The Presidential Campaign Thus Far, Late Summer 2015

Reading Time: 4 minutes

also posted on Facebook

At this point in the increasingly extruded presidential campaigns (they used to be a year, more or less, and now are two, making lame ducks even lamer), I think less about who I am “for”—I’m never earnestly in favor of anyone, and never have been; I gave money generously to Obama in 2008 to help ensure his run against Clinton for the nomination, and then against McCain/Palin… but no candidate ever aligns perfectly with my views, which is the way the phenomenon should occur, I think, that is, it’s the candidates who should be taking quizzes to see what percentage of my views they agree with. I think about those whose policies I can best embrace.

I don’t think about viablity, not as an index of my likely potential vote, not this early. I don’t think about all the non-salient factors that seem to motivate so many other people, on the full political spectrum, from left to right, all supporters act almost exactly the same way. I can’t say they are genuinely intellectually engaged; almost nobody is sufficiently articulate and certainly not on Facebook, let’s say, to assess when someone is making an intelligent informed decision. On the social media everyone appears to be emotionally driven, and as much by antipathy for the other, as by enthusiasm for my man or woman. It’s clear though that a lot of people are about as animated as my classmates used to get when selecting the prom king and queen (I never attended a prom; never wanted to, and couldn’t have cared less… I was defective in this regard even then). Some people, regarding their candidate of choice even froth a bit at the lips, figuratively speaking. I’ve seen it in right-wingers; I’ve seen it in Bernie supporters; I’ve seen it in the disenchanted who say hold your nose and vote for (Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush usually) because either of them is better than the alternative.

Now, as for Bernie Sanders, in particular, but to a certain extent it’s true of Donald Trump, who, as an aside, are a strange Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but that’s how I see them, yin and yang and therefore reinforcing each other’s gestalt, we’re beginning to see the Messiah syndrome emerge. Increasingly, as the media institutionalize the question of Joe Biden’s candidacy (his jumping in would be entirely opportunistic, even if he is genuinely contemplating it, and his prospects more an index of Clinton’s failing inevitability—Biden is simply not an inevitability kind of candidate; he is what he is, the dependable, steady running mate; even Andy Borowitz still doesn’t take him seriously) and the progressives now getting really hot about Bernie Sanders are acting exactly like suitors with a new flame, having been spurned by their real soul mate, Liz Warren (who has shown herself to have feet with a little bit of clay in them, but not so much it can’t be overlooked except by Republican trolls).

Now suddenly, every candidate has the potentiality for being a snake in the grass, a spoiler, duplicitous, ambitious, greedy, and underhanded. Judases. As if Sanders is not a politician, but something purer than the common clay that contaminates all of us ordinary people. As if Sanders is not also, despite the allure of many of his policies, and his quiet assertions of mature, rational adulthood, contrasted with the insane adolescent spritz of the crypto standup comedians that constitute the rest of the candidate field, capable of solecisms and misfires. As if our Bernie is not a member of that most exclusive of clubs, the Senate, who must go along at times, to get along. The Senate does not do absolutely nothing, and when it does what little it does, it manages to do so these days because somebody has to cross the aisle and work in league with the enemy.

Finally, of course, to take the focus off Bernie Sanders, who is the cynosure of all of that other white minority, the urban liberal, plus all the other people who usually quietly go about their lives because there is so rarely anyone who seems genuinely capable of honestly expressing their sense of being passively oppressed for decades, let’s consider Liz Warren, the former darling of the left. She’s got more flash and glamour, and showed some of what seemed sincere humility, not to mention a sense of humor, when she would appear on The Daily Show (it’s too bad that aside from an appearance in 2011, to speak up for universal health care, Bernie Sanders can no longer be “interviewed” by Jon Stewart, especially as a possibly viable candidate, a proposition that Stewart seemed to dismiss earlier this year—he was as taken by surprise as anyone), but essentially, she’s a Bernie type progressive, without the self-imposed label of “socialist.” But now, she’s plotting with Smilin’ Jack Biden… some even suggesting, with all the intrigue of a genuinely tortuous Machiavellian strategy, that the sudden talk of a Biden/Warren ticket is actually a Trojan horse, brilliantly calibrated to ensure a Clinton nomination!

Would that politicos were that smart and capable of diabolical skullduggery. Of such artistic treachery. Senator Iago.

No, as usual, at this stage, and building a drum beat that increases in tempo and volume (undoubtedly to the proportions of the soundtrack of Birdman as election day approaches) the fascinating thing about the campaigns is not the candidates, it’s all of you, the people, carrying on about your candidates. The caravan is nothing without spectators and hangers on, without camp followers, without purses full of the currency of our hopes and fears, waiting to be fleeced by the vendors in their stalls in the marketplace. But when the caravan moves on, as in that famous saying, still the only thing to be heard as the wagons diminish in size on the horizon, will be the dogs. Barking.

