This pants-wetting hyperventilation about where Gitmo detainees are going is starting to make me wonder whether our nation (perhaps the planet) really is in much worse shape than I thought.  Okay, I get that for folks like Cheney, the argument that these people are “too dangerous” to be put in our domestic prison system is merely a ploy to maintain Gitmo’s extra-legal status.  They need Gitmo intact in order to justify their actions, in order to continue down the path of a unitary executive, in order to avoid, at all costs, the possibility that all the extra-legal policies and practices (particularly torture) will not come back to haunt them.  I get that.  

But there are two things about this whole affair that truly worry me:  (1) That prominent members of Congress in both parties,as well as several prominent media figures, appear to be taking this argument seriously and really are frightened; (2) that the general public will be frightened by this as well and ultimately the argument that our prison system cannot contain jihadi supermen will carry the day.  

Lots of people have made righteous fun of this in spectacular ways to point out just how grade school-level asinine this is, and I particularly like Obsidian Wings‘ take:

I’d suggest killing them, cutting them into pieces, and shipping their parts to parts unknown immediately (trials? who can afford trials under these circumstances?), if I weren’t afraid that some hitherto unknown al Qaeda trick might allow their reanimated body parts to slither around in search of one another and, eventually, reconstitute themselves as the Islamofascist Undead. Earlier, I thought we should send prisoners into space, but that was before I realized that that would allow them to join forces with the Klingons….We’re doomed.

TPM discovers that even the Dutch, “people who dance through tulips in little wooden shoes” (h/t The Poor Man), are making fun of our leaders’ pants-wetting:

Where does the World Court reside? It resides in the Hague in the Netherlands. the Netherlands has a population of 16 million (that are not allowed to bear arms or such).

The world courts deals with the worst of the worst, anything in Gitmo pails [sic] to what these folks have done.

Let’s take those war criminals (of which dozens have been tried and sentenced) from the Balkan conflict as an example. Here is a group that still has lots of support (Serbs primarily) all across Europe. They are in cells in the Hague which is driving distance from their homeland. Not like some poor Afghan farmer totally divorced from his people, these people have strong support living with a few hours drive!! 

 

Ah, but in this completely embarrassing angle on the detainees discourse we are given an opening.  The only way to turn this around, I think, is to have someone just mercilessly make fun of the girly men in our Congress who, while exuding the might of a thousand red white and blue super-boners, are in fact frilly little pantywaists who soil themselves every time they see a beard.  But what the GOP and their Democratic enablers fear even more, however, is having their cowardice (and/or cynicism) exposed.  So here is my proposal:  send Ryan Seacrest on to Hardball or Meet the Press and just have him mercilessly ridicule these folks.  Have him sling around as many colorful synonyms for “coward” as can be said on air without being bleeped (and maybe a few that would be).  

Why Ryan Seacrest, you ask?  Well, for a number of reasons.  To start with, he’s very well known and while I suspect that lots of people like him, I’m not sure that they’d necessarily say the respect him—as in, he’s not someone they would depend on to do so much as change a tire.  Following from this, he looks like a really nice guy, but at the same time he doesn’t look like he would necessarily take Paris Hilton in a fight, much less some oggedy boogedy terr’ist.  Ryan Seacrest would be on the teevee demonstrating that not only is he not scared of housing terrorists on U.S. soil, but also the opposite view risible to the point of contempt.  In short, Seacrest is the perfect mix of “all American” yet hapless wuss, from whom withering scorn would be fairly emasculating for these sorts of people.  Emasculation + silliness + common man = making them look stupid.  And this is the most important thing:  making that argument look absurd, weak and embarrassing on its face, so we can put the whole fucking thing down like an ill-tempered, broken legged mule (similes aren’t my strong suit, just go with me here).  

If we can’t get Seacrest, there are others who will do, I’m sure.  But it has to be a man, and this man has to be kind of unmanly but at the same time not easily dismissed due to the metrics of gender performance.  Female attacks can too easily be dismissed via sexist counter-attacks.  I’m not sure Topher Grace is still famous enough.  Richard Simmons is a good candidate, but maybe just a little too fey.  Someone clever, but not thought of as a “thinker.”  Will Ferrell or Seth Rogan might be good, but they carry the weight of being comedians (one of whom is a feature of stoner comedies), and therefore might just be seen as taking “funny digs” rather than offering real critique.  Seacrest, being a host who always plays things right down the middle, still seems like the best candidate.  

