Monday, October 24, 2005

We Interrupt This High Five

Ya, I'm thrilled that cartoons like this have become possible.

And that the New York Times is eating its heart out. That Americans want out of Iraq. That articles like this one are now possible too.

Bush is still in charge. His Party may not all love him anymore, but they're still in charge too.

The Democratic Party is still run by people who don't have a clue.

Here's something that in the current hurricane//hurricane scandal//scandal news cycle is evidently not much worth talking about: The Patriot Act is still on its way to being reauthorized, soon. Here's an interesting situation at least - there are Republicans and Democrats who are standing against it, or at least trying to modify it.

When it's all over there will be a lot of senators and congressmen who will go right along with this assault on civil liberties who might, if you are a liberal or progressive, get your vote in a future election, simply because they are "basically" decent, or not as bad as the Republicans they run against, or at least "pro-choice" or not so "anti-poor," or maybe just because they are Democrats, or maybe just because they are not-Republican, etc., etc.

And what we are going to need - after the vote - is organized vindictive voter action against those who support the continuation of the Patriot Act.

What is vindictive voter action? It isn't hurting them or scraping car keys on their limos. It's refusing to vote for them ever ever again, no matter what they are running for or, more scary to be sure, who they are running against. Ow, it's effective because it hurts.

That's putting it pessimistic - what we need before it is to loudly let them know: sorry, we won't be able to vote for anybody who supports it, ever again, so think twice. I'm suuuuuure they will see reason if we just show them. Just in case it doesn't though - if that's Hillary Clinton who supports the reauthorization of the unmodified Patriot Act (and who knows whether "modifications" will be enough to take off the skull and crossbones), and she turns out to be the next presidential candidate from the Democratic Party, then so be it - sorry, we'd love to vote for you, gag, but we just can't vote for you now, any more readily than we can clean up our barf like a cat. So we'd better let them

the ubiquitous them they them

them- the politicians, who do most of what they do while looking over their shoulders, allegedly at us but actually at our reflection in

them- the media, who tell all of us what we are allegedly all thinking, a self-fulfilling prophecy thanks largely to

them- the other voters, especially all the "smart" voters who only vote for people they think have a chance to win

let them know what the consequences will be for politicians who go along with this, right? I mean, we'd all hate to have to "waste our vote on a third party" or "help the Republicans win" if we can't support a Democratic candidate without completely trashing every principle we have. So here's the beginning of fair warning. We as voters say - there are certain things you can't do, and certain things you must do, or we'll never ever support you, no matter who you're up against. The Patriot Act is a great start - there's hardly anything more basic than our basic freedoms to actually make a stand on.

* * * * * * * *

Will anybody have the stomach for this? It's a good question, but I'd prefer to see the noise made first. If it's a bluff, then let's make it a loud bluff. And if it's not a bluff, then let's know what we are doing and why we are doing it. That cliche about "voting with your head, not your heart" would actually have some meaning if we used those heads instead of pretending that there is just one "rational" way to go.

As I said in an earlier post (9/12/05), there was a lot of goodwill behind the decisions of thousands of people to go ahead and vote for Kerry last year, despite everything wrong with the man and all the things he wouldn't stand for, or against. That goodwill is gone. It was a questionably bright move for us all to engage in anyway

(especially not holding the guy to anything, just saying, go beat that bad bush black and blue, we don't care how you do it. Remember Norman Mailer telling people not to protest in New York City because it might give moderates the wrong idea? That kind of stupid.)

Mediocrity, passive not-badism, vaguely not-as-badism, none of it is capable of defeating evil, or even of making good policy. To settle for it and win might really have been worse for us than to settle for it and lose - at least we know a bigger revolution is necessary. Politics sucks anyway and there isn't much point to being grown-up about it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Remember the Alamos

Four Saturdays ago, two Saturdays ago, I was in Santa Fe for the first two sessions of a four part academic conference designed for teachers up through the community college level. Last year's conferences were discussions of Sophocles, while this year's are on atomic weapons and energy.

Sophocles is more my speed. Discussions of literature go around like a spiral staircase; the give and take gets us somewhere. A discussion of atomic weapons and atomic energy conducted in the figurative shadow of Los Alamos and the literal shadow of invited experts from Los Alamos goes around more like a carousel.

The first session was devoted to the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of the people in my seminar were against it, but I understand that some groupings were mostly dominated by people who supported it. After that part of the day is over we always have lunch, and then an invited speaker. The post-lunch presentation from a director of the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos included some rather startling ideas. It turns out that historians who support the decision to drop the bombs are "military historians" while historians who criticize the idea or say it was more to impress the Soviets than end WWII are "left-wing." I like that polarization is presented as more central than the relative persuasiveness of the reasons that are given. In any case, it turns out too that, given certain recently declassified documents, that now the "military historian" view has the upper hand currently! The director didn't share any of this new information with us, but did let us know that the view that the civilian inhabitants of Hiroshima were "innocent victims" was questionable because many of them worked in armament factories, even including many children. So therefore, not even the children were innocent! (I have to wonder how far out of the bag this argument is going to get in this age of the "war on terror" - the entire definition of terrorism involves the notion of "innocent civilians," "women and children" - so I'm thinking, Ward Churchill got in enough trouble for suggesting that not everybody in the World Trade Center was "innocent" that I'm surprised anybody would want to get near an idea like this. But then, the director from Bradbury wasn't talking about Americans.)