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A Thought about Cuba and the U.S., and the rest of the world’s conflicts

Reading Time: 1 minute

It’s over 50 years since the formal misalliance and alienation of the United States and Cuba began, and it is just over seven years since the inauguration of an historically significant change in leadership in both countries (does everyone remember that it was 2008 that Fidel Castro stepped down and ceded the presidency of Cuba to Raul, his brother—the same year an African-American was for the first time elected as U.S. President?).

Given these facts, and given that it was these two men, with the aid of the first Franciscan Pope ever, who engineered the start of the dismantling of this diplomatic and political rupture, between one very small country, and the world’s greatest superpower: how can anyone in his right mind imagine that it will be an easy matter to rectify even older conflicts around the world, some involving the U.S., some not, involving entrenched interests and very conservative adherence to “old values?”

Clearly the Republicans tend to believe in the impossible, and likely most Democrats (and everyone in between and around the edges believes it too).
Will it ever stop, and a rational approach to merely begin to resolve age-old (some Biblical, some even older) differences between nations and peoples ever begin?

What do you think?

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Memento Historia

Reading Time: 11 minutes

2015 3 5 blurred

I’ve reached an age, in my 60s, when every memory is a spur to thinking about what has passed before, what no longer is the reigning shared truth, what is no more the common wisdom.

The way people are talking today on the latter day Rialto, our virtual agora meeting place not just daily but around the clock, I mean Facebook of course, those of a dependably like mind to my own are shuddering at the prospect of, say, a Jeb Bush-Hillary Clinton contest in 2016. They go through the bench gathering of would be Republican prospects, the Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Rand Paul motley band of rookies and wannabes and shudder. They look behind Hillary’s back, and see no prospects.

What I am reminded of is a similar time just eight years ago. Eight years. It used to be that whole generations would pass before someone or other, usually a self-appointed sage, would remind us of the history already forgotten and clearly about to be re-lived and dedicated to the commission of the same mistakes. It’s happening now, in a conventional way, though with a more perverse cast to it. Ted Cruz compares Iran to Hitler’s Germany of the late 1930s and Obama and his staff of negotiators to Neville Chamberlain. Cruz is, of course, too stupid as well as too young even to recall the time immediately after World War II, a likely unavoidable consequence of any position the British Prime Minister might have taken at the time, and it’s likely excusable—Cruz’s resonant solecism—because it all happened what is now nearly 77 years ago. However, as I started to point out, we are now only eight years out from our anticipation of the then upcoming Presidential nomination and election cycle that would offer the chance of true regime change, or so it seemed, after eight years of Bush and his administration (an administration that, along with their leader, have, only today, been charged by the German government with war crimes—which I note to color the context of these observations, and to help readers recall why exactly it was certain of us desperately sought relief from the burden of living in a country run by such individuals).

At that time as well, back in the early days of 2007, Hillary Clinton seemed a sure thing. Feminists preened over the prospects of seeing the first realistic possibility of electing the country’s first woman President. Common liberals, not wanting or for some reason or other not being disposed to take too close a look, rejoiced at a return to the former triumphs, or so they had so quickly come to be perceived, of the previous Clinton incumbency, riven as it was with the quizzical and inappropriate behavior of a world leader who otherwise seemed entirely to be master of his influence and power, not only in the United States, but in the world. All those looking forward to a new dynasty, with the fresh frisson of not only a passing of the baton to abler and smarter hands than someone named Bush, but of a gender never before seen wielding such influence and power. It was only seven or eight years, but many had already forgotten the extent to which the Clintons, male and female, were held in contempt by such a large segment of the public, and of course by a Congress, control of which Clinton the First had managed to help the Democrats lose through his wanton personal mischief.

Perhaps our propensity to forget sooner, and not to want to think about the consequences of what seemed already foregone if merely accepted passively, had already set in. Frankly, and I write this with an ironic smile on my face, it’s hard to recall exactly in early 2007 what the mood was, and what the disposition of mind, as evident in the outpourings of the concerned. For one, of course, we didn’t yet have Facebook. It was introduced to the public only in the Fall of the preceding year (does anyone remember that Microsoft bought a piece of Facebook in 2007, only a year after everyone who was 13 and with a valid email address could sign up, a very tiny piece, for $240 million, which validated the company and gave it a preposterous market value on paper?). But in 2007 it was still mainly teenagers who belonged, teens who have since spurned it, in part because it has become a repository among other things for the detritus of memories and recollections of at least three generations prior to theirs—generations with what I am saying are clearing failing capacities for remembering the substance of occurrences of only eight years previous.

