Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Scary New Racism Revival?

Racism is ever-present in American culture. An argument can be made that it was overtly racist action that laid the foundation for this country (the genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of Africans). But racism does have its ebb and flow. I am worried that we are seeing a racism renaissance.

First, there is Juan William's new book: "Enough". In the vein of Bill Cosby, Williams sets out to hold the African-American community's feet to the fire for the behavior he sees through the myopic lens of hip-hop culture. I don't, for a minute, mean to imply that Juan Williams is a racist. However, like Cosby's rants, his argument has given fuel to genuine racists who can now use his skin color to deflect attacks. This worries me.

Then there's the Survivor stunt of dividing the tribes up by ethnicity. It has already had the desired effect of generating publicity for a show that was quickly becoming a known quantity, but I can't see how it will end well. Do the higher ratings and increased ad sales possibly outweigh the social consequences of racists using the outcome, whatever it may be, to make generalizations about millions of people based on small groups of game show contestants? This also worries me.

And now there's Pat Buchanan, apparently concerned that he was slipping towards respectability with his criticisms of the Bush administration’s gaffes, framing the immigration debate as a war against white America and demanding a locked up southern border to protect civilization from those he deems genetically inferior. Like the Survivor stunt this will get him lots of publicity and sell lots of copies of his new book, "State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America". And, to a lesser degree than Williams, this will provide a type of intellectual cover for other racists, not because Buchanan is considered an intellectual powerhouse, but because he carries a certain amount of political cache; "Former Presidential Candidate" is similar to "Oscar Nominee" in that people assume you were a serious contender, but unlike nominee, any yahoo can lose a presidential race. (Then again, like Oscar nominees, yahoos win the presidency sometimes.) The fact that this man could have been president (in an alternate reality filled with senile Floridians filling out butterfly ballots in every state) will allow racists to present his ideas as far more mainstream and politically relevant that Buchanan could ever hope to be in the real world. This, too, worries me.

To offset this rise of racism in the press, there's only Gunter Glass' revelation that he was an SS officer and the completely appropriate public scorn he's facing for advocating truth-telling throughout his post-war literary career only to reveal the depths of his hypocrisy as his sales flag. In sum, racism is a charge that is destroying one somewhat obscure German former literary phenom while it simultaneously propels a game show into the limelight and becomes increasingly acceptable to discuss as a tenable philosophy in the twenty-four hour news cycle. Is anybody else worried about this?

Fair disclosure: Just as Williams is viewing African American culture through glimpses of his sons' MTV viewing, I am speaking out of ignorance as well. I haven't read his book, or Buchanan's, or anything by Glass. I also don't watch Survivor (I kicked the habit after the first season, fell off the wagon for a half a season a few years back, and have managed to live Survivor free since) an I won't be sucked in by some transparent race-baiting ploy. But I do read the news, and occasionally watch its retarded step-siblin on TV, and I can't help but feel that something is changing. I read recently that the Republican attempt to link
Iraq to the War on Terror has been successful to their detriment; as that fiasco spirals out of control, people are becoming less and less confident in Republican's ability to deal with any aspect of the War on Terror as a whole. This hasn't translated into confidence in the Dems, though. I wonder if what we are seeing is the outgrowth of a fear of an invisible an unpredictable enemy: hating Osama isn't comforting, so we're looking for scapegoats, and racism just comes naturally to far too many people (Zach's coworkers, for example).

My impression is that William's contribution is probably the most dangerous of all. When the movie Barbershop came out it managed to avoid being a shallow but amusing slice of life movie and take on a political significance by depicting African American characters criticizing African American society in the privacy of a barbershop, one a huge screen in front of an audience of largely white viewers! I read reactions from African American commentators that ranged from gratitude to angst to outright fury. Though some were pleased that this phenomenon of hidden cultural criticism was coming out of the closet, many recognized that there was a good reason it was there in the first place: it can easily be turned into a weapon to use again African Americans by white racists. Williams must have been cognizant of this fact in that he argued (in an interview, and possibly in the book) that Dave Chapel quit his show out of a crisis of conscience over this very issue. We've recently acquired Cable, and after seeing a few episodes of The Chapell Show I think there might be something to this theory (only reinforced by "The Lost Episodes" airing recently). The show gained notoriety for satirizing African American culture and stereotypes of African Americans (and anyone else who caught Chapell's attention), but (speaking as someone who has frequently come into confrontation with a couple of racist brothers-in-law) I know that there are white racists who can't tell the difference and love to watch this kind of satire to reinforce their views that all African Americans are x or y. According to Williams, Chapell started to feel laughed at rather than laughed with, and called it quits. If this is the case, good for him. The show was funny, but it's not worth it. But if Williams recognized this about Chapell's humor, surely he saw that his analysis could be similarly misused, right? The man is only half a fool, after all (he works for PBS, but also for
FOX News). Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I assume it was a calculated move; he decided that he could benefit the African American community, and the country as a whole, more with his insights than America and Black America would be damaged by their misuse at the hands of racists. If that's the case, I think he's just wrong. His criticisms, to me, sound less like informed concern and more like the grumbling of an out-of-touch old curmudgeon. When Al Franken tried to ask him which specific rappers he was criticizing for infecting African American youth with negative messages, the only one he could name was... wait for it... Eminem. Al Franken (apparently more of an expert on Hip Hop than Juan Williams) had to remind him about Kanye West, but Williams cited him when prompted, as though Kanye fits the thug model just as much as Eminem or 50 cent. Williams sounded like Stephen Colbert criticizing rap recently as being all about cop killin', big buts, and smackin' 'dem hoes while the crawl next to him admitted he hasn't listened to rap since '92. Certainly there are criticisms one can make about elements and sub-groups within contemporary African American culture, but if Williams made a calculated decision to step outside the barbershop, he has an obligation to at least be informed. At my high school we would have dismissed his argument as "ig'nant".

