A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Addiction

Is anger significantly different from hatred? The Anchoress thinks so. I do not. As I pointed out below, drawing this particular distinction is the central explanation, for the Anchoress, of the positive spiritual results from justified and righteous anger. Perhaps those spiritual results are on display at their best in posts such as this in response to the confirmation of Samuel Alito.

I repeat: I do not think this. In this matter, I am supported by the sensible Buddhist teaching that all "conflicting emotions" are a source of immediate suffering when we experience them, and lead to actions which cause future suffering for us because of the karmic results. Insofar as my empirical experience is concerned, this is perfectly true.

Is such anger ever justified by the evil actions of others? We would like to think so. There is a perverse entertainment to be had in such justification, and this is part of the reason that anger leads so easily to our own bad actions. The longer we sustain anger with our own justifications, the more tempted we are to act unthinkingly and foolishly on it.

But before we go further, we need to ask this question: Do we need anger to discern evil? I think, self-evidently, not. If we don't need it to perceive evil, why do we need anger to act on evil? I can think of no action we might legitimately take to forestall evil, or to combat it that requires anger. Anger is merely a surplus pain, as well as a surplus pleasure, when combating evil. The pleasures of anger are, incidentally, addictive in the bargain.

So what then, is hatred? The Anchoress believes that hatred is "corrosive to the soul", which is why she differentiates from "justified anger". But when you look at hatred carefully, it is perfectly easy to see that hatred as simply anger recreated over and over when our addiction to it has taken hold. Hatred is anger as a long-term Jones. Though I am clearly politically prejudiced, some the strongest cases I have ever seen of this Jones are where the prominent targets have been successful public men of my own party: Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter.

Now all of these men did things which might have angered any of us. Ted Kennedy behaved horridly, with few serious consequences, at Chappaquidoc. Bill Clinton had a sordid extramarital affair, actually in the White House itself, and he lied about it. And Jimmy Carter made a fair number of bad decisions as President, perhaps more than most.

But it seems to me that most conservatives whom I read on blogs and elsewhere are still badly addicted to whatever anger they may have had about any or all of these things, and that this anger passed into hatred long ago.

This is particularly the case with Jimmy Carter, who by now is merely a pious Christian octogenarian whose views are not very startling even if you disagree with them. But he is still the target for regular insinuations of treason or worse from half the Conservative blogosphere! Such things are nothing but pure pointless hatred and the parties who peddle it really do need a long session of emotional detox.

Further, the Anchoress' characterization of Bill Clinton as the "head deatheater" of a culture of abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia, is a ridiculous demonization of a fairly ordinary man, with much better than average political skills, as well as ordinary, and really not very interesting, moral flaws. Down home in the hills we would call him a Chicken Chaser, and be perfectly well aware that half the middle-aged men in town are as insecurely randy, and are also too weak to keep their jalapeno in their pants when it really is a matter of simple good sense to do so, beyond any moral issue involved.

And as to Ted Kennedy, it is hardly sensible to confuse the sins of his past, however bad they may have been, with his political actions and words in the present. His sins will be a matter of his own conscience and his own future, both now and after his death. His present opinions, no matter how strongly you disagree with them or how "justified" your anger is with them, are ones that can certainly be held with a clear conscience, even if they are wrong.

Three-quarters of my permanent critique of my conservative friends is that they can't bring themselves to see that last fact. And virtually the only reason I comment on, rather than merely reading their blogs, is to remind them that it is possible to disagree with them while looking them steadily in the eye with one's feet firmly planted in moral principle.

So do I ever get angry? Of course I do. Though less in recent years as age and illness have been catching up with me, and this way of diminishing your anger is morally neutral, a mere result of past karma. But I am in no way deceived about the toxic effects of clinging to anger as "justified", because you cannot acknowledge, even to yourself, that you really find the flavor of it to your taste. And I honestly do not think that I hate anything or anyone. I am committed by religious vows not to do this and, by and large, I have kept those vows.

