a writer's journal - politics, music, american culture, esoteric aspects of life, and stories


Some possible "Grand New Visions" for the Democratic Party

(As a continuation of the previous post below)

We cannot know what the great geopolitical struggles of the 21st century will consist of; I think it is naive to think that Islamic fundamentalism will pose a monolithic and symmetric threat to western capitalist manufacturing exploitation, the way the dictator-led command economies of Germany, Russia etc. did in the 20th. That said, current fears of terrorist action are justified, considering the sorry state of nuclear weapons control in Russia and Pakistan, the growing threat of nuclear competence from North Korea and Iran, and future wild cards (Indonesia, Nigeria, and South Africa may find it far more economical to buy nukes for local dominance, than to buy state of the art aircraft and armored vehicles; and such erstwhile allies and local power brokers as Japan and Turkey might drift from the U.S. sphere of influence and reformulate their own spheres.)

What if the democratic party decided to address the longterm challenge of possible nuclear terrorism from any nonsymmetric source (e.g. small rogue state, semi-independant radical organization, economically backward giant power)? The current republican plan, apparently, is deal with Islamic terror first and deal with it ruthlessly where possible and cut deals elsewhere (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia); and worry about loose nukes later. The proper, sensible response for democrats is to try to take the upper hand in terms of grand geopolitical strategy. Develop, in tandem with a couple of NATO states, a key Mideast partner (ideally Egypt, failing that Saudi Arabia, but definitely not Israel or Iraq of course), Japan, and either China or India (preferably the former, but a tough pitch), a new international intelligence agency. Outside the U.N., outside NATO, plugged into as much U.S. satellite networks as the Pentagon can be forced to stomach, and dedicated to controlling nuclear weapons at all costs, as well as working on other big ticket items (biotech weapons, piracy on the high seas, the slave trade, multinational collusion, etc.) as time and resources allow.

I don't think many Americans have a lot of faith in the competence of the CIA, FBI, and "Homeland Security" (I will never refer to that dept. without scare quotes) to protect us. Democrats should get on this. There is only one solution to the problem of loose nukes: cooperation between the capitalist empires, to develop a network of information gathering, weapons tracking and hostile cell infiltration all across the world. I think we've learned what the U.N.'s weaknesses are, and any new international peacekeeping organization should follow the model of NATO to whatever extent it does not strike out entirely into uncharted bureaucratic and logistical territory. This is something the U.S. should be throwing a lot of money at, have long-term dedication to, and serve as an organizing principle in terms of our reaction to 21st century-style conflicts (the era of asymmetric aggression).


A second Grand New Vision for the party of the left would be the promotion of increasing state autonomy and experimentation. In contrast to republican top-down management, characteristic of their business background, democrats should make their basic message one of diversity via state and community innovation. Democrats should begin to emphasize strongly their support for conservative states' desires to curtail gay rights, for example; the rhetoric should be, "what may be right for Massachusetts may not be right for Kansas." On every social issue, from religion to self-reliance to patriotism, democrats should try to weasel around to the right of republicans, in order to demonstrate the absurdities of those positions, and expose the triviality. Agree with the wingnuts on the (relatively) unimportant stuff, and fight harder on things that matter like Kyoto and Iraq, campaign finance and education.

Democrats are the diversity people, and this should be a keystone of the message and the talking points. Innovate in every city; instead of No Child Left Behind, which tries to impose federal standards everywhere, democrats should push for greater innovation and difference in styles of schooling across the very different cultures of American cities. Perhaps high schools should be more like colleges, easier to transfer out of, with greater independance in course structure, and with more emphasis on independant thinking. Or perhaps they should be more like discipline-oriented military academies, or return to vocational training as was much more prevalent in the 1950s, or go completely high-tech, or use student tutoring for as much as 50% of classroom education, or who knows?