Buchanan's ranting are less worrisome to me because they will only marginalize him further, in the long run. He can't even claim it was a slip of the tongue, because he made the comments in print. And this isn’t mildly racist stuff, folks. This is revamped and re-targeted "Systematic Anti-Semitism". Who said, The civilization that we as whites created in
Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted by a different people.” Not Hitler. Pat Buchanan. Read it again. Shiver. It's scary stuff. I am not going to worry too much about this, unless it starts to catch on. Sure, a review in the Washington Times ends, "I am convinced a large majority of Americans agree. This book -- 'State of Emergency' -- will give its readers both the facts and the backbone to powerfully make that case," but that's the Washington Times. This is the same publication that frequently depicts anti-war sentiment as fringe left despite the fact that a full 60% of the population inhabits that fringe. With such a skewed feel for the pulse of America I will wait and make my own judgments about what a "large majority" of Americans think of European American's "genetic endowments". From what I hear, we crackers have somewhat small endowments, but I'm not going to write a bunch of hate filled invective or start building any GIANT walls to compensate for my shortcomings.

As to the Survivor stunt, it may have disastrous consequences, but I am willing to wager that they will be so minimal that they will be balanced out by this marvelous response by the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson:

"I think the contestants in "Race War Survivor" should expose this travesty for what it is by intentionally conforming to all the racial stereotypes they can think of -- but another group's stereotypes. The Latinos should act uptight, immediately build themselves a golf course and declare themselves the winners before the competition begins. The Asians should eat nothing but fried chicken (or fried lizard), spend most of their time dancing and jiving, and find a way to steal the immunity idol. The whites should all live in one tent and speak only in Spanish, and whenever host Jeff Probst drops by to announce the next challenge, a couple of them should hide behind the nearest palm tree in mock fear of deportation. The African Americans should form a high-tech company and demand a car to drive incompetently."

As long as I can read Mr. Robinson a couple times a week and only hear about Buchanan, Williams, and race war game shows every few years, I think we'll be okay.

But I'm going to keep my eyes open.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why are the temps all so racist? Part 2

Before I begin with tales of MyRC 2, it has been brought to my attention by Lauren that I did not give a proper background to my post yesterday. See, the specific thing that MyRC 1 said yesterday, in many contexts, wouldn't necessarily be racist. However, if such a thing was said to antagonize another co-worker, knowing full well that the intended result would be achieved, it dances a little closer to racism.

For several days, the topic of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict had been vollied back and forth in the room. My Jewish co-worker has displayed an unbending and some might say militant support for everything that Israel has done, to the point of not being able to listen to any amount of criticism. Without getting into her specific viewpoints, suffice it to say that she's acutely sensitive to comments regarding those of Jewish background, whether politically or religiously. In that context, and in combination with the dismissive tone used in delivering the comment, MyRC's description of the shop-owners as "gruff Israelites" really did smack of being a racist comment. I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me.

So MyRC #1. Also known from my Myspace Blog as RIF. RIF is short for Racist Ignorant Fuck. As in "Why Zach. What did you call this guy over and over again, in a virulant ranting manner, while in a conference room in a large, respectable law firm, stopping only because the phone rang and it was likely to be your supervisor?" "Well, to be completely honest, I don't remember all the things I said, such was my fury. But i definitely did call him Racist Ignorant Fuck."

RIF was a late 20's early 30's ex-patent lawyer who graduated from Fordham Law here in NYC. He "practiced" as a patent attorney for a few years here in teh city before he was let go (they told him because there wasn't enough work, but I suspect otherwise). So he decided to travel the world. When I met him, he was stateside earning some money so he could move to Russia this fall. Actually, he was too thrifty/cheap to live in the city or sublet a place, and couldn't be bothered to commute from his parents house in New Haven CT during the week. Thus, he lived in various backpacker hostels from monday through thursday, sharing rooms and scoping out the hot 18 year olds.

