The Neocons and Me

Who can say when the mood will strike? I have been absorbed in my stupid job for the last month or so, interspersed with an intense period of anxiety (with good reason, I might add, but nothing you need concern yourself with) and a couple of trips to Niobrara – one good, one bad (see anxiety, above). More later on that. Maybe.

Meanwhile, here’s a political article–screed?–I wrote the other day for the local newspaper but won’t submit to them because I know they’ll try to “stupidize” it under the guise of editing or, more likely, won’t publish it at all because it’s too RIGHT ON, man.

This is an example of how I write when I think people are listening (as opposed to here, where I assume no one is). Anyway, feel free to quote liberally from it in your own diaries, memoirs, novellas, e-mails to left-leaning friends, and the like.


It has been said that the Bush administration’s approach to governance is so far removed from the way America’s business had been conducted in recent decades that “conservative” or even “ultra-conservative” is the wrong appellation for its agenda. “Radical” is the term for policies that result in unprecedented deficit spending (a projected trillion bucks over the next two years alone); the systematic dismantling of a generation of clean air and water acts and other conservation efforts; a sea change in foreign policy resulting in America’s first “pre-emptive” war and the abandonment of traditional alliances; economic policies devoid of any strategy apart from tax cuts; and…

Well, you get the idea. Remember the “age of consensus” predicted by the pundits after the 2000 election debacle? Remember statements like, “Without a mandate, Bush will be forced to govern from the middle?”

One problem with radical governments is that they don’t tend to listen to reason, nor do they respond to evidence that shows their policies aren’t working. Think Castro. You may have noticed that Bush keeps repeating that he is “confident” that he made the right decision to go it alone in Iraq, he’s “confident” that his tax-cut strategy will strengthen the economy, he’s “confident” that the deficits will not be a burden on future generations, and so on. No doubt an admirable attitude in an individual, the downside of Bush’s confidence, for Americans, is that it is divorced from reality.

The facts are these:

  1. The Iraq war, still costing $1 billion a week, is not the war they sold us (which was a war to protect the U.S. from an Iraqi “smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud,” to quote chief scaremonger Condoleeza Rice). It may be, as Bush’s supporters claim, that Saddam “deserved” to go and the Iraqi people “deserve” liberation. But these notions, in terms of the war we bought into, are irrelevant. We’re not spending billions of dollars and sacrificing American lives to liberate other dictatorships. And that’s a good thing, because it would be a fool’s errand for us to spend untold billions in a Quixotic effort to save the world while our own country falters economically.
  2. The first tax cuts, in 2001, obviously did not turn the economy around. Insisting that more tax cuts are the answer is, to say the least, lacking in imagination. To say more, it is like cutting off your right arm to cure a cold because cutting off your left arm didn’t work.
  3. Deficits are now projected at about $1 trillion over the next two years. But let’s not soften that with an abstract word like “trillion.” The deficit is projected to be $1,000,000,000,000. That’s 1,000 billion dollars. Or, to put it another way, paying off such a debt at a million dollars a year would take a million years. And that’s not including interest. But it won’t be a burden to anyone—of voting age.

One of the defensive refrains from Bush supporters goes like this: Bush “inherited” the sour economy from Clinton, and 9/11 was the end result of malfeasance on the part of the previous administration. The popular argument here is one of “cleaning up someone else’s mess,” which understandably is more difficult than getting into that mess in the first place.

But here’s the problem with that – it is now late 2003. Pretty soon, we’ll be deciding who the next president will be. If we must base our assessment as to responsibility for the current state of the union on the policies and actions of an administration that left office almost three years ago, then our decision becomes quite complicated. In effect, it won’t matter whom we elect, because Bush’s present policies will just be kicking in around mid-2006.
Note to Democrats: keep this argument handy in case your guy gets elected and things stay bad until the 2008 election cycle ramps up.

Politicians campaigning for re-election either love or hate that Clintonian question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” It worked for Clinton in 1992 and, significantly, again in 1996. It may be simplistic, but it’s at least an objective measure people can use—as opposed to trying to gauge the “dignity” level of the White House—to decide who should lead them.

So are you better off? Are we? Is the world?

To paraphrase George Eliot, we can be forgiven if we sometimes mistake brazenness and confidence for actual ability. But we should eventually come around to a pragmatic view of things and put competent people in charge if they can be found. I consider myself a centrist—I have no party affiliation—but to me the situation is plain. We can do better than we’re doing economically because we have in the recent past; we can balance the budget because we have in the recent past; we can protect the environment for the future from those who do not consider the future; and we can find a way to safeguard this country while promoting peace and an open society—because although it’s a new challenge, it’s the right thing to do.


A is A

Whatever happened to the age of reason?