So Ryan, please, we need you.  Use your Idol clout and get on Larry King or something and just rip these guys.  Please, the nation needs you.

Submit your own entries for suitable alternates in the comments.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | April 29, 2009

The Right Is Vizzini

It occurred to me that conservatives are becoming increasingly Vizzini-like these days.  Consider:

1.  They are easily agitated and are able to whip themselves into a tizzy fairly easily.  In fact, this may be their default personality setting, broken up only occasionally by a fiendish cackle.

2.  The appropriate response to most of what they say is, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  I mean, let’s just list a few words that have lost all meaning with the right’s use of them:  fiscal responsibility, socialism, fascism, torture…need I go on?

3.  They remain unprepared for the tactics, abilities, and relentlessness of the black man—er, man in black.

4.  They seem to get uglier and meaner as the plot advances, culminating in a kind of weird, unearned smugness about how things will turn out for them.

5.  My guess is, it will turn out about as well for them as it did for Vizzini.

 

vizzini

 

* BTW, if you aren’t really sure what I’m referring to in this post, you are a social deviant and have no business being a part of polite society.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | April 28, 2009

The Death of the Newspaper Could Mean the Rise of Journalism

It is telling that in all the recent coverage of the imminent death of newspapers, one would be hard pressed to use the expression “much ink has been spilled”.   Certainly some of the sturm and drang among industry watchers is a concern over the allegation that newspapers serve a vital function in a healthy democracy:  to keep the public informed and to shed light on the doings of government and business.  Without newspapers, they argue, how will democracy survive?

Well, first of all, the elephant in the room must be addressed:  to what extent have newspapers been providing this service anyway?  Leaving aside how nearly everyone dropped the ball on big stories like the lead up to the Iraq War, I wonder how important it is to the lifeblood of democracy to have Sunday funnies, the crossword, and sections on style, eating, movies, and  so on.  But okay, let’s compare apples to apples and just talk about the hard news sections for a moment.  Undoubtedly, newspapers provided an economic model whereby the most expensive and vital kinds of journalism in the public interest could propser—after all, it takes money to do real investigative reporting as well as sending people to various locales to get on sight reporting.  It is a little unclear how Huffington Post, say, would be able to field liveblogging from a war zone.  This is not to say, of course, that it would be impossible, just that the economics of this have yet to be fully realized (and it’s possible that there is no economics to this, at least according to news-oriented sites as we know it).

However, to say newspapers are vital to a healthy democracy should be an absurd statement on its face to anyone who’s been paying attention.  Most of the best reporting, opining, and general coverage of everything from sports to politics is already done on blogs and other alternative news sites, as this post over at Daily Kos capably demonstrates.  It’s true that our founding fathers were adamant that newspapers were vital to democracy.  However, it is not newspapers as objects that are vital to democracy, it is what newspapers provide:  information.  In drawing on the thoughts of our forebears, they confuse the medium for the message.  In fact, arguably citizen journos can do muckraking better, because while their resources may be more scarce, they are also not beholden to editorial considerations, like, for instance, producing embarrassing reports about the company that owns the newspaper.  

So what is really bothering people in the industry, particularly if they are owners of newspapers, is not that alternative news sites are popping up, but that they have no means of capitalizing on this situation.  In other words, you can’t make money on news any more (at least, not REAL money).  Therefore what the industry hissy fit is really about is this:  the owners of the means of production are being cut out of the deal; as a corollary, the labor of their employees (journalists) can no longer be exploited because increasingly that labor is no longer a market commodity, since it’s being given away for free.  Newspaper owners can no longer make money in this industry without being producers themselves.  In fact, real producers out there make money through networks and websense ads and the like.  They may or may not make money off of their efforts, and they will almost certainly not be millionaires.   The blog model is a relatively good one for a quality writer/researcher/expert/opinionator. It is a very poor one for a manager or owner. 