Two weeks later, the topic was atomic energy. In the morning we were told that someone from LANL (Los Alamos National Labs) would be discussing "radiation and health." Hmm, I wondered. Will this have a certain ring of familiarity? A couple of years ago I temped for about three miserable weeks in an ultra-high-security accounting office (we needed escorts to go to the restroom) for a firm that did business at LANL and as part of the mandatory safety/policy orientation I learned that we are surrounded with radiation in our everyday life and only a teensy bit of it comes from anything "nuclear." The purpose of giving us this information, aside from making us more knowledgeable about cosmic gamma rays and household radon levels, is to make the newly oriented say, gosh, all this time I've had this irrational fear of radiation and here it's been all along. Then we heard a cautionary tale about a new employee who emailed a friend from her work computer on her first day of work that on her lunch break she was planning to smoke a "great big joint" in her car. You can guess what happened to her. Our instructor had been the very person who had hired and fired her! And then there was the new guy who had looked at 86 porn websites his first day...

Surely there would be a different presentation for a group of educators, yes? Well, there was nothing about porn or inappropriate e-mails, but pretty soon that same pie chart of average radiation exposure was on the chalkboard, complete with a dinky little slice from LANL that wouldn't feed a mouse. Deja vu. But this guy had a lot more to talk about, including some strong criticism for the nuclear policy of Jimmy Carter. I would think that one of the many presidents since Carter might have changed things but evidently Carter put some kind of whammy on this policy and we are still suffering from it. In most countries they have nuclear energy, but "nuclear hysteria" has crippled America and we are "falling behind." So this lecture was about more than "radiation and health" after all.

His presentation was boring, he coughed a lot and mumbled and basically seemed like he hadn't addressed an audience in ages. Then an interesting thing happened - the presentation ended, questions began, and he perked up considerably. He turned into a real asshole. Anybody who asked him a question that didn't run along the lines of, gee, nuclear energy sounds terrific, got ridiculed. Often the question went unanswered, too, or deemed irrelevant or misguided in the first place. One teacher said that he had heard of increased rates of genetic mutation near the nuclear plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, mentioning two-headed deer calves, twelve-toed deer. The guy from Los Alamos said, "well, there's a lot of two-headed moonshiners out there too." Dig the Southern joke. The atmosphere got interestingly hostile, more conversations were breaking out amongst the various tables, and this after we had all had a yummy free lunch. After quite a few heated exchanges about the relative safety of nuclear waste ("nuclear waste management is actually an economic opportunity for poor communities") and the relative viability of alternative energies ("you can't have a reliable energy grid with solar" - great answer by the way, as if the "grid" were something we all could agree on needing), I got the gumption to raise my hand and say:

"I'm guessing the answer is no. Should we worry about events like Chernobyl?"

He said, "well, people worry about Chernobyl and Nine-Mile Island."

"Nine-Mile Island?" I said like the guy in a bad vaudeville act.

"Yeah," he said, "if you are allowed to stretch the truth, I'm allowed to stretch Three-Mile Island."

That was, by the way, his whole answer. The director of the conference re-asked my qeustion about Chernobyl since he had so blatantly not responded to it (I like too how I had "stretched the truth," simply by asking this question - clearly they keep this joke encased in lead up at the lab). Since it was the director of the conference asking, the guy answered this time. Chernobyl was no big deal. The Soviets were stupid. Only 437 people died from it.

Watching him actually made me much more suspicious of Los Alamos in particular and nuclear energy in general. What, on the rhetorical level anyway, are they thinking? Here's somebody they send out to be a face for their organization, to talk to people, to convince them that everything is fine, somebody they send out to educators to convince us to convince our students that everything is fine, and this guy can't even answer any of our "hysterical" questions with anything more than intimidation and incredibly bad jokes. It was like talking to somebody from the Bush administration.

But what really kept me thinking for the rest of the day was a woman at my table who seemed to mainly and rather humorously think he was full of shit, and yet she was more annoyed with people who asked him challenging questions than with our visitor. She in fact felt sorry for him because it was "his job" to sell nuclear energy to us while those who insisted on arguing with him were just making it more difficult for him. Discussion was impossible; argument was pointless, and she just wanted it all to be over with, for about fifteen minutes before it was over with.

I have met or known so many people like this in my life that I have come to think of it as a type: the person for whom conflict is the ultimate sin (never minding that their own position on the subject is a kind of "conflict" in itself; they are just sharing this with me and not participating in a "fight"). Given that conflict has to involve at least two people, it is noteworthy too that this person will generally express more sympathy with the one who is participating in the conflict because that is his "job" - people who "fight" on their own time are troublemakers.

I think of this attitude as very "American," but in fact I don't know.......

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