A Buddhist works with anger in the same way as he works with any "conflicting emotion". He looks at it squarely and with as much unwavering attention as he can muster, without morally judging himself or his immediate emotivity. This is a hard thing to do, but when you succeed in doing it, you see that anger has no substance in and of itself. It is a mere appearance, like a rainbow, and that our feeling, when caught up in it, that it is somehow as solid as a chair or a wall is our misperception of the fact that anger is a tremendous, though indefinite well of pure energy.

The source of that misperception is the chronic feeling that our anger is somehow "justified". It is actually no more "justified" than a severe thunderstorm. "Justification" is simply not a relevant concept to apply to it. The energy of anger is actually something inherent in the world, and we merely distort it to our own childish ends, misusing something we have temporary access to, but is far larger than we are.

Baroness Alexandra, whose post I have linked to above, has commented that I am the most aggressive Buddhist she has ever seen, and she has openly wondered why I seem so little influenced by the example of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has, in recent years become something like the entire world's kindly uncle.

Well, beyond the immediate observation that His Holiness is a Buddha and I am a mere Buddhist, and not a very diligent one at that, there is also the fact that the point of being a Buddhist is how you respond to the conflicting emotions that you actually have, whatever they may be. I have aggression, lots of it, so I work with aggression. The starting point for such work is not trying to convince yourself that you are better than you act, as well as not trying to pretend that you can magically transform yourself into someone you, or the world, would like better than the current package.

I can't say a great deal about many of the specific Buddhist practices that I do, but I can say that some of them involve cultivating unwavering attention to things like the fact that the energy of anger is inherent in the world. After doing this for a while, you finally have to really grow up, because the childish clinging to your temper tantrums will, quite literally, knock you flat on your arse.

One of the first of the modern Buddhist teachers to reach the United States remarked some time ago that the spiritual path is not fun, and you had really better not start on it unless you can stay on it. This is another way of saying that you finally have to grow up.

But finally growing up is a very good thing to do.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Welcome To Democracy

Hamas has won the Palestinian elections. You aren't happy? You think the Palestinians don't deserve democracy? After all, no one so stubborn as to believe that they ever had a real grievance against Israel could possibly have been ready to vote on their own, right? They are mere children, playing at being adult, right? Grievance against Israel? How could such a thing possibly be? Our best friend in the Middle East, and the showplace in the region of Western values and Western freedom--the tiny David armed with nothing more than a sling against the huge Goliath of Radical Islam? Grievance? Give me a break!

Welcome to democracy. And to reality. It's good to have you back. It's getting a little dangerous around here for anyone to be in La La Land anymore. Democracy is no cure-all for international strife, and it doesn't repeal the Law of Gravity or make a silk purse out of as sow's ear. So it is not going to "undermine Islamic terrorism", particularly. All democracy does is allow people to act on how they think. That means that you have to take what they think seriously.

The Palestinians are not thinking the right things? They're not thinking the things we tell them they ought to be thinking? Too bad. They have democracy now and they are going to act on how they think. So now we all have to begin asking ourselves what they are actually thinking.

You really don't know what they think, you say? Well, confidentially, neither do I. I wonder why that is, don't you? We have all these fine news organizations and newspeople covering the globe. We always knew what Arial Sharon thought. We always knew what Benjamin Netanyatu thought. But, somehow, it was never clear just what any Palestinian thought, in power or out of power. For all those years all we knew was that Yasser Arafat always wore a funny houndstooth burnoose.

I never really heard anything more about him for all those years than what his enemies thought of him. Did you? And did he really refuse to tell anybody?

Could it possibly be that no one in all those fine American news organizations took the trouble to ask? Or that no editor let the story off the spike if they did? Or that no publisher or media executive thought it worth the news space or the air time?

And what about ordinary Palestinians, the sort who voted for Hamas in such numbers? Have we ever heard anything in the American news media of their views, or even the fact that they exist when they are not being "suicide bombers"? I can only remember one fairly decent story on 60 Minutes, which I caught by accident and on the fly, where Palestinians of no great fame spoke at length, beyond soundbites, for themselves. Did you see any others?

