Almost a week later, the significance of this year’s election is slowly starting to dawn on me. My initial reaction was a feeling of anticlimax. I was in Rome on election day with only the most tenuous of Internet connections, and in any case polls had not even closed on the east coast by the time I went to bed, so I missed out on the actual deciding moment and had to wait until Wednesday morning to get confirmation of Barack Obama’s victory. And while the training I’ve had as a supporter of the Phillies and other lost causes has taught me that failure is always a possibility, the tea leaves and entrails had been pointing pretty decisively toward the result for the past month, so I wasn’t exactly at the edge of my seat. Mostly, I felt relief that the whole thing was finally over.
But I a...
42.5 minutes of hope
For almost three decades—my entire adult life and then some—I have been utterly baffled and frequently saddened by American politics. I just cannot fathom what it is about the Republican Party's melange of fear-mongering, intolerance, and plutocracy that ‘average Americans’ find so comforting. Nor have I understood why the Democratic Party has been more or less in retreat ever since Reagan's landslide election in 1980 (yes, I am aware of Bill Clinton's presidency). Feeling so completely alienated from this climate, I've watched my own politics devolve into a mixture of cynicism and naiveté: expecting little from politicians and still finding ways to be profoundly disappointed by them.
So it's ...
As the midterm elections approach, I am finding myself more and more obsessed with tracking the latest polls and projections, and that has led me back to my old friend from the 2004 election: electoral-vote.com.
I'm not that much of a polling wonk, but I find "Votemaster" Andrew Tanenbaum's site to be almost endlessly fascinating. Besides its signature red-blue map (this year showing predicted Senate results rather than electoral votes), there's insightful analysis of polling techniques, historical information, and links to other resources on the web. All in all, a treasure-trove for anyone interested in the American political process.
I was out at a school last week doing a professional development workshop, and I got my first good look at the use of web filtering software. It ain't pretty. The workshop was on web resources for educators, and several things we'd counted on showing to the teachers there were either completely blocked or broken to the point of uselessness. These included:...
The politics of web standards
This is an idea I've been turning over in my mind for some months now, and while it's still resisting a really clear formulation, I want to try to put something down about it. It seems to me there is a tension in the web design world that might be best described as a difference in political philosophies. What's especially interesting to me is that I don't know which side I am on. I see viable arguments for each and, so far, no plausible way of completely reconciling the two....
Awaiting a retraction (but not holding my breath)
Normally, I consider even engaging with the 'arguments' of demagogues like Bill O'Reilly to be self-defeating, but I've been nursing this grudge for almost two years and I finally get to say 'I told you so.'...
I'm reading Greil Marcus's Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-1992 at the moment and finding it difficult to put down. Composed of 15 years of assorted reviews and brief essays loosely organized around the idea of "punk" (for Marcus, this term is capacious enough to include the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Cyndi Lauper alongside the Sex Pistols and the Clash), the book turns into something much more: a sustained critique of an increasingly moribund music industry and the deadened popular tastes that the industry shapes and serves. In the process, Ranters also becomes one of the more lucid treatises on aesthetics I have read....
One step forward, two steps back
In decisions announced this week, the US Supreme Court dealt a tepid defeat to America's theocrats, while awarding two resounding victories to its plutocrats. The 5-4 decision against the display of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courtrooms grabbed the top headlines, and it was nice to see that the separation of Church and State still means something (although what exactly it means in light of the 5-4 decision in favor of Texas's Ten Commandments monument is not entirely clear). But two decisions affecting technology — a unanimous decision finding Grokster liable for users' copyright infringement and a 6-3 decision declaring cable companies exempt from the common-carrier laws that affect telephone lines — are probably more important, and more worrying. To be honest, the Ten Commandments decisions are largely symbolic: hanging or not hanging a piece of paper on the courtroom wall is not going to change anyone's life. But the other two decisions will have far-reaching effects, stifling technological innovation on the one hand and competition in the tech sector on the other. They are good decisions if you are a media giant like Time Warner, but they are bad for just about everyone else. The cable decision is essentially a grant of monopoly to existing cable providers, allowing them to continue charging steep rates for broadband Internet access. The lack of competition will be most pronounced in rural areas, like Eastern Kentucky, exacerbating the existing Digital Divide and making it even harder for these regions to keep up with denser, wealthier areas.