Now, you'd think that someone who is dedicated to exploring the world and experiencing other cultures is a relatively curious and open-minded person. you'd be totally wrong in MyRC/RIF's case. Here are some of the highlights of his various viewpoints:
  • There was the theory there should be no welfare. All people should be forced to work for their money. They should be paid by the government at a rate below the minimum wage. They should also have a curfew, and if you weren't outside this class of people, you had to be indoors by 10. Now, when he talks about this, he's talking about people "out in the ghetto" who are mooching off society, living it up with their cable tv and easy lives. In short, the poor mostly minority groups who live there, largely of African or Caribbean roots. Granted, i haven't spent much time in the real ghettos in the NYC area, but one trip on the train through areas like East New York and Flatbush and you'll see that people aren't living it up...
  • Americans are inherently more valuable as human beings than, say, Iraqis. Not combatants or those attacking us, mind you. Just in general.
  • His solution to the insurgency in Iraq - go to an area, get any 50 people whether they're involved at all or not, and kill them. Scare all those people.
  • If their fellow man is in dire trouble and in need of help, all Indians (sub-continental asian, not native american) will crawl right over the top of their fellow man in pursuit of a few dollars, as they are all greedy filthy creatures.
  • He was really excited about hanging out with these 3 british guys in the youth hostel. "They hated Arabs too, so that was cool".
  • He can't figure out why white supremacists are always painted in such a negative light in the media/movies/tv

There are some other things worth mentioning about this guy, such as his desire to lower the age of consent to like 14 or 16 at the oldest, his delightful views on marriage and other relationshippy things, his unbelievable misogyny, and just his general utter stupidity. But really, the point here, and I don't know how well I've been able to communicate this a few months after the fact, is the overt racism.

The common thing about both MyRCs is that they say things that are by definition racist and have no conception that what they are saying is racist. They would or did deny that they were racist and don't see anything objectionable in what they are saying. But if you stop and think about the statements for half a second, you'd see that they are reducing an entire race of people to a specific belittling comment.

My issue with all of this is how does one deal with it. Do you call them on it and try to show them the error of your ways? Do you ignore it or turn up your ipod and pretend you didn't hear it? Do you agree to disagree?

Well, i suppose i should get back to "working". Feel free to show me the light in how to deal with MyRCs in general.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Why are the temps all so racist? Part 1.

For those of you not familiar with what I'm doing for money while out here in NYC, I'm working as a contract attorney. While lauren tries to encourage me not to sell my self short and be more positive about what I do, I'm nothing more than a glorified temp. I work on short term contracts with other utterly replaceable attorneys doing chimp work for more money than anyone should be paid for this soulless work (though, maybe we get paid well specifically because it's soulless... another topic for another day).

Perhaps because they couldn't hack it in the world of permanent jobs, or perhaps by some other force, the people who temp are a curious lot. Much more could be said about them than what I will share today - yet another topic for another day.

Today, I shall begin to discuss My Racist Coworkers. MyRC #1, with whom I am currently working, is a difficult breed of racist. You see, whether justified or not, it is difficult for me, as WASPy as they come, to call any one of minority status a racist. Which obviously is not true - people of all races and creeds can be racist. However, when one speaks in very broad generalizations about a race, and frequently in negative tones and connotations, one can begin to identify that person as racist.

Example one: Today, MyRC had some snippy phone conversations with the store owners of a place he needed to stop off at on the way home from work. Later in the day, he was talking about these shop owners, and referred to them as "Gruff Israelis". Inevitably, the one Jewish woman in the room (not shy about her opinions, which frequently are a little over the top... though i side with her on this one) gets upset about this comment. Here's my conversation today with lauren (playact) about this:

playact: i don't understand people who antagonize people and don't care. maybe i'm a pushover, but i think its nice to be somewhat respectful every now and then

me: yeah... i mean, maybe he really is so clueless that he didn't realize that saying that would be at least borderline. the thing is, i can understand how that kind of comment can be seen as hypersensitive... but seriously, why did he need to include the nationality/race of the shopkeepers?

first off, who knows if he's even correct about their nationality?

secondly, it's not like you would off the cuff say that it was run by gruff irishmen... or polocks... or aussies

playact: you might, but you shouldn't if you know there is someone in the room of that same identification

and doesn't have a sense of humor about it and already thinks you're a shit

but then again, its okay to make fun of aussies or the irish...

Example two: I was asked today to give a sort of evaluation of "Norwegian chicks" - I wish that I could report that he was interested in their strength of character and moral fortitude, but predictably he was more concerned with how they fill out a bathing suit. I apparently an expert qualified to give my opinion on this topic because, as he put it, Norwegians settled in the Midwest and Northwest when they moved to the country.

I have objections here on several practical fronts -
  1. It's not as though Norwegians walk around with big flags and name tags that identify themselves as Norwegian, and I defy you to identify by sight alone a Norwegian as opposed to a swede or a dane or any other scandanavian...
  2. We're not talking about folks who just arrived in the states and have yet to assimilate into our country - it's my understanding that the large wave of Scandanavian immigration to the US happened in the late 19th and early 20th century.
  3. Speaking of large waves of immigration, guess where the largest majority of Norwegians settled. That's right - Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. Three states that are each well over 1000 miles from where I grew up in Washington. In fact, i'd bet that Minnesota is closer to his home in New York than mine in Washington.

Another issue is can you really expect someone to give an assessment on an entire race? Can you say that because someone is X race, they are hot? Or that they are likely to be hot? Maybe i'm making too much of an inane comment, but seriously, who thinks like that?

