Saturday, November 06, 2004

My Stand Against Rockism

The New York Times' Kelefa Sanneh had an interesting article regarding a certain attitude often found in the criticism of rock music. Starting with the verdict on Ashlee Simpson's recent poor SNL performance:
Music critics have a word for this kind of verdict, this knee-jerk backlash against producer-powered idols who didn't spend years touring dive bars. Not a very elegant word, but a useful one. The word is rockism, and among the small but extraordinarily pesky group of people who obsess over this stuff, rockism is a word meant to start fights. The rockism debate began in earnest in the early 1980's, but over the past few years it has heated up, and today, in certain impassioned circles, there is simply nothing worse than a rockist.

A rockist isn't just someone who loves rock 'n' roll, who goes on and on about Bruce Springsteen, who champions ragged-voiced singer-songwriters no one has ever heard of. A rockist is someone who reduces rock 'n' roll to a caricature, then uses that caricature as a weapon. Rockism means idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher.

Over the past decades, these tendencies have congealed into an ugly sort of common sense. Rock bands record classic albums, while pop stars create "guilty pleasure" singles. It's supposed to be self-evident: U2's entire oeuvre deserves respectful consideration, while a spookily seductive song by an R&B singer named Tweet can only be, in the smug words of a recent VH1 special, "awesomely bad."

Like rock 'n' roll itself, rockism is full of contradictions: it could mean loving the Strokes (a scruffy guitar band!) or hating them (image-conscious poseurs!) or ignoring them entirely (since everyone knows that music isn't as good as it used to be). But it almost certainly means disdaining not just Ms. Simpson but also Christina Aguilera and Usher and most of the rest of them, grousing about a pop landscape dominated by big-budget spectacles and high-concept photo shoots, reminiscing about a time when the charts were packed with people who had something to say, and meant it, even if that time never actually existed. If this sounds like you, then take a long look in the mirror: you might be a rockist.

Countless critics assail pop stars for not being rock 'n' roll enough, without stopping to wonder why that should be everybody's goal. Or they reward them is proportionately for making rock 'n' roll gestures. Writing in The Chicago Sun-Times this summer, Jim DeRogatis grudgingly praised Ms. Lavigne as "a teen-pop phenom that discerning adult rock fans can actually admire without feeling (too) guilty," partly because Ms. Lavigne "plays a passable rhythm guitar" and "has a hand in writing" her songs.

Rockism isn't unrelated to older, more familiar prejudices - that's part of why it's so powerful, and so worth arguing about. The pop star, the disco diva, the lip-syncher, the "awesomely bad" hit maker: could it really be a coincidence that rockist complaints often pit straight white men against the rest of the world? Like the anti-disco backlash of 25 years ago, the current rockist consensus seems to reflect not just an idea of how music should be made but also an idea about who should be making it. (more)

As a fond fan of disco and related pop epiphenomena, all I can say is: Down With Rockism!
More Pontification

Another friend writes:

Now that the election is over, I feel moved to pontificate on several subjects.


I now believe that Bush has been successful in destroying Al Qaeda's ability to strike the US. I could not have said this two weeks ago, but I say it now. Perhaps Al Qaeda will recover in the future, but so far, Bush has done his job very well.

I say it because politics is personal, and in my judgment, Bin Laden would have given anything to hit Bush back after Bush humiliated him before the eyes of the world. OBL and the Taliban obviously did not expect us to invade Afghanistan - and perhaps we wouldn't have invaded if a different man had been president at the time. We ran him out, and he probably soiled his pants in front of his followers at some point during that process. We killed many, many of his associates, and even some of his family. We humiliated his hosts, and killed many of them, including some of their leader's family. I think that Bin Laden feels it to be a matter of personal honor to strike not only the US in general, but also George W. Bush in particular. He knew all along that Bush would face an election on November 2, 2004, and he knew also that Bush might lose that election. This set him a deadline: if he wanted to be sure to humiliate Bush as Bush humiliated him, OBL would have to strike the US no later than election day 2004. Ever since I realized this, back in 2002, I've been steeling myself for a terrorist attack in the summer or fall of this year - like the attack on Spain.

Despite the Patriot Act, it is still easy for anyone to get into the US. Shit, it's hard to fail in a serious attempt to sneak across either border. I've crossed both borders extra-legally myself! I've been expecting a team to come into the US, and bide their time, and set up a strike. When Osama's video came out last week, I thought, uh oh, here it comes! But it didn't come. In my opinion, Osama Bin Laden wanted to hit us on or before November 2, more than anything else in the world, and he didn't do it. Therefore he cannot do it.

Of course this does not mean that the war on terror is over, or even that Osama is finished for good. But it does mean that Bush's approach to the war is effective. I'm glad that he is still in charge.