I suppose it was inevitable that my good conservative friends would get a prime case of the vapors over the Hamas victory. The ones I take a look at now and again are all calling this election the equivalent of the election won by the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933. And we are being shrilly warned not to "appease" Hamas.

But it's time to calm down and note that the actual situation in Palestine has not budged an inch.

The Israeli choices are still one of two: either impose "disengagement" or ethnically cleanse all of the Palestinians from the occupied territories. Disengagement, by the way is essentially the solution that the South African apartheid government tried to impose, in the form of autonomous black "homelands", shortly before it fell.

This is what those choices always have been, though Arial Sharon was the first to realistically face this fact. Before Sharon's bold and rational steps to finally make a real choice, the Israelis were in La La Land, too. For nearly forty years they blithely told themselves that if they simply kept planting settlements on the Occupied Territories, the Palestinians would, sooner or later, somehow, go away. Any "negotiations" undertaken by Israel were mere means of convincing themselves of this patently absurd belief. Any military or covert ops action taken by them was merely a means of trying to make this absurd belief come true.

The choices of the rest of the world are still one of one: to allow Israel to do whatever it pleases in the occupied territories no matter what opinions they may hold about it, or what mere noisy nuisances they may make of themselves with those opinions.

This choice is essentially imposed on the world by the United States, and I don't see that piece of our foreign policy changing anytime soon, no matter what party is in power here, as it has not changed since 1967.

People truly interested in the health of our democracy might conceivably end up asking themselves why this is so. But they won't ask it very loudly and of too many other people. They haven't since 1967--and there are very good reasons for this--so good, in fact, that it is probably better to leave the matter there.

And the choices of the Palestinians are still none of none. They still have no capacity to make genuine war against anybody, their capacity to infiltrate Israel with suicide bombers has severely diminished by the slowly growing "wall" surrounding the West Bank, and there is no likelihood at all that any Islamic state anywhere will ever offer them any serious help.

By the by, I really don't think anyone, even if they are Palestinian, would consider an Iranian offer to nuke Israel "serious help" to fellow Islamics living nearby or downwind.

So all the Palestinians can really do is to sit and wait to see whether they will be ethnically cleansed or not, and, if not, how high and how deep the new walls which surround them will be. Electing Hamas is merely a rude gesture made by people who have never been anything but totally impotent in the face of vastly superior military force and a willingness to use it.

So terms such as "appeasement" and comparison's to Hitler's Germany are beyond being ludicrous.

Do you suppose when the new leadership takes over the Palestinian Authority that we will get a straight story on what they think?

The world is astonished by the Hamas landslide in the Palestinian elections. I'm astonished, too.

But, somehow, I'm not really astonished that we all find it so astonishing.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Preparing For The New Year

My teachers observe the Tibetan New Year ten days from today. It is a lunar calendar which is approximately congruent with Chinese New Year. This time the congruence is exact, but other years there is a month's difference. The next week will be an intensive time for my monastery, with day long practices to expel the leftovers of the old year in preparation for the coming time of Chotrul Duchen, or the first fifteen days of the new year. These are said to be extremely good times for intensive practice. In those fifteen days the effects are greatly multiplied.

I, too, will be busy during the next week, though not as busy as my teachers. So I will not be blogging until the New Year turns. Feel free to read the compendiums and down the blogroll, and I will return to you on New Year's Day, the 30th, or but a little after.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Watching The Brothers

We have just passed Martin Luther King day, this Monday, and it is a time to take stock of the things which he galvanized. MLK is one of the few persons in my lifetime that I would genuinely look to as a hero. He not only faced an actual violent death with courage and conviction, he also faced something far worse--the sheer unmitigated hatred of millions of people. Such things are a burden that goes beyond the mere abstract knowledge of what many people feel. When so many share it, hate is a palpable atmosphere, turning every hater into a member of a mob even when the crowd is not physically present. When Martin Luther King reached his apogee, the March On Washington, a significant part of the people of the United States were simply one large lynch mob.

