bigwigs hanging out there. In later years I would come back and stay at the old wing of the Taj - down the corridor from where Ruttie Bai Jinnah and stayed - I would even present in the grand ballroom whose pillars, supposedly, had been brought from her father’s estate. Each time I passed through Victoria Terminus I stood in awe of the pace as well as its presence. In awe of the architectural structure, but also of the sea of humanity around me. I cannot hear of terrorists attacking these places without my own muscles twitching in anger.

This short piece is from a Pakistani site, All Things Pakistan. At this writing there are 137 comments at the post, reflecting a variety of serious reactions. This spirited discussion is cause for Americans with a two-dimensional view of the Mumbai tragedy to deepen their grasp of what happened.

It didn't happen to Americans this time. On the face of it the victims were supposed to have been American and British tourists, but when you look at the casualties the majority of victims were from India. I have no way of knowing, but my guess is that a good number may have been Muslim. In any case, dismissing this as just another terrorist attack is a shallow and overly simplistic reasponse.

H/T 3 Quarks Daily for both links.

Fall reflections, 2008

This shaggy-dog rambling was written a week before the election of Barack Obama. As the event grew near the outcome seemed obvious, but for some of us it seemed too good to be true. I only had forty-five years to wait to see a black American president. I cannot imagine what it is like for someone born black. And as the day approached I simply had to sit on my expectations. So often over the years I experienced dashed hopes and disappointments. Great progress has taken us far beyond the days of segregated schools, restrooms, and water fountains. But the facts of racial discrimination have remained stubbornly embedded, even in the black community itself, in the social fabric of America.

This "reflection" is more than it appears to be on the surface. It rehearses for me the origins and growth of how one high school kid got radicalized even before the Sixties became a benchmark decade. By the time I graduated in 1962 I was well on the way to being a life-long Liberal, even though I had no idea at the time what that was going to involve.


My sixty-fifth birthday is still half a year away but I can still recall my youth clearly enough to know that sometimes you simply have to squeeze a zit. "Back in the day," as the newer locution of "in the good old days" would have it, we said pimple, not zit. But the morphing of language is a reflection of how views and values also tend to change. And I have been forced to watch helplessly since my political infancy as words and trends took on a life of their own over which I had little or no control. If the world says "zit" and I say "pimple" everyone will know how retrograde my thinking is. Whatever other ideas I hold come into question, like the polite but indelible racism of people who still refer to "colored people" when they should be referring simply to "people." So this morning I feel the need to squeeze a pimple, so to speak, to get a few things off my chest.

Having been away from blogging for two months now (except for a few softball posts) I realize how little I am needed at this keyboard except for my own edification. Traffic, to my satisfaction, has not dropped off as the result of my neglect, thanks to four years of material that still feeds into Google searches. I am expecting after next week to lose about half the number of hits because that one post that I put up almost two years ago, regarding Obama's religion, continues to get half or more of all visits. Surely that question will be moot after next week's election. We'll see.

In the meantime I am struggling to keep a lid on my excitement as next Tuesday approaches. I can hardly believe that after all these years a political candidate whom I endorse is actually getting this close to the finish line. Moreover, Obama's historic campaign is changing the dynamic of American presidential elections in a way that I never thought possible, bringing with it what for me is a long lost spirit of the past that was taken out by the killing of John F. Kennedy in 1963. If I allow myself to think too long about it it still makes tears come to my eyes.

Last week I was listening with half an ear as someone on a local Atlanta TV panel made reference to something she had read in Human Events magazine. I never thought someone reading Human Events would admit to it in public. In my mind it has about as much credibility as The National Enquirer. It has been a long time since I heard anyone refer to that publication and the mention of it triggered a flashback to my high school days. I am by no means a red-diaper baby but I was aimed in that direction as an adolescent as the result of circumstances in my life. My first exposure to Human Events Magazine was an important part of that development.

Here is the story.

Sometime during my high school days at Columbus High School in Columbus, Georgia, the school sponsored an event in the auditorium that was intended to emphasize the notion of brotherhood. I don't recall the official reason for the occasion, but there were three representative speakers from the three main faiths of the day, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish. This is almost like a setup for a joke, but it really happened that way. As I remember, each had about fifteen minutes to talk about tolerance and brotherhood, with the preacher going first. His message was a generic Christian appeal to what Lincoln referred to as the "better angels of our nature" but years of habit would not allow him to let it go at that. He was compelled by the Great Commission to include at least one or two gentle but unmistakable references to Jesus Christ, stopping short of an altar call on the spot. The priest was somewhat less pointed, but there was no mistake about it, the Christian part of our Judeo-Christian heritage was clearly the more important of the two roots, and those with Christian ears would hear edifying words of encouragement.

It was Rabbi Goodman whose message stuck in my memory, partly because of the image and story he chose, and partly because of the contrast it left in the context of the three presentations. He said that when he was a youngster someone did something to him that hurt him deeply. Some insult or mean-spirited remark gesture had sent him to his mother, seeking her advice as to how he could best get even with those who had been so ugly to him. Her advice to him was this: "Go out and find a mud puddle with sticky mud. Then put some of it into your mouth and go spit it on them! That will teach them not to mess with you." His point (as well as his mother's) was that there is no way to "get even" with someone else without getting a taste of ugliness yourself. "Getting even" is contrary to the spirit of brotherhood, even when someone has it coming.

As I left the auditorium I thought about the story and how obvious it was. But I also thought about how unintentionally careless the other two clergy had been by overlooking the fact that at Columbus High School there were a lot of Jewish students who might not hear their Christian message in the way they had intended. It was a well -known fact at that time in Columbus, Georgia, that practically every Jewish family in town sent their children to Columbus High School. Of the other two white high schools Baker was way to the other side of town, more transitory, in the shadow of Fort Benning, and no one from established families sent their kids there. The other school, somewhat snootily referred to as a "trade school," was actually called Jordan Vocational High School and everyone knew that Jews always sent their kids to college prep high schools if they couldn't afford a private school. (Outside the school community I sometimes heard nick-names like "Jew-Blue High School" or references to "Jew-lovers" aimed at CHS, but I learned to overlook those remarks as the indications of ignorance that they were. It was true, by the way. I recall that so many Jews were absent on a couple of Jewish holidays that we couldn't have a good band rehearsal because to many were out. Seems like half the brass and a third of clarinets went missing one time, but I can't say for sure.)

These early exposures to antisemitism were part of my growing up. Although I was not Jewish, I had many friends who were, and a few time I went to Friday night services at the synagogue just to see for myself how they worshiped. I was much impressed that following the service there was always a sumptuous reception in the social hall below the sanctuary spread with treats I had seen only a few fancy occasions in my own limited experience. Later, when I felt that my Southern Baptist peers were not on the side of the angels at the start of the civil rights movement I found a college home at Hillel, the Jewish students organization, as the only non-Jew in their midst. it was there that I learned to enjoy lox, bagels, cream cheese and danish, and later, potato latkes and applesauce.

(Can you believe all these memories were stirred by the mention of Human Events Magazine?)

About the same time, two local controversies were raging in Columbus, Georgia that got my attention. One was a very acrimonious debate about whether the local water supply should be treated with fluoride because it was found that in parts of the country where fluoride occurred naturally in the local water there was a marked decrease in the incidence of tooth decay. Something about fluoride seems to protect against cavities, hence those references on toothpaste labels. The other debate had to do with whether or not the city and county governments should be combined into a single administrative entity for the sake of consistency and economy. I think it was called "consolidated government."