The consensus of our wise media pundits seems to be that "moral values" made the difference. That's a bunch of poop. Talking about which issue decided a close election is like determining which basketball player made the deciding basket in a game that was won by one point. The correct answer is: everyone made the deciding basket. It's just as reasonable to claim that the deciding issue was the improving economy, or Mrs. Kerry's behavior, or Bush's appointment of a black as Secretary of State, or Bill Clinton's endorsement of Kerry, or Bush's handling of the war, or the Swift Boat vets, or the windsurfing photo, or even CBS. Each of these changed somebody's mind.


...for my vote! As I discussed in my memo last March, I was willing to consider voting for a Democrat this year, for the first time since 1980. The reason was that the challenge posed by Islamic terrorism to the US threatens constituents of both parties, and therefore the traditional political orientations of our parties do not necessarily apply to this problem. So I was listening for good ideas from any source. I gave the Democratic candidates a pass during the primaries, because I knew that they each had to satisfy the left wing at that juncture. But after Kerry won the primaries, it was time to speak to the entire nation, and I listened for a plan to deal with terrorism.

What I heard was criticism of Bush's handling of the war to date, much of it legitimate. No problem there; during an election, of course the challenger is going to criticize the incumbent's record. But that's not enough to get my vote. Just because the incumbent can be legitimately criticized does not mean he is doing a bad job. George Washington's handling of the Revolutionary War can be criticized - but he won the war. Lincoln's, Grant's and Sherman's handling of the Civil War can be criticized - but they won the war. Roosevelt's and Eisenhower's approach to WWII can be criticized - but they too won the war.

I was listening for a plan for prosecuting the war against terror in 2005 and 2006, not a plan for running it in 2002 and 2003. Kerry didn't seem to offer much. Even during his key Iraq speech in the summer, when he outlined four policy proposals for Iraq, to me they sounded a lot like what Bush was already doing! So finally I concluded that Kerry and his advisors did not view terrorism as seriously as I do, and he did not get my vote.


There was a time when I was proud of how our election system included presidential debates. I felt it was the fairest test of men: let them, face to face, and without the help of advisors, defend and compare their ideas before the nation. Now I feel the opposite: the debates are frivolous gewgaws with little or no serious meaning. Think of the debates of our time, and what is remembered about them:

1980: "There you go again, Mr. President"
1984: "I will not exploit, for political gain, my opponent's youth and inexperience"
1988: "I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Believe me son, you're no Jack Kennedy"
2000: Gore's heavy sighs
2004: Bush's grimaces

Do we remember any of these debates for their substance? Is the candidate with a clever turn of phrase the better man? Is the candidate who grimaces or sighs during a debate unfit for office? Why do we pay attention to this shit? Because the Media, in their wise stewardship of American political discourse, believe this stuff is more important than the actual content of the speeches and rebuttals. So when they "analyze" a debate, that's all they talk about - even on Fox.

Actually, it's not all the media's fault. The very idea of a ritualized debate is inherently counterproductive, because it focuses attention on debating skills, rather than policy proposals. If we were electing the captain of a debating team, or if we were looking to hire a lawyer, it would be appropriate to judge a guy based on his skill at debating. However, the office of President of the United States requires different kinds of skills; ability in a formal debate is irrelevant.

I believe that acid rain is responsible for stressing and even killing trees in soils with low buffering capacity. I'm extensively trained in geochemistry, and I'm familiar with research literature that documents the point. I watched a political debate where this issue was discussed. The candidate who was against acid rain got nervous at one point, and stammered a bit. He was somewhat unprepared, and did not conclusively demonstrate that acid rain kills trees. After the debate, a panel of very intelligent and articulate commentators - with national reputations - pointed out repeatedly that the candidate who was OK with acid rain was a more polished speaker. The panel didn't actually talk much about acid rain. After that, even though I still believe that acid rain is bad, and even though I want SO2 and NOx out of the atmosphere, I voted for the candidate who will oppose clean air legislation, because he did a better job in the debate. I did the right thing, didn't I?

My opinion today is that debates are counterproductive, and do more harm than good, especially when interpreted by the media.


Blacks achieved an important milestone in 2001, which has not really been adequately celebrated. The participation of blacks in government has been rising steadily since they first began to be taken seriously in the 1960s. First it was small stuff, like mayors and minor cabinet posts. Then ambassadorships, a post on the Supreme Court, congress, and a governorship. In 2001, a black reached the group of the five or so most powerful men in the nation. Along with the Secretary of Defense, a President's most important advisor is the Secretary of State. This position is certainly more powerful than the Vice Presidency; the Secretary of State is sometimes the most powerful person in the nation, after the President himself. Bush was the first President of either party to appoint a black to that position.

I am not claiming any special virtue for Bush, or even for the Republican Party. Both parties are fully engaged in civil rights, and have been since 1970. However, the degree of influence wielded by Powell and Condoleeza Rice shows that blacks have reached an unprecedented level of power in our nation - and in the world-and, for the first time in history, contribute to the most important decisions that a Superpower can make. You'd think this would be a cause for celebration. But, of course, the silence is deafening.