The half-assed historian in me (the one that’s in so many of us) finds it a shame to have to work so much harder to recapture common sentiments among ordinary citizens, who mainly had email to talk amongst themselves (texting existed, but it was the iPhone and its stream of competitors that made it a standard mode of communication, and the iPhone was introduced in June of 2007, still, at this writing, three months shy of eight years ago). Putting aside the undeniable fact that Facebook is a medium for a self-selecting set of users, a fact that is mitigated by the nature of the way they use it, which is to talk to friends and those of like mind, not to have arguments with any heat or rancor (though these do occur, as it’s an open forum and anyone can tangle with anyone they choose to whom they have access), we now have a daily record of how at least some of us share sentiments and exactly what those sentiments are.

One of the members in the screen shot above opines “2016 the race where America can’t win,” or so liberals and progressives of a more advanced persuasion think. What I recall about 2007 is that Democrat voters and others sought a redress of the wrongs of the Bush administration and the Republican Party in general (another small spur to recollection is called for here: the Tea Party movement, now anathema to a majority of Americans, but with a stranglehold on the Republican Party was founded only in 2007, with Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate for 2008, one of its earliest proponents, but if you hated the Republican Party in 2007, it wasn’t likely because of its extreme members). All Republican hopefuls, from Ron Paul (another Tea Party darling, for no less a reason than that he helped get it going), to John McCain, the eventual candidate, to Mitt Romney, to Rick Perry were anathema, the “worst choices ever” (to quote another of the commentators in my screen shot of a thread, but he’s referring to the current crop, right now, in 2015), not imagining that any party could do worse than the party that produced Warren G. Harding (among others; and I won’t but barely mention some of the other candidates that project themselves for such distinction, like the criminal RIchard Nixon, and the hapless Herbert Hoover). But I also recall that, in March of 2007, just a month after announcing his candidacy, Barack Obama was a very long shot, and automatically the target of revulsion simply on the basis of the color of his skin. Hillary Clinton was simply unacceptable to a great many thoughtful voters (disclosure: myself included, opening myself to a series of non-winnable debates among my circle, mainly with women friends, simply by pronouncing my aversion to Mrs. Clinton’s politics and her cozy connections with big money and its sources), being only a classic pol, in tailored suits and flattering hairdos, much like all of her male predecessors—have we also forgotten her husband Bill Clinton, leaving Air Force One sitting on the tarmac at LA International Airport for hours, forcing the closure of two out of four runways at one of the country’s busiest airports, while he got a haircut? Where and however Mr. Clinton got his silvery locks shorn notwithstanding, without any quarter and certainly no opportunity given to clarify my position it was assumed by those feisty women friends of mine that my opposition had to derive simply out of a knee-jerk revulsion to gender, that, like all men under the skin, I was anti-women and anti-feminist. I quickly learned to give up—even feigning incredulity and indignant anger was no solution; women need no longer lead with their empathy and sensitivity, and no one gives a shit if a man, any man, is misunderstood, not after an epoch-long siege of one gender being misunderstood, and kept with their necks under someone’s boot. I hated Hillary (I didn’t; I just repudiated her politics, always did) because I hated the idea of a woman in charge (I didn’t; nothing’s better than leaving the decisions to someone else qualified and brave enough to accept the responsibility, no matter what endowment they were born with between their legs).

To many Democrats Hillary Clinton is an anomalous creature, the subject of great ambivalence. She has all the trappings, the air, of an ideal liberal candidate, but none of the solidity, none of the stuff. All veneer and no essence. She is expedient and opportunistic. Her husband, long since recognized for some of the same qualities and with undeniable charisma, with no specific facets to his character in which to anchor this elusive incorporeal quality. He has been taken to task, and by association, if not mere implication, as has Hillary, for the slippery strategy of triangulation, which, in application, seems always more tactical than the engine of a goal-driven mission. The results of triangulation seem always, in the end to be political, to achieve an actionable compromise, in order to keep the political machine moving forward. Taking any such action, the abandonment of the foundation and structure of welfare as the country had come to know it over 35 years, for example, seemed in the end, in fact, to realize the objectives of adversarial political players and an abandonment of Democrat principles. It is always adroitly papered over with the elation of a perceived victory, rather than the satisfaction of a palpable advance in the welfare (in the strictly denotative sense) of the people it means to serve—the constituency whose needs drive any political process. The real beneficiaries are the engineers of the adroit act of triangulation, the Clintons themselves. This happens over and over again when politicians actually take the reins of power and forget that the job is now to lead the team of draft horses pulling the nation along, and think their objectives are still self-advancement before all else moves forward.