I was not aware of politics at the time, so I had no way of knowing that Columbus, Georgia was (and probably still is) what we would call an extremely conservative place. There are a lot of reasons for this which others can explain, but at the start of the Sixties there was already an active local chapter of the John Birch Society, a group I didn't have any knowledge of, except that they seemed to be four-square opposed to both water fluoridation and consolidated government. Naive me, both proposals seemed to be eminently sensible and practical and I didn't see any problem with either. But this was the time when "Impeach Earl Warren" signs were all over the Southern countryside, George Wallace was soon to be standing in an Alabama schoolhouse door just a few miles away on the basis of "states rights," and there was a widespread and credible threat that Communists were just waiting to get control of everything we held dear.

It was in this milieu that none other that Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, came to Columbus to speak to local supporters at the old Royal theatre. There was no charge for admission, and it was at that time that I, along with two other high school students, sat politely through the man's speech and then passed out leaflets to people as they left warning them that the John Birch Society was not what they thought it was. It was a simple, four-page typed flyer run off on a church mimeograph machine, that said, in part...

Just how so many Americans have been tricked into such Communist ruses as democracy, foreign aid, UNICEF, the United Nations, NATO, and national defense defies reason.

We, the Teen-Age Democratic Club are not indifferent to the John Birch Society; We are willing to take a positive stand. We fear the Birch as a demagogic (gaining political influence through social discontent) and fantastic (a program of strong centralization, severe nationalism, and suppression of opposition) group. In this opinion, we accept the following wild-eyed "commie" supporters: "Time" and "Life" magazines, and the Los Angeles Times; The New York Times, J.Edgar Hoover, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

A local flap ensued during which a local columnist suggested that the three of us had been manipulated by some unknown but sinister outside agitator. Who knows? I didn't write the leaflet and the guy who brought it was a preacher's kid who had used the copying machine at a local Methodist church to execute his subversive plan. But that's not the point. The point is that I agreed with what it said and I was willing, even at that young age, to take a stand for what I thought.

(I know. Human Events. We're getting there.)

A couple of years later I was in Tallahassee, Florida getting involved with a student group calling itself, believe it or not, the "Liberal Forum." Can you imagine? The word liberal was not yet the completely reviled label that it has lately become, forcing today's liberals into apologizing for the word by calling themselves "progressive." A few people still refer to the word but they are careful to be prissy about it, specifying themselves as "classic" liberals, but I remain the un-reconstructed Sixties liberal that I was at that time, ashamed of the moral turpitude of the time but mostly pleased about how we stood on politics social issues.

Walking downtown one afternoon I went into a bookstore called "American Opinion," an outlet for conservative printed materials in general and John Birch Society publications in particular. I know well where I was, but I didn't leave. I wanted to stay and find out first hand what those people were saying, how they were saying it, and if there was anything there that might still appeal to me. Remember, I was still young and malleable. I was leaning into what would later become a Liberal direction, but I remained open to other ideas. I was still attending the Baptist Church there in Tallahassee, but by then I was informed that my home church in Columbus already had a deacons' meeting to discuss a contingency plan should any Negroes show up some Sunday to stir up trouble. They knew there was no way that Negroes coming to a white church would really be there to worship, so it was planned in advance how best not to admit them.

I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was leafing through a copy of Human Events Magazine and it appeared to be a pretty well-done piece of work. No in-your-face extremism that I could find and articles that seemed to be of general interest. But I came across a piece by Westbrook Pegler making reference to Elanor Roosevelt that got my attention. In my innocence I knew that Elanor Roosevelt was an important political character and had a lot to do with black people. For all I knew she might have helped form the NAACP, but in those days when more extremist groups like CORE, SNCC and the SDS were all over the place, the NAACP was about as old-fashioned and harmless as a Black Baptist church. Besides, Columbus was right down the road from Warm Springs, FDR's Little White House, and the name of Roosevelt was well thought of in those parts. Pegler's description of Elanor Roosevelt was about as vile an expression of ad hominem attack as I had ever seen in print, making reference, I recall, to her "hooked nose" and other physical attributes having nothing to do with politics or principles. I put down the magazine and left the store. Many experiences of my college years have been lost in my memory, but that exposure to that issue of Human Events remained burned in my memory for the rest of my life.

I have been sitting at this keyboard now over two hours squeezing this pimple and I was about to put together a closing paragraph. Here we are over forty years after the fact and I decided to try a Google search to find if the exact article that I may have been reading in 1962 might be found on line. To my surprise I did a search just now for Westbrook Pegler Eleanor Roosevelt and got over fifteen hundred hits.

But I found an even bigger surprise, appearing in the Wikipedia article about Pegler.

Interest in Pegler was revived when a line originally written by him appeared in Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity", she said, attributing it to "a writer." The speech was written by Matthew Scully, a senior speech writer for George W. Bush.

I called it a "surprise," but after thinking about it for a moment, I may be disturbed, amazed, wowed or even disappointed. But surprised? I think not. And I can think of no better ending to this reflection.

Later....April 17, 2009

I notice someone from Michigan has been reading this post. I had not thought about it since I wrote it and never imagined anyone else would be interested. Reading it now, half a year later, it reads pretty good. Messy and without much of a point, but okay reading.

I drilled further in to the Pegler/Palin links and came up with the article mentioned. This fleshes out the story somewhat. Thomas Frank's The GOP Loves the Heartland To Death is a treasure. I'm grabbing the whole thing because too many times archived links go nowhere.

It tells us something about Sarah Palin's homage to small-town America, delivered to an enthusiastic GOP convention last week, that she chose to fire it up with an unsourced quotation from the all-time champion of fake populism, the belligerent right-wing columnist Westbrook Pegler.

"We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity," the vice-presidential candidate said, quoting an anonymous "writer," which is to say, Pegler, who must have penned that mellifluous line when not writing his more controversial stuff. As the New York Times pointed out in its obituary of him in 1969, Pegler once lamented that a would-be assassin "hit the wrong man" when gunning for Franklin Roosevelt.

There's no evidence that Mrs. Palin shares the trademark Pegler bloodlust -- except maybe when it comes to moose and wolves. Nevertheless, the red-state myth that Mrs. Palin reiterated for her adoring audience owes far more to the venomous spirit of Pegler than it does to Norman Rockwell.

Small town people, Mrs. Palin went on, are "the ones who do some of the hardest work in America, who grow our food and run our factories and fight our wars." They are authentic; they are noble, and they are her own: "I grew up with those people."

But what really defines them in Mrs. Palin's telling is their enemies, the people who supposedly "look down" on them. The opposite of the heartland is the loathsome array of snobs and fakers, "reporters and commentators," lobbyists and others who make up "the Washington elite."

Presumably the various elite Washington lobbyists who have guided John McCain's presidential campaign were exempt from Mrs. Palin's criticism. As would be former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, now a "senior adviser" to the Dickstein Shapiro lobby firm, who hymned the "Sarah Palin part of the party" thus: "Their kids aren't going to go to Ivy League schools. Their sons leave high school and join the military to serve our country. Their husbands and wives work two jobs to make sure the family is sustained."