Perhaps it never really took hold. It seems that more than ever, the world abounds in mumbo-jumbo. Supermarket horoscope scrolls, I’m told, sell in the millions every month. The “psychic” reading people are making truckloads of cash. There’s a guy on TV — he draws millions of viewers every week — who can call up your dead loved ones on his psychic hot line to the Great Beyond. We’ve got Jesus hanging out in star-forging nebulas millions of light years across. And the Virgin just last week showed up in a mangled tree stump in New Jersey (no kidding). That’s not to mention Crystal healing, angel sightings, “creationism” (i.e. anti-evolutionism), UFO abductions, homeopathic medicine (I don’t care how many of you homeopathic “physicians” are out there – it’s still hogwash), or Dianetics.

Not much progress since the trial of Socrates, or Galileo, or the Scopes “monkey” trial, or the O.J. trial for that matter.

But what concerns me generally is the decline of reason and logic. Perhaps it’s an offshoot of the societal movement away from secularism toward the new “spiritualism” (translation: hocus pocus in the form of apocalyptic novels, televangelism, “trendy” religions, revivalist freak shows and mercantile “Christian rock” bands). Or maybe the grim harvest of circular post-modern “reasoning” (which posits that everything we think we know is a “social construct” based on “class-based shared belief systems”) has resulted in –you guessed it– the societal conclusion that empiricism is an illusion and that all reality is relative to the observer.

Or it could be the media in general, which in attempting to appear “unbiased” (impossible to do but possible to appear to do) has convinced us all that no matter what the story, there are two sides with absolutely equivalent arguments for or against. So there’s no reason to try to figure out what’s “right” or “wrong” or “legal” because it all depends on your world view and political persuasion.

But no matter the cause, the result is that no one appears to be sure of anything anymore, unless you count the fanatics. As Yeats put it in describing his own era of political chaos:

“The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

And it’s just as true today. There is no safe harbor. Nowadays even the scientific journals aren’t sure of their facts. The New England Journal of Medicine now requests its contributors disclose their financial interests so that readers may discover those which intersect with their research. The “entrepreneurial” scientist, like the now-familiar entrepreneurial politician, cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

Do facts not exist? Can we not at least agree on some facts? Can we say nothing beyond “A is A” without a rebuttal from someone of competing interests or “beliefs”? A while back I wrote a little musing on how we know what we know, concluding that we really know very little, but that dealt mainly with moral philosophy and theoretical science, which are murky areas at best. What I’m talking about here is true empiricism and recorded phenomena.

When we expect a debate to settle a matter, it is fruitfully conducted only upon a foundation of perceived truth, or a set of underlying assumptions that inform the outcome. One of those assumptions is that both parties seek the truth, and that the truth, however contradictory to one’s preconceived notions or personal “stake,” must be acknowledged when it is discovered. For example, we may debate the value or advisability of particular environmental laws. But for the debate to produce a valuable decision for society at large, it must proceed from the assumption, acknowledged by both sides, that the environment should in fact be protected. Otherwise, one may argue for a position under the assumption that the environment is irrelevant to the immediate needs of industry, an assumption which presupposes that no law protecting the earth is defensible if it causes any inconvenience whatsoever to industry.

We may debate whether to go to war, but we should agree that war is the choice of last resort in defense of our borders, and as a non-imperialist society we do not initiate wars for the sake of occupying other countries.

We may debate the legality of an election, but we should agree that our leaders must be lawfully elected.

We may debate how best to protect the country, but we should agree that human and civil rights, which are inherent and not granted by the state, cannot be rescinded by the state.

We may debate how best to manage the government, but we should agree that a government “of the people” serving a free society is not allowed to operate in secret or without the consent of the governed.

And so on…

I must honestly say that I do not believe such debates take place at the higher levels of this society. Interests – and interest groups – are too entrenched. Power bases are too powerful. Battle lines are too firmly drawn, and the casualty of truth is regarded by patriots on both sides as an “acceptable loss.”

Truth may be beauty, and beauty truth, but to today’s “winners,” winning is all that matters.

Just ask O.J.

Guest Writer

I visit a few Web sites now and then, though not many really, and when I do the first thing I look for is the comments or “feedback” area. I don’t know why, but I’m generally more interested in what the masses have to say than in the polished, generic blather of the professional media. Maybe that’s why my favorite part of the newspaper is the letters to the editor. Give me plain folks’ point of view any day.

Anyway, in preparation for an upcoming trip, I was looking at airline and airport ratings sites and came across a bonanza of stream-of-consciousness rants like the following gem.

(When I read this, I couldn’t help wishing I could meet the person who apparently spent an hour or so chronicling his experience at ATL so faithfully — and for what? Simply for the benefit of strangers who may benefit from getting the straight poop on this oft-maligned Delta hub.)

Note especially the delightful juxtaposition of the first sentence’s sentiment with the rest of the post. Note also paragraph 6, which is a single sentence. It’s as if the structure of the sentence is sympathizing with his “seemingly endless,” aesthetically horrifying imprisonment between flights while baking in the rays of the setting sun.

From Airports – Passenger Opinion Forum
by Jeffrey D. Sarver
“I am someone who is not too fussy about airports generally. Only one, St Louis, arouses my ire and I don’t fly through that nightmare of an airport anymore. I am hesitant to place Atlanta’s Hartsfied International in the same low box as STL but I think I shall have to.