Further, the demise of newspapers is merely the latest and most notorious victim in a long series of middle-men who have been taken down by the internet, for a newspaper is after all really only  a middle man:  linking readers to information, and advertisers to consumers.  Like other successful middle men, it has been able to add value to its service (a good example of this kind of middle man is a travel agent, among the first to suffer in the age of the internet, who were after all able to put together travel packages).  However the value that newspapers have been able to add is no longer as valuable as the things that other sources can now provide:  better detail, better coverage, more instantaneous presentation and feedback, communal and cooperative content, and in some cases freedom from the former so-called value-added items (not everyone wants ads and coupons, and not everyone wishes to be confronted with certain kinds of information).  Indeed newspapers are not even as valuable as they used to be for advertisers—in the age of the internet, there are far more efficient means of getting the attention of the desired consumer.  

Journalism is still vital, and likely to prosper.  Newspapers, not so much.  At any rate, this is the way things are headed, so we need to get used to this fact.  The lingering question, therefore, is far more prickly, actually:  how will truth survive in an era of instant, tailored, selected, narrowcasted information?  What is ultimately on trial here is not whether the role that newspapers have played in democratic societies will be upheld by journalists working in different media (it will), but rather whether rationality itself will survive an era in which truth can be smushed like a jelly sandwich beneath the blubbery, muumuu-covered ass of information in the postmodern era.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | April 23, 2009

Friday Errata

* In South Park:  Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the leader of “La Resistance” speaks with a Parisian French accent.  This is done so as to mimic and thereby parody the French Resistance of World War II, frequently portrayed in films as being tough, swarthy and suspicious (among other things).  I have always wondered:  when this film is dubbed in French, how does the joke come across?  Would he maintain his accent, and the rest of the South Park characters speak with a different kind of French accent, like Quebecois?  Any French speakers out there care to enlighten me?

* There are so many things about Facebook that I find to be really insidious.  I do love just one thing about it, though:  I really enjoy seeing messages, updates, and so on from people I used to know way back when (especially from high school).  Of course part of this is just curiosity, but it’s also wonderfully strange, because no matter how we all drift apart over the years, the fact remains that there is kind of a special bond to be had with people with whom you spent nearly every day with for fourteen years.  Some folks I saw nearly every day for most of the time I was awake, since we were in all the same extra-curricular activities, too, which meant practices, events, and off-season competitions and practices.  So, it’s kind of nice to see what these folks, who are an intimate part of my character, are up to.

* My kid has just entered the “I want to walk around in mama and daddy’s shoes” stage.  It’s adorable (and she’s surprisingly adept).

* Like many folks, I’m wondering how it is that conservative blowhards will get out of the corner they’re painting themselves into.  You have people talking about fascism, you have people threatening to secede, you have people fomenting the fatalist fantasies of militia crazies…and this is in the first 100 days of Obama’s four year term.  Where do you go from there?

* I miss New York Seltzer.  Their sodas were delicious, but the main thing is this:  to date, theirs is the only chocolate soda that I thought was actually delicious and chocolate-y—not too cola-like, not too shake-like, it was just right.  Yum.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | April 22, 2009

Torture Talking Points: How to Talk to Pro-Torture Fraidy Cats

The Bush era sycophants and rightwing sadists have done a pretty good job of muddying the waters on torture and the he said/he said aspects of releasing classified memos.  Here’s a quick and dirty guide with the most appropriate responses for the next time you get in an argument with someone who thinks torture was justified or that we should continue to use torture as an interrogation technique going forward:

“They thought there was an imminent attack, and so they were trying to get time sensitive information.”

Um, you’ve been watching too much 24.  There is widespread consensus on this point among everyone in the intelligence community:  to the extent that torture ever works, it is only useful for getting very specific information from specific individuals (i.e. people who you know for sure know a “known unknown”).  And that isn’t what they were doing.  Instead, they were torturing people to go fishing for information as well as looking to prove things that simply weren’t true.  

“But there are some things we just don’t know.  We need to use torture in order to find this out.”

Under duress people will say anything to make the torment end.  Information needs to be true and actionable, not just information for information’s sake.

“But Cheney said there are memos that saved lives.”

Perhaps, but this doesn’t include all the wild goose chases we were sent on.