Generally speaking, though, when husbands and wives work two jobs each it is not merely because they are virtuous but because working one job doesn't earn them enough to get by. The two-job workers in Middle America aren't spurning the Ivy League and joining the military straight out of high school just because they're people of principle, although many of them are. It is because they can't afford to do otherwise.

Leave the fantasy land of convention rhetoric, and you will find that small-town America, this legendary place of honesty and sincerity and dignity, is not doing very well. If you drive west from Kansas City, Mo., you will find towns where Main Street is largely boarded up. You will see closed schools and hospitals. You will hear about depleted groundwater and massive depopulation.

And eventually you will ask yourself, how did this happen? Did Hollywood do this? Was it those "reporters and commentators" with their fancy college degrees who wrecked Main Street, U.S.A.?

No. For decades now we have been electing people like Sarah Palin who claimed to love and respect the folksy conservatism of small towns, and yet who have unfailingly enacted laws to aid the small town's mortal enemies.

Without raising an antitrust finger they have permitted fantastic concentration in the various industries that buy the farmer's crops. They have undone the New Deal system of agricultural price supports in favor of schemes called "Freedom to Farm" and loan deficiency payments -- each reform apparently designed to secure just one thing out of small town America: cheap commodities for the big food processors. Richard Nixon's Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz put the conservative attitude toward small farmers most bluntly back in the 1970s when he warned, "Get big or get out."

A few days ago I talked politics with Donn Teske, the president of the Kansas Farmers Union and a former Republican. Barack Obama may come from a big city, he admits, but the Farmers Union gives him a 100% rating for his votes in Congress. John McCain gets a 0%. "If any farmer in the Plains States looked at McCain's voting record on ag issues," Mr. Teske says, "no one would vote for him."

Now, Mr. McCain is known for his straight talk with industrial workers, telling them their jobs are never coming back, that the almighty market took them away for good, and that retraining is their only hope.

But he seems to think that small-town people can be easily played. Just choose a running mate who knows how to skin a moose and all will be forgiven. Drive them off the land, shutter their towns, toss their life chances into the grinders of big agriculture . . . and praise their values. The TV eminences will coo in appreciation of your in-touch authenticity, and the carnival will move on.


My mind got infected at an early age. Too bad. Now, forty-odd years later when I see or hear reference to Sarah Palin it invokes memories of Westbrook Pegler, Human Events Magazine, The John Birch Society, Robert Welch (who I saw and didn't like) and now journalist Thomas Frank (whom I've never seen or heard of but like very much). I hope she finds enough happiness and fulfillment in Alaska to make her want to remain there. But I fear that sometime between now and 2012 she's gonna get the urge to relocate to the lower forty-eight.

Victor Davis Hanson on Obama

Sez Obama will make Bush look better in retrospect... of most profound bait-and-switch campaigns in our political history, predicated on the mass appeal of a magnetic leader rather than any principles per se. He out-Clintoned Hillary and followed Bill's 1992 formula: A young Democrat runs on youth, popular appeal and charisma, claims the incumbent Bush caused another Great Depression and blew Iraq, and then went right down the middle with a showy leftist veneer.

I think he's right, partly.

But he makes no provision for one important difference: Obama has heart. He's not pretending that he cares about those who cannot care for themselves.

Call it what you want. I call it faith in action.

Turn on any of the Republican apologists, still bleating away about capital gains taxes and "give-aways" in the midst of a global financial meltdown, and listen to the message. I'm hearing it from Saxby Chamblis commercials to the heavy breathing Fox News channels... "Don't waste it on people who will just spend it. Give it to those who will create jobs."

Right. And what will all those ordinary people do with their money? Hoard it? Buy second homes? Or buy gold to hedge against inflation?

Hell, no. They're gonna spend it faster than you can snap a picture. For food, shelter and transportation. Some of them might even pay down credit obligations, thus cheating large financial institutions out of many pounds of flesh they have been slicing from millions of customers victims inundated with credit card applications in their mailboxes over the last fifteen or twenty years.We already saw what happened when the "stimulus" started at the top. The sponge was so dry that almost nothing was able to trickle through.

Yeah. Great time to "create jobs". It's what in the food business we call a rich labor market. Clean-cut aspiring professionals to wash dishes, clean tables or serve green beans instead of going back to finish grad school, or a work at a drafting table, or go back to being an executive secretary whose boss was "outplaced".

That video, The Job, ain't so cute as more people join that "labor pool".

A Christmas Ode

Radio blogging here.

Here it is again...reposted from last year.
In addition to the NPR link, check out the Chuck Kraemer home page with a link to the 2002 version [Windows player with video of the poet reciting].

Had to dig into the NPR archives to 1999 to uncover this great little snip, An Ode to Christmas by Chuck Kramer. It ran for twenty years but was put to rest after that year, I suppose because too many people had already heard it. The names and brands got to sounding outdated. Too bad. Somehow the nerve-wracking tunes pressed to lacquer and vinyl decades ago by Burl Ives, Gene Autry and others endure from season to season, grating on my nerves from pop radio, but really clever pieces drop by the side of the listening road. This is how to know when you're getting old.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Attenborough's Lyre Bird and The Parable of the Good Samaritan

This outbreak of violence in Mumbai set me to thinking. What causes people to organize themselves into groups we now call "terrorists"?

All actions result from thoughts, and thoughts derive from beliefs. Beliefs, in turn, arise partly from experience, partly from teaching and partly from what for me is Divine revelation. So what is the belief system that results in terrorism? And how do we get a handle on it?

Gerard Vanderleun, whose genius as a writer has impressed me for years, advanced a drive-by shooting response along the lines of the Hama massacre 25 years ago. "The plagues of terrorism and piracy will prevail until the West plays by Hama Rules." As in the case of capital punishment, I have no argument. It is an undeniable fact that following every instance of capital punishment there is at least one identifiable individual which will no longer pose a threat to anyone. Whether or not I want to participate as a citizen in that person's elimination is another matter. I choose not to stand on that side, but history is not on my side (although recent years have seen a trend toward the elimination of capital punishment).

The bulk of this post (below) was written in July, 2007. It came up in yesterday's hits because someone did a search for "lyre bird flew away." As often happens, I didn't rememer my own reflections at the time, but as I looked them over they sounded pretty good. So I decided to recycle them for this morning's post.

Connecting another dot to those already on the page, I now refer the reader to a comment in last year's thread to the "Open Letter" post. Thinly disguised in that comment is an impulse not far distant from the drive-by approach to conflict resolution suggested by Vanderleun.

I've said enough. The thoughtful reader can take it from here.
I mean no disrespect for either the commenter or Gerard. I only use those links to illustrate that in the matter of conflict resolution the children of Abraham still have a lot to learn


A few weeks ago I came across a reference to this extraordinary bird's ability to imitate sounds. All kinds of sounds, including those of man's creation...a police siren or a chain saw.
This morning I came across this YouTube record worth a few minutes of your time. (H/T Minervan Musings)

It is a sad counterpoint, this bird's recording of the destruction of its habitat. I'm plodding slowly through William Least Heat-Moon's Prairie Erth, absorbing in small doses his multitude of little collected tufts of research. Yesterday I came across this...

No living man will see again the long-grass prairie, where a sea of flowers lapped at the stirrups of the pioneer. We shall do well to find a forty here and there on which the prairie plants can be kept alive as species. There were a hundred such plants, many of exceptional beauty. Most of them are quite unknown to those who have inherited their domain.

Conservatism is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man.