On the other hand, the Republicans have of late only offered a motley band, from the brazen to the sober, and even the more distinguished of the prospects—I’ll just offer Rand Paul as a possible example—the sense is always they must struggle to keep a straight face. Realizing some of them are smart enough to know the difference, it’s nevertheless appalling that the state of the electorate is such that even more judicious and thoughtful candidates are forced, because it’s politics after all, Western style at that, and American in particular, to kowtow to the crowd mentality. Which is all to say that, as a clinician might affirm, if someone is conscious and alert, these are sure signs of the presence of a mind actively engaged in mentation, but that’s no synonym for intelligence. It just means that generally, the average voter is sufficiently aware of the real world not to step into traffic that’s moving perpendicular to his or her intended path. Especially if the light is red (though there are those who would defy such control because, well, red is the
color of Communism isn’t it?, and the last thing we need are more reds telling us what to do).

It’s always startling to hear something reasonable coming from the lips of the likes of Mitch McConnell or even John Boehner, who are so much more readily and easily characterized as the grotesque caricatures that people who lean left like to make them out to be. This is what chronic lying will do to the perception of you by those who are not disposed to swallow the particular lies you have to peddle.

However, before giving in to the temptation of getting deep in the weeds of analyzing the shortcomings of most of the current crop of politicians, the point I wish to make remains. The current crop is also a representative crop, the yield of what politics has become a long time since. Politicians the stature and bearing even of Dwight Eisenhower or John F. Kennedy, two generations ago, long since proven by the revelations of history also to have had feet of clay one way or another, nevertheless can still stand for the quality of the words they uttered about values we all look back upon as worth embracing. The great tragedy is we have forgotten, if we’ve forgotten anything worth remembering, that the values inherent in the policies they espoused publicly were for the longest time the very same values we still invoke as the principles on which the country was founded.

The manifest irony is that, at least it is true with Republican politicians, there seem to have never been more and more frequent allusions to those values, the loss of which, according to whoever utters the accounting, explains all that is “wrong” with our country. The loss is always laid at the feet of the opposing party. The remedy is a return to those values, which seems to mean, modulating according to the branch of government espousing such a return, simplifying and reducing the government and its infrastructure, that is, the very apparatus that keeps us in motion as a functioning nation, however inefficiently we may manage to function. In a complementary way, the Democrats bemoan the shortsightedness of the opposition in failing to see that those principles still prevail, are still applicable, and have been denatured and deformed by the refusal of that opposition to act in a manner consistent with those principles. What Democrats have done repeatedly, when they have wrested control of the country back into their hands, at least at the executive level, is, from nowhere seemingly, found a champion who has offered the same redemptive call to action, reducible to a single word, I mean “hope” of course—the rallying cry of both the Clinton and Obama campaigns. As if merely hoping was tantamount to affirmative acts of commission.

My peers and compatriots, perhaps not unreasonably, and certainly out of great despair, a condition that seems to set in every eight years, as I suggest, in inverse proportion to the degree to which they have forgotten their despair in the last cycle, see no hope and no chance of a reasonable choice of a hero (or heroine) who can champion that evanescent quality of aspiration, calling out the name in a rallying clarion voice. Equally deflating is the prospect of some Republican leader who, at best, will hold out the warning of the doom inherent in such empty aspirations—a negative capability, if it represents any capability whatsoever, and resonant with the doomsaying tradition that colored our earliest history as religious pilgrims and asylum seekers first sought our shores as a new venue for the freedom to save themselves, and their leaders admonished them to seek the straitened path of righteousness.

The righteous path, I’m afraid, has been trampled by too much foot traffic, mainly those seeking the right way, obliterated to the point that we are no longer aware of where it came from, where it might lead us, and the sickening possibility that we are miles away from it with night coming on. Yet we can still wring our hands in the approaching darkness, hurling imprecations and damnation into the heavens, because of the poverty of our choice of candidates for leadership. However, quickly to bring this around to where I started, and put an end to this meditation on abbreviated recollections, and the attenuated quality of memory these days, I’ll remind you all, we’re exactly where we were just eight years ago, and there is no precedent to recall in the mind of any living citizen, because the precedent was set so long ago. Whoever it was that came up with the cliché of the condemnation we suffer to relive history clearly had no knowledge of the perfidy of our own recollections and the propensity for humans quickly to forget suffering. We have an inkling at times that what appears to be a prevalent tendency of recent vintage is, in reality, the perseverance of a condition from which we still have not learned to escape.