“But doesn’t saved lives justify the use of torture?”

Going on wild goose chases is a waste of resources and manpower.  How many more lives could be saved in the future, or could have been saved already, by instead utilizing the information, contacts, and resources for stuff that is real and actionable?  Would we have captured Bin Laden by now?  Conversely, how many lives are endangered because the people who could be acting on good intelligence are instead deployed elsewhere?

“But waterboarding isn’t really torture.”

Oh yeah?  How would you feel if you saw our troops being waterboarded?  Or your family members?  Who would Jesus waterboard?

“Okay, but it’s not as bad as beheading and all the bad stuff those jihadists do.”

You’re seriously using barbaric radicals as the standard to which we should set ourselves?  

“What I mean is that we’re not as bad as they are.”

Well, rape isn’t as bad as murder.  So okay, I concede the point.

“We don’t know what they knew at the time.  The Bush Administration were doing the best they could.”

Turns out the best they could was also illegal, according to our own policies as well as the international treaties to which we are supposed to adhere (not least the Geneva Conventions).  Maybe they were really were just trying their best, but we can’t just wave away laws out of fear or desperation.

“Why should we care what the terrorists think?”

Because they use our actions to swell their recruits.  They believe that our nation is on a theological, imperialistic crusade, and in the process that while we espouse all this rhetoric about “democracy” and “freedom” and “rule of law,” in fact we capture their people and hold them indefinitely while torturing them.  The have been using our own actions to push this idea among the wider public in the Muslim world.  Imagine they had the power to land an army in Kansas in order to fight some evangelicals who’d blown up something in Kandahar.  Now imagine if on the occasional carpet bombing they regularly killed some innocent people.  Now imagine that they nabbed a few of those evangelicals, took them back to Kabul, locked them up and tortured them for years.  You think there might be a few people around the country willing to go into Kansas and start shooting up some A-rab foreign invaders?

Also, aren’t we supposed to hold ourselves to a higher standard?

“But aren’t you worried there could be another attack at any minute?”

Jesus, you are such a chicken shit.  Because that’s what it comes down to:  you really are so frightened that you would do ANYTHING just to make yourself feel less afraid, even if that doesn’t necessarily produce results (because the results produced by torture are not consistently reliable).  If the Bushies told you that we could prevent terrorist attacks by smothering ourselves in garlic, you would do it, wouldn’t you?  I don’t want to die, either.  But I also don’t want to live as an immoral coward.

That or you just like to see those nasty Muslim dudes suffer.  Wait…you are aroused just thinking about it, aren’t you?

Posted by: coloradokiwi | April 21, 2009

Elites With Humble Roots Should Eat More Humble Pie

This has been noted repeatedly for years, and accelerated in this economy, but part of what makes our political and media elites so infuriating is that they seem to think one’s humble beginnings give someone a lifetime pass on being able to relate to “regular Americans” and that by extension (and default) they are not inherently aligned with the interests of the establishment.  By “elite” I mean not only the wealthy and/or attendees of the Washington cocktail parties, but people who have a certain amount of influence, and they wield this influence within a set of parameters determined by the establishment.  In other words, these are folks who through whatever confluence of wealth and power are more influential than any of us mere plebes, and the influence the peddle (or reflect) is that of the status quo.  Where they got the idea that humble roots makes them a permanent member of the proletariat, and therefore able to commune with and represent the interests of regular people, is a tricky issue.  As DougJ puts it: 

How did this idea of humble, or humbler, beginnings become so important? It’s worth noting that it’s Randian as well—her heroes usually come from the working class, even if they spend their adult lives spitting on it.

Hear hear!