Basically, my question is what are these people i work with, supposedly enlightened people living in the cultural capital of our country, if not the world, so small minded as to make needless comments about people's race in such offensive and/or perjorative terms?

I'll follow this up hopefully tomorrow with tales of another MyRC... if you've read any of my blog on MySpace you've encountered this guy... he's a gem.

Monday, August 21, 2006

One Woman's Journey...To the Fringe

The Fringe NY festival is this week, and I was looking through the hundreds of listings for something, anything that might be worth seeing. Sure there were a few "one woman's jouney to understanding her past" and more than a few "hilarious looks at America's obsession with sexual repression" and even an in-depth look at "what if Shakespeare had written The Godfather?" but I was looking for something a little more. I found a listing for a docudrama for Fear Up: Stories from Baghdad and Guantanamo and dragged Zach into the city on a weeknight in hopes that it would be that something more. I like docudrama. I like it a lot. There is something about the use of primary sources that appeals to me because it reminds me that we have all the drama we need in our world already, the art is framing it in a way that makes us look at it freshly. It takes some of the ego out of the artist because in docudrama the artist isn't giving their take on situation, they are presenting someone else. They are serving someone else's story. Kind of like This American Life on stage. Not fully journalism. Not fully theatre.

In this respect, Fear Up didn't disappoint. Most of the sources they used were from interviews with the Tipton Three after their release from Guantanamo, blog posts from an Iraqi woman during the invasion/occupation of Baghdad, and a journalist's interviews with military personel. It was a facinating blend of stories and perspectives and the artists did a great job of weaving together the strands from these disparate stories. I was very struck by the fact that none of these stories or ideas were fully new to me- I've heard some version of them before, but they were still incredibly important to see and hear again. We don't do a very good job of reminding ourselves of what is going on in the world. We don't remind ourselves of what we are responsible for, of what is being done in our name. And despite any interest we may have in hearing/seeing these stories, they aren't being shown or told. It's going to take a lot of small voices, like this play, to drown out the bland, cacophanous mediocrity that is blasted at us all day long, telling us that we don't really need to worry about the war, what we should be worried about is our blond girls disappearing from our homes or while on vacation, or the Arab men on our subways that the police don't have the balls to take down. I don't think this is a conspiracy. I think that the 24-hour cable news is giving us what we are asking for- we want to be scared by an external boogeyman rather than be scared by what we are doing to ourselves.

So, all this being said, I thought the performance was to the point and artistically moving. But on the subway ride home we began to discuss the one thing that this docudrama definately was not- objective. This play had an agenda- to examine the innocent lives touched by a war that is aimed at the wrong people. To challenge us to ask what price is acceptable for the spread of democracy abroad when we cannot practice what we preach. Beyond these high-minded objectives, there were a couple places in the play that went too far. There were cheap shots at Republicans, and the military personel were almost all presented with Southern drawls (even Rummy, odly enough). But most of the shots were not cheap shots. They were deep and perceptive shots.

Is it a bad thing that this play was not objective? We all might acknowledge that nothing is objective, that all news and art is biased by the experiences and perspectives of the person who creates it, but we still hold our opponents to that impossible standard. I rail against the skewed covereage on Fox News, I bemoan the corporate interests that are portrayed as God's own Truth, I crow over the especially blatent fearmongering that is evidence that these people are only serving their own interests. I stop listening as soon as I identify their agenda as something that I don't agree with (or, if I keep listening, it is so that I'll have fuel for a later rant). So why is it okay that this play had an agenda?

Zach and I talked about this all the way home- about taking a stand, about the line between journalism and art, about preaching to the choir, and I don't know if we got too far, so this won't be a completely satisfactory end to this story. I think that one thing we did agree on, however, is that our stand against this war has stopped being a partisan issue. It is now a moral issue. And, somehow, that justifies standing up and shouting from the rooftops that OF COURSE we have an agenda because this issue isn't about our ideas or politics, it is about our souls. Unfortunately, the people running this war feel the same way. They don't hear our arguments and our tirades because they are fighting this war for ideological reasons, just like we are fighting against it. And that brings me back to the theatre, because I keep believing that the way to fight this battle is not with logic, but with art. We need to be fighting with the tools of the soul. So, thank you Fear Up for giving me more than an evening's argument about war. Amongst the self-indulgent one-woman shows and SNL wanna-be's, you brought to the Fringe some art that had that something more.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hey, Michael Stipe! I don't feel fine.

That's it. It really is the end of the world this time. No joke. I listened to NPR yesterday and all I could think was "damn, I could really use bland report on strawberries."

I read Mr. Gorman's post from this morning and I wonder: do semantics really matter much anymore? The only that is worse than the stories we are being told is the stories that we aren't being told. I don't know that it is any giant conspiracy. I think there aren't enough pages in the newspaper. So what does it matter that the neo-cons are once again perpetrating grievous crimes on the English language. The vulgarity of their actions around the world far outstrip any petty linguistic crimes they commit here at home. At this point they could call anyone they disagreed with "poopy-head" and half the American public would stand up and cheer.