►Aldo Leopold in A Sand Country Almanac (1949),
found in Prairie Erth, page 96

That phrase "Abrahamic concept of land" captures a universe of meaning in two or three words. In some way it embodies the core of most conflicts, not only the obvious endless fighting in the Levant among the children of Abraham...Jews, Muslims and Christians...but between their heirs throughout the world versus the non-Abrahamic tribal and familial traditions of the rest of the global community.

Populations carelessly referred to as savage or primitive regard the land on which they live as secondary to more fundamental challenges of their survival. Such people do not imagine that land is to be "owned" by anyone or any group, any more than claims can be made on the wind or sun. I wonder if there may even be an extension in our lifetime of Abrahamic claims to land on the moon!

The sound-bite wars regarding environment, environmental-ism, -ists, global warming and all that...They make me tired. Political stances seem to have a higher priority than any putative efforts to save anything else. Well-meaning groups and individuals imagine that though alliances, coalitions or some exercise of power they can make a difference in the future, not realizing that the best controls are intrinsic, not extrinsic.

Yesterday morning's reading from Deuteronomy 30 ("Prosperity After Turning to the LORD") recapitulated the ancient wisdom.
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. [If you and your descendants follow the Lord's will] the LORD your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Prosperity is the reward for doing God's will, and that prosperity stands firmly on the possession of land. Land is God's currency. Or so we are taught. It leaves me wondering how He rewards His children living for generations on islands.

Crocodile Dundee has a great line about two fleas arguing about which of them owns the dog.

That's my take this morning on environmentalism.


One afterthought.

Last week I was contemplating some way to teach teamwork to a group of employees. An obvious pile of anti-slip floor mats were left out one evening to allow the freshly mopped floor to dry, conspicuously in the traffic pattern of everyone working in the place. Four mats were folded in a stack and it would have taken all of thirty seconds for anyone to pull them off the stack and replace them where they always lie. But half a dozen people reported to work the following morning and no one saw the need to do anything about the mats. They remained in the way (leaving the potential for slipping on the uncovered floor, incidentally) until the boss came and personally put them in place.

Motivating employees is pedestrian assignment by global standards but I remembered a story from a childhood book of fables called The Stone in the Road. I still have the book. It tells of a rich man looking for someone who was not lazy. He had a large rock placed on the road where travelers would have to go around it. It was a terrible inconvenience to travelers but everyone simply went around the barrier until one young man, tired as he was from working all day, pushed the stone out of the road because he saw what an inconvenience it was to everyone. He was pleased and surprised to find a pot of gold with a message on it: "This pot and the gold belong to the one who takes away the stone." The boy got the reward and the rich man was pleased to have found someone who was not lazy.

I brought back from Korea a children's book that tells a similar story. This one is not about a stone in the road but a very poor farmer who came across a bird with an injury that made it unable to fly. The farmer tenderly took the bird with him and together with his wife and family took care of it until it could be returned to the wild.

The bird returned with seeds to a gourd vine that they farmer planted which grew a crop of gourds, the largest of which they cut open to reveal a trove of valuable rewards....bolts of fabric, bales of rice, gold coins and other treasures...their reward for having helped the injured bird!

(In a tragic sequel, the story continues in case anyone missed the lesson. Another farmer, seeing the first farmer's reward, went out and found a bird, deliberately injured it, then released it into the wild. This bird also returned with a gourd seed, but when the gourd grown from that seed was cut open out flew a nasty bunch of snakes, frogs, centipedes and bats, followed by a couple of devil-looking figures that punished the man with bad judgement)

One doesn't have to read Korean to understand the narrative of the pictures.
How do these children's books relate to teamwork in small groups? To community as a whole? What is the real challenge? And what is the remedy?
The New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan supplies one answer. I have no intention of arguing religion or preaching in this blog, but in this case the reader is referred to his own resources, whatever they may be. I just looked at the Wikipedia article and it may be a good place to start.
It is important to note that Samaritans were despised by the story's target audience, the Jews. The Samaritans were also largely taught by their interpretation of history to hate Jews. Thus the parable, as told originally, had a significant theme of non-discrimination and interracial harmony. But as the story reached those who were unaware of the status of Samaritans, this aspect of the parable became less and less discernible: fewer and fewer people ever heard of them in any context other than this one. To address this problem with the unfamiliar analogy, the story is often recast in a more recognizable modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known to not interact comfortably. For instance instead of a Jew being helped by a Samaritan one could place a Palestinian in that role, or even a
member of Hezbollah aided by an orthodox Jew. One could also have a racist helped by a member of another race, a sexist man helped by a woman, or a devoutly religious person helped by an atheist, or any reverse or combination thereof. The message's essential point is that humanity's bonds in brotherhood transcend social and cognitive segmentations which we adopt in our lives.

Thus cast appropriately, the parable regains its socially explosive message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit moral behaviour that is superior to individuals of the groups they approve; it also means that not sharing the same faith is no excuse to behave poorly, as there is a universal moral law. Many Christians have used it as an example of Christianity against racial prejudice.

That's what's been on my mind for a few days. I'm glad finally to have it organized.
Make today a good day.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Open letter to those behind Mumbai blasts

Time for a repost.

At this writing, yesterday's coordinated attacks in Mumbai resulted in at least 100 dead, many more injured, and an undetermined number of hostages being held by the perpetrators.

This letter appeared two years ago (July 15, 2006) following another terrorist attack in Mumbai.

I am leaving the comments as they came in at the time, some of which did not resonate with the message, reflecting an undercurrent of conflict and frustration that apparently continues. On this Thanksgiving Day we have much to be thankful for in America. Our prayers and thoughts are with the people of Mumbai today.


This great letter [Caution: pop-ups at the link] was in the Times of India last week following the terrorist attacks on the rail system. Very much worth reading and keeping.

Dear Terrorist,

Even if you are not reading this we don't care. Time and again you tried to disturb us and disrupt our life -- killing innocent civilians by planting bombs in trains, buses and cars. You have tried hard to bring death and destruction, cause panic and fear and create communal disharmony but every time you were disgustingly unsuccessful. Do you know how we pass our life in Mumbai? How much it takes for us to earn that single rupee? If you wanted to give us a shock then we are sorry to say that you failed miserably in your ulterior motives. Better look elsewhere, not here.

We are not Hindus and Muslims or Gujaratis and Marathis or Punjabis and Bengalis. Nor do we distinguish ourselves as owners or workers, government employees or private employees. WE ARE MUMBAIKERS (Bombay-ites, if you like). We will not allow you to disrupt our life like this. On the last few occasions when you struck (including the 11 deadly blasts in a single day killing over 250 people and injuring 500 plus in 1993), we went to work the next day in full strength. This time too we cleared everything within a few hours and were back to normal - the vendors serving their next order, businessmen finalizing the next deals and the office workers rushing to catch the next train. Yes, the same train you targeted.

Fathom this: Within three hours of the blasts, long queues of blood-donating volunteers were seen outside various hospitals, where most of the injured were admitted. By midnight, the hospital had to issue a notification that blood banks were full and they didn't require any more blood. The next day, attendance at schools and offices is close to 100%, trains & buses are packed to the brim, the crowds are back. The city has simply dusted itself off and moved on - perhaps with greater vigour.

We are Mumbaikars and we live like brothers in times like this. So, do not dare to threaten us with your crackers. The spirit of Mumbai is very strong and can not be harmed. (Please forward this to others. U never know, by chance it may come to hands of a terrorist in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq and he can then read this message which is especially meant for him!!!)