Theocrats among us
J. Nathan Matias recently (well, a couple weeks back now; I've been mulling this response for a while) posted a long and thoughtful meditation on the possibility of reconciling religious faith and a commitment to democratic ideals of equality and tolerance. To his credit, Matias has little trouble finding a balancing point between the two (for him, it can be found in the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson). However, in his attempt to build a bridge across the current political fissure between religious/Right and secular/Left by attributing it to a refusal of both sides to communicate strikes me as very naive and potentially dangerous....
Provincialism the enemy
Careful readers of Donut Age (if they exist outside of my own ego fantasies) may have noticed that I've pretty much avoided posts about current politics ever since the election. I'm not exactly sulking, but after my flurry of outrage last spring, I've made a somewhat conscious decision to back off the current events commentaries. For one thing, there are plenty of political bloggers out there who are more skilled and knowledgeable than I. For another, it's exhausting, mentally and emotionally, to keep up with the seemingly constant parade of outrages being perpetrated these days in the name of "democracy." I have long since reached the saturation point when it comes to these matters. Simply put, it was only making me angry and frustrated to chronicle American stupidity and hypocrisy....
The Eighth Circle
When I read Dante as an undergraduate, I was upset that in the hierarchy of Hell, theft (8th circle, 7th bolgia) ranks as a more serious crime than murder (7th circle, 1st round); seducers (8th circle, 1st bolgia) greater sinners than suicides (7th circle, 2nd round). I went so far as to write a paper that argued that the structure of the Inferno was more political than moral, and that Dante (still living under the shadow of the Dark Ages, poor man) was more concerned with defending the social order than with exposing evil. ...
Uggh. Looks like this election might go into extra innings. Bush took Florida, leaving Ohio as the linchpin of the whole election. And guess what, there are disputes about the counting of provisional and absentee ballots in Ohio! The count might not be final for 11 days says Ohio's Secretary of State. And then the inevitable lawsuits.... Alternately, if Kerry runs the table of remaining states and Bush keeps Ohio, we get treated to an electoral tie, which would still mean, probably, a Bush victory, but not until January. It keeps going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going....
Election Eve Anxiety
I am sitting up watching the election results, and I doubt I'll be able to tear myself away until there's either a result or (as I fear) it becomes clear that we'll be subjected to weeks of legal wrangling, recounts, and recriminations. I have had a knot in my stomach since I voted this morning. I really can't imagine what four more years of Bush will do to this country, and it baffles me that half this country still thinks otherwise. ...
Sinking deeper and deeper
Further undermining the Bush administration's argument that what happened at Abu Ghraib was the "wrongdoing of a few," a trio of reports from Reuters show that in fact, lots of folks in the US government think that abusing and torturing foreigners is a legitimate form of intelligence-gathering. First, Will Dunham on today's Armed Services Committee hearings:
Top Pentagon officials conceded on Thursday some of the interrogation methods approved for use by the U.S. military on Iraqi prisoners may violate the Geneva Convention governing treatment of war prisoners....
Those methods included sleep and sensory deprivation, forcing prisoners to assume "stressful" body positions for up to 45 minutes, threatening them with guard dogs, keeping them isolated for longer than 30 days, and dietary manipulation.
Ever since the War on Terror began, I have been haunted by a passage from Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry. The novel's protagonist/narrator, Henry Smart, is a participant in the Easter Rising and the subsequent insurgency against British rule in Ireland. Fiction though it is, I think it offers tremendous insight into the psychology of a terrorist war, and especially how the occupier plays into the hands of the terrorist:
And the British would hit back; they'd over-react. They always did. Over the next four years, they never let us down. It wasn't that they made bad judgements, got the mood of the country wrong: They never judged at all. They never considered the mood of the country worth judging. They made rebels of thousands of quiet people who'd never thought beyond their garden gates. They were always our greatest ally; we could never have done it without them.