Each party must persuade 51% of the voters to endorse its ideas, or it will lose. When a party does fail, members must examine their behavior, and determine where they went wrong, so they can win the next time. Occasionally what went wrong is beyond the party's control, but most of the time the party's loss is due either to the candidate not being up to the job, or to the party's viewpoint not being shared by a majority of the electorate.

So this month, Democrats are having a turn at this difficult self-examination, and they are talking about it in the media. Watch closely, and you can tell which analysts understand what happened, and which ones don't. If an analyst says "We have to reach out to so-and-so" ("We have to change our viewpoint") or "We have to get a better candidate", they may be seeing things as they really are. If they say "We have to do a better job getting our message out", they do not know why their party lost, and they are setting up for another loss next time.

My response:

Time to pontificate! My replies:


It's been clear for some time that Al Qaeda has been crippled by the attacks on Afghanistan. What is unclear is how quickly Al Qaeda will recover. Since bin Laden and Al Qaeda have a safe haven in Waziristan, the plans of the top leadership can continue. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Iraqis now have operational experience killing Americans, and might serve as a good pool from which to draw new Al Qaeda recruits (e.g., Zarqawi). The current half-year lull in activity may not last that much longer.

It's not clear how personally invested bin Laden is in attacking Bush, mano-a-mano. I agree with people like Fouad Ajami that bin Laden is very much attracted to the limelight. He loves the media. He mocks Bush, probably wishing to provoke Bush, but does he hate Bush in the manner of a vendetta, the way Saddam hated Bush 41? Don't know. The jihad tradition of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the NW Frontier of India stresses martial values, and a willingness to die at any time for the holy cause - they don't stress vendettas. Al Qaeda tends to take the long view: in their first video after 9/11, their main complaint was the Catholic domination of Spain, an issue that I thought settled 500 years ago. I didn't think Al Qaeda saw the election as a deadline, but rather as an advertising opportunity. They aren't on the clock, and they can bide their time.


Myself, I thought it was 9/11 concerns. Kerry deliberately remained vague on the matter, in part in order to remain as small a target as possible, and in part to retain flexibility once he entered office. But he lost an opportunity there, no doubt, to explain his plans. I'm sure he had plans - he wrote a pre 9/11 book on the challenge of terrorism. But he didn't quote from it during the campaign, so his plans remained vague to the voters.

What will be interesting to see is how sweeping the Bush Administration interprets its mandate. Their instinct will be to push it to the maximum - the American system encourages it (LBJ said if you get 50% plus one, you've got to press for everything, because you may never get another opportunity). But with the country so divided already, his plans will stir up a political torrent.


I think they still have a great value. It isn't so much their canned presentations that reveal so much, as the unintended asides.

In Debate Three, George Bush said some very revealing things. He was trying to segue quickly past a question regarding jobs, to the subject of education:

Q: Mr. President, what do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States? BUSH: I'd say, Bob, I've got policies to continue to grow our economy and create the jobs of the 21st century. And here's some help for you to go get an education. Here's some help for you to go to a community college.
Remember that outsourcing hits particularly hard young-to-middle-aged technical workers who completed their educations not that long ago. These are the folks that just got out of community college! They lose their jobs because eager foreigners are available to do the work for a fraction of the wages. Getting reeducated won't help if new jobs are unavailable, because long-term job investments featuring R&D have been neglected. Recommending education as a panacea borders on insult, and segueing to elementary education doesn't address the question.Very revealing segue! It showed Bush's cluelessness about outsourcing. And it wouldn't have happened without a debate!


"Each party must persuade 51% of the voters to endorse its ideas, or it will lose. When a party does fail, members must examine their behavior, and determine where they went wrong, so they can win the next time. Occasionally what went wrong is beyond the party's control, but most of the time the party's loss is due either to the candidate not being up to the job, or to the party's viewpoint not being shared by a majority of the electorate."

In this election, I think the electorate was not prepared to change course, whether or not good arguments to change course were made or not. In other words, it was beyond the Democratic Party's control, and no amount of Democratic behavioral self-control would have changed things. 9/11 traumatized the electorate, and people decided the messy Iraqi imbroglio is best addressed by the people who created it. There is a certain risk there, of course, but if things turn out badly, there is no doubt where the blame will lie (and it won't be with Bill Clinton, or marrying gays, or moral weakness, Osama bin Laden or the North Koreans!)

I know I was happy with the Kerry the candidate, head and shoulders above the others available, and far better than the opposition. I'm all in favor of the Democratic Party reaching out, but there has to be a willingness to listen on the electorate's side as well, and there is no reason why core values should be compromised.

It's interesting comparing the 2000/2004 electoral maps with the 1896/1900 electoral maps. Over the 20th Century, the red and blue states swapped sides, as the various parties, through numerous campaigns, reached out and co-opted the other side's voters. That process begins anew!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Jesusland Nostalgia

Here's a map that came via E-Mail from Noel.