I think there are a couple of different things at work here, the axes which give shape to this ideological parallelogram:

1.  The American Dream:  the idea that due to our democratic and legal institutions, and the availability of economic opportunity, anyone can make it in America.  Of course what is left out of this equation is that, first, much of this foundation myth was based on the fact that “Americans” had nearly two centuries’ worth of abundant resources with which to make good—now that the frontier has been conquered and all but depleted, this aspect of the American Dream can no longer be true.  Even this, of course, was enabled by government policies, in particular free land and the socialized martial power that backed it up.  Then came the widespread subsidization of higher education and finally the (ultimately untenable) expansion of equity and credit.  Meanwhile, let’s be clear about what we mean by “anyone”:  it is “anyone” in the same sense that in the film Ratatouille “anyone” can become a cook:  it means someone from any group, but still a uniquely gifted and hardworking person who has also been granted opportunity and has not succumb to bad luck.  Not “everyone” can make it in society, and we need to face up to this and take responsibility for it.  So, I don’t want to downplay the accomplishments of people who have made it, or insist that the American Dream doesn’t exit.  It’s just that it is predicated on a set of circumstances whereby one should feel very grateful about what they’ve managed to obtain/retain, and fully realize how rare it is—which means acknowledging that having “made it,” you are now a member of the elite, no matter where you came from.  Obviously, the extent to which the American Dream is determined by very specific structural and innately human parameters tends to be forgotten or ignored, which means that having “made it” could be construed as a relatively rare thing, but also not particularly special, or at least, not requiring special treatment or circumstances, such that the ranks of the elites are actually populated by people from all walks of life—they are us.  

2.  Tribalized Consumption:  For some time now, someone’s class and their consumption have been intimately linked, which only makes sense:  you buy the things and eat at the places you can reasonably afford.  However, somewhere along the way a value system was built into this, whereby only “real Americans” were consuming things that indicated low (read:  humble) socio-economic status:  shopping at Wal-Mart, going to NASCAR, enjoying blockbuster movies, eating at Applebee’s, etc.  This started in part due to (I believe) a classic attempt to try to deflect the root causes of the structural injustices of our socio-economic system, whereby economic losers were made to feel that they were actually superior in every way:  more genuine, kind, and humble than the “elites” who consumed different things (the corresponding conflation of progressive economic policies and “liberal elites” is worthy of a whole other series of posts).  The problem is that this worked too well, and now people who would otherwise be “elite” in the former, more positive sense, must tone down the extent to which they are elite, even to the point of deliberately dumbing down their speech and consuming things and in ways they probably normally wouldn’t, and for some time now the fate of political careers (and now, possibly, media careers) hinges on that person’s ability to relate on this level.  Reagan famously visited a pub in Boston in order to seem more approachable, George H.W. Bush was infamously wowed by a supermarket scanner, George W. Bush of course took it to a whole other level (an Ivy-League educated, Connecticut-born son of a President from an oil baron family was considered to be a cowboy outsider who was so “genuine” and heroic that he could barely speak coherently), and Obama took a ding in the primaries by badly screwing up his effort to connect with the common folk.  I mean, who gives a shit what the policies are, can the ol’ gal chug a boilermaker?  Meanwhile, folks like Rush Limbaugh, who has assets in the hundreds of millions, claim to speak for “real Americans.”  Crimony, multi-millionaire Chris Matthews would have you believe he literally walked from a Philadelphia industrial district into the studio.  So it goes.

These are symptoms of what Marx would have referred to as “commodity fetishism,” and in tandem they perpetuate the idea that the economic realities that millions of Americans face are explained best not necessarily by particular movements in capital or policy, but rather according to the values and habits to which people in this class position are thought to ascribe.  Therefore, if one shares the cultural perspective of the non-elite, one is by definition not an elite.  And allegedly this cultural perspective is permanently inscribed on one’s psyche, from which one musters all of one’s wisdom.  When this foolishness is called out, people tend to get testy.  

What is particularly revealing in these defensive rebuttals is that they reveal what they think “humble roots” really are, and this ironically reveals how elite they are.  I mean, check out this passage from the WaPo chat DougJ cites:

That would be news to Brian Williams, who was a volunteer fireman as a young man and washed out in his first job at a tiny Kansas station. And news to me, a guy who went to a state university. And news to Katie Couric, who started out on the University of Virginia’s student paper and washed out in her first national job, at CNN. And news to longtime Post editor Len Downie, who went to Ohio State University and started here as an intern. And also news to me, a kid from Brooklyn who never met a professional journalist until my junior year at a state university.