If the mantra of the party became, "let each community take control," or "state's rights", or something catchier but encapsulating either of those concepts, that would be a powerful and resonant message. Don't let congress try to fix welfare, or health care, or even taxation. Yeah, let the states work out a better way to tax people. That way, if I don't like how taxes are gathered in Texas, maybe I'll move to Louisiana. Income tax gathering could be devolved to the states entirely, with the proviso that the states must forward X percent of all government revenues (income, property, sales, fees, and so forth) to D.C. for such federal programs as federal courts, the military, and the other essential departments of the executive such as the state department.


I think it would be pretty interesting for the democratic party to tackle the modern problems of media bias, spin, smear politics and subtle lies by political entities head-on. So my third idea for a grand re-thinking of the party would be to take the high moral ground, and over a period of a few years remake the party into a so-called party of truth. The party would seek to strengthen its ties to the most prestigious scientists, legal analysts, professors and writers, and at the same time send the word out about zero tolerance in the party of any kind of smear tactics or less than upstanding rhetoric. The basic idea is to gain a bit more credibility with the public, and emphasize that "they are about supporting business and promoting growth, we are about the truth - and the truth is, when the support business it hurts the little guy."

I admit this last idea is a bit half-baked. But it's just always seemed so bizarre to me that the greatest heroes (perhaps) of America are politicians, and our political world necessitates dissembling, distortion, smearing the opponents, and hoodwinking the public. Would it be possible to base a party on the truth? To repeat that over and over, and try to live by it, and profit by it? To make it the motto and trademark, the bankable quality? It would be worth the initial ridicule, the initial losses to the sneakier party, and the initial self-doubt.


Progressive republicans, conservative democrats

Whatever your generalized views are on the overarching ideological struggles between the U.S. political left and right in the 20th century, the so-called "American Century", it is now pretty obvious that as far as the 21st century is concerned, the republican party is the party of progressive ideology in the sense that they want change, and the democrats don't. Consider any issues, from the most nuts-and-bolts policy questions to big-picture philosophicals, such as these:

Education - democrats continue to want money to pay teachers and build inner city schools; republicans favor privatizing education as much as possible, and would like to scrap the system. NCLB is a revolutionary program designed to gradually accomplish this by declaring a majority [eventually, all] schools as failures.

Energy - democrats are comfortable with the current time-frame of oil reserves running out, and believe science and the marketplace can adjust, though it will be painful; republicans violently repudiate this laid-back attitude, and consistently target ANWAR & the Mideast

Foreign policy - democrats have no discernable ideological vision for America's place in the world, apart from continuing to play the conflicting inherited roles of arms broker and peace broker; republicans seek to spread [as they claim] democracy through force of arms.

etc. Even issues such as gay marriage are recast as progressive: a pre-emptive strike must be made via amendment, a new and christian affirmation of what marriage means, rather than simply claiming that only those who currently enjoy marriage rights should continue to - which would be a literally conservative attitude. And on and on: taxes - we tax the rich too much and must change that; environment - we hamper business too much and must change that; military - the armed forces must create ever more complex technological systems such as missile defense and tactical micro-nukes...

In the 20th century, democrats had utopian visions of political world unification [e.g. U.N.], sweeping reforms of man's relationship with his ecosystems, revolutionary labor movements and government safety nets giving power and dignity to the common man, and most basic of all universal educational and legal enfranchisement which has gradually come under attack again. What did republicans have? Protecting the old boy's club from invasion. But now it is time to admit that our party is on the defensive, and I believe part of the problem is lack of grand vision, even on such a seemingly symbolically hollow issue as space travel.

It's not inconceivable that the democratic party could try to revitalize itself through the promulgation of new grand visions, which could vie with the energetic aims of republicans'. Far easier, probably, to re-envision the party as the new conservative voice of American wisdom.

This is a continuation of my previous post on christian democracy... the democratic party must reposition itself as the party of conservative values. For solid demographic reasons, it must stop pretending it is the party of the young, and be the party of the old. After all, youth culture is presumably increasingly anomic and valueless, uninterested in long-term planning, and easily seduced by flash and responsive to advertizing pitches, or so I'm led to understand. And there are solid demographic reasons why democrats should focus on the old, of course. The main issues of the next 20 years are health care & social security.


