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Rant. Muse. Eat. Sleep. Recycle.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Refractory periods

Liberals and conservatives admit to a great many divides between their ideological stances, but few are as heartfelt as their beliefs (or non-beliefs) in war. Right now, conservatives are the primary voice to stay the course in Iraq, just as, two generations ago, they called for staying the course in Viet Nam.

Liberals are cast as demons in an almost biblical sense by the more rabid conservatives -- 'if thine eye offend thee, cast it out.' We are Americans in name only to those conservatives, they see liberals as soft, spoiled children with no inkling of how the world works.

I would suggest that how the world works is by centuries of habit. Generations of people passing down their prejudices and biases along with their wisdom. This idea has been percolating in my head for a bit, but then I saw a Discovery Channel program named 'Busting Out' and it was about the American male's fixation with female breasts. The announcer was adamant that the American culture was unique in its love for breasts and I couldn't even begin to fathom that. I assumed they were incorrect at best and lying, at worst, for some kind of feminist agenda. But, they interviewed people from other cultures, who seemed to not "get" our fascination with breasts.

That's when it hit me. Certain Americans love war. They believe war is good for business; they believe war is virile; they believe war is holy; they believe war is natural. And, they are part of a global community of fans of war.

I think certain liberals simply see another way to go. And, trust me, NOT making war in a world that is enamored of the stuff is a delicate balancing act. For instance, does the power elite spy on and squelch all resistance? How much opposition is healthy and how much leads to armed rebellion? Is mind control a viable alternative to warfare or should we weed out opposing voices the CIA way -- covert assassinations?

With those kinds of considerations, being a liberal is not for the faint of heart. Are there wars we have to fight? Yes. There are wars for the survival of those you love against people with whom reason has not worked. Is Iraq one of those wars? No. Our economic and military might is such that we could have made Iraq another Cuba. Embargoes, blockades, sanctions -- all the tricks of the trade. There would have been no way Iraq could have been a terrorist training ground, or WMD storage site if we had so chosen.

What the Gandhis and Kings of the world understood is that a learned behavior can be unlearned. War is a learned behavior. And, it plants a potent seed. Most see war as indivudal outbursts. That makes it more palatable and understandable - Jimmy hit Johnny so Johnny goes to war. Military historians know it is one, long fight with interruptions. For instance, it is not unreasonable to some Muslims to see present-day jihads as responses to The Crusades -- which happened in the MIDDLE AGES.

War is interrupted, but it grows in the refractory periods. Refractory periods are those moments when an organism or system is resting; recharging for its next outburst. Sex, athletics, musical performances, romances, war -- all have refractory periods, a fallow time that erupts into the activity at hand.

Even now, as we are at war with Iraq, there are millions of little refractory periods that began with an injustice and are simmering: eight-year-old brothers shot to death by U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint; daughters killed mistakenly by mortars; soldiers who see their best friends blown to bits by RPGs.

Who has the courage to say war isn't always the answer? I haven't seen any moves by conservatives to wean our society from the teat of war.

link | posted by Jae at 7:52 AM | 4 comments

Monday, December 12, 2005

A moment for Richard

I've said several times that we have come to very dark times in recent years; and, when the titans of my youth trot off this mortal coil it seems that much dimmer. I am happy that I was alive at the same time they were -- that overlap is a hell of a connector -- butI am saddened by their passing because they made the world a better place with their presence. So many have passed away - Rosa Parks, notable among them -- but Richard Pryor's death on Saturday, just a few months after Luther Vandross', took away my love songs and laughter. That's a hell of a hit. Yes, I'll laugh again and, yes, I'll love again, but the soundtrack very likely won't be as romantic or as funny as those two provided. So, before we get back to solving the world's ills and figuring a way out of this benighted time period, let's remember Richard and Luther and Rosa. And, in their honor, remember to laugh, love and be free.

link | posted by Jae at 2:17 PM | 3 comments

Friday, December 09, 2005

Is the U.S. still a "good" nation?

It's the people that squirm, not the architects of our discontent.

One of my pet rants - race - goes hand-in-hand with class and I believe that it is a primary motivator for African Americans to have chosen the Democratic party as its lesser evil. But, our current state as a nation (fearful, divided, mean-spirited) is a much deeper situation than can be described using only the context of race.

I can't help but believe that eventually, the people will let their discontent flow back upstream.

But, in the meantime, with the sophistication of America's governmental apparatus, we are able to affected almost individually: IRS audits, FBI surveillance in-country, wiretaps, CIA surveillance when we're out of the country, medical and financial records basically anyone can access. In a nation of 300 million, that is no small feat. We are right to be afraid, because they can come for us. Is that the new American paradigm -- Argentinian disappearances?

While we are busy discussing political ideology, the people in charge (and there ARE people in charge), are talking about practical applications of the tools they hold.

They wield software that watches your every keystroke and redflags any words such as 'Al-Quaeda,' 'bomb' or 'arms dealer'; they have roving wiretaps that allow them to listen in on you even if you've never committed a crime; they can follow your movement by the use of your credit card and track your location by your cellphone signal. Our money now has a magnetic strip that can be read from a distance and our products are beginning to be filled with RIFD sensors that will allow your toothpaste to serve as a homing beacon. And, for the coup de grace, the remote-operated Predator plane can blow you out of the sky or off of the street as easily as playing a game of Donkey Kong.