Slate has compiled a chronological record of the Bush administration's statements on prisoner abuse in Iraq. Going back to last fall, the President and his subordinates have been harping on how the US has put an end to "rape rooms and torture chambers" in everything from press briefings to a speech on tax relief. What is perhaps most shocking is that they've continued to pound this point even after the evidence of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib have come to light. In the 10 days after Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba submitted his final report on March 9, Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice each publically declared the disappearance of rape rooms and torture chambers. The day after the 60 Minutes II expose aired, Bush and his press secretary again insisted that we had rid Iraq of rape rooms and torture chambers. Even in his interviews yesterday with Arabic television, Bush again emphasized Saddam's use of torture to justify the war in Iraq. (See also Fred Kaplan's piece on the President's failure to actually apologize in those interviews.)...
The news about American MPs' torture and humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison has been churning for several days (60 Minutes II, CNN, ABC,New Yorker) and the details get more sickening by the day. Words fail to describe how ashamed and angry I am at what has happened. America may have had darker moments in its history, but none that I know of during my adult lifetime. What has become of us?...
A fortuitous follow-up to last-night's post. NPR's Day to Day ran a piece on research that Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing of the Austin American-Statesman have been doing on changes in voter demographics. The whole article (registration required, or see Timothy Noah's re-digested version at Slate) is worth reading, but the gist is that for the past 30 years, American communities have been tilting increasingly either Democratic or Republican. Bishop asserts that this increase in "landslide counties" (60% or more majority for one of the two parties) is responsible for the increasingly polarized political climate:
American democracy is based on the continuous exchange of differing points of view. Today, most Americans live in communities that are becoming more politically homogenous and, in effect, diminishes dissenting views. And that grouping of like-minded people is feeding the nation's increasingly rancorous and partisan politics.
A frightening 57% of Americans continue to believe that Iraq was "directly involved" in 9/11 or gave "substatial support" to al Qaeda, according to a University of Maryland poll (pdf, news report). Frightening because this indicates the extent to which ignorance, deception and willful denial are at work in this country. Juan Cole (no relation I know of) attributes this to a the emergence of a "two-party epistemology," Democrats and Republicans literally looking at the world through the filter of their party loyalties:
For his [Bush's] partisans, it is absolutely crucial that the president retain his credibility. Therefore, rather than face reality, they re-jigger it to create a fantasy world in which Saddam and Usamah are buddies (as in the Jimmy Fallon/ Horatio Sanz skits on the American comedy show, Saturday Night Live), and in which David Kay (of whom respondents say they've never heard) never recanted his earlier belief that the WMD was there somewhere.
So Ralph Nader is running again, and many Democrats are pissed off. Not me. As I've mentioned before, I voted for Nader in 2000, and I'm not sorry about it. If Nader's candidacy cost Gore the election in 2000, and if it costs the Democrats the election this year, it's because the Democratic Party has so alienated its natural constituency, by betraying its core liberal values, that people like me are willing to "waste" their votes on Nader. The appeal of Howard Dean, for me at least, was that he was the only one willing to defend these core values and risk public disapproval by criticizing the President for his absurd policies before the polls said it was a viable strategy. The remaining candidates have all appropriated many of Dean's positions, but their records give little hope that they will actually defend my values, should they get to the White House. And that is the whole point of Nader's candidacy. He says that the Republican and Democratic parties are functionally the same, and nothing that has happened in the last four years has suggested that he's wrong. The national Democratic Party capitulated on the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and Bush's tax cuts. That they are now among the loudest voices criticizing those policies is an hypocrisy even more offensive than the policies themselves. Bush at least supports his policies because he thinks they will do somebody (if only his oil business buddies) good. Kerry and Edwards support what they think will get them elected. While in the short-term, they would probably make positive changes in the direction of the country, but they have yet to show me that they would be good for the long-term health of this country....
What happens when there are so many completely ridiculous and outrageous things going on in the world (no links, why bother, you know what they are...) that you can't keep up with them all, let alone summon up the requisite level of righteous indignation to critique, debunk, or oppose them? You start filtering: accepting the small outrages so you can get worked up about the big ones, or fighting the local outrages, while ignoring the ones further away. Eventually, perhaps, you lose the capacity for outrage at all. You accept that the world is corrupt, that nothing you can do can make a difference, and that this is the way it has always been. I've been feeling perilously close to that point of late....