The best we can hope for is to make the most of what we’ve got, which always seems to offer up a champion, around whom we always seem to gather, only to allow ourselves to be disappointed, because, like adolescents, we’ve not yet learned to modulate our expectations, and really to scrutinize the dress of the would-be emperor parading himself before us before we find ourselves so willing—likely out of sheer desperation—to put the mantle of leadership on him whether it suits his mode of dress or even despite his absence of undergarments. It’s eight years since the last seeming crisis of universal inertia in the body politic, and it’s time for us to recognize, for good and all, this is not a singularity, or even a perverse culmination, a descent that has taken us truly to some nadir of despondency. It is, in fact, a pattern, a matrix with a dimension that measures eight years to each side and, if we could get far enough away, if we could somehow magically spirit ourselves to a height great enough we would see it takes the pattern of a maze. The question is whether we can get the distance required, that is, some critical number of us, to see if it is, in fact, one of those Minoan mazes, seemingly inescapable, but needing a true champion to lead the way out, if only we can contrive how to persuade him or her to do so.

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John Kerry’s Goofy Diplomacy

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The American literary critic and scholar, R.P. Blackmur, famously wrote of “Language as Gesture.” What I would suggest (and what I see borne out not only in extended conversations with French natives online in forums for precisely that purpose, but in my experience in general—among the general American public, and even in more selective environments, such as American academic centers) is that our European brethren, the French exhibiting a particular aptitude and finesse, are far more serious and analytical about gesture as language. There is, no doubt, meaning in actions, bodily postures, and yes, gestures, that sometimes belie even the words that issue from the lips of those making such motions.

In the United States, the study of these things take on the quality of parlor game or, at its most serious, perhaps the phenomenon of armchair psychiatry, wherein anyone can bestow upon himself the bona fides of accurate renditions of the meaning of “body language,” “sub-text,” and “non-verbal cues…” in short the entire apparatus of wholly ignorant speculation of the “hidden meaning” of what are mainly empty and unconscious actions. Americans, being the largely mindless, unthinking, spontaneous and effusive louts we are in the usual stereotype give no heed to the cultural norms of other collective civilized entities, be they other countries, other religions (than Protestantism), or merely other formalized and highly codified systems of behavior and communication, such as, in this case, diplomacy.

My exaggerated characterization of Americans aside, we generally are tone deaf, not only to the possibility that stepping to the right may mean something entirely different than stepping to the left, or that royalty calls for a curtsy and no direct modes of address. This doesn’t excuse our rudeness, cloddishness, or the kinds of mayhem we cause by our general ignorance of what others, in other parts of the world, take very seriously indeed. However, it also doesn’t negate our sincerity or our good will. We may fuck it up, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have good intentions or heart-felt feelings of empathy and distress over the misfortune of others. We seem to be much better at suffering misfortune ourselves and accepting the world’s sympathy, than we are at conveying similar feelings when the situations are reversed.

Our long tradition of lending aid, in many forms, both material, and spiritual, but as well in the time and compassion we direct towards the direct support of other peoples in the world who are under duress goes at least some way towards neutralizing what can sometimes be our ham-handed manner of visiting ourselves upon other soil. We’re still a young country, relatively speaking. We certainly have a lot to learn. We have some straightening out internally, in terms of getting everybody within our borders on board to the notion that we may be an exceptional entity in the community of nations, for the richness of our resources, for the depth of our resourcefulness, for our might, and for the sheer size of our country in its unique position of insulation from other areas of the world. Some of us think this reflects a kind of exceptional privilege as well, as if our destiny as humans is somehow on a higher plane than any other humans, purely by virtue of being American. This is, of course, not true. For all of our great attributes as a people and a nation, we still have far too many faults. But we’re getting there. France will survive John Kerry… It’s survived far far worse.

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Freedom of Speech is No Compulsion to Speak

Reading Time: 3 minutes

What’s on my mind:

As I continue to cogitate, though in certain respects it’s largely a sub-conscious rumination, on the events of the past week in France, plus the shit-storm of commentary that appears through all outlets in all channels of communication, certain thoughts are beginning to cohere in my little head.

Knowing me, I’ll have more than enough to say, I suppose, in due course, but, for now, I’ll say this.

It seems to me that a steadfast belief in freedom of speech (which is a far-ranging freedom, and is not excluded to politics or religion) is not an injunction or an obligation to be compelled to speak. And especially not just because you have some feelings, particularly strong ones, on any subject.

I have been known in the past not to be afraid to speak truth to power, and in the right contexts, I’ve done so, sometimes spontaneously, because it was just and ethical to have done. It is no virtue to be honest, especially if it’s gratuitous. But it is entirely justified to oppose oppression, coercion, or outright lying and to confront it with the truth. I don’t think this has ever made me a hero or courageous. I am the opposite. I am, more often than not, filled with anxiety, but fear is no excuse for not acting. I am never fearful when circumstance finds me in a place that, in the absence of any other voice for uttering the truth that applies, I open my mouth.