With Love,

From the people of Mumbai

About National Health Care... Who said this?

(Hint: It isn't Barack Obama. The origin is not spelled out at the link but it's easy to find.)

It is impossible to catch up with fraud in a paper based system. It is routinely stopped in an electronic system. Recent polling indicates that, while 61% of Americans generally favor electronic medical records, a full 82% say that they are more likely to support such a system if it is able to combat Medicaid fraud.

At the Center for Health Transformation our goal is for America to have a paperless electronic health system, with every American having an electronic health record, by December 2012. We propose a national defense electronic health system paid for by the federal government, following the Eisenhower national defense interstate highway model. Estimates are that creating such a network would cost $15 billion per year, over ten years, but create savings of at least $80 billion a year.

We believe that, by doing this, we can save enough money on fraud prevention to cover the entire cost of the electronic health system and to generate extra money to apply to covering the uninsured with a tax credit.

Bonus link to Hoots' Archives...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Charles Laughton's Account of David and Goliath

With Thanksgiving tomorrow I am reminded of one of my best audio experiences of the last several years, a discovery of Charles Laughton telling a wonderful remembrance, captured and broadcast by John Birge in a Thanksgiving special, Giving Thanks, which will be rebroadcast this year.

The whole two hours is a work of art, but my favorite by far is toward the end of the second hour, an out-of-print cut from Kerouac's "The Dharma Bums," Chartres Cathedral story; Psalm 104, read by Charles Laughton.

My entry from two years ago still works
. The voice of Charles Laughton is worth the time it takes to hear the whole program, but if your time is limited, find the second hour and advance the slider to 35 minutes to hear him reading Jack Kerouac. This reading is followed by the most wonderful personal story that no synopsis from me can do justice. Then, fifteen minutes into the Charles Laughton segment, he reads Psalm 104 in that timeless and unforgettable voice.

The following night I dug into the Internets and patched together a transcript of Laughton's edited version of Psalm 104. As you listen you can go there and wait for him to get to that part of his reading.

The video below is a non sequitur, by the way. I just grabbed it from the You Tube collection because I like it.

Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski on Middle East Peace

Josh Landis picked up on this compelling and important message from two of the world's senior experts on diplomacy and statecraft. With nearly everyone's attention absorbed by a global financial meltdown this message is apt to be overlooked by all but the most focused policy wonks.

From the Washington Post last Friday.

The election of Barack Obama to be the 44th president is profoundly historic. We have at long last been able to come together in a way that has eluded us in the long history of our great country. We should celebrate this triumph of the true spirit of America.

Election Day celebrations were replicated in time zones around the world, something we have not seen in a long time. While euphoria is ephemeral, we must endeavor to use its energy to bring us all together as Americans to cope with the urgent problems that beset us.

When Obama takes office in two months, he will find a number of difficult foreign policy issues competing for his attention, each with strong advocates among his advisers. We believe that the Arab-Israeli peace process is one issue that requires priority attention.

In perhaps no other region was the election of Obama more favorably received than the Middle East. Immediate attention to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would help cement the goodwill that Obama's election engendered. Not everyone in the Middle East views the Palestinian issue as the greatest regional challenge, but the deep sense of injustice it stimulates is genuine and pervasive.

Unfortunately, the current administration's intense efforts over the past year will not resolve the issue by Jan. 20. But to let attention lapse would reinforce the feelings of injustice and neglect in the region. That could spur another eruption of violence between the warring parties or in places such as Lebanon or Gaza, reversing what progress has been made and sending the parties back to square one. Lurking in the background is the possibility that the quest for a two-state solution may be abandoned by the Palestinians, the Israelis, or both -- with unfortunate consequences for all.

Resolution of the Palestinian issue would have a positive impact on the region. It would liberate Arab governments to support U.S. leadership in dealing with regional problems, as they did before the Iraq invasion. It would dissipate much of the appeal of Hezbollah and Hamas, dependent as it is on the Palestinians' plight. It would change the region's psychological climate, putting Iran back on the defensive and putting a stop to its swagger.

The major elements of an agreement are well known. A key element in any new initiative would be for the U.S. president to declare publicly what, in the view of this country, the basic parameters of a fair and enduring peace ought to be. These should contain four principal elements: 1967 borders, with minor, reciprocal and agreed-upon modifications; compensation in lieu of the right of return for Palestinian refugees; Jerusalem as real home to two capitals; and a nonmilitarized Palestinian state.

Something more might be needed to deal with Israeli security concerns about turning over territory to a Palestinian government incapable of securing Israel against terrorist activity. That could be dealt with by deploying an international peacekeeping force, such as one from NATO, which could not only replace Israeli security but train Palestinian troops to become effective.

To date, the weakness of the negotiating parties has limited their ability to come to an agreement by themselves. The elections in Israel scheduled for February are certainly a complicating factor, as is the deep split among Palestinians between Fatah and Hamas. But if the peace process begins to gain momentum, it is difficult to imagine that Hamas will want to be left out, and that same momentum would provide the Israeli people a unique chance to register their views on the future of their country.

This weakness can be overcome by the president speaking out clearly and forcefully about the fundamental principles of the peace process; he also must press the case with steady determination. That initiative should then be followed -- not preceded -- by the appointment of a high-level dignitary to pursue the process on the president's behalf, a process based on the enunciated presidential guidelines. Such a presidential initiative should instantly galvanize support, both domestic and international, and provide great encouragement to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

To say that achieving a successful resolution of this critical issue is a simple task would be to scoff at history. But in many ways the current situation is such that the opportunity for success has never been greater, or the costs of failure more severe.

Brent Scowcroft was national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. He is president of the Forum for International Policy and the Scowcroft Group. Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. He is trustee and counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The two are authors of "America and The World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy."

This other piece from Monday's WSJ is encouraging.

Scowcroft Protégés on Obama's Radar

Mr. Scowcroft's re-emergence caps a tumultuous few years for the 83-year-old former Air Force general. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Mr. Scowcroft wrote an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal arguing against an invasion and warning that it would "seriously jeopardize, if not destroy" the Bush administration's war on terrorism. In speeches and interviews, he regularly criticized both the decision to invade Iraq and the Bush team's handling of the war effort.

The White House responded by removing Mr. Scowcroft from his position as chairman of a foreign intelligence advisory board. Defenders of the Bush policy say the president has planted the seeds of democracy in the Middle East and preserved strong ties with Israel, which had a tense relationship with the elder President Bush when Mr. Scowcroft was national-security adviser.

Mr. Scowcroft, who stayed neutral in this year's presidential campaign, is a prominent advocate of a "realist" approach to foreign policy that favors deal-making over the ideological commitments the second Bush administration was known for.

"He said before the war that this is a war of choice that we shouldn't be engaged in. I think that has resonated with Obama," said Amy Zegart, a public-policy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who served as an adviser on national-security matters to Mr. Bush's 2000 campaign.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Asleep at the Switch

Not saying who, but someone aboard Aor Force One seems not to be in the loop.

Sunday, November 23...

White House says unaware of any Citigroup rescue talks

Monday, November 24...