To the barricades!
Boy am I glad I kept Dowbrigade in my aggregator. Michael Feldman's not-so-cautious "Note of Caution" is a rousing call to action for those who still hope that the Internet and blogs in particular can effect real political change, and especially relevant given the the recent round of blogospheric self-questioning. Eschewing both naive optimism and embittered cynicism, Feldman hits the nail just about exactly on the head:
It is true, there is a sea change in the air, and some of the bulwarks of conventional control of the information stream are crumbling under the relatively free-form innovations from the digital frontier. But it is here we feel a healthy dose of Paranoia may be in order. The powers-that-be have gotten where they are by co-opting, appropriating, defanging and remarketing the innovative works of others. And they make no bones about leaving a few buried bodies and busted careers in the wake of “progress”, as they define it....
The people threatened by these changes have real power in our society, which they have struggled their entire lives to acquire and they are not going to let it go without a fight. It’s going to be bloody. There are going to be casualties. Be prepared.
Ohmigawd, I was browsing some of my own blogroll when I bumped into Adam Cadre's several-days-old post on an alternate universe in which Clinton had gotten a third term. It's interesting enough reading, but what's more important (to me) is that he mentions one of my favorite Gilded Age presidents, Chester Alan Arthur. Far from being "a guy who was president while pretty much nothing happened," Arthur is a fascinating figure. A career machine-politician from New York, Arthur was James Garfield's running mate in 1880, put there to placate the Stalwart wing of the Republican party. When Garfield was assassinated by a disgruntled office-seeker just a few months after his inauguration, Arthur became president. To most everyone's surprise, he took up Garfield's cause of dismantling the "spoils system" and oversaw passage of the Pendleton Act, which radically reformed the civil service. My high school history notes say he also instituted a much-needed upgrade of the US Navy, but none of the sources on the web mention that. In return for his efforts, his own party refused to renominate him, and Arthur died of kidney disease about a year later. Overall, he was a much better president than anyone thought he would be, in an age of truly miserable presidents. I've sometimes thought that the current milieu is not unlike the gilded age, and certainly the white house could use more pleasant surprises like Arthur.
The DesMoines Register has finally come out and said what I've been thinking privately for a while: the Republicans' opposition to "big government" is nothing but smokescreen for their agenda of serving corporate interests before all others. Noting that under Bush II and a Republican Congress, government has grown at a record pace, the Register's staff conclude:...
Dean Dean Dean Dean Dean Dean Dean
I just made my first-ever political campaign contribution: $50 to Howard Dean. I'm the first to admit that I am politically pretty apathetic. I vote regularly (which puts me in a minority of Americans), and I have deeply-seated political beliefs, but I'm no activist, and in fact, I feel pretty uncomfortable at any form of rally or demonstration, even when I believe in the cause. I think I find the political process to be, at best, a necessary evil, and at worst, hopelessly corrupt and out-of-touch with the real concerns of real people....
I've just put this site under Creative Commons partial license (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, to be exact). It's a small gesture, to be sure, but I feel strongly that those of us who care about freedom of information and the exchange of ideas need to do something about the broken system of copyright that prevails today. It's not that copyright is a bad thing per se, but the repeated expansion of copyright duration (the Sonny Bono Act), increasingly broad interpretations of what protection copyright provides (the DMCA), and aggressive prosecution by corporate copyright holders (Disney, the RIAA) have turned copyright into a perversion of itself. Copyright is supposed to encourage the dissemination of information by giving creators safeguards against unauthorized reproduction of their work. However, what I see going on is the parcelling out of our shared cultural and intellectual heritage into so many gated communities run by a handful of corporate interests. Researchers, teachers, and creative artists are shut out of these enclaves, or are granted entry only after paying considerable tolls, which ultimately impoverishes all of us for the sake of those few interests....
And another thing
Another thought prompted by Mark's post on mass audiences. He writes:...