Growing up in New Mexico, I was always at the perilous boundary of Jesusland. Our neighbors were fundamentalists, originating from somewhere in Louisiana and Winslow, Arizona. In the semi-rural suburban countryside outside Albuquerque, where distances were large, and therefore contacts were few, our biggest influences outside the family (and TV) came directly from them. I hazily remember Summer Bible school, which, oddly enough, featured little or no Bible study, but rather inexplicable projects featuring grape clusters we assembled from Elmer's glue, popsicle sticks, and purple marbles.

The woman who lived next door often sang full-voiced hymns at lunchtime, accompanied by her organ and Randy, her howling dachsund, while her goats managed to escape from their pens, and wandered unhindered over to our house.

There were a lot of loose animals in the 1960's. Indeed, one late-summer afternoon when I was six years old, a bull wandered from another neighbor's field through some open French doors into our living room, in order to escape the sun. I had heard on the school bus that bulls would charge if you made faces at them, so I unsuccessfully tried to provoke the bull until, tiring of the sport, I finally alerted my mother to the intruder, and she chased the hot beast out with a broom.

As kids, we used hoes to create roadways in the dirt, lay out city plats over the abandoned alfalfa fields, and built small cabins from discarded lumber and bricks, which we furnished with cast away rugs, old appliances, children's books, and, of course, the mandatory chimney. We made maps, struck currencies, and gave names to our various holdings. I called my domain "Great Britain." A portion of the empty field next door I dubbed "Holt", posthumously honoring Australia's Prime Minister, who was devoured by a shark in 1966.

When we weren't cooking toast over small campfires in the willow brush behind our houses, in the long narrow strip of land we dubbed "The Desert," we were cooking toast in our cabins. As I recall, there were a lot of unexplained fires in the old days.

Even though my father spoke Spanish and I have a Spanish last name, I identified more with my Anglo neighbors. We had immense dirt clod wars at the bus stop with the Spanish-speaking kids from up the road. The clods would burst with impressive dirt shrapnel sprays. It was great! The wars between Great Britain and Spain lasted until my sister, who had just entered the 2nd-grade, was clipped on the chin by a Spanish clod, and our parents finally intervened. After that, it was just low-grade guerrilla war.

In September, 1968, we were all hanging out at the Goat Pen. By this time, all the goats had disappeared, the place was in disrepair, and had become a neighborhood hangout instead. We would display our rock collections in the empty stalls, and buy and sell sea shells and quartz using our inflated currencies. For entertainment, we would clamber onto the roof, put small kids into large cardboard barrels (voluntarily of course - we were daredevils), and roll them off the top, just to see whether the rolling action mitigated the sickening impact to any extent.

The neighbor kids, who had been Wallace enthusiasts, suddenly endorsed Nixon for the presidency. I expressed surprise, and they said they had come to the conclusion that Wallace couldn't succeed, so they were going for the Republican Nixon instead. They said some disparaging things about Hubert Humphrey (or maybe it was vice versa) and the Great Goat Pen Debate of 1968 ensued. Harsh were words were said, and that was the last time I ever considered voting for a Republican for President.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Reminiscing About Jerry Falwell

This post on Salon caught my eye:
After this intensely fought election, both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are speaking of the need to heal our divisions and come together as a single, united nation. They're wrong. Critics of the Bush presidency do not need to heal our divisions but to insist on them. President Bush has presided over an extraordinarily divisive and polarizing administration. The suggestion that we should now "heal our divisions" is really a suggestion not for unity but for capitulation.
Cass Sunstein's advice makes me think back to the fall of 1980, when Jerry Falwell's campaign road tour came to Tucson, where I was attending the University of Arizona. I stood across the street from the downtown arena and protested with some folks as the crowd of about 10,000 gathered for Falwell's speech. A fellow graduate student (and born-again evangelical) taunted me from across the street, "look who you're with!" My newfound compatriots looked fine to me, but I think he thought they looked gay to him. Maybe they were, but I thought they were nice folks.

Quite to our surprise, the doors to the arena appeared utterly unguarded after the crowd entered, so we decided to enter the arena in a spirit of protest. We entered the indoor space just as Falwell came to the podium, and we erupted spontaneously into rigid arm salutes and spirited shouts of "Seig Heil." Falwell knew straw men when he saw them - I'm sure that's why the doors had been left unguarded. He immediately condemned us for our self-evident, perverted totalitarian spirit (truly absurd, but we had played a little too easily into his hands). Several protestors were removed when they became a little too feisty. But Falwell actually wanted us around: he knew just how shocking we were to his followers, despite what I thought was our meek appearance, and how useful that was to fire up his followers. We settled down and listened to Falwell's keynote speech, watched a patriotic spectacle, and listened to a few other speeches in a similar vein.

At the very end, Falwell asked everybody to stand and sing "America, The Beautiful." I abruptly noticed our little protest group had been surrounded on all sides by various flacks, who quickly grabbed our hands (hard), pressed us in from all sides (hard), and more or less forced us to sing along with them. So, despite our manifold differences, we all sang together in a spirit of patriotic harmony. And if we had decided to struggle and shout, who knows? With a little 'help' from our 'friends', even those who sing the bass notes could have hit those high-C's.