I do not say such a thing lightly. One of the wonderful things of my lifetime has been the transformation of American race relations from its ugly state when I was a child. Whatever racism persists privately and semi-consciously among white folks [more than most will still admit], the general stamping out of overt and blatant racial prejudice has been America's greatest accomplishment of the past 50 years.

Nobody white who is more than fifteen years younger than I am can truly understand how bad it was. Most white folks older than this have simply repressed the memory of it. But you can see it still in the news photographs and news films of confrontation in the Civil Rights era. When I look at them, they still give me chills.

As a child, I heard the words and the voices of the people you see in those films, jeering at black school children or college students, their faces horribly distorted in sheer rage. I remember the casual coarseness, redolent with hatred and fear, in the voices of adults when they talked about Civil Rights and Martin Luther King. It scared me even then.

I knew that tone of voice very well. When you encountered is personally as a child, it was usually followed by having a trouser belt or a paddle applied vigorously to your bottom and then by 20 minutes crying, face down on your bed, or sniveling when you returned, with the teacher, from the elementary school hallway.

It is not possible now to even conceive what was going on in the minds of the children in the pictures on the right when the first black child was taking her first class on the first day of a newly integrated school. But I can give you some of the flavor of what it must have been like.

My parents had enough decency, good sense, and self-awareness not to be overtly racist. But they were, as everyone white was then, at least racist to the degree that segregation had kept blacks and whites in totally different worlds--and this was certainly racist beyond anything we see openly today. So at about age 5, I was curious about black folks but a little frightened of the gaps and holding back in my parent's voices when they talked about race.

Most of our neighbors, however, were quite overtly racist. The sound of the commonplace slur of "nigger" puntuated many conversatons of men and women, even when the topics talked about had little or nothing to do with race or color. I marvel yet that they could see so little of the image they presented to the world and feelings they were passing to their children.

My mother, my next door neighbors' little 5 year old girl, and I were heading downtown on the bus for one of those wonderful excursions to the biggest department store in town, which I loved for its luscious lights, stately elevators, and thrilling escalators. It was a warm day back when busses were not air-conditioned, most of the windows were open, and on the seat across the asile was a black man, perhaps in his mid-thirties, lost in his own thoughts, in short shirt sleeves and wearing a dark brown, narrow brimmed straw hat. It was the natty style of hat that often graced the head of Frank Sinatra on the LP record covers of the day. The seat next to this man, and the two seats across from him, were the only three seats left.

My neighbor's child literally begged my mother, in obvious distress, to sit by the opposite window, with my mother beside her, while she cowered from the gentleman in the seat across the way, whom I sat next to, with, I'm afraid, rather too open curiosity. I'm certain, if you were black back then, you were well used to either being stared at, or ostentatiously not stared at--a racist double bind in which all of us were locked, whether we wanted to be or not.

Just imagine being a hardened and terrified racist at the age of 5! Children like this were undoubtedly part of that schoolroom pictured above. Not all of them, but many of them and even, occasionally, a majority of them. What child could possibly be that way now?

Such levels of racism are largely gone, and we have largely come to public terms with our racial and cultural diversity--whatever strong predjudices remain privately--in a way that would have absolutely astounded anyone living in the 1950's and 1960's. But what remains, still, I think, is a cleavage of culture, from so tormented a division of American experience, between those black and those white.

The place where I currently work employs a large number of African-Americans, a sufficient number, in fact to be noticably different in cultural tone from my other jobs where this has not been the case. Most of my past jobs, though not all of them, were where African-Americans were entirely absent, or present in but twos or threes. In such jobs you only saw hints and glimpses of that so strongly alternative culture. You might see it, say, when the lady of color at the desk in front of yours was talking on the phone to her mother, her son, or her gentleman friend.