Fleeting Story

We all have gremlins inside us, urging us to act irresponsibly. Which bleeds into acting viciously. And it ends in acting calculatingly. You keep on top of the impulses but when your heart's asleep one might run wild with you. Of course the worst demons are those who convince you they're angels. Consider the civil war inside you - what you think is a war between good thoughts and bad - what if it was like most human strife, between two evil empires?

You better try to avoid all positions of weakness and servitude. The cringing smile and stale stink of fear's traces attracts desirous impulses for guns, drugs, and the most numbing forms of bland sexual release...

Don't stay here long enough to let the predators get your scent. Imagine if the demons and angels within you joined forces: you'd miss out on quite a story, and never see their fascinating reversion as they returned to squabbling, now over your carcass.

After being yelled at by a bum, who explained that city sewers keep spirits trapped in the heart of towns the same way vampires cannot cross river bridges, I clicked awake from my frenzied wanderings. I was halfway across the city, barefoot, and had been thinking about hurting someone famous. But I dissipated when out of sight of the bum, who thought all of this story in a half second between random-flash memories of Victorian ghost-tales and the cheap beer he swilled to keep his brain clamped down. He cleaned his glasses with scuddy shirt end and ran fingers across his greasy arm hair, and twitched as immediately another thing happened in his brain. The worst migraines throb like coming, is how the next one began...

How the internet is changing things, from my perspective

Today I've been online for an hour and have spent maybe 20% of the time scanning links pages and political blogs, 10% clearing my inbox and examining some photos left there by a friend, and the rest of the time reading articles. This is pretty analagous to my father, who reads the paper and flips through the magazines he gets in the mail for an hour or two each day [he subscribes to about 10 magazines [half of them are car magazines, the others are lifestyle ones such as Men's Health [a gift from me] and Wine Spectator [a gift from me from 4 years ago which he got hooked into, and I think it replaced National Geographic] and gets the Kansas City version of your generic Knight-Ridder paper]. These are things he pays for, needless to say. And he can't read the internet while sitting on the toilet or the couch, because he doesn't have the proper equipment - probably only vaguely knows about wifi.

I was considering doing a post today that followed every page I linked to, as an experiment or demonstration of the difference between my daily indoctrination and that of my father's generation. But I'll just link to the four most interesting things I read:

A particularly great reductio ad absurdum from one of my regular daily stops
A cutesy little puff piece written in style, found from a link dump I check weekly
An atypically interesting bit of reporting, linked to from a humor site I check monthly
An old-fashioned bit of geekery that amused me, found about ten steps down a trail that began with googling "proto-surrealism"

The point is: nothing more than "internet, yay" in a way. Mine's a much stranger daily indocumentation than my father's - as you'd expect; I'm much stranger too. But I think this will help everyone of my generation be made stranger to a greater or lesser degree.


~thought for the day~

In fact, when competition for food, space, or mates becomes intense, lemmings will actually become aggressive toward each other and are much more likely to kill another than to kill themselves. Is the victor the more intelligent lemming, the severely mentally disabled lemming, or the more resourceful lemming who is trying to dream up ways of selectively choosing who should reproduce and who should not?

What's life worth to you

We've all read stuff about the exact value of the human life. I was thinking about this last night as I drifted off to sleep: what if we applied this concept to white collar crime? Let's let researchers pick a number from out of their research assistant's cute little butt and set the value at e.g. $1.54 million. Ok then, that means Richard Grasso might get the equivalent of several dozen counts of involuntary manslaughter when it turns out he used his influence and corrupt failure to regulate to get other members of the board to give him his millions. And anyone who steals that 1.5 mill with genuine evil, malice aforethought - such as the Enron people - gets mandatory life minimum in prison without parole, with possibility of the death penalty. You know what? That would make me, raving liberal, support the death penalty.