Our language has been usurped by the reactionary voices that surround us. Our language has corroded. We are not powerless to stop it, but the discussion must be moved to whole new venues. Perhaps we do have to destroy the village in order to save it. Perhaps the key is to blow up all language to the point that it is beyond communication. We could then gather together and try to name things properly again. This language commerce we participate in now only serves to obfuscate the real crimes being committed all the time. Let's blow up the language and maybe that will help.

Im so depressed I cant even punctuate

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I’m not calling Conservatives "Fascists", but…

Today’s Washington Post has a thoughtful editorial by David Ignatius titled, “Are We Fighting ‘Islamic Fascists’”. He expresses a discomfort with the term currently being used by Bush, Snowe, Fox News, et al. I, too, am uncomfortable with the term, though not for the same reasons.

Ignatius’ contention is that the term implies that all Muslims are Fascists. While that would certainly be wrong (and silly) I don’t think that’s really being implied, though I think it’s indisputable that this administration has benefited from those Americans who cannot distinguish between Muslims of different sects, political backgrounds, and national origins. (Well, they’ve benefited when those folks are voters or soldiers. They’ve suffered when those people are their own policy makers, as have we all.) I don’t think that these officials and pundits actually believe that all Muslims are Fascists or are trying to make us think so. In fact, I think they’re trying, half-heartedly perhaps, to draw a distinction between the Muslims they like and those they don’t. If I’m not mistaken, the term was coined by Christopher Hitchens, a columnist for Slate and various other publications. Hitchens himself is a former Troskyist (he argues that “Troskyite” is a pejorative) turned Neo-Con (shouldn’t that be a pejorative by now?). He is far too educated and cosmopolitan to believe all Muslims are Fascists. I have to wonder, though, if he chose to call these terrorists Muslim Fascists rather than Muslim Stalinists because, though a Troskyist would have every reason to detest Stalin (perhaps even more that Hitler) the notion that these terrorists might be motivated by any breed of communism hits a little close to home. I think the administration would have loved to sell us the Muslims Stalinists label, as it would have cemented a connection between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein that never existed outside a political theory class. Also, bringing back elements of the Red Scare would have reinforced their domestic agenda, which benefits from painting any government action intended to mitigate the widening income inequality as a sure path to Soviet-style damnation. So why go with “Fascists” rather than “Stalinists”?

For one thing, there’s the anti-Semitic connotation. These “Muslim Fascists” are certainly anti-Semitic and benefit from blaming Israel for all the woes of the Middle East. From an academic point of view, there isn’t a whole lot of distinction to be made between the anti-Semitism of Fascism and that of Stalinism. While the Nazi breed of Fascism was the most overt in its anti-Semitism, Stalin may be responsible for as many Jewish deaths as Hitler, and not all Fascist were as obsessed with Judaism as Hitler was. Franco gave refuge to Jews who escaped Germany because he said he would rather face Hitler for helping Jews than face God for not helping them. However, in modern American political parlance “fascism” and “anti-Semitism” have become almost synonymous, largely because of the manner in which we’ve been taught to see WWII. We’re told it was a war to stop Hitler from killing Jews, despite the facts that we didn’t know the extent of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism was rampant in the United States at the time. Given this false narrative, it’s inconvenient to remember Stalin’s treatment of Russian Jews, since he was on our side in that war.

Are the “Muslim Fascists” more like European Fascists than Stalinists? It’s not that cut and dry. A large part of the ethos of Muslim fundamentalism is the argument against Western decadence and appeal to economic populism. Iran’s President Ahmadinejad isn’t a sloppy dresser by accident. It’s a calculated move to show of his common man bona fides. This harkens back to Stalinism’s communist roots more than Hitler’s contention that the Jews weren’t giving Germans a big enough piece of the pie. Saddam Hussein was public about his admiration for Stalin.

The definition for Fascism that Ignatius uses does make a case for the term. He sites Ernst Nolte’s definition: a “resistance to transcendence”. Stalin, unlike the Fascists, was not opposed to change. He wanted to force change and maintain an iron grip on the nature of that change. This might be the only distinction between the far left and the far right, and it ultimately reinforces the notion that the political spectrum is circular, because Fascism’s desire to prevent change at all costs does impose a controlled change in the same way Stalin’s forced “progress” imposed a controlled change. The myth that change can be prevented makes Fascism into Stalinism, and the myth that change can be controlled causes them both to fail. Muslim fundamentalism carries this same virus. It, too, is a doomed political project. Change (though not necessarily some positive Hegelian progress) is an inevitability, and it doesn’t matter if you are from Germany, Russia, or Iran, it refuses to be managed, forced, controlled, or prevented.