These hints largely passed all of their white co-workers by, but I have sharper senses than most, and was lucky enough to have worked for two years in Federal Civil Service in the mid-1970's, which had been desegregated more than 20 years by then. So I have been, most of my life, exposed to the subtle differences and nuances that occur when African-Americans interact among themselves, rather than with me, or with other white folks. Each of us has our own distinct Freemasonry of culture, half-conscious, instinctive, "just natural".

But at my work, and, particularly in the immediate office section where I sit, African-Americans often predominate, and their Freemasonry of culture is effortlessly and easily on display. Buddhist meditation--and the years I spent being a photographer, trying to hand hold a camera without blurring the pictures--have made me capable of sitting very, very still, and projecting virtually no subconscious social signals whatever. So, if I wish, I can almost completely disappear when my co-workers of color are conversing, and there have been many times, I think, when they have totally forgotten I was there, and so made no automatic adjustment, as we all do, of their own social signals to adapt to mine.

When they do notice me I usually take the opportunity to play a comic foil to the social and cultural differences between us. One day, two or three ladies stopped by the office cubicle where I and my boss, who is African-American, work. Everybody but me happened to be wearing open-toed shoes, and the conversation quickly turned from trading information about bargain shoe departments to admiration of each other's professional pedicures. To answer your mental question, of course they all had professional pedicures!

One of the ladies made a remark about "how good Lashonda's feet were looking." At this point Brandy looked up at me. Brandy--these are not their real names, if you haven't guessed--is a mid-level supervisor perhaps 5-7 years younger than me, who is always coming to work dressed in elegant new outfits, and is so chic that the rest of us can hardly stand it. She also has the watcher's compulsion, just like me, and her dark butterscotch eyes miss very little, just like my steel blue ones.

Brandy shrewdly pointed out to everybody that I was getting an unusually intimate glimpse of the casual lives of women of color. What I said in reply was that, generally, when my feet look good are the days when I don't have to use Desenex.

African-Americans refer to each other as "brothers" and "sisters" when speaking of people of color in the third person, as in "so-and-so is a brother". This usage seems to me to be more common among women than men, but my experience may be skewed. This is not just a verbal oddity, as are so many of the things we all say in English, that most eccentric of languages. It is truly a celebration of that Freemasonry of culture above.

A few weeks back, I was down in our basement cafeteria, on afternoon break, well after the lunch hour. I was watching, as I always watch, who was there. Four white gentlemen, including myself, were all sitting, widely separated, along the cafeteria wall.

One was a man in the middle to late twenties, casually dressed, totally absorbed in his I-Pod, and staring into space. Another was a man a little over forty, in a presentable, but not the most expensive possible, dress suit, hunched and intent over the Wall Street Journal laying flat on the square table in front of him. The third, about thirty-five, was jabbering away on his flip phone, incurious of the fact that he was talking as loudly as he would have if the party on the other end of the line were actually in front of him, clearly gesticulating to an imaginary picture of the other caller in the seat across his table, and completely oblivious to how much of his private business he was telling the entire room. And then, as I said, there was me.

In the dead center of the room were five or six African American men, between thirty and fifty, at three tables shoved together, talking with great animation about their weekend, the latest professional football game, and other matters tangential to generally relaxing and enjoying life. As I sat there watching the men of color in the center and the white fellows spread out along the walls, I was stuck very forcefully by the thought that those men gathered together really were "brothers" in a way than most of us who are white are but orphaned only children.

The men at the center table were as social and relaxed as they would be if the table was in the kitchen of one of their own homes. Clearly, nothing else in their day was more important than the socializing they were doing, right here, right now. And the four pale men were each solitary, driven by an inner hunger eating through the fundamental isolation which I and my tribe have everywhere but on our own comfy couch, in our own home-as-castle.

Though all of us were physically present, our minds were all somewhere else more important, in the Dow Jones Industrial Averages, in the head space of our favorite music, in an overheated conversation with someone miles away at the other end of the call, or, like me, in a work-break daydream of the intellect. And, in my case, imbued with the unhealthy watching, watching, watching of everyone else, as my forebears watched the storm filled horizon from the deck of a ship or the far blue mist on the heather for the approach of the English enemy.