It really would. If the state [i.e. you and me and our elected representatives acting as one] suddenly started hanging rich white criminals from dirty gibbets at some sort of appreciably equivalent level to the rate we [you and me, yes us] kill poor blacks & latinos [that's right, you and I are killers, never forget that: carry that knowledge with you, it's just something you are as an American...], I think my objection to the death penalty would evaporate, poof, snap, gone, dead, buried, forgotten.


Vietnam Syndrome, Iraq Malaise

Read Fergeson's Colossus [2004] this week, he's center-right [was much more disgusted by Clinton's skittishness following the Black Hawk Down incident, which kept us from committing copious ground troops to the Balkans, than he was by Bush's failure to stay in Afghanistan and actually accomplish anything useful there beyond a temporary setback for Osama, which Fergeson doesn't like but notes & accepts]. He likes comparative history, trying to learn from the history of the British empire to better understand our own empire. Useful for me mainly in the effort to pin down in what ways our nation is an empire unlike the previous 67 [he cites this statistic]... but full of idiotic misunderstandings, such as his failure to grasp in what way current "Harvard & Yale graduates" [italics mine] have any desire to be "foreign proconsuls" the way their British counterparts 100 years ago did. He seems to think Americans don't want to be an empire, they are simply forced into being one by circumstances...

Anyway, there's a bunch of handy charts in it, and one of them tracks U.S. public support for the Iraq war across last year against the growing casualties. It's predictably enough an X, with falling support as casualties rise. The author is too dumb to realize that he's making an error of correlation, because it surprises him that public support could dwindle so rapidly after such a tiny amount of casualties compared to glorious Vietnam, which shows a similar X graph, only over a much larger time frame and body count. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that public support for the Iraq war hasn't really dwindled that much, in fact most people don't really care because they've figured out that it literally doesn't have a whole lot to do with them. Probably it's expensive, but maybe the government will figure out how to pay for it. Probably some poor people will die, but war is also good for the economy and it has [many believe] salutary effects on a nation's character. There was a patriotic surge at the beginning of the war and that disappeared, and now approval of the war is roughly on par with other republican indicators - that change has nothing to do with any casualty count.

This makes me think, however. You get all kinds of liberal sputtering these days about how the news outlets have stopped covering the war now that sovereignty's been nominally transferred, now that it's too repetitive and the public's bored by it, now that it's worse than ever for the republican side, now that it's the Olympics or whatever. But think about it - the official body count's just passed 1000, and America doesn't give a fuck. We should stop sputtering, and think about what that means.

To me, it means any talk of Iraq being a quagmire is rhetorically empty. Why, exactly, should Americans care about 1000 dead? Wake up! We lost 50,000 in Nam, and the current consensus is that we didn't fight hard enough! Do you hear a single voice anywhere in the media that has said, "...You know, I respect John Kerry's returning from combat and taking a stand against the Vietnam War"? No: such a concept is treasonous, even today, especially today, 9/11 changed everything [mothafucka.] And Iraq is a cakewalk, as far as the American public is concerned. That's not brainwashing from Big Brother - that's the truth.

There cannot be any outrage over Iraq, why? Because in the end, history has been sufficiently rewritten so that any outrage over Vietnam is a sign [in politics] of weakness, of wanting to cut the Pentagon budget, of wanting to second-guess the hawks, of hating American empire and American hegemony.

Just accept it: it is inconceivable that there will ever be outrage over Iraq - unless we get kicked out. The war is not a mistake, people. We need the oil. [or so the public believes - it fucking shit its pants this summer when the inflation-adjusted price of gas hit 1/2 of what it was in 1979] We need the enemies; we need to hit the terrorists any way we can, no matter how ineffectively. It's a question of honor - if all we can do this year against the forces of Islamic extremism who have so offended us is depose Saddam and cause chaos in Iraq, that's what we will settle for. Face facts: most Americans love the idea that Iraq is in turmoil, that it's nearly a civil war over there.