But if Fascism is a “resistance to transcendence”, shouldn’t that term apply to American conservatism? So much of the conservative philosophy is built on the notion that we should be moving backwards; the appeal to “traditional values”, the call for originalist constitutional interpretation, the demands for older definitions of marriage and Christmas (though very specific and not the oldest). If anything, Neo-Conservatism saves Conservatism from being Fascism; while conservatives reject change, neo-conservatives demand exporting their “traditional” values in the form of an imperialist project. Neo-conservatives are the Stalinist wing of the more Fascist party in American politics and they’ve been given the reigns of international policy while the more traditional conservatives have held on to domestic policy. It’s Fascism at home and Stalinism abroad. Seen in this light, of course this administration doesn’t want to paint Muslim extremists as “Stalinists” or the current Iraq conflict would be battle of Muslim Stalinists vs. American Stalinists, and that has Crusades written all over it. Instead, they want to paint it as a conflict with Muslim Fascists because, even if the administration doesn’t admit that they have imposed a Stalinist takeover of a country that never attacked us, they can still take comfort in the fact that Stalin was successful against German Fascism. Perhaps the administration’s refined goal in Iraq is less a free-market utopia and more a stable reflection of Cold War East Germany. ‘Cause the world needs another one of those.

Of course, the success of post WWII West Germany and Japan was not due to forced and controlled change replacing forced and controlled rejection of change, but to an embrace of modernity and liberalism. Is it any wonder, then, that this administration has failed so miserably in Iraq? How can the representatives of a party that resist “transcendence” at home successfully sell liberalism in Iraq? How can they convince Iraqis we’ve come to bring freedom while trying to limit freedoms at home through fear mongering and flagrant violations of the law and Constitution? When I hear about unauthorized wiretapping and signing statements that declare that Congress’ will is to be ignored by the executive branch, I don’t think to myself, “Now those are the people who will make me free of tyranny.” So why should an Iraqi citizen, all too knowledgeable about the nature of tyranny, welcome an invading army helmed by these people? If the administration’s goal is to make Iraq slightly more modern and free than Hussein’s government, I think the Iraqi people can be forgiven for holding onto their flowers and candy as the tanks rolled in.

But there’s one more reason why the administration and its neo-con supporters favor the term “Muslim Fascist” to “Muslim Stalinist”; it’s got more punch. I expect that, in the privacy of the Oval Office, Bush still thinks of “Muslim Fascists” as the “Bad Muslims”, and thinks of family friends from the House of Saud as the “Good Muslims” despite their human rights record. But if he’d started publicly referring to “Bad Muslims”, besides the inaccurate inference that he’s calling all Muslims “Bad” (remember, Saudi Prince Bandar is Bandar Bush, so I’m sure our president thinks he’s more with us than against us), it would reinforce the entirely accurate notion that Bush is a simpleton. So what term could the conservative punditocracy come up with that Bush could use instead of “Bad”. “Stalinist” is just too academic. Plus, we’re in a hot war, and it’s making the cold one look good by comparison, so why remind people about that. No, “Fascist” is certainly “Bad” made over.

That’s why I won’t call conservatives or Republicans “Fascists”. It’s not because they don’t fit Nolte’s definition of resisting transcendence. If that were enough then the Republican party would be the American Fascist Party just as much as Muslim extremists are Muslim Fascists. But the word has connotations that go beyond its technical definitions, and obscure the point. It implies evil. Resisting transcendence is certainly philosophically bankrupt and is evidence of ignorance, but that’s not necessarily evil (just stupid), so why conflate the two ideas? In cases where I think there is a genuine immorality, I’ll just say so. Dick Cheney strikes me as an evil man. And in cases of stupidity, I’ll say that, too. George Bush is a fool (and might also be evil, but those are different qualities). In cases of ignorance or philosophical error, I’ll say that. Republican regressivism is ignorant and based on demonstrably false premises. But “fascist” is just an ad hominem attack now, in that it implies more than it means, confusing the issue.

So which is Bush trying to say? Are Muslim fundamentalists ignorant, incorrect, or evil? I wish he’d be more specific. That way we’d know just what the pot is calling the kettle.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

SAT Allegory from Hell: Iran is to Hezbollah as _____ is to Israel

It’s become commonplace to depict the actions of Hezbollah as the enactment of orders given in Iran. I wonder, given Seymour Hersh's recent article in The New Yorker, if a similar relationship exists between the U.S. and Israel? The notion that Israel would act on the orders of the U.S. without thinking of its own concerns is silly, and probably offensive to Israelis, but shouldn't the same go for Hezbollah? It seems more likely to me that both Israel and Hezbollah chose this conflict (not in that order) with the blessing of their benefactors, but not under orders. But the similarities between the benefactors don't end there.

While Iran is being criticized for supplying Hezbollah with weapons, the U.S. provides almost all of Israel's arms without much of a peep in our press. Just as it is an Iranian rocket killing innocent civilians in Haifa, it's an American bomb that destroys a village full of civilians in southern Lebanon.

Ahmadinejad certainly has ulterior motives for encouraging conflict between Lebanon and Israel, but doesn't Bush as well? Note Condi's "birthpangs of a new Middle East". This alludes to concerns that go well beyond the parties fighting and dieing. Just as the conflict has distracted the world from Iran's nuclear ambitions, it has also distracted us from the mess in Iraq. The bloodshed in Iraq has outpaced the Israel-Lebanon conflict, but we are hearing less about it, despite the fact that those are our soldiers both dieing and inflicting civilian casualties in Iraq, because we, and our media, suffer from war fatigue.