We watchers watch for them still.

We who are pale are not brothers. We cannot relax, in the moment, with our peers. We are always doing something else, headed toward somewhere else, striving to keep our next appointment with someone else, and all of these far more important than the here-and-now can ever be. In other words we are still glamored with mere fantasies and dreams, though for five hundred years we have chased them to the ends of the earth and failed to catch them yet.

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"An Increasingly Partisan War..."

From the analysis of the latest Zogby poll:

But Zogby said the glaring split between how Republicans, Democrats and independents think the President is handling Iraq is remarkable.

“The numbers in support for the war in Iraq are extremely low among Democrats and independents,” Zogby said. “This is a partisan war.”

While 61% of Republicans said he was doing a good job managing the war (down from 70% in October), just 11% of Democrats and 28% of Independents gave him good marks in that area. Among Democrats, 71% said Bush was doing a “poor” job with the war, while 17% said he was doing only a “fair” job.

Among men, 36% said the President was handling the war well, while 31% of women agreed.

There is a word for this. It is a fine old word from the days of the founding of our country. The word is "faction". We are seeing an incredible breakdown of the capacity of the members of the party in power to look at our country and the world objectively. How a war is going is an objective matter. The appearance to a reasonable person of how the Iraq war is going is also a relatively objective matter, documented clearly here by the 28% figure among Independents polled. This is mirrored in the gender figures as well. As expected, there is some bias in the Democratic figures, but the Democratic view is clearly in the direction of the evidence, even if it interprets that evidence in a more exaggerated fashion.

By that criterion 2 in 3 of us are not happy with matters in Iraq and no amount of purple thumbs has made an impression. But among Republicans it is 3 in 2! In other words the belief among Republicans that the war is going well has little to do with evidence, and everything to do with partisan bias.

It is divorced from reality, even if the reality it is divorced from is that only negative evidence is being presented, which I don't think any objective reading of real news supports. You cannot present negative evidence that isn't there.

And it is bordering on the psychopathic. It is a clear and present danger.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Restating The Anchoress

And I can assure you that it is not like restating the obvious. When you place a comment on someone else's blog, you never know where your response will lead you. The material you are addressing is fresh, your prejudices didn't choose it, and out of your response to it come fresh thoughts, self-revelations of self-hidden agendas, and sometimes whole new issues to think about.

A few days back I proposed that the way to real dialog between the factions in this country was for each to state the other's position on America and the world in as objective manner as is possible for them, avoiding any explicit and attempting to avoid any implicit refutation of them. She, for example, could do this for me, and I could do this for her.

This did not sit well with the Anchoress and she told me shortly that she would not presume to do it. The briar patch was getting a little thorny at the time, as it does for me now and then on her comment pages, so I withdrew. She is too good a person with whom to provoke a serious quarrel.

But this casual proposal has gotten under my skin and it will not let me go. Abstractly, I think, it, or something similar, is one of the greatest things in the life of the intellect. I have thought so since my first quarter in college when I heard a graduate assistant in political science succinctly summarize a host of different views with which he personally disagreed.

He did it so well that we hadn't a clue which views he disagreed with, though he had to disagree with some of them because at one point or another they contradicted each other. In the last week of the quarter, a couple of us had him buttonholed after class and asked him outright. He told us, quietly and reluctantly, because his views were actually Marxist, and he knew that he was always a potential target of a smear campaign because of this.

The Anchoress herself writes so well and copiously that the challenge of articulating the overall views she maintains, without prejudice or any attempt to refute them with my own, is simply too good to pass up. This is so however presumptuous it may be of me to do it, and whatever failures I am responsible for in trying.

She is currently out of earshot, I suspect. So if you will keep it among ourselves, I'm going to try it.

Am I really up to the challenge of articulating the political views of my friend, with whom, on occasion, I have disagreed with so sharply? Can I actually step beyond my own strong opinions and present her views fairly. I am willing to fail, so I am willing to try. And, as long as the reader doesn't demand that I write as well as she does, I might possibly succeed.