Moreover, America running out of Iraq with its tail between its legs would be almost as symbolically painful as 9/11 or Vietnam. What you need to understand is that in war, casualties beyond a certain minimum level don't matter much - all that matters is the symbolic outcome. [note that this concept, that casualties beyond a certain level don't change things much, has a strong philosophic basis in concepts of one soul counting for many, or redeeming many, or representing many...] This is emphasis on symbolism is exactly the same as in elections - the specific numbers may not add up, the policies may on deeper analysis be absurd and destructive, but if they are symbolically appealing, the voters will respond.


new theories of elevator etiquette

I can't remember where I first heard about that feature of elevator etiquette which stipulates that in order to best allow your fellow passengers to maximize their personal space, as more people enter those already inside should alter their position to approximately the furthest distance possible from all others, as if the humans were similarly charged particles all repelling [/ repulsive to] each other. This is common folk wisdom and probably first articulated as a short comedy routine, illustrating the mechanical aspect of etiquette: we naturally hover away from each other, without thinking. If there are two people, they should occupy opposite corners; if there are five, each gets a corner and the last entering gets the uncomfortable center...

What I have recently noticed is that this sort of subconscious jockeying for greatest etiquette display* extends well beyond the simple positioning of your center in the space. The elevator box is three dimensional, and our brains understand this; so it's unconsciously considered good form take a completely different attitude from everyone else in the box. If one person is standing straight in the air at attention, watching the numbers on the hip-level controls, the other should slouch against a far wall, look up at the display over the doors, and fidget slightly. Their torsos should not be pointing in the same directions, or at exact right angles, but produce more pleasing random angles, which soothe the brain shut in these unpleasantly straightjacketed confines. This also reduces the danger that we might breathe each other's exhaled air.

If, on entering, your brain detects the other rider not examining your face, you should examine theirs [as briefly as possible]; in large groups, it is polite for the person stationed closest to the buttons to smile fleetingly, and the last person to enter should scowl ingratiatingly as they eke out an awkward habitat in the barren center zone. This monkeylike grimace signifies their regret at having to bare their back to one or more of the passengers, obviously; but it also helps equal out the emotional spectrum of the elevator.

And on and on. Your brain will cue your body to make little noises like throat clearings or shoe squeakings, if it is too quiet - or if you have a companion, you will mumble something meaningless to her, without realizing why. Presumably, if the elevator ride were to last for a long enough time [several generations], music would be re-invented in this way. I wonder too what happens during rocket launches, is the etiquette similar?

The elevator is a luxurious ritual for the brain because it is so rigorously similar in each enactment [yet usually shorter than church], allowing the brain to competently improvise along basic patterns, and ignore all status markers beyond the most basic ones [sexual and tribal]. Contrast this with the difficulty so many adults have in walking around others who are approaching: this is a trajectory problem requiring considerable calculation made so difficult precisely because it involves a declaration of one's status and evaluation of the other's. To what extent will I give ground, to the left or the right, leading my curve with my far shoulder [and so facing my opponent] or with my near shoulder [and slightly turning my back to my dance partner]? I do not understand why it is that walking past someone is a struggle for dominance, while riding an elevator with them is not; but such is my obversation.

The elevator is special for other reasons less dear to me... It is the third smallest urban microverse [after the bathroom stall and the taxi backseat, omitting the now archaic broom closet tryst node]. It is a sort of no-man's land between different zones of activity, and clears the mind so much better than a hallway or stairs. As terrifying as it is to be shut up in this box, working the insultingly big buttons on a sluggish computer, suspended by wires or a more abstruse corner-gripping apparatus, lacking the fireman's key, and confronted by accusatory braille, the interior designers of elevators eschew comforting touches and favor harsh hazy metals, sinister lighting and gloomy earth tones with a pointed lack of anything to gaze upon other than the floor numbers and weight limit [and, as I say, possibly each other for achingly brief snatches]. Well, thank goodness for that, that they aren't gaily painted, stuffed with inflight magazines and a disco ball.

*Note how this link encourages passengers to leave the car "in numerical order"

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