Friday, October 22, 2004

The Ground Game

The tension is mounting. What the next week and a half will be like is like is the two-minute warning of a tie-score Super Bowl. I can't wait for the election to be over. I feel like my whole body is reacting to the stress level. The thought that the Bush/Cheney neocons will somehow prevail fills me with a dread I can't quite comprehend. I don't think we'll move to Canada if that happens, life will somehow go on, but I think we'll be much less safe, and the planet's health will be far more endangered, and the economy will be finally flushed down the toilet.

So here we are, facing perhaps the clearest choice in a generation, and the band plays on. At the end of every Al Franken Show on Air America Radio, Al has been delivering what essentially amounts to his stump speech/halftime pep talk, with an increasingly feverish pitch:
"...the fact of the matter is it will all come down to the ground game and who wants it more...You know, Paul Wellstone said the future belongs to those who are passionate and who work hard. I am asking you to be passionate and work hard..."
Every time I hear him, his voice is more urgent than the last time. It makes me wonder if I'm doing enough in service of my country. Nonetheless, there are some basically good signs:

  • Due to Kerry's clear debate victories, the polls have tightened, and depending on which one you read, they can give us hope.
  • There is an unprecedented amount of new voter registration. This usually means people hunger for a change. Also, these new voters aren't showing up in the polls, as pollsters are prohibited from calling people on cell phones.
  • The forces in power are trying very hard to inhibit voting, as high voter turnout also favors Democrats. I think they're scared!
  • Time after time, we see George W. Bush speaking in front of a hand-picked, vetted crowd, while we see huge, enthusiastic crowds embrace Kerry and Edwards. Freedom is on the march indeed! I don't think this is what W had in mind though.

We will certainly be living in a different world on November 3rd. I doubt the entrenched interests that benefit from the Electoral College will ever give up power, and let us truly achieve a "one person, one vote" democracy. I was reading the transcript of a recent interview with noted dissident Noam Chomsky, and he thinks we come up miserably short of other countries, such as Brazil, as far as true democracy goes.

I hope Kerry can pull this off, because I don't think I can forgive myself if he doesn't win. Did I do enough?

Until then, Hope Springs Eternal!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Ten Commandments, what's all the brouhaha?

Last Sunday, I was once again in my adult discussion class, and there were way too many possible ideas that could serve as grist for the blogging mill. But one topic caused me to continue thinking about it more than others: ethics. Often times we wonder 'what's happened to the world today?' and point our fingers at the various causes: teachers, parents, TV, politicians, etc. The subject of the Ten Commandments came up, and we discussed how we felt about posting a copy of them in public school classrooms. Most people were against it, but I have to admit, that even I was pretty foggy on what the commandments actually were.

Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. All reasonable ideals, wouldn't you think? Now, if that's what the Ten Commandments are, what's the big deal? Well, all it took was someone else more knowledgeable than I to remind us it also includes 'I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.' The first few commandments are generally regarded as religious doctrines. Clearly, putting this kind of thing in a classroom is a clear endorsement of a specific brand of religion. This got me thinking. If we're so concerned about the cultural inculcation of ethics, why not distill the Ten Commandments into a simple moral code that does not push any one religion. Kind of like the 'New Ten Commandments.' Well, something about the phrase 'New Ten Commandments' sounded kind of familiar, so I decided to Google it.

Newsflash: I wasn't the first person to have this idea. In fact, there are lots of different takes on the idea. Some are actually pretty reasonable, some are pretty entertaining. I'm not going to offer my 'top ten,' but I do think it would make for an enlightening discussion in a church setting. Would a church be willing to discuss taking their brand of God out of the Ten Commandments? If one cares more about the greater good than proseletyzing, I think it's an excellent opportunity for a church to help society at large. I won't hold my breath on this though. I can't see how any organization that puts God at the center could conceive of distilling the Deity out of this brew.

But what brings me here today is the synchronicity of the topic. I was almost going to write on the 'New Ten Commandments,' but didn't feel strongly pulled enough. Then today, in a big surprise, the Supreme Court agreed to hear disputes from Kentucky and Texas over public displays of the Ten Commandments.

In the Kentucky case, the commandments were displayed at two county courthouses with other documents, such as the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence. In the Texas case, a Ten Commandments monument is joined by various historical monuments on the Capitol grounds. You may remember that last year, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore lost his private battle against having his 2.6 ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse. It was surprising that the court would hear this argument, since they had avoided doing so for over twenty years, since a 1980 ruling against displaying it in public schoool classrooms. What seems to be going on here is an end run around the separation of church and state, by displaying the Commandments along with other historical documents. Hopefully the court will honor one of the most important tenets of our country (the separation of church and state for those of you confused by my use of interlocking parallel pronoun references), but then again, we're talking about the same court that stopped a presidential election in its tracks to appoint a winner.