The task is made easier by the fact that the Anchoress is a very devout Catholic, so she shares in that great theological and intellectual tradition of putting first things first. The ground of the Anchoress' views is her faith in the Incarnation, the Ressurection, the Real Presence, and the Authority of the Church. This last is particularly important because it colors all social and political relations of a believing Catholic far more directly than the preceding dogmas, and, sooner or later, presents any Catholic with dilemmas of private opinion that lead to silence about some issues.

With most deeply religious people, the core of their social and political awareness is centered in the life and death issues that are personal, rather than in outside abstract principles--matters of the soul rather than the mind. The Anchoress, I think, is no exception. So I think it can be said first that the Anchoress' political views start from her religious and her moral opposition to abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia as secular evils.

This is grounded in her faith, but goes beyond it. She believes that these evils are part of a broader general Culture Of Death, based in moral relativism, and propagated by the people she calls the "deatheaters". And she has stated quite explicitly that the most important of them is former president Bill Clinton.

This culture of death extends beyond the issues of societal killing, first in the direction of Progressive and Liberal social views, which are both enfeebling to individual moral responsibility and ineffective economically and socially. Therefore, they are dangerous both to the personal well-being of citizens and to the societal well-being as a whole. She calls this broad phenomenon Socialism Doesn't Work.

Moreover, the culture of death is also suicidal in relation to the need to make "just war" [quotation from the Catechism 2309-2317] against any true and dangerous enemy, and, particularly, in the Anchoress' view, just war against Radical Islam. This includes, but is not limited to, specific groups committed to secular terror, such as Al Queda, or its former components and future progeny.

Radical Islam also includes the fundamentalists such as the Wahabi's in Saudi, the Taliban, and the Iranian Shite theocracy.

Radical Islam further includes all Palestinians, who actually have no real grievances to speak of against Israel. This last is sufficiently broad and is uncharacteristic enough with the Anchoress' private personality as revealed on other, non-political issues, to warrant my including a little evidence. In a recent post the Anchoress quotes, with at least implicit endorsement, the following from Astute Blogger:

If Sharon passes away tonight, he can go with a satisfaction of forcing the Palestinians themselves to prove themselves unworthy of the world's concern.

I think the Anchoress would stop short of saying that Islam as a whole is inherently Radical and, therefore, a constant enemy against whom to make just war. This is the view, I believe, of our mutual friend Alexandra, of All Things Beautiful. But I think the Anchoress has at least considered the possibility of it and is, for now, suspending judgment, awaiting things such as the ultimate success of democracy in Iraq to self-evidently prove this view to be wrong.

The suicidal aspect of the Leftist Culture Of Death, which is directly traceable to its vision of universal social welfare, consists of three parts:

First, there is the selfishness and self-centeredness which drives the demand of a "right to choose" to procreate or not while still sustaining a sexual life. This is leading Radical Islam to outbreed the rest of us.

Second, is the demand to stop any and all military action, covert operations, and suspension of civil liberties implicitly necessary for the war against Radical Islam, and to let Radical Islam conquer us.

Third, and deepest of all, a strain of moral weakness known as "multiculturalism", consisting of a refusal by Leftists to assert the cultural primacy of Europe and the European Diaspora, at least in those parts of the world whose populations embody a European majority, perhaps even worldwide, though this is only implicit in the Anchoress' views.

Finally, the institutions which are the prime centers of the culture of death are most universities, as well as those major newspapers and media outlets which are not clearly conservative in political tone or political thought. This includes both the explicitly Liberal publications, such as The Nation or The American Prospect, and the major market networks, broadcast and cable, as well as most of the major market newspapers, newspaper syndicates, and virtually all wire services.

There is relatively little historical sense in the Anchoress' writings about how and why such a total takeover of all of these by this one point of view occurred, but the takeover itself is a self-evident fact, and it has led the worst of them, The New York Times, to the edge of unpatriotic and anti-American lawbreaking, and perhaps beyond it.