Different time, same spirit. If liberals work together with Bush, we won't suffer any trouble. The Republicans don't want to convert us: everyone has freedom of thought in America, after all, and they would never, ever even think about taking that from us, especially since we can be useful at times. Capitulation, simple surrender, is all they ask.

"No Capitulation! Seig Heil!"
Kind-Of What it Feels Like to be a Liberal Today

So, where did I enter the water? I was always in the water. That's what being part of a coastal elite means.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

One Interesting Japanese Approach to Healthy Living

I like the fact that the actual concentration is quite low.
In The Same Vein

My Friend Continues....

I wish I could find some cause for optimism but, quite frankly, I cannot. The powers within the Bush administration have quietly and methodically performed a coup d'etat over the last four years and last night the American people sanctioned it. There is no hint at this point of just how far they will go now that they have been granted absolute power. Aside from the obvious packing of the Supreme Court which will result in Roe v. Wade being overturned, probably within a year or two, the possibilities are almost beyond conjecture. I fully expect to see mandatory prayer returned to public schools, as an example. A Congress made up of religious zealots will rubber stamp anything of that sort that Bush proposes. There are no longer any moderate Republicans; John McCain has been rendered totally irrelevant and I'm certain that Bush is smugly delighting in that victory. I fully expect war with Iran within two years and that could well include the use of nuclear weapons. The Republicans now know that the way they can stay in power is to keep the nation continually in a state of war; by doing so they know that the electorate will support them completely.

I really do not see any parallel with any time in American history. There are, however, many similarities to be found with the mindsets of the leaders of national socialism and communism. The USSR kept its population in check from 1945 on by convincing them that they were surrounded by enemies who were out to destroy them and the people meekly accepted it. Hitler did the same and the German people worshipped him. We now find ourselves in a similar situation. Any constitutional checks on the power of the Bush administration can easily be brushed aside in the name of national security.

I was very worried in the spring of 1970 when widespread violence erupted on college campuses in response to the expansion of the war in Vietnam. Yet even then I had a feeling that cooler heads would eventually prevail and that the system would work. I have no such optimism now. The system is broken, perhaps irretrievably, and I see no light at the end of the tunnel. [I] hope that someday, by some miracle, a level of sanity will return to our nation.

I respond:

That's a good point, about the parallels with the Nazis and the Communists. In August, I posted big chunks of Orwell's "1984" on my web log (highlighting the statements Michael Moore quoted in F-911), and that gave me another opportunity to reread portions of that book. With the continuous wars and skirmishes between the the three great empires on the Earth, what Orwell emphasized was that the wars were never significant enough to actually threaten the rulers, but they were sufficiently large to keep the population on an endless war footing, and thereby stave off any challenge to the power of the rulers.

If you think about it, our current terrorist menace is even better than what Orwell imagined, in order to accomplish the purpose of keeping the powerful at ease. There are fewer terrorists than the hordes of East Asians Oceania had to deal with, and thus less real expense for us to keep those few at bay, just the inflated, pork-barrel, phony-baloney expenses of Homeland Security. We have entered the world of "1984", a lot of us willingly. In fact, I remember seeing where Orwell was asked if America could ever succumb to dictatorship, and even though he had little direct experience with Americans, he said something like 'of course, although it would come in a different manner than in Europe, and probably would emphasize something like true-blue Americanism, or some such rot'. And here we are today!

Our first responsibility is to resist, and never give up, ever. Even if, as with Winston Smith in "1984", the Republicans divine your secret fear of rats. Even in "1984", there were traces of the old order of things, of freedoms long lost savored in the shadows. We are in better shape than Winston Smith was. We can still organize, assemble, speak, petition. We have an obligation to do so.

We are still in for a rough four years, and maybe a rough remainder of our lives, however. The new Republican dominance mirrors the Democratic dominance rendered by the elections of 1964, and that eventually spiraled out of control. There are parallels with the 1920's as well. The world is not a machine and new forces arise all the time to challenge the powerful. The Republicans are not smart enough to dodge every bullet.

Still optimistic, even in a dark time.

Response to a Friend

A friend writes:

Well, the great experiment set in motion in the 1770's ended last night. Democracy as we know it in the United States is finished. There no longer is a two party system. The American people have willingly adopted a religious theocracy under the mantle of democracy. There is no point in trying to explain it; the powers of right wing demagoguery and religious fanaticism have persuaded the the electorate that they must give up their basic rights so that the nation may more effectively fight the ephemeral terrrorists who lurk in all corners of the world. The United States will now move on as a second rate power bankrupted by corruption and hypocrisy, and the American people will pay the cost by seeing our standard of living decline as the other nations prosper. We will be, as we deserve to be, shunned by the true democracies of the world. We are no longer the "shining beacon on the hill." When Bush reinstitutes the draft I will tell my son to leave the country. This is no longer a nation worth fighting for. As for me, I will probably never bother to vote again--it's a wasted effort in a meaningless cause.

I respond:

Grim tidings indeed!