I also have learned that nothing is as powerful a weapon against tyranny and oppression, or even mere bullying (when an institution does it, through its agents and agencies, it’s called throwing their weight around) than the skillful application of truth to make the oppressor look ridiculous. Scorn, anger, and righteousness render them deaf. But the potentiality of being laughed at by the public almost invariably makes a tyrant, at least one with some remnant or shred of reason intact, suddenly reasonable.

This latter truth, though, has never induced or compelled me to rain down ridicule, even to the point of disrespect, on anyone or any institution simply for the effect, or the pleasure of voicing my implied superiority. Even dressing up scorn and ridicule in the respectable cloaks of art, calling them satire or parody, does not excuse gratuitous provocation. No matter how deserving the ridicule, some account must be taken of the state of mind, or more likely the mindlessness—never mind the evil beyond any form of reason—of the oppressor. Most of the time, if red cloths are waved to incite beasts to an instinctive state of preservation by aggression, it’s mainly for sport. This is called cruelty by some. With humans, the same rules apply. Cruelty, however incisively and cleverly applied, in the incitement of humans to act like beasts, when that is the predictable (and increasingly inevitable) result, renders questionable the motives of the provocateur. Universal scorn, applied equally to all manifestations of ridiculous behavior and belief, is no defense for the basic cruelty and inhumanity of the act.

Certain commentators of prominence (I’m thinking of David Brooks on the right, and Jeffrey Goldberg, ostensibly on the left; conveniently an ur-Republican, a self-described “liberal…who came to his senses,” and a Jewish liberal who wears his ethnicity on his sleeve professionally) have found reason, through very clever, but still specious, argument to declare that each “is not Charlie…” I am still sorting out what I know now only intuitively to be faulty logic (though it may be overly generous of me to call it even that) to be able to say what’s wrong with these declarations, never mind the possible underlying motives for doing so.

What I find myself thinking, instead, as, indeed, I read the now ubiquitous declaration of solidarity “Je suis Charlie..” and, plumbing my own feelings, realize that I sense no resonance with the sentiment within myself, is that if I am anyone, and it is something spiritually akin to some abstraction that I can identify with the current trials we all somehow suffer together in France, it is this: Je suis Charlot.

Charlot is, of course, the affectionate name bestowed on that comic genius, no stranger to the finer points of ridicule, satire, and the skills required to pull at the heart strings of all, Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin’s name has come up countless times in the last five or six days, because of his iconic motion picture masterpiece of eviscerating tyranny, “The Little Dictator.” The film came out in 1940, and the plaudits it, and its maker, deserves notwithstanding, it also must be remembered that the war we now refer to as World War II (and which, in the end engulfed the entire planet) had already been raging in Europe for almost a year, and it was five years, and 50 million lives extinguished, before it ended.

Truth is powerful. It is necessary. And it must never be abandoned or denied. But, even in the face of truth, evil and tyranny are so relentless, sometimes virtually implacable, that we must constantly remind ourselves that these shifting transformative enemies are still abroad in the world, and will require more than faulty logic, or lip service and ritual to be suppressed.

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Our Country: Redefining Hypocrisy as a Global Standard

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The View From Where I Sit

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Our government, representing us as a nation, is quick to chastise, sometimes menacingly, other countries against some strict moral standard. Occasionally the merest hint of an encroachment on the civil rights of citizens in some far-flung place and we speak out (though usually it’s not just a hint, but the latest in several rounds of continual flagrant violation—sometimes it takes us awhile to decide to rise up on our hind legs) expressing, often in sanctified tones, our indignation and disgruntlement. We are particularly disposed to do this with countries outside the sphere of de facto white majority nations and the ecosystem models of Western democracies. Moreover we are not timid about threatening or actually applying the sanctions of throttling the economies of these miscreant countries, quizzically, at times, our own trading partners or, more critically, the chief resource of cheap manufacturing labor for American branded goods. We exploit the citizenry while threatening that country’s government with measures that will, in fact, mainly cause harm to the same individuals whose labors we are exploiting to our profit. Leaders, except for their reputations internationally, go unscathed. Tyrants persist, not only staying in power, but often acquiring more. With an exquisite sense of where it will be most judiciously applied, as measured in self-interested vectors on the axes of geopolitical hegemony and financial leverage, we actually impose those sanctions, especially if we can inveigle our equally sanctimonious partners—the usual suspects, numbering seven very rich and powerful countries or, in a different grouping, 20, a mixed bag of very rich and not so much, depending on which economic cabal we call upon—in an exercise of the powers of democratic rectitude. Usually the worst sufferers of such economic strangulation—choking, but never quite killing, the victim—are the citizens of the miscreant nations. Yet these rogue governments stay in place, the world spins, and we move on to monitoring for the next outrage. And in the meantime, people die, one by one, or en masse, by degrees, or, in the language of Gilbert & Sullivan describing (comically) a beheading, with a “short sharp shock.”