Citigroup gets massive U.S. government bailout

Waldo Lydecker's Journal.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nate Silver on Radio Republicans

A Google search for "RADIO REPUBLICANS" returns very few hits but it should get more. The term is too good to get lost. Nate Silver, whose Five poll-tracking blog shone brightly during the election, used the term last week to describe that pocket of Republican Conservatives that can be identified by their talk radio common denominator. Discussing gay rights issues he recalled the old "Don't Ask Don't Tell" silliness of the Clinton years and how public opinion regarding gays in the military has changed over the last fifteen years.

Public sentiment on DADT has shifted dramatically since 1993. A May, 1993 poll by ABC News and the Washington Post showed that 44 percent Americans favored allowing homosexuals (their wording) who have publicly disclosed their orientation to serve in the military, as compared with 55 percent opposed. An identical poll taken in July, however, shows 75 percent in favor versus just 22 percent opposed. Other recent polling shows similar results; in May 2007, CNN showed 79 percent of Americas in favor of allowing for openly gay troops to serve to 18 percent opposed, and in March 2007, Newsweek had 63 percent in favor and 28 percent opposed.

What has changed? Well, certainly, America has become more liberal on a variety of issues related to same-sex-attracted individuals. But also our country is now at war, and military recruitment has become more of a problem. Not coincidentally, the number of dismissals under DADT has decreased significantly since 2002 as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ramped up. (It's not OK to be gay -- the army seems to be saying -- unless we actually need you.)

If this were any other issue, it would be the sort of slam-dunk stocking stuffer that a new administration would be looking to implement quickly to bolster its favorability ratings. But of course, DADT is laden with historical significance, precisely because of the way that the Clinton administration mishandled the issue in 1993 and expended a lot of its political capital in the process. A Washington Times report -- as yet unconfirmed by other sources -- suggests that Barack Obama is likely to delay action on the issue until perhaps 2010.

Does Obama have legitimate reason to proceed cautiously? It is hard to know. On the one hand, even if those who still oppose gay service members are in a small minority, sometimes the minority is much more vocal than the majority. Going after a DADT repeal would surely pique the interest of the Radio Republicans; they'd attempt to portray Obama both as a liberal boogieman and as a political naïf for making the exact same mistakes that the Clinton administration did.

Fox News television channel can be included in the "radio republican" group because the pace is really an echo of the radio format.

FOX News is unusual television, really, in that almost all the stimulation is verbal, and almost all of it occurs at the same staccato pacing as radio. You could take tonight's broadcast of Hannity & Colmes or the Factor and put it directly on radio and you'd lose almost nothing (not coincidentally, Hannity and O'Reilly also have highly-rated radio programs). That wouldn't really work for Countdown, which has higher production values, and where the pacing is more irregular. It certainly wouldn't work for the Situation Room -- or moving in a different direction, the Daily Show.

He illustrates his point citing his recent interview of John Ziegler confronting Zeigler with evidence of push polling aimed at suggesting that people who voted for Obama were more ignorant than others. Zeigler's defensive response underscores a level of cocooning that I have noticed for years. is, in a nutshell, why conservatives don't win elections anymore. It is not that conservatism generally permits less nuance than liberalism (in terms of political messaging, that is probably one of conservatism's strengths). Rather, the key lies in the second passage that I highlighted. There are a certain segment of conservatives who literally cannot believe that anybody would see the world differently than the way they do. They have not just forgotten how to persuade; they have forgotten about the necessity of persuasion.

John Ziegler is a shining example of such a conservative. During my interview with him, Ziegler made absolutely no effort to persuade me about the veracity of any of his viewpoints. He simply asserted them -- and then became frustrated, paranoid, or vulgar when I rebutted them.

I didn't quite get how someone like Ziegler, who is usually fairly poised, who solicited me to interview him, who has years of experience in the media, could so completely lose his cool. This was until last night, when I read David Foster Wallace's profile of him, conducted in 2005 when Ziegler was hosting a fairly successful talk radio program in Los Angeles.

To understand Ziegler, you have to understand that he's a radio guy. And you have to understand that radio is a very strange medium. As Wallace writes:

Hosting talk radio is an exotic, high-pressure gig that not many people are fit for, and being truly good at it requires skills so specialized that many of them don't have names.

To appreciate these skills and some of the difficulties involved, you might wish to do an experiment. Try sitting alone in a room with a clock, turning on a tape recorder, and starting to speak into it. Speak about anything you want—with the proviso that your topic, and your opinions on it, must be of interest to some group of strangers who you imagine will be listening to the tape. Naturally, in order to be even minimally interesting, your remarks should be intelligible and their reasoning sequential—a listener will have to be able to follow the logic of what you're saying—which means that you will have to know enough about your topic to organize your statements in a coherent way. (But you cannot do much of this organizing beforehand; it has to occur at the same time you're speaking.) Plus, ideally, what you're saying should be not just comprehensible and interesting but compelling, stimulating, which means that your remarks have to provoke and sustain some kind of emotional reaction in the listeners, which in turn will require you to construct some kind of identifiable persona for yourself—your comments will need to strike the listener as coming from an actual human being, someone with a real personality and real feelings about whatever it is you're discussing. And it gets even trickier: You're trying to communicate in real time with someone you cannot see or hear responses from; and though you're communicating in speech, your remarks cannot have any of the fragmentary, repetitive, garbled qualities of real interhuman speech, or speech's ticcy unconscious "umm"s or "you know"s, or false starts or stutters or long pauses while you try to think of how to phrase what you want to say next. You're also, of course, denied the physical inflections that are so much a part of spoken English—the facial expressions, changes in posture, and symphony of little gestures that accompany and buttress real talking. Everything unspoken about you, your topic, and how you feel about it has to be conveyed through pitch, volume, tone, and pacing. The pacing is especially important: it can't be too slow, since that's low-energy and dull, but it can't be too rushed or it will sound like babbling.

Not to reduce Wallace's fine prose to a catch phrase, but the distinguishing feature of radio is that it exists in a sort of perpetual amnesiac state. In a book, you can go back and read the previous page; on the internet, you can press the 'back' button on the browser. In radio, there is no rewind: everything exists in that moment and that moment only. This is, theoretically, a problem with television too, but in television you at least have context clues -- graphics and what not, and what falls under the heading of "non-verbal communication". In radio you do not. Just a sine wave in the ether.

Well said.

I have listened to Neal Boortz here in Atlanta for decades and have been deeply impressed with his adroit use of language on his now nationally broadcast talk show. His mind is quick as lightning and his rhetorical instincts are to talk radio as impressive in that medium as are sports figures in their respective fields. He's the Tiger Woods of talk radio. His loyal listeners know that the only reason he remains second string to big names like Limbaugh or Hannity is because he's too smart to make some of the same dumb mistakes that Rush made and not telegenic enough to be on TV. Besides his voice and rhythm are to radio what Ray Charles was to jazz. It would be criminal to tear him from his medium.

Hidden behind that cloud of gifts is an ability to frame and direct a stream of interactive conversation with as much skill as a kayak paddler navigating white water. If a caller happens to use the term "public school" he will instantly be corrected to use the term "government school" because otherwise the conversation might turn to the perfectly stupid conclusion that everyone in America should send their children to private schools because "government schools" are just another tool of government to brainwash them into becoming tit-sucking weenies who cannot think for themselves and will always expect others to take care of them. Presumably every one can find an affordable private school, or, failing that, invest whatever time and effort it takes to do home schooling. Taken to its logical conclusion, this argument would result in generations of children even more ignorant than the ones we now have, but that conclusion never gets to the point of discussion. I use that example to illustrate the point because I notice that whenever it is a slow news day the "government schools" hobby horse gets pulled out of the corner to fill air time.