Nevertheless, I'm not so pessimistic. I think Kerry made an excellent run, but 9/11 still clouds people's minds, and it's always very hard to unseat an incumbent. Our experiment with theocratic facism will not be as traumatic as Europe's experiment with national socialism, and there will be some good laughs along the way. There are lots of good opportunities. In Iraq, the Pottery Barn rule is still in effect, and Bush will make a hash of that for sure. The economy is in grave danger, and we will all suffer. I agree regarding your son's prospects, though. You can just feel the draft now.

And we've been here before - the 1920's. That decade ended badly, as will this decade, but it DID end. And please vote again - nothing would make Karl Rove happier than you tinkering in the garage while the world goes to hell. The trick is finding the right coalition, and the right leader, and things never looked so bleak for the Democrats than after Al Smith's defeat in 1928.
It's also important to quote Joshua Micah Marshall's reactions to today's results. They closely parallel my thoughts:

Finally, to Democrats and Kerry supporters.

Yesterday evening I heard various commentators say that Kerry's defeat would usher in a civil war among Democrats. Tucker Carlson said it would or should lead to a 'Goldwater moment' for the Democrats.

As I've noted above, I don't want to diminish the scope of what's happened. But a civil war over what exactly? Yes, some consultants will get a hard shake. And I'm certain there will be backbiting against Kerry (which I for one will very much disagree with.) But a civil war over what? The right and the left of the party were remarkably united in this cycle and managed to find points of compromise on key issues.

In some ways this would all be conceptually easier for Democrats to deal with if President Bush had managed a realignment of our politics in the post-9/11 world. But when I look at the results from last night what I see is that they are virtually identical to four years ago. Pretty much the same states going each way and a very close to even race -- though of course the president's 51% makes all the difference in the world.

As I said, if the Dems had been crushed, that would be one thing. If the American people were coalescing away from them, etc. But that's not what has happened here. In 2000 the country was divided into two (increasingly hostile) camps. And it's still exactly the same way. If anything it seems only more entrenched -- perhaps symbolically and geographically captured by the flip between New Hampshire and New Mexico from 2000.

The country is bitterly divided. And as much as anyone President Bush has divided it. But President Bush got 51% and if there's anything I've learned from watching him for the last four years-plus, it is that his team will take this as a popular mandate for an aggressive push for their agenda -- notwithstanding the profound division in the country or what has happened over the previous four years.

For the Democrats, what I fear most (and what I've privately worried about for months) is this: Energy cools after an election. That's inevitable. But organization and institutions can survive. And it is within institutions and organizational infrastructure that energy and power exist and persist.

Certainly it would have been more pleasant (and perhaps better) to nurture all the organization and infrastructure that has been built up over the last two years under a President Kerry. But my concern over the last few months has been that if Bush won, all of these groups and organizations and incipient infrastructure would simply be allowed to wither, as though it had been tried and found not to have worked.

That, as a factual judgment, I think is just plain wrong. And if that were allowed to happen it would truly be tragic. The truth is that what Democrats have begun to build over the last two years is tremendously important. It just wasn't enough, not yet.

I remember talking to Simon Rosenberg, the head of the New Dem Network, at the Democratic convention last summer. You'll remember, he and his group were profiled in the Times magazine around that time. The article, in brief, was about plans to create a Democratic-leaning counter-establishment along the lines of what Republicans did two generations ago -- with an alternative media, activist groups, organized political giving, in short a political infrastructure.

He told me he thought it would take ten years to accomplish. And I told him my one worry was that it could all be strangled in its crib if Kerry didn't win.

Well, here we are. And this is the test for people who care about this kind of politics and these sorts of values -- making sure that what has been started is not allowed to falter. This isn't 1964 or 1972 or 1980. This wans't a blow-out or a repudiation. It was close to a tie -- unfortunately, on the other guy's side. Let's not put our heads in the sand but let's also not get knocked of our game. Democrats need to think critically and seriously about why this didn't turn out 51% for Kerry or 55% for Kerry (and we'll get to those points in the future). But it would be a terrible mistake to stop thinking in terms of those ten years Simon described.

Take time to feel the desolation and disappointment. But I remain confident that time is not on the side of the kind of values and politics that President Bush represents. It took conservatives two decades to build up the institutional muscle they have today. Though I was always nervous about the result, I thought we could win this election. But it was always naive to believe that that sort of institutional heft could be put together in 24 or 36 months.

President Bush and the Republicans now control the entire national government, even more surely now than they have over the last four years. They do so on the basis of garnering the votes of 51% or 52% of the population. But they will use that power as though there were no opposition at all. That needs to be countered. Leave today for disappointment. Tomorrow, think over which of these various groups and organizations you think has made the best start toward what I've described above, go to their website, and give money or volunteer. After that, okay sure, take a few more days for disappointment, maybe a few more weeks. But this takes time. And you shouldn't lose heart. The same division in the country remains, the same stalemate. The other side just got the the ball a yard or two into our side of the field rather than the reverse. And we have to deal with the serious consequences of that. Tomorrow's the day to start.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Grim Tidings

The haze of 9/11 is still with us, but it's passing. Our day is dawning. Kerry put on a damn fine campaign, but it's hard to overpower an incumbent, even such an inept one as Bush. So....we continue! Our day will come!