Now, I'm not trying to make Hezbollah and Israel moral equivalents. Israel voluntarily pulled out of Lebanon and they were attacked anyway. They had a right to strike back (despite the fact that history shows striking back is not only infantile, but frequently counter-productive). But when comparing Bush and Ahmadinejad, why is the later vilified for condoning senseless slaughter and providing the weapons to make it happen in order to hide nuclear ambitions, while the former is given a pass? Bush is the leader of a nuclear power (the only nation to use nukes in war, so I don't see why Bush is inherently more trustworthy than Ahmadinejad, despite Ahmadinejad's obvious craziness. Seems par for the course these days). Bush has supervised the killing of far more civilians than Ahmadinejad. Now Bush is trying to distract not from killing he might do in the future, but from killing he's perpetrating right now.

I understand our media's reluctance to paint our own president and any other world leader with the same brush, especially when that other is a holocaust denier, among other things. But we should at least be intellectually honest enough to recognize that the rest of the world will see our relationship with Israel in the same way we are told to see the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a terrible terrorist organization, to be sure, and their tactic of aiming at civilians to incite conflict must be dealt with somehow. But when the death-tolls are calculated and more innocent Lebanese have been killed than Isrealis, who will the world blame? If we are told to blame Ahmadinejad, don't you think the rest of the world will blame Bush?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Shameless Plug

A friend of ours has made a car magnet that we want to see more of as we drive. So please, check this out and give them to all your friends:

Untangle Our Troops


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ha, Portland Will Miss You

The Portland Trailblazers recently traded three players to the Milwaukee Bucks for Jamaal Magliore, a true center we desperately need (but who may cause some problems because our other center, Joel Pryzbilla, is our true breakout player). We lost Brian Skinner (who’d only been here for half a season), Steve Blake (who will probably become an all-star because he’s left), and Ha Seung-Jin. I will miss Skinner’s hairstyle (bald, like me, with an awesome goatee I will always envy), and Blake’s steady play, passing, and heads-up ball. But most of all, I’ll miss Ha.

Ha was not a great basketball player. He averaged less than two points a game, which means most games he didn’t make a single field goal. He also averaged less than two rebounds per game, which might be the fewest for any guy in the league standing at 7’3”. Oh, and according to his carreer stat line he never made a single assist. Ouch. Now, this doesn’t mean Ha might not become a great player. Jermaine O’Neal averaged less than five points per game while with Portland, and is now a star who puts up almost 25 with Indiana when healthy. His rebounding average went from about 3 to around 10. If Ha makes the same kind of improvement then he will… okay, he’ll still be mediocre. A five fold increase in points would have him scoring about eight points a game, and tripling his rebounds would give him six. Oh, and even if his assist average gets 100% better, he still won’t make any. So O’Neil isn’t quaking in his boots, but the evidence still shows that players improve when we get rid of them. Ask Rasheed Wallace.

But there’s more to basketball than basketball, I guess, because Ha made the game experience more fun. You don’t go to a Trailblazers game expecting to see a win. Not last season, anyway. After all, we were worse than the Knicks, and we don’t have Isaiah Thomas intentionally running the club into the ground as an excuse. We didn’t have a lot of opportunities to put Ha in as a victory cigar, like Darko Milicic in Detroit, because we didn’t win very often. We put him in when it was a lost cause, and that seemed to be most of the time. My friends and I loved Ha. He was Detroit’s Darko, but funnier.

I liked Ha from the get-go, because he reminded me of my friend Nick. Nick was a six-and-a-half foot tall Korean guy I knew in college. He let us call him Korean Abdul-Jabaar. He’s one of the nicest guys you could ever meet in your life. He was funny. He knew the most outrageous pick-up lines. And, if he really had used them, as he claimed, then he was also very brave. Because I had such a positive impression of Nick, I instantly liked Ha. After all, how many Korean guys are over six feet, let alone over seven? They must all be nice, right? Nick sold me a car that was a hunk of junk, but it ran for almost a decade after I bought it, and may still be running today. Sure, it smelled like he might have puked in it after a night of heavy drinking, but the smell faded and was replaced by smells I was responsible for. I’ve rediscovered Nick thanks to MySpace, and sure enough, he’s still a nice guy and doing even better than when I knew him. So there’s hope for Ha, too.

Not only was Ha unprepared for the NBA game, but he often looked like basketball itself was just too much for him. It’s one thing to look perpetually confused when you can dominate the court like Shaquille O’Neal, but when you’re missing passes, failing to box out, and generally watching nine guys do things you can’t understand, you really can’t afford to let your confusion show like that. I would love to play poker with Ha. That’s assuming he can turn that expression off when he actually knows what he’s doing. Otherwise he would shark everybody.

The greatest thing about Ha was his name. When Ha made a good play (or even a competent play) we would scream his name like madmen. When he made a bonehead play we would scream it, too. That’s the magic of Ha; his name is the sound of laughter. Support and derision are intimately fused. To cheer is to ridicule.