ATL has some positive attributes which aren’t negligible however. It is efficient (in good weather anyway). Signage is excellent and the trains between the six terminals run frequently. The trek to the escalators leading down to the trains can be a long way from the gates and connections should never be less than an hour or the odds of missing the flights are high.

The airport employees, check-in, information, concessions and cleaning crews, are just about the nicest, most helpful, easy-going and humorous airport personnel I’ve ever encountered anywhere in the world. They are down-to-earth and human, a bit offhand sometimes but good-natured, generally. I have yet to encounter a phony, or non-caring attitude at Hartsfield, once past the TSA government people that is, and they are usually pleasant enough in their invasive jobs.

It is also a clean airport, though that has little effect on the overall atmosphere, see below.

The aforementioned atmosphere is the great down side to Hartsfield. It is without question the most visually depressing conglomeration of buildings I’ve ever had to spend long boring hours inside of awaiting connections. I can only compare it to a sort of civilian prison sentence of a 2 or 3 hours. Externally the 5 branch terminals resemble enormous cargo facilities with few windows, built of a grey metallic material and “decorated” with a sort of orangish metallic panel that looks like a set background for the ‘Alien’ movies.

Within, windows are at a premium and natural light is almost non- existent, except at sunset when the sun blazes into the few western windows and slowly bakes any waiting passengers on that side of the terminals, hence the scarcity of windows I suppose, though every Florida airport I use is riddled with plate glass so Hartsfield really has no excuse for entrapping the thousands of incessantly streaming hordes through its very long, seemingly endless in fact, terminals with their low ceilings and hideous and cheap-looking fluorescent lighting.

At night it resembles the lobby of a very cheap hotel in the Bronx (which I’ve seen in Martin Scorcese movies and such). The shops are mostly tawdry and expensive, the food facilities laughable, nothing but “junk” food in the entire airport, though one could go to the “atrium” (the main terminal prior to security) for some sort of “southeastern” kweezeen I’m told, but then security must be dealt with again so that that restaurant is unfeasible for the connecting passenger with 3 hours to kill, as I usually find myself having to do.

The gate seating is falling apart and uncomfortable and insufficient for all the passengers at any given time. I will do everything possible to avoid ATL in the future simply because it is such a lowering experience, rather like an enormous basement, cheap acoustic ceiling tiles and all. What adds to the general sense of degradation is the ubiquitous blasting televisions with endless CNN Airport junk blaring at one all the time.

Instead of just renaming Hartsfield they should tear it down and start over completely.”

Niobrara Nights

You may have noticed that I let the whole month of September go by without a word.

Not without reason. Like Eliot’s April, I find September the cruelest month. By September I’ve about had it with the Plains version of summer–a sort of relentless boiling–but no, summer will not pass. Around mid-September you start to think it should begin cooling down, but it doesn’t. It just keeps on, in the 90s or better, every day. And the rains stop. No rain. Just hot, humid, sweltering dog days.

And here’s the clincher – they close the pools in August. Early August. So no relief there. We went all the way to Niobrara in September just to get to a pool that was open.
And it was delightful.

niobr2bMy wife’s father and stepmother, in a flash of brilliance and spending, purchased a massive chunk of land in the Niobrara river valley a few years ago. Then (and this was a years-long ordeal worthy of Hercules, or at least his contractor) they plopped a big house down on top of a ridge overlooking the river itself. It’s a wonder. After driving all day from our city, ever deeper into farm territory and then, in the valley itself, ranch territory, then up a never-ending gravel drive to the lonely ridge, you find it (unless it’s dark – then you drive right by it). It sits alone on the ridge, with no other sign of civilization in sight.

Beyond the ridge is the valley and the river.

The first time we visited was a bit odd. The three of us just piled in the car and drove up there one hot August day. It was as if we were visiting a three-masted schooner in the middle of a squall. Because they had built on the high point of the ridge, they got the full fury of the ranging wind. And that night was outrageously windy. You had to yell at someone just a few feet away — and I’m talking about inside the house. We had to crack the windows (no air conditioning), so the wind came in whistling and flapping the blinds all night. And yes, it was hot.

But they got the air conditioning in (a necessity in this place, not a luxury), and about a month ago they had the deck put on. The deck! We came up in early September with some friends, planning a mild weekend in the country. We arrived at night–I was in horrible shape. It had been a crushing day. I had been crushed. But when we arrived, we grabbed a cold beer and we went out on the deck. And the sky exploded.

I imagine there are people in the city, plenty of them, even in my city of the Plains, who have never seen the galaxy they live in. I myself had not seen it for some time, given that I, like most, spend my days locked in a straight-ahead stare at responsibility, tasks and the specter of tomorrow. Oh, you’ll step out on the patio at night and detect a few stars in the glare–look, I think that’s the Big Dipper! But in the dark of that lonely valley, we walked out on that deck and looked up, and we didn’t go back in until bedtime.

The stars, the stardust, the Milky Way, and Mars himself–they all were there for us, stretched across that impossibly wide and cloudless black bowl, to gaze on and to get to know again.

How wonderful to feel infinitely small and large again.