Lots of good opportunities! The Pottery Barn rule is still in effect, after all. We'll see what the future holds!
Time Out Of Mind

I know it's been a long time since I lived there (1980), but nevertheless I'm surprised these politically-savvy folks think New Mexico will go for Bush (well, it HAS been a quarter of a century!)
Last Month's Jacksonville, Oregon Riot

I had heard garbled information regarding this event. Here is an eye-witness description (via anonymous E-Mail, apparently by Trish Bowcock and forwarded by Nikki Dohn):

Subject: Fwd: Silenced by the President
By Trish Bowcock
Oct. 16, 2004

A few weeks before my father died, he woke me in the wee hours of the morning. He needed to talk. He was worried about Attorney General John Ashcroft and the destruction of American civil liberties. I comforted my father, believing he was delusional from medications.

I was wrong.

I write this from my home in Jacksonville Oregon (population 2,226). President George W. Bush came here this week. The purpose of his visit was political. Southern Oregon has been deemed a "battle ground" area in the presidential race. John Kerry has made incredible inroads in this traditionally Republican stronghold. President Bush's campaign stop was an attempt to staunch the slide. Jacksonville is an old gold mining town. Our main street is only five blocks long, lined with restored storefronts. The sidewalks are narrow. We are a peaceful community. The prospect of an overnight presidential visit was exciting, even to me, a lifelong Democrat. My excitement turned to horror as I watched events unfold during President Bush's visit.

In the mid 1800s, when Indians invaded Jacksonville, citizens clambered upon the roof of the old library. It was the one building that would not catch fire when flaming arrows were shot. This week it was a different scene.

Police armed with high powered rifles perched upon our rooftops as the presidential motorcade approached. Helicopters flew low, overhead. A cadre of motorcycle police zoomed into town. Black SUVs followed, sandwiching several black limousines carrying the president, his wife and their entourage as they sped to the local inn where they would eat and sleep. The main street was lined with people gathered to witness the event. Many supported the president. Many did not. Some came because they were simply curious. There were men, women, young and old. The mood was somewhat festive. Supporters of John Kerry sported signs, as did supporters of George Bush. Individuals, exercising their rights of free speech began chanting. On one side of the street, shouts of "four more years" echoed in the night air. On the other side of the street, chants of "three more weeks" responded. The chants were loud and apparently could be heard by President Bush. An order was issued that the anti-Bush rhetoric be quieted. The local SWAT team leapt to action.

It happened fast. Clad in full riot gear, at least 50 officers moved in. Shouting indecipherable commands from a bullhorn, they formed a chain and bore down upon the people, only working to clear the side of the street appearing to be occupied by Kerry supporters.

People tried to get out of their way. It was very crowded. There was nowhere to move. People were being crushed. They started flowing into the streets. Pleas to the officers, asking, "where to go" fell upon deaf ears. Instead, riot police fired pellets of cayenne pepper spray into the crowd. An old man fell and couldn't get up. When a young man stopped to help, he was shot in the back with hard pepper spray balls. Children were hit with pepper spray.

Deemed "Protesters" people were shoved and herded down the street by the menacing line of armed riot police, until out of the President's ear-shot. There the "Protesters" were held at bay. Anyone vocalizing anti-Bush or pro-Kerry sentiments were prohibited from venturing forward. Loud anti-Bush chants were responded to by the commanding officer stating: "FORWARD," to which the entire line of armed police would move, lock-step, toward the "Protesters," forcing backward movement. Police officers circulated filming the crowd of "Protesters." Some were people like me, quiet middle-aged women. Some sported anti-Bush signs, peace signs, or Kerry signs. A small group of youth, clad in black with kerchiefs wrapping their heads chanted slogans. A young woman in her underwear, sporting a peace sign sang a lyrical Kumbaya.

Mixed among the "Protesters" were supporters of the President. One 19 year-old man shouted obscenities at anyone expressing dissatisfaction with the president, encouraging the police to "tazar" the "Stinking Protesters." Neither the "Protestors," nor the police harassed this vocal young man. Across the street, individuals shouting support for the president were allowed to continue. Officers monitored this group but allowed them to shout words of support or hurl derisions toward Kerry supporters, undisturbed. Honking cars filled with Bush supporters were left alone. A honking car full of Kerry supporters was stopped by police on its way out of town.

The standoff with "Protesters" continued until the President finished his dinner and was secured in his hotel cottage for the night. Only then were the riot police ordered to "mount-up," leaping upon the sideboard of a huge SUV, pulling out of town, and allowing "free speech" to resume. In small town America I witnessed true repression and intimidation by law enforcement. I saw small children suffering from the effects of being fired upon by pepper bullets. I felt legitimate fear of expressing my political opinions: a brand new feeling. Newspaper accounts state the chaos started when a violent "Protester" shoved a police officer. No one I talked to witnessed this account.