In a world where fundamentalism of all kinds ironically brings out The Beast in people, I remain hopeful that the Ayatollahs of the Bible Belt can be kept from succeeding in their seemingly endless attempts at a coup d'etat of the United States government.

Oh, and one more thing:
The Christian, Jewish, and Islamic Ten Commandments

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Kerry/Bush II Debate | Is this the way it will go?

"So, you can't really be undecided after this, can you? You want this guy?"

"The line it is drawn The curse it is cast"
-Bob Dylan

So, unless Dick Cheney has Osama Bin Laden locked up in his secret bunker, the way this race is going to go will definitely be more of the same. George W. Bush will essentially lie through his teeth, tell America that John Kerry is the bogeyman, and above all else, "I am the great and powerful Oz…pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

There is a cynical, often well-founded view that Americans are too lazy to truly check the facts candidates want us to believe. This may well continue, but I'm starting to feel like more and more people are tired of being taken for saps, even if they think of themselves as Republicans. Bush clearly has got nothing real to share. Several issues were clearly laid out:

Stem cell research
Even though Kerry clearly explained that the embroyos scientists would like to use are already frozen, from fertility clinics, and not from abortions, George stuck to his line about not "Embryonic stem-cell research requires the destruction of life to create a stem cell." Duh...

Kerry gave one of the best answers I've heard in a long time about how wrong it is to legislate faith issues for others, which is the core issue of the separation of church and state, and George kept a pluggin': My answer is, we're not going to spend taxpayers' money on abortion. On the subject of partial birth abortions, Kerry quite rightly pointed out the legislation Bush was talking about had no provision for considering the health of the mother, which is why he voted against it. George said: "Well, it's pretty simple when they say: Are you for a ban on partial birth abortion? Yes or no?"

The War in Iraq
Where do I begin? Perhaps at the end of the debate. Even after all that has gone down, when asked if George could think of three mistakes he'd made, he couldn't think of one.

If you know anyone is a swing state, give them a call, tell them how important this election is.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Smoke and Mirrors in Cleveland: The Veepstakes

Cleveland Rocks: Lots of body blows, but time will tell

My quick two bits for tonight is that the debate was a draw, but might play out quite differently. Dick Cheney did a much better job than George W. Bush did the other night, and that puts on a good reassuring front for the GOP faithful.
Darth Vader calmly and cooly lied the night away, and landed a few good jabs at Edwards in the process.
One of Dick's so-called home runs was when he told everyone that even though as the President Pro Tem of the Senate, he comes to the Senate every Tuesday, tonight was the first time he'd met Senator Edwards. This was intended to diss Edwards as a no-show Senator.

Never mind that anybody who runs for President obviously puts everything else on the back burner.

Never mind, that as we found out a few minutes later from Senator Patrick Leahy, that when Darth comes to the Senate, he only meets with Republicans.

As it turns out, it was just a plain lie. Elizabeth Edwards had to come up to Cheney personally at the end of the debate, and remind him they'd met before at a prayer breakfast. They'd sat next to each other!

So, if the media decides to lay down again, and quit paying attention to the truth, the GOP could come out OK here. But it's hard to say. I'm starting to feel like the cat is out of the bag as far as the untruthfulness of the Bush administration is concerned. I think Cheney was very convincing in an old-school Big Lie sort of way, but that presumes that everyone is going to buy it. It could turn out that it will go big time against Cheney for those same reasons. Time will tell.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Different Kinds of Faith

I was in a discussion group this morning, discussing a book I don't particularly like, The Culture of Disbelief, by Stephen Carter. Professor Carter, an African American, tells a story about how when he was in school, he was taught the slaves were generally a happy lot, and what they really wanted out of life was to have a good master. In my typically tasteless sense of humor, I twisted that cretinous statement into a joke: "that's what we're all looking for!"

There's a lot of talk in the book about the separation of church and state. Mr. Carter believes the Founding Fathers were more interested in protecting the church from the state, than vice versa. I found that an unacceptable enough premise to take the book too seriously. This led to talking about Creationism, and how widely held these anti-scientific views of the universe actually are. According to a 2001 Gallup Poll study:
Although most scientists subscribe to the theory of evolution as the best explanation for the origin of human beings, a recent Gallup poll shows that the American public is much more divided in its own beliefs. Americans choose "creationism" over "evolution" when asked which of these two terms best describes human origins, but slightly larger numbers of Americans choose one of two evolutionist explanations than choose a strict creationist explanation when given a choice between three specific views. At the same time, only about a third of the public say that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is well supported by evidence.