God, I didn’t realize how tough these people had it:  they went to (gasp!) state universities!  And Jesus, only one of those is a Public Ivy!  Egad!  And you know, the tales they tell of Brooklyn sound pretty dire: almost a whole stone’s throw away from the world’s communications and financial center—it may as well have been Sudan.  And man, I had no idea that today’s media luminaries might have been fired once in their lives—surely nobody who makes it ever gets fired?  And of course you would never expect interns to move up through the ranks of a particular profession, even though, you know, that’s kind of the point of an internship.  These intelligent, driven, attractive, educated, white, middle class, English-speaking, American citizens did well to face down such adversity.

The thing is, nobody really minds elites:  we want elites, we want to be elites.  People who really despise elites just for their existence  either suffer from petty jealousy or are radical communitarians of some kind.  What’s insipid, however, is touting one’s (former) class credentials not only in order to insist that one is not elite, but also to insist that one’s (understandable, if somewhat lamentable) defense of the establishment is non-existent.  Look, you don’t have to actually be a man or woman of the people, you just have to understand where they’re coming from.  But you can’t do this by thinking back to yesteryear when you lived that way (things may have changed), nor can you imagine yourself to live a life that you do not, particularly if you haven’t lived it for some time.  You can do this by actually doing something called “journalism”, whereby you do some research and maybe a little footwork.

Ultimately what these people are doing is conflating tribal affiliation with class position (and to be fair, some of their critics are conflating this, as well), and in dire economic times as these, the difference between the two is far more stark, and therefore this line of bullshit has become ever more transparent.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | April 18, 2009

The Voice of an Angel

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you’ve seen the stunning footage of Susan Boyle, the quirky parishioner turned international sensation, via Britain’s Got Talent.  Indeed the clip I just linked to is a remarkable piece of television in its own right, setting us up through its music and editing to suspect that (like most people who go on such shows), we will witness something of Hungian proportions.  And then all of a sudden…we are made into fools and then lovers.

Perhaps Susan Boyle is already (!) on the verge of being over-exposed, but I would like to dwell on her in that clip for just a moment.  First, let’s not so easily dismiss magic.  And that is truly a magical performance for the following reasons:

1. It is indeed a huge surprise.  Certainly to some extent this is about her frumpy appearance:  the extra chin, the untweazed brows.  But for the record, I think the issue of people being cynical is not just about her appearance, but her manner:  the way she talks, the somewhat bawdy stroppiness, the weird mannerisms…it all seemed to indicate someone with perhaps an inflated sense of self-worth and/or mental issues.  Whatever the source for them, all of our preconceived notions about her vocal talents, of course, are shortly obliterated.

2.  This is a goosebump and/or  tear-inducing performance.  The depths of her passion, the power behind her notes—my God, she doesn’t take a breath for a whole stanza prior to belting out that crescendo!  It is a truly professional quality performance, delivered on the spot, having never performed in front of a large audience.  It may be fashionable to dump on “fogey music,” and far be it for me to try to reinstill some notion of high-low culture divisions when we’re talking “talent.”  But seriously, there’s something to be said for sweeping melodies belted out with passion and verve—sung well, it can be very moving, and you’d have to be a hard-hearted bastard not to be moved by Susan Boyle’s performance.  

3.  This was a truly canny song choice that now borders on being the stuff of legend.  In the context of the play, this is Fantine’s lament that her dreams have been crushed by a cruel world, where she dreamed that “God would be forgiving,” and this turned out not to be so.  It is the lament of someone whose life has been a great disappointment (or actually, even worse than that).  Susan said that she chose this song “because…it fitted the circumstances at the particular time, it was the way I was feeling at the time.”  Without knowing the full extent of whatever hardships Susan’s faced in her life, there are stories emerging now that she was at one time mercilessly bullied, and that she spent the last several years forced to look after her elderly mother.  Unlike Fantine, it seems, Susan’s life may yet turn out to be more than she had ever dreamed.  

And this is where, beyond the clip, beyond the hoopla, beyond whatever becomes of Susan Boyle, her story should be particularly moving.  Only now, getting the chance on a show like this, has her incredible talent made it out into the world.  Read through some of the comments on the Youtube clip (which at this writing has roughly 25.5 million hits and counting).  Susan has truly moved people, and I suspect she will continue to do so.  So the real issue comes back to this, a sentiment I am borrowing from a famous quote that I can’t quite recall and so I can’t cite it, roughly paraphrased here:

How many Susan Boyles have died in obscurity on the plantation, on the streets, in the factory?  Indeed, how many Susan Boyles have remained Fantines?