It is reputed that President Bush and his staff will not allow any opposition activity to occur within his ear or eye sight. I can confirm, that in tiny Jacksonville, Oregon, this was true. Physically violent means were taken to protect the president from verbal insults. Freedom of speech was stolen.

My father was not paranoid as he lay dying. He was expressing great insight into the dangers of our current presidential administration and its willingness to repress personal freedoms. If I could talk to my father today, I would say, "I am sorry Daddy for doubting you." And, no matter what, I will continue to exercise my individual right to freely express my opinions. Americans cannot take four more years.

Nikki Dohn

Gotterdamerung - Election Day 2004

Today's the day! I'm so excited!

Events started early. Last night, about 2 a.m., Sparky and I took our evening stroll past the polling place, the Sierra Two Center in the Curtis Park neighborhood of Sacramento (not last year's polling place, the more-appropriate "Society for the Blind" across the street). On a telephone pole outside the 100 foot exclusion zone, a big poster warned, "Be a Baby Killer!! Vote Kerry." Made me feel good to rip that down.

Got called into work early (the ungodly hour of 10 a.m.), so I didn't get to the polling place until lunchtime (2:30 p.m). Sparky was happy: not only did he get Mexican food leftovers from "Jim-Boy's", he got a bonus afternoon walk, as we strolled to the polling place.

I liked the two "fill-in-the-oval" voting forms I received (nice big print, and I need new glasses). The only danger was the possibility of not filling in BOTH sides of BOTH forms. They fed the forms into a ballot-reading machine before I left (first time I've seen that). I was voter 140 at poll B (there is also a poll A) in my precinct. Unlike 2003, Sparky remained quiet while I was out of sight, voting.

Most of the choices were fairly straightforward: yes to children's hospitals and a tax on the rich to support mental health care; no on stem cells. The incumbent school board members, part of Mayor Joe Serna's posthumous legacy to Sacramento, but lately afflicted by a pension scandal, posed a problem. I didn't want to vote for all the incumbents, but whom should I cast aside? I voted for one new candidate because she came recently from Tucson, and I once lived there. Some of the other choices were also similarly ill-informed. Buy, hey, I'm the voter and it's my perogative.

My next-door neighbor, Arthur, came up, gestured towards the door, and said he knew he had seen that dog before. I shook his hand and offered to tell him who to vote for, but he smiled, quickly retreated, and waved me off, mumbling something about having to go to work.

Then, a nice stroll back to the house, in the hazy autumn sunshine.

Wonder what mysteries tonight will hold?

Sunday, October 31, 2004

OBL's Video

Talking about Halloween, Osama is back! Despite the splash of the video's appearance just before the election, I think the video will actually have very little impact on the election. The reason is that Osama apparently doesn't want to influence the election so much as he wants to take advantage of the election, for his own purposes. The video is Al Qaeda advertising.

Why is it that beer companies always advertise during the Super Bowl, when they can get much lower rates at other times? It's because a very large audience is focused on just one event! Same here! Everyone is watching the American election. That's the best time for Osama to make a public appearance! He drives the point home by his choice of language (apparently this is his first video in which he uses common vs. Koranic Arabic). Usually, Al Qaeda release videos after a major terrorist event, in order to claim credit and make vague threats. Not this time. Osama bin Laden makes no specific threats this time.

It's just advertising, and the American public, the most ad-savvy populace in history, has already taken the message's measure, and discounted it (particularly so since, as Mickey Kaus points out, the video was released to America on a Friday, when bad news generally is released, since it gets poor coverage just before the weekend: probably at the direction of the Administration). In general, advertising works through repetition, and there just isn't time available to get enough repetition in order to make a really strong impression on the American electorate.

Osama's message to the American people focused on two points - mocking Bush and girding his minions for further war:

And even more dangerous and bitter for America is that the Mujahideen recently forced Bush to resort to emergency funds to continue the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is evidence of the success of the bleed-until-bankruptcy plan – with Allah's permission.

It is true that this shows that al-Qaida has gained, but on the other hand, it shows that the Bush administration has also gained, something of which anyone who looks at the size of the contracts acquired by the shady Bush administration-linked mega-corporations, like Haliburton and its kind, will be convinced. And it all shows that the real loser

It is the American people and their economy. And for the record, we had agreed with the Commander-General Muhammad Ataa, Allah have mercy on him, that all the operations should be carried out within twenty minutes, before Bush and his administration notice. It never occurred to us that the commander-in-chief of the American armed forces would abandon 50,000 of his citizens in the twin towers to face those great horrors alone, the time when they most needed him. But because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers. We were given three times the period required to execute the operations – All Praise is Due to Allah.

Osama is implicitly saying the real choice isn't Bush vs. Kerry, it's the West vs. the Caliphate.
In conclusion, I tell you in truth, that your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaida. No.
The clash of civilizations continues, no matter who might win the American election.
Happy Halloween!

Fred and Julia's clever West Virginia creations!