Sure, we also liked Ha because, unlike some other players, he never sexually assaulted anyone, tried to sneak pot wrapped in tin foil through an airport metal detector (tin foil is a metal, Damon), or tried to use his basketball trading card as identification when pulled over for speeding. Instead, Ha went to visit kids in the hospital at Christmas. While there, he looked confused. And he probably frightened the kids. But he was tying to be a good citizen, and we liked him for that, too.

Maybe Portland will be a much better team next year. We had a great draft day, and I’m looking forward to Magloire’s near double-double points and rebounds. We need the help. But I’ll miss Ha. I wish him well in Milwaukee.

So long, Ha. Oh, Ha. Oh, Ha. Oh, Ha Ha Ha.

Smells like Desperation

…and, frankly, it stinks. David S. Broder’s piece “Voter Anger That Cuts Both Ways” in the Washington Post describes the current movement away from centrism without weighing in on the danger this poses to democracy. He even goes so far as to say that the current mood poses a threat to the gridlock in Washington. David Brooks, on the other hand, reflects on the same voter disaffection in his piece “Party No. 3 (TimesSelect membership required) and plugs the “McCain-Lieberman Party”. He describes that party as follows:

“The McCain-Lieberman Party begins with a rejection of the Sunni-Shiite style of politics itself. It rejects those whose emotional attachment to their party is so all-consuming it becomes a form of tribalism, and who believe the only way to get American voters to respond is through aggression and stridency.”

Does anybody else smell that?

David Brooks is often described as the liberal’s favorite conservative. I would argue that he's the worst kind, because he's smart. Instead of choosing to use his intelligence to divine the most moral or even pragmatic take on policy, he uses his wits to shill for the party line far more persuasively than the Bill O’Reillys and Sean Hannitys of the punditry world. But when it comes down to it, he consistently defends conservatism. Now, when the political landscape is looking particularly dangerous for incumbents, the majority of whom are conservatives, he’s advocating centrism?

There are a number of assumptions here that should be exploded in order to smell out the real motive for Brooks’ newfound love of triangulation. First of all, there’s the assumption that compromise is inherently good. I’ve previously written extreme examples to show that this doesn’t necessarily provide a moral solution (two Nazis try to find a compromise between exterminating the Jews or expelling them forcibly from German lands, for example) but the Senate recently provided a model for exactly why compromise sometimes finds a crappy outcome for everybody. When Dems pushed for a hike in the minimum wage, and Repubs knew they couldn’t go back to their constituents and brag that they killed it again, they poisoned the bill with a near-elimination of the estate tax. If such a bill had passed, who would have been winners? The growth in income disparity between the ultra-rich and the working everybody-else would have grown t such a rapid pace that the minimum wage hike would have been too little from the outset. The government, already buried in debt, would have lost billions in revenue. The Dems would have lost credibility for providing a minimum wage increase that made the working poor even poorer in relation to the ultra-rich. The Repubs would have lost even more ground on the myth that they value fiscal responsibility. Oh, and the government would be more broke. Compromise, in this case, provided a bill that was a loser for not only the government and the citizens it supposedly serves, but also for the parties ostensibly serving those citizens. Way to go, Party No. 3. Luckily the Sunni-Shiite tribal politicos prevented this monumental blunder, though some smart Senators may have to pay for their good sense in the short run.

Then there’s the assumption that bi-partisanship naturally makes the government more productive. Sure, it may get further on a flag burning amendment, but on the issues that really matter, does this work? Well, we’re poised to watch sea levels rise some twenty to forty feet in my lifetime. Millions of people will be killed or displaced. What has bipartisanship done here? Support for moderate candidates like Maine’s Olympia Snowe keeps the Republican Party in power in Washington. In turn, the party chooses buffoons like Senator James Inhoff to chair the Senate Environment Committee. He has said that global warming is, “"one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people." Thanks, bi-partisanship. With any luck we can cut down on global warming by not burning flags.

Lastly, there’s the assumption that the McCain-Lieberman party will do better than the “tribalism” Brooks warns against. McCain made real headway against the administrations use of torture not by playing nice, but by being aggressive and strident, the two qualities Brooks denounces. But when the President attached a signing statement saying he didn’t have to actually do what the law said when it came to torture McCain found his hands tied by a Congress unwilling to go head-to-head with the White House. And why is the Congress cowardly? Maybe it’s because people like Joe Lieberman have been painting those who dissent as unpatriotic, advocating a show of solidarity with the president hat should only be limited to the length of the eternal War On Terror.

So if compromise sometimes stinks, often reinforces the status quo, and sometimes trips itself up, who would really benefit from a Party No. 3 with nor particular platform and an obvious predisposition to prevent real change? Why, the administration, of course. You starting to smell that now?

Bush, and his shills, used to present their policies as the right way to go. Now that all the evidence suggests that these policies are disasters in practice, they’ve resorted to characterizing those who want to take on a new direction as dangerous extremists (especially on the left. Presumably the far right is an enemy of Party No. 3, but you don’t hear Brooks bashing them much). So here’s the new talking points, decoded for those of you that feel nostalgia for the wonderful world of Orwell’s 1984: Our way is clearly the wrong way to go, but those who suggest going a different way are just crazy.

Joe Lieberman has stayed the course. Let’s just ask half of Party No. 3 how well that works.