I saw Nate Silver on television as a talking heads commentator during the campaign and he was dry as a chip. I already knew who he was by way of his blog, and knew he was smarter than anyone else on the same show. I wanted to reach into the screen and poke him, tell him to lighten up a bit. But maybe it's best he stick to his knitting as a stats tracker. That is clearly his calling. He makes me wish I had more interest in baseball. His tracking of baseball stats is apparently the gold standard for that medium. And in the presidential election his poll-tracking and political commenting gifts sparkled like diamonds.

And that great term "radio Republican" should belong to him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama, the cunning politician

NPR's Scott Simon is from Chicago. He may work for NPR but he doesn't sprinkle pixie dust all over the place.
He knows stuff. Believe it.
I was impressed last week with this early assessment of the president-elect.
This was written about seventy-two hours after the election.

You could see history turn in Grant Park on Tuesday night. The place that, just a couple of generations ago, was a battleground between old party bosses and young protestors, this week amounted to a point of pilgrimage: a place where, however you voted, you could see America fulfill its promise.

But as a Chicagoan, I also have a somewhat less starry view of President-elect Obama. Of course he is eloquent and inspirational. But it doesn't diminish those qualities to say that I also see him as a clear-eyed, cool-tempered and occasionally cunning Chicago politician.

Hilary Clinton won many more primaries, but Barack Obama grasped that more actual delegates could be won in state caucuses and deployed ground troops to out-gain the Clinton machine. Chicago politicians know not to rely just on commercials and Internet shout-outs to churn out votes.

When Obama realized how many millions he could he raise, from Americans eager to contribute to history, he used his eloquence to rationalize why he would reject the public campaign financing that he had pledged to take. He wasn't going to be the city-slicker who brings a cap pistol to a gun fight.

When he concluded that his liberal positions on gun control and the death penalty might be politically chancy, he rephrased them to fit opinion polls. A Chicago pol doesn't want to lose like some Massachusetts liberal.

When an old family friend like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright became political trouble, he cut off a man he once said that he could no more disown than his own grandmother.

Supporters and opponents can debate if Obama was being disingenuous or merely flexible.

But when a Chicago politician sits across from Vladimir Putin, you don't figure that he's likely to be carried away with airy academic idealism.

It is hard to imagine President Obama calling for a vote in Congress that he cannot win, the way President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did for the financial rescue package. Chicago politicians, including Obama's designated chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, know when to call votes and when to duck them.

When famous newspapers — I'm thinking specifically of the New York Times — blared on Wednesday morning that Obama had become the first African-American president, I squirmed a bit. There is no such title in the Constitution. Obama has been elected president of the United States.

And while the election of an African-American is surely historic, the tip of history has been poking through for years: borne, whatever their differences, by the likes of John Lewis and Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Harold Washington, Clarence Thomas and Jesse Jackson, Jackie Robinson, Richard Parsons and Oprah Winfrey. African-Americans have become familiar in positions of influence and power.

In the end, millions saw in Barack Obama a man who might lift them out of the pigeonholes that politicians and pollsters so often use to define and divide Americans by color, faith, ethnicity or class.

And with a steely politician's mind, Obama put who he is and what he symbolizes to use. He arouses inspiration. But he relies on the sweat and elbow grease he learned in Chicago's wards.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Obama's "civilian national security force" Explained

Obama's reference to a "civilian national security force" has been grabbed and misinterpreted by a lot of people, including me. My personal spin was that we already have such a force in the Army National Guard, but that was not what he had in mind. And some how the "compulsory" notion got tossed in there to make matters more confusing.

Fact Check put up this clarification:

Is Obama planning a Gestapo-like "civilian national security force"?
I read a quote from Rep. Paul Broun from Georgia which stated that Obama wants to set up a civilian national security force that was similar to the "Gestapo" or the Nazi Brownshirts.

What is the truth behind Obama's statements that he wants to create a "civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded [as the military]"?
This false claim is a badly distorted version of Obama's call for doubling the Peace Corps, creating volunteer networks and increasing the size of the Foreign Service.
This question stems from an interview that Republican Rep. Broun of Georgia gave to The Associated Press Nov. 10. The story carried a headline, "Georgia congressman warns of Obama dictatorship." It said that Broun "fears that President-elect Obama will establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist or fascist dictatorship." And it quoted him this way:
Rep. Paul Broun, Nov. 10: It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he's [Obama's] the one who proposed this national security force. ... That's exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it's exactly what the Soviet Union did.
Similar claims have been circulating in right-leaning blogs and conservative Web sites ever since July, when Obama made a single reference to a "civilian national security force" in a campaign speech in Colorado. Obama's detractors make much of his expansive (and exaggerated) description of such a force as being "just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as the U.S. military. They also ignore the context.

Obama was not talking about a "security force" with guns or police powers. He was talking specifically about expanding AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps and the USA Freedom Corps, which is the volunteer initiative launched by the Bush administration after the attacks of 9/11, and about increasing the number of trained Foreign Service officers who populate U.S. embassies overseas.

Here is the relevant portion of what Obama actually said, with the sentences quoted selectively by Broun and others in bold.
Obama, July 2, Colorado Springs, CO: [As] president I will expand AmeriCorps to 250,000 slots [from 75,000] and make that increased service a vehicle to meet national goals, like providing health care and education, saving our planet and restoring our standing in the world, so that citizens see their effort connected to a common purpose.

People of all ages, stations and skills will be asked to serve. Because when it comes to the challenges we face, the American people are not the problem – they are the answer. So we are going to send more college graduates to teach and mentor our young people. We'll call on Americans to join an energy corps, to conduct renewable energy and environmental clean-up projects in their neighborhoods all across the country.

We will enlist our veterans to find jobs and support for other vets, and to be there for our military families.
And we're going to grow our Foreign Service, open consulates that have been shuttered and double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011 to renew our diplomacy. We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set.

We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded. We need to use technology to connect people to service. We'll expand USA Freedom Corps to create online networks where American can browse opportunities to volunteer. You'll be able to search by category, time commitment and skill sets. You'll be able to rate service opportunities, build service networks, and create your own service pages to track your hours and activities.

This will empower more Americans to craft their own service agenda and make their own change from the bottom up.
Does that sound like a force that could kick down your door in the middle of the night and haul you off to a Gulag or concentration camp? You decide.

-Brooks Jackson

Last week David Neiwert dealt with how unsavory elements are distorting Obama's call for more and better national service. If the Fact Check summary isn't enough, check out his post which concluded:

In a similar vein, we're also hearing that Obama is the antichrist from the religious-right wingnuts.

This really is a double case of deja vu. Not only did we hear this crap circulating around the right during the campaign this year, we heard almost exactly the same thing 16 years ago when Bill Clinton won the White House -- the supposed "looming dictatorship" and the nefarious conspiracies with dark forces.

That only produced eight years of "New World Order" conspiracy theories and their accompanying militias and right-wing domestic terrorists. You'll forgive us if we're not very eager to see what this go-round produces.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah

This haunting music was in the background of a movie now on TV.
Spiritually vapid, musically trite and cloyingly saccharine, but I love the sound of it.
Here it is...