An anecdote: Traffic engineers are very familiar with the 'Australian Method' of traffic control. It means holding red lights longer than green lights; it means 'no turn on red' signs in visually unobstructed intersections. Its purpose is to discourage people from driving in what those engineers consider to be congested areas. The description I just gave is pretty straightforward -- it doesn't even touch on the emotional by-product of what the Australian Method creates: frustrated drivers.

That, to me, is a microcosm of how we have empowered the people who control our government to work with us - by coercion. Damn the emotional by-products, control our actions. It comes down to money, time and fear. Those are the big sticks in government's arsenal. They threaten us with jail or court (time); fines or seizures (money) and tell us all Muslims want to kill us and all Mexicans want to take over our country (fear).

Do liberals try and scare us to get into office? Absolutely, just the same as conservatives. But, as Olive so eloquently put it -- and I am poorly paraphrasing -- I trust conservatives less.

Forget skin color, a man like Tom DeLay, for instance, is bad news for his fellow white people. The lens I look through is one of personal pragmatism. If DeLay, who has no use for African Americans, can screw over people who look like him, he is not a trustworthy human being in my opinion.

The old saw about the CEO who knows the names of and has a kind word for every janitor in his building is interesting to me, because it assumes that a CEO shouldn't know such things. That social expectation ties in with our political expectations. We create an caste system of undesirables. And, occasionally, the American Public is forced to do something it collectively doesn't want to do because, "we can't be trusted."

And, in one-to-one interactions, we tend to "round off" our estimates of how certain people should be treated. Black crackhead? We round down. Cute girl, young and white? We round up.

Malcolm Gladwell described it as: 'Fundamental Attribution Error.' By that, he means we tend to ascribe our impression about one personality trait of a person to that person's whole being. Ergo, George W. Bush, once he is deemed as trustworthy by a person, will almost certainly be seen as trustworthy again by that same person. And, if he acts in an untrustworthy manner, it is viewed as out of character.

My concerns is that as we squirm about abortion, racism, sexism, homophobism and all our dividers, we attribute only good motives to our government (I'm oversimplifying). Does our present goverment deserve it?

We don't remember that the government is run by people who are counting on us to fight among ourselves and feel warm and fuzzy when we see the flag. A question we should be asking is: 'What is the character of our government?' Are we endorsing a government that has become bad for humanity? That is a hard question, but it is a patriotic one to ask.

I have an idea (pie in the sky, I know) for a crazy protest for all of us squirmers. We put a moratorium on 'polls.' If any pollster calls, whether you are Dem, GOP, Green, Independent, Communist, you tell her to hit the road. No information. Just Say No to polls and let the politicians figure it out blindly. Polls are crutches that allow them to point to some amorphous 'other' with no accountability. Bad things will certainly happen and the bad actors will make themselves known.

There are such small differences between most of us, but those difference keep us from holding those in control accountable. Why? We're busy fighting each other over ideologies. That discussion of our differences needs to continue, but it's the oldest trick in the book to say: 'Look over there, there's [someone you disagree with].' It's called misdirection and we are getting the brunt of it. In our favor is that the current band of thieves is so corrupt that they've pointed us in a series of directions that led in a circle - back to their misdeeds.

So, we've got that going for us.

link | posted by Jae at 8:26 AM | 5 comments

Monday, December 05, 2005

Soothing shades of black and white

Ah, to perceive the world in soothing shades of black and white. CB, my fabulously intelligent, ultra-conservative friends knows the rights and wrongs and wherefores of many things, but in my opinion, he misses the major point of conservatism: it is nostalgic for things past. Morals, laws, families. I have ridden that horse in these posts a time or two, so I won't do that now. What I will do is explain as best I can what liberals will fight for.

In a patriotic rush to rid themselves of sundry rights, conservatives give away too much to politicians who are showing themselves to be beholden to nothing but power. When I argue with CB - or any conservative - that those rights will have to be fought for to regain, I mean that literally. Power concedes nothing without equal or greater resistance. As Focus on Families or the Christian Coalition asks that the rights of the citizenry be diminished ala the Patriot Act or the Intelligence Act, we tend to forget that these are not the most trying times in our history. 1919 was a hell of a worse year what with World War 1 and the Great Flu. 1939 and the Depression was no picnic and the early 1940s and World War II, which killed about 50 million people was no lark, either.

Conservatives, in the interest of keeping that foot in the past, are allowing men who crave power to create a new structure that will be even more unassailable. Case in point -- term limits. Who supports them? People out of the beltway. Which is the only group that can be demolish them? Those inside the beltway. And, that is just an example of the obvious powerbrokers. What of the gunrunners? Drug lords? Lobby Kings?

Liberals fight so the fluidity of one of the world's few societies that works fairly well can survive in the future. An oppressive society, and that is definitely where we are headed, is not a good construct for civilization. It will hold awhile, but has to fall because the center of a society is its people -- not the Caesars, Hitlers, Castros, Lincolns or Washingtons.

I want to save people like CB from themselves because, in all of us, there is a voice that says, 'I'm scared.' Using a line from the Jaggerz' hit 'The Rapper,' "I don't know what it is/but I don't wanna see no more."

Liberals will fight to have you look at the world with eyes wide open. Liberals are just as likely to give their lives for a cause, but as George S. Patton said, 'Make those other bastards die for their cause."

link | posted by Jae at 6:51 PM | 10 comments

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