As is typical of a world view borne of over three centuries of military and political domination of the entire planet, we white nations are contemptuous of the culture and mores of these countries we throttle—some of them far larger than us in geographic size, and certainly far more numerous. Some of them, of course, are the contemporary manifestation of civilizations that predate ours by millennia. We browbeat, lambaste, or outright bully countries as diverse and geographically widespread as Egypt, China, or Sudan, though the list is far longer. China is never far from being astray, by our measure, in navigating a world defined by our superior moral compass.

In the extreme we withdraw diplomatic representation to these countries, rendering any opportunity for diplomatic leverage impossible, while forcing continuing (and conveniently deniable) negotiations into the backrooms of clandestine contexts and venues. One other consequence often is to drive the offending individuals and their governments that represent threats to the moral stature of mankind further into the arms of opposing groups—alliances of the perverse—truly renegade and often stateless: our redoubtable enemies, upon whom we are disposed to anoint whole peoples with the morally charged titles of opprobrium speechwriters delight in fabricating, like Axis of Evil, who immediately demonstrate they are far less scrupulous than we in putting stakes in the ground of civilized nations. Indeed, if anything, there is a greater consistency in the behavior of those nations we brand as outcasts, or threaten to so brand, than in the company of the league of morally righteous countries we represent.

Far better to adhere to the tenets of our code, spelled out emphatically at the first sign of transgression, when the civil rights of a potentially rogue nation’s citizens are in peril. It matters not to us, smug in our uplifting prosperity, that theirs is a way of life—good or bad, by whatever standard—and their struggle often merely a recapitulation of a process that history has shown is not only repeated, over and over, as mankind seeks painfully to acquire the virtue of the imposition of civilization on its savage heart, but recursive. Sometimes nations now in the grip of misrule, chaos and violence were, in the past, the model of some now ancient world order of how civil societies should behave.

The United States is now the preeminent avatar of that elusive concept: the world’s best hope for imposing peace, order, tranquility, civility, and fairness (above all) as a doctrine the entire world can embrace. The land of the free and home of the brave being the rhetorical touchstones to which even well-meaning immigrants, or first- and second-generation children of immigrants, invoke, just before casting aspersions on the real life on the American streets that belie this shining dream: yes, on the one hand America is great, because it’s the land of the free, but, let me tell me how I’m actually treated in my (job, town, college…).

We are careful in broadcast messages—sometimes merely stern, sometimes homiletic—however, in holding up as a standard our own moral codes, not to draw any attention to the ways in which, almost on a daily basis, anyone following the news in what remnant there is of an organized free press, assisted by the growing ranks of ad hoc witnesses and reporters of injustice in our own country’s streets and byways and broadcast on a still free Internet of communications and information outlets, can see reported transgressions equal to, if not exceeding, the guidelines for behavior informed by such codes. It’s like a parade where huge banners with inspiring slogans are carried by platoons of authentic defenders of our principles, whether in uniform in the obscure and dangerous mountain passes and wadis of the unsettled Middle East, or on the streets of our major cities, in honest civil protests, while at the back of the march anti-protestors are beleaguering the ordinary common citizens demonstrating their sense of common cause, with hate speech, or possibly even bringing down fists and hard blunt instruments on their heads.

The metaphor does not address the alternative, and prevailing reality that it is as likely that a different uniformed, increasingly militarized force, I mean the police of our fair cities and towns of course, are dispatched to quell civil protest, which is otherwise perfectly lawful, but represents a menace to the larger order, the real world order of the tiny set of corporate interests and uber-rich individuals whose hegemony is in some inchoate way threatened. That the threat never gathers force in a concentrated way, or never confronts the powers that be with violence (unlike criminals, terrorists, and society’s alienated emotionally disturbed youth, who actually do act, and are barely contained) represents the anguished reality that any veteran of an Occupied action, as one example of many, can attest.

Other countries, after whatever form of what we call due process, indict, try, and convict perpetrators of crimes under their codes of justice. They often do so, even in this universally troubled world, in an entirely orderly way, holding court, swearing witnesses, prosecuting guilt, and dispensing justice, not by our lights, but theirs, for sure. Nevertheless they do it with order, and not in some summary way.