For me this is really what gets to me about her performance, in the end:  I know that for every Susan Boyle out there, there are probably a hundred Fantines—people who have dreams and maybe even a true gift to give to the world, or a singular genius that will make the planet better (singing is great, but curing cancer might just be a little better).  Such marvels are denied us, because at the end of the day we live in an unjust and skewed world. Lives are snuffed out or twisted.  Some are merely squandered or whither away.  Whatever the reason, arguably most people do not realize their full potential, and even fewer have their potential appreciated by someone else.  

Often when we argue about politics, about “making the world a better place,” this is ultimately what is at stake.  A more perfect world is one in which people’s talents can be truly applied, where their gifts can really make this planet a more joyous one, where everyone can meet their full potential, and that potential is welcomed by others.  It is a world in which the sorts of conditions that inspired this song, with which Susan Boyle has just set the world aflame, are made obsolete.  Perhaps this is not a realistic goal, but we must reach for it, we must try.  For this is the last lesson of Susan Boyle:  go for it, for despite long odds you might just make it.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | April 11, 2009

Easter for Atheists

I have not been religious for many, many years now. However, one thing I really do miss about my Methodist upbringing is the Easter Sunrise Service in my old community church.  This would take place every Easter Sunday in the quaint and verdant cemetery behind the church.  Although viewed in the right way the place and occasion would seem to indicate something of a “raising the dead” ceremony, it was actually a terrifically pastoral setting:  lilacs coming into bloom, morning songbirds, irises and tulips would be budding or (depending on the year) in full bloom.  In our little mountain town, during that time of the year the sun typically rises right through the very middle of a piece of spectacular landscape called Saddle Mountain, so named because, well, it looks like a a gargantuan western saddle.  Just to the east and south of this was a craggy ridge, the result of prehistoric magma chambers and eons of uplift, which brilliantly reflected the morning pinks and oranges such that it looked to be molten rock once more.  From this direction, a slight dawn breeze would blow:  chilly, but somehow cleansing.  It certainly filled me with awe and peace.

Then there is the singing:  the pleasant, more or less full-throated (and often harmonized) voices of the local community dutifully rendering the usual hymns.  It was a group of between 100 and 300, who included not only us church regulars, but a host of erstwhile Christian citizens, paying their semi-annual homage to their faith (or possibly, just their traditions).  It was a host of earnest voices, themselves awed by the splendorous morning, reverent of the occasion, and enjoying each others’ company.  It sounded good.

Finally, after the service was over, everyone would mosey down to the church annex, where a breakfast feast was on the offering: bacon, eggs, pancakes, toast, coffee, juice, etc.  It was tremendous not only in the fellowship of the meal, but also that peculiar quality of parishioner-prepared food that uneasily mixed the individuated cooking talents of the lay folk and their somewhat amateur approach to the  logistics of feeding a couple hundred people:  delicious and hearty, ample at the beginning and rationed near the end, tasty but not too fancy (and maybe even charmingly underwhelming in certain respects).  These remain among the most satisfying breakfasts I’ve ever had.

And the thing is, and here I do not exaggerate, it was sunny and pleasant every single year but once, when it rained.

Now, I don’t at all miss going to church.  I sure feel a lot of time and energy were wasted there.  But I really do miss the Easter Sunrise Service.  It was nice to have a sense of community coupled with a small gesture of appreciation for our world.  

I was thinking of this as the wife and I packed up food and clothes in order to take the wee sprat out to Brighton beach this morning—Easter Sunday morning.  It was a glorious morning, highly reminiscent of the Easters of my youth:  sunny, clear, temperate.  Brighton beach is not only a great beach in its own right, with fine sand and inviting breakers.  There are also a host of jutting rock outcroppings and sand dunes all over the place, leaving innumerable little cavelets and rock pools available for exploration; there is a small stream that snakes its way down the beach, which itself is fed in part by a tidal pond, providing all kinds of possibilities for splashing, building dams, and enjoying the company of ducks, sand pipers and black swans; there are duney hillocks dotted along the beach such that the whole beach is really a series of mini-beaches, and when the tide is low there are a plethora of secluded spots to stay out of the wind or out of sight.