I was pretty aghast at the idea that so many people would think creationism is on a par with the theory of Natural Selection, and thought it sounded familiar to polls that show almost a majority of Americans believe that there's a connection between pre-9/11 Iraq and Al Qaeda:

The bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks said it had found no evidence of a "collaborative relationship" between Hussein and the terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden. Its staff has said it had found "no credible evidence" that Iraq had cooperated with Al Qaeda in targeting the United States.
Surveys of Americans consistently have found large numbers who say Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, despite repeated declarations by a variety of investigators to the contrary. As recently as June, a Gallup Poll indicated that 44 percent of those surveyed said Hussein was personally tied to the terrorist strikes; 51 percent said he was not. [Boston Globe]

I'm not coming to any new discovery of the human psyche here, In 1941, Erich Fromm published his famous work Escape from Freedom, and long before that, Fyodor Dostoevsky dealt with these themes in a chapter of the Brothers Karamozov that is so famous, it has been repackaged by itself, The Tale of the Grand Inquisitor.

Faith is a difficult topic. In the context of how it can provide a positive guiding force and direction to a people, it's a great thing. But in certain situations, like the faith in creationism, the belief that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, and that George W. Bush is a great leader, it falls just a tad short for me.

Perhaps we are all just looking for a good master.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The origins of talking points

Recently, I've been listening a lot to Air America Radio. It's pretty addictive, especially listening to Randi Rhodes, who is on via live computer stream from 12-4PM PT, or tape-delayed on the new AAR affiliate in town, The Quake (AM 960). I enjoy listening to Randi, even though she's one of those aggressive smokers who thinks anti-smoking laws are akin to facism, she doesn't like the Grateful Dead, and thinks the Band isn't a good Southern rock band. The last point is not to defend the Band's Southern rock cred, but to point out they're almost all from Canada!

Anyhoo, one of the things Randi does is recommend things to her audience, and she's been talking a lot about the 1976 Movie Network. In this world of Fox News, the concept of the news department being controlled by the corporate powers is no longer fantasy, but has come to pass big time. Just listen to Ned Beatty's rant from the movie, and you will hear a classic.

One of the movies that I am continually reminded of lately is Z, from 1969. It's based on Greek politics, but Greece is never mentioned in the movie, and that doesn't really matter. The thing I bring to the table here is how the ruling junta would go around giving talks about the opposition, using key slogans and code words that you would hear repeated later in the movie. Now I don't know the etymology of "Talking Points," and I'm sure in one form or another the concept has been around since speech began, but it seems the recent push to keep hammering away on talking points has reached a special level of critical mass.

In the recent Bush-Kerry debate, John Kerry discussed the scenario when a preemptive strike would be justified, his actual words were: "But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do it in a way that passes the test. That passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing. And you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."

Immediately George Bush began the process of misinterpretation, and said "Let me-I'm not exactly sure what you mean: passes the global test. You take pre-emptive action if you pass a global test?" At first blush, the confused Bush perhaps was remembering all those pesky exams he had to take in school, as if Kerry was suggesting that the president needed to take some sort of test before he could take action. In a speech in Columbus, OH today, George Bush twisted Kerry's words even further: "When he laid out the Kerry doctrine, he said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves,...When our country is in danger, it is not the president's job to take an international poll, the president's job is to defend America."

The simplest of sentence analysis shows Kerry is speaking about taking an action that is justifiable after the fact. George Bush is pounding away at the image of America having to wait to act, until this mysterious 'test' has been passed. It's a pretty straightforward corruption of what Kerry says, but in this day and age, if you say it often enough, if you can get your operatives at Fox News to say it often enough, it must be true!

So, that's enough for now. If you like political thrillers, rent the movie Z, if you find yourself at the proverbial water cooler listening to someone parrot the talking points about the Global Test, you should disabuse said parrot of these ideas!

How much is a smirk worth?

Much has been made of George W Bush's smirk during the debate, but he's been smirking for four years, and it hasn't mattered much yet.

How much Teflon does Bush have to burn?

Friday, October 01, 2004

Time to bring in a new pitcher, John Kerry

I just came up with an analogy that anyone, Democrat or Republican, should be able to relate to about why it's a good idea to "change horses in midstream."

Imagine America as a baseball team.

The public is the coach, and the President is the pitcher.

One could even be very gracious to Bush, as we understand it must have been quite a burden to be the President when September 11, 2001 came. I think we can all just walk up to the mound, tell George "thanks for the innings you pitched, you just don't have your good stuff today", and point with our right hand towards the bullpen (for those of you who are baseball-illiterate, the coach uses the left or right hand to point to the bullpen to signify whether to send in the left or right-handed pitcher. John Kerry is right-handed) and motion to Kerry that it's his turn to pitch, and win the game for us.

This seems like a pretty good response to this relentless "stay the course" pathology we're hearing. What do you think?