We don’t like the usually swift meting out of justice, sometimes Biblical in its severity, mercilessness, and inhumanity: worse than beheadings (which are the current benchmark for barbarism and perverse justice, the justice of evil intent; yet, a fact easily forgotten, the state means of ending a life in France until all forms of capital punishment were ended, as recently as 1981), worse than hanging, which, after all, was still the standard of execution in the United Kingdom, only 50 or 60 years ago, there is stoning, which horrifies even devout Christians, who daily read the manual, I speak of the Bible, for such a mode of punishment appropriate to the class of transgression congruent to its application.

We prefer to prolong the agony of prisoners—including growing numbers proving to have been wrongfully indicted, prosecuted and convicted—by drawing out the appeals process or delaying parole as we debate the moral niceties of the differences between punishment and rehabilitation (with no regard whatsoever for analyzing the incongruent nature of policies and methodologies, never mind facilities, for carrying out the one vs. the other) or allowing the lopsidedness of American justice (blind in theory, including the tenet of that particular form known as color-blind vs. the de facto condition that finds six times the number of African-Americans imprisoned against the number of whites, even though, according to 2013 U.S. Census data, whites outnumber African-Americans in the U.S. general population nearly by the inverse of that ratio). In plain language, there are just shy of six times as many whites as African-Americans, yet there are six times as many African-American men incarcerated in this country as there are whites incarcerated.

Clearly grand juries and juries are busy with the grim business of finding African-American men guilty of crimes calling for imprisonment, i.e., the most serious crimes in our criminal code of justice. They certainly are not, and never have been busy holding the police, from the precinct to the state level, accountable for their violence against civilians not actively engaged in criminal behavior, never mind already in custody, unarmed, or behaving obediently and in a civil and non-violent manner. Like our penal system, there is a lop-sided ratio of victims of police violence in terms of skin color. Rarely is a white-skinned individual murdered, or even merely injured, though there is no differentiation by skin color, ethnicity or race when it comes to quelling non-violent protests, especially those conducted en masse.

There is no apparent line of connection between the actions of our Federal executive branches and state or local law enforcement, between the Departments of State and Justice, and the lower echelon jurisdictions of prosecution and jurisprudence. Never mind conscious and interactive lines of communication between these entities; nor would I call for them. The lofty posturing of the one, like the dignity always accorded high office, whether in the Senate or the White House, is in marked contrast with some grittier reality. The police no doubt are the first to say, along with the demonstrators, their hands bound in temporary nylon ties that cut into their wrists, “you have no idea what it’s really like.” And surely, those who espouse, surely those who merely mouth, the pious platitudes that invoke, over and over, the high principles on which our country was founded, as the words condemn the actions of those far away and from another country, about whom we truly have no idea what it’s really like, are unconscious of the active hypocrisy of their words when weighed against the preponderant, no, the overwhelming, and mounting evidence of the injustices and disparities of actual life in our own streets, as it belies every syllable, every phrase and even the merest, most insignificant, mark of punctuation.

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Portland Doesn’t Cut it as One of America’s Ten Most Liberal Cities

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The 10 Most Conservative and Liberal Cities in America

“Ceci n’est pas Portland” | Not so interestingly, this is a photo of San Francisco, of course, and not Portland, but then, the person who posted the original link is from Portland, and he was lamenting a lack of approbation he felt his home city deserved. I believe this is what’s called an abundance of negative capability. Also, I like that there’s a Margrittean quality about illustrating a blog post about Portland with a stock photo of San Francisco, a city, like Portland, I mainly admire from afar. Good for food and short visits, and seeing friends I love. But not much else.

Note to a Portlandian upset over Salon’s analysis:

It’s been clear to me since I began to learn in earnest about the greater than superficial (i.e., stereotypical—in short, Fred Armisen is NOT your friend) and more salient facts about the culture, ecosystem, and anthropological excrescences of Portland, because some of my dearest friends purely serendipitously (and hence appropriately to the PDX gestalt) moved there, that it is, in fact, a huge movie set, planned, designed and executed by Hollywood moguls, starting, likely, in the 1920s, as a kind of Truman Show on an urban scale and an ongoing experiment.

This magazine’s analysis (and I wouldn’t get my knickers in a twist because Salon doesn’t think you are liberal enough—their shtick these days is to froth at the mouth, and amusingly, they seem close to considering Henry Wallace a closet conservative; must be a new form of jaded NYC chic). Besides, a whole city full of hipsters, slackers, and very very very early retirees and proto-survivalists (or is that pseudo-?) could not possibly sustain a consistent political point of view so as to constitute a caucus, never mind a quorum.

You’ll just have to wait for the list of the ten most apolitical cities. Don’t worry, the delusion that you actually have a political stance, never mind a liberal one, will pass. If not, take two of your drug of choice, and forget about it. Otherwise, your only solution is to move to Vermont—a whole state that, for over 250 years, has been what Portland thinks it is.

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