Suffice to say we all had a terrific time enjoying all of these things, frolicking about.  For lunch we spread out the blanket and snacked on leftover chicken, cucumbers, cheese, crackers, and assorted fruit.  We exchanged pleasantries with surfers, amateur fishermen, rock pool explorers, tidal waders, and so on (but the beach was not at all crowded); at one point a makeshift game of beach cricket—sand-stuck wickets and all—started up, and so the sounds of cheers and laughter wafted across the sea breeze.

It really could not have been a more perfect outing.  And most of all for me, I felt it was an appropriate replacement for the Easter Sundays of yesteryear.  I don’t feel particularly compelled to do such things just on Easter, but I feel it’s nonetheless important to do things like this, that are more than mere outings in some way, in which one invests the event with some sense of specialness.  I do not believe in God, but I think some things are, for lack of a better term, sacred.  And it’s healthy and wonderful to remember that, and celebrate it now and then.  So if like me you are not a Christian, but live in a predominantly Christian nation who by tradition or majority rule has Easter decorations and holidays, go out and do something special.  Be a part of your community, and really dwell in the planet that you inhabit.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 28, 2009

Ghyslain can certainly relate to the Republican Party

The GOP is rapidly losing an entire generation of voters, and I don’t mean just in  the short term of their series of epic fails.  It’s no secret that they are losing badly among the youngest voters, in part due to their intransigence on the culture wars, and in part, I think, because as a brand they are hopelessly uncool right now. Of course to some extent this has been true for some time:  in send-ups on Family Guy, The Simpsons, and myriad other pop culture ephemera, the GOP has been the party of rich, cranky, mean old white men.  With this “budget” rollout, however, the GOP appears to me to have finally cemented their place in internet culture—in a really detrimental way for them.  It’s one thing to have a stupid rollout and your policies openly mocked in the media.  It’s far worse, and more insidious, for your policies to become snarky internet memes.  This is bad for two reasons:

1.  The internet is where younger voters spend almost all their time now.  Even if they still get their news from more “mainstream” media sources, they do almost all their social networking online.  If the primary representation of Republicans and their policies happens via anti-Republican internet memes, then the impression of incompetence and idiocy becomes further cemented.

2.  These things almost never really go away.  Despite the impression we get that internet memes come and go with roughly the same regularity and speed as the tides, at least in terms of a meme’s popularity, a meme tends to be re-packaged, re-introduced, re-worked in some way that keeps it alive as a reference point.  How long has “All your base” been around now?  Its near-constant use during the height of its popularity has severely waned, but references to it as a kind of cultural place holder remain pretty steady (and I would argue even more widespread now than before).  Ditto Leeroy Jenkins, or Chris Crocker, or whatever.  And the incentive to keep this particular meme (i.e., making fun of the GOP’s chart) is higher, too, since this is politics and not “mere” zeitgeist effluvia.

The point is:  the GOP has now basically become Star Wars kid.  Sure, the popularity of making fun of their charts (or whatever else comes up) will wax and wane.  But the referent here will never truly go away, will instead be re-worked in shorthand to be the stuff of further jokes for the foreseeable future.  In addition to being outgunned in the blogosphere, they are now a part of the net ecology.  And I can’t help but think this will make it very hard to make inroads among younger voters, without which the GOP will continue to lose elections.

Good.

Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 26, 2009

From GOP to UGP

The Republican Party has officially become the Underpants Gnomes party.  This is what almost everyone is saying.  And that is really their flow chart?  Seriously?  

The stupidity here is just so stark and unfathomable that I can’t help but feel twitchy that there isn’t some really long, elaborate joke or master evil plan in the works (or both).  My God.

 

****UPDATE*****

I think what I like best about the comparison to the Underpants Gnomes is that you can just about guarantee that what little GOP leaders know about South Park is that it’s a racy cartoon that is part of the “secular” decline of American culture.  It really doesn’t get any better than this.

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