I've heard there was a secret chord
that David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, Do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor Fall, The major lift,
The baffled king composing, hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne
she cut your hair and from your lips she drew the halleujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Etc., etc.
From what I can tell, he has written endless verses and the versions I found are all over the place. This seems to be a case where form is the focus and content is of negligible importance.
Sure is nice, no?

Rahm Emanuel Notes

Management is how I paid the rent all my life. It's what I did and I was good. No one needed to tell me because I knew. Management, like politics, is the art of the possible. My job was very small potatoes, but my potato patch was very well-run. The reason I know is when I visit my cafeteria years after leaving I find the same excellent staff that I left behind, still doing good work for a new boss. Employees I hired and retained still work for the same company decades later. That's all the evidence I need.

I became an Obama supporter because I like his management style. Chosing the right people are the most important decisions he makes. In addition to that gift, two or three original ideas a year will put him light years ahead of others. His choices between now and January will have a greater impact on the coming years than any other decisions he will make as president. I wish more people could grasp that simple idea.

Here are two links to must-read/ must-see sources for anyone seeking to understand Rahm Emanual (and so one dimension of Barack Obama's multi-faceted mind).

C-SPAN replayed last week Roast of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) (September 20, 2005).
Good luck finding it. I can't figure out how to link to a specific video file without going through the main page. It's listed at the moment under "recent programs" but when it is no longer "recent" it may vanish. I dunno.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) was honored in September of 2005 for his work with Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) and his commitment to finding a cure for epilepsy. Among the speakers at the event were Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT).

The event was introduced by Susan Axelrod, wife of David Axelrod, one of Obama's closest advisors. Their interest in epilepsy is deeply personal because they have a child who is a victim of this terrible disorder, the effects of which can range from treatable snd benign to untreatable to the point of death. The event runs an hour and fifty minutes, but it is worth watching to help understand the backstories of both Barack Obama and Rahm Emanual. It is no accident that stem-cell research appears as an early priority for the new administration. (I'm not sure but this may be the "baby-killing" I heard about from shrill critics before the election.)

Obama's remarks appear a 44 minutes.

Rahm Emanuel's remarks are at the end, 1:54, but the real meat of the evening is buried in the remarks of the guests who "roasted" him. My favorite was someone's description of him as someone who would not stab you in the back. He won't go behind your back, he'll stab you in the stomach. But through it all he comes across as a very cunning operator allied with and respected by all the right people.

A reading recommendation comes from Foreigh Policy Magazines "Must-Reads" a New York Times piece The Brothers Emanuel by ELISABETH BUMILLER, Published: June 15, 1997 .

It prints out to six or seven pages and I am about to read it entirely at my leisure. A few snips have already caught my eye.

...Rahm Emanuel is, at 37, one of the most powerful people at the White House. [this was written over ten years ago.] He is also the middle brother of two similar tank commanders: Ariel Emanuel, 36, a relentless Hollwyood television agent who left International Creative Management under cover of darkness to create a rival firm, and Ezekiel Emanuel, 39, an oncologist (with a doctorate in political theory) who is a nationally known medical ethicist at Harvard and a leading opponent of assisted suicide.
Together, Emanuel Freres are a triumvirate for the 90's. All are rising stars in three of America's most high-profile and combative professions. All understand and enjoy power, and know how using it behind the scenes can change the way people think, live and die. All have been called obnoxious, arrogant, aggressive, passionate and committed. All three get up before dawn. All are the sons of an Israeli father, now a 70-year-old Chicago pediatrician, who passed secret codes for Menachem Begin's underground. Iregun, and an American Jewish mother, who worked in the civil rights movement and owned, briefly, a Chicago rock-and-roll club. All three also worry about a less successful Emanuel: Shoshana, 23, their adoptive siser, who crash-landed into the family at the age of 8 days, when the brothers were in their teens.
The Boys went to summer camp in Israel, and reveled in the family lore: in 1933, after their uncle Emanuel Auerbach was killed in a skirmish with Arabs in Jerusalem, the family changed its last name to his first, as a tribute. Political passions always ran deep. Raham still remembers the time his mother and her father got into such a furious argument at the dinner tble over Henry Wallace and the 1948 split of the Democratic Party - a quarter century after the fact - that father threw daughter out of the house. ''And it was her house,'' Rahm says. ''I thought, 'This is nutty.' ''

This is delightful stuff and I'm looking forward to reading it in depth.

Somewhere in the C-CPAN roast video someone made mention of Rahm Emanuel's time in the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force. Instantly I had a flash of Obama's reference to some yet to be defined "civilian defense" to augment the traditional branches of the Defense Department. It was an aha moment for me because I have thought and written about a return of the military draft since I began blogging.

Those with reservations about Obama's position regarding Israel need to take note. He has not only named Rahm Emanuel, whose Israeli credentials look pretty impressive to me, as his top gun, he seems to be contemplating something like Israel's model of national service for young people applied in the USA.

We already have the National Guard, organized under individual state authorities with state governors as their respective commanders in chief. But where were those forces when needed to come to the assistance of hurricane victims in Louisiana or Texas, or fight fires in California? Away at war, maybe?

So what would be the downside of a true, even larger "National" guard, federal in concept, consisting of trained reserves to be called to acive duty when needed, but spending most of their time at civilian employment? How will flag-waving, pro-guns, super-patriots come to terms with that?

The Army National Guard (ARNG) is one component of The Army (which consists of the Active Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.) The Army National Guard is composed primarily of traditional Guardsmen -- civilians who serve their country, state and community on a part-time basis (usually one weekend each month and two weeks during the summer.) Each state, territory and the District of Columbia has its own National Guard, as provided for by the Constitution of the United States.

The National Guard has a unique dual mission that consists of both Federal and State roles. For state missions, the governor, through the state Adjutant General, commands Guard forces. The governor can call the National Guard into action during local or statewide emergencies, such as storms, fires, earthquakes or civil disturbances. [ed. when available]

In addition, the President of the United States can activate the National Guard for participation in federal missions. Examples of federal activations include Guard units deployed to Kosovo and the Sinai for stabilization operations, and units deployed to the Middle East and other locations in the war on terrorism. When federalized, Guard units are commanded by the Combatant Commander of the theatre in which they are operating.

Did somebody say something about jobs? Lots of jobs?

Hmm. Just thinking out loud.

Update, same day...

Woo-hoo! Seems like Mr. Emanuel did an interview a couple of years ago outlining what may be Obama's "civilian service" model. Looks like the National Guard to me. Here's a link to the video/audio... replete with snarky captions underscoring the most frightening parts of the transcript, as well as a couple of editorial additions.

The folks at Red Tide are among many who have the link. (Interesting. Their http handle is "massachusetts for huckabee.") The comments thread at Gateway Pundit has a few people scrooched up over the notion of mandatory national service.

Those of us drafted over forty years ago didn't like the idea either but we had to go along. And we who didn't get killed have had forty years to think it over. I find it amusing that those on the right seem to be having trouble with the concept.

I registered as a conscientious objector which sealed my MOS as a medical corpsman. That option is still on the books for those who have objections to bearing arms. If such a plan goes through we'll have a chance to see how patriotism plays out when the rubber hits the road.

Yo, Patriots. How ya'll feel about putting young people where your mouths have been? I don't think it's a bad idea at all. With the economy and unemployment at historic bad places this could kill two birds with one stone. Er, excuse me...sorry about that...poor figure of speech.