The Anchoress is a tremendously important blogger. In the recent Weblog Awards she was voted the second best Conservative blog. I think, unquestionably, she should have been voted first. But she is important not just because she is so good a writer and so articulate a spokesperson for a coherent Catholic Conservative view of life.

She is also part of a broader cultural phenomenon: those conservatives, especially women, who self-identify as disaffected Democrats, or disaffected Liberals. There is an important and universal "conversion experience" that extends to most of them. For many of them this change of heart dates from the shock of 9/11, though the Anchoress dates her own, I believe, to far back in the Reagan Administration. I think it is by far the most important political phenomenon of the past twenty-five years. But this is not about what I think. It is about what I think the Anchoress thinks, so I'll requote the pithy saying which she quotes that embodies it all, "A Conservative is a Liberal who has been mugged."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in a religious sense, the Anchoress draws a clear distinction between hatred and anger, particularly justified and justifiable anger, and is quite explicit about the religious meaning of both:

The judge is quite wrong. HATE corrodes the soul. Anger, when it is righteous anger, is a force for justice and reform and even redemption.

This is the spirit, I think, in which she undertakes all her political blogging.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Persistence Of Vision

I have long sight, particularly out of my right eye. Since late in the 1960's opthomologists have been able to correct the distance vision of my right eye to 20/15 and my left eye to 20/20. They stood exactly there at my last eye examination.

I also have slow reflexes and poor balance, stemming I suspect, from being dragged head first with a forceps out of my mother's birth canal while she was too doped up with ether to contract. Ether was a tremendously nasty anesthetic. Modern alternatives like Darvon are a great leap forward.

So I learned, after an avoidable [at least for someone with normal reflexes] rear end collision at 25 mph in my youth, to allow extra stopping distance, and to take advantage of my exceptional eyes to regularly track traffic behavior to the far distance of my clear vision. This is about 5 short city blocks. Most people I know can see with this clarity only for about 3.

When I wait for my bus in the morning darkness, I get an oblect lesson in the mechanism of perception. Five blocks from me is the right turn that the bus makes onto the street of my stop. I can only see the bus lights as it turns. If the transluminated sign with the route name and number is clear and bright, it is easy for me to tell it is my bus. If not, then not.

COTA has several different ages of coaches, some brighter, some dimmer, so I often can see only the headlights and the yellow lights that decorate the top, the sides, and the front of the coach facade. School busses, and many medium size trucks have a similar yellow light pattern to my bus: three lights bunched together top center, and two lights each spaced down the sides.

Perception is a sorting mechanism that operates by discarding alternatives. When the large vehicle, with the typical light pattern, turns the corner, my perception immediately discards all possibilities [motorcycle, car, SUV, minivan, step van, pickup truck] except for transit bus, school bus, and truck.

The next level of differentiation is about four blocks away. At this point, driving behavior comes into play. A turn or a lane change to the left center lane eliminates a transit bus, leaving school bus or truck. And a fast, leadfooted, barreling down the street is immediately distinguishable from the stately progress of a transit bus scanning the curb for customers at the stops.

But sometimes such distinctions are not there, and two blocks remain before new evidence emerges. At this point engine sounds become distincter, beyond just "diesel", which I can hear a little further away. The Blue Bird school bus typically revs far higher and sounds more treble than the deep base of a truck, whose powerful lower gears are there to manage downshifting to slow while completely loaded. The transit bus has its engine under the driver rather than in front of him, and has a gravelly baritone from being muffled by more surrounding mass.

In addition, at two blocks, the angle that the vehicle presents to you finally becomes obtuse enough to see the outline of the vehicle's mass. So, at this point, a school bus finally distinguishes itself from a truck as well as from a transit bus, and I start searching for my bus pass--if it is my bus which is coming.

Thus perception. Knowing when and how to discard alternatives is the key to its accuracy. This is the case with the perception of people as well as things. Perhaps some of the more fantastic narratives I read on blogs about Muslims, about Liberals, and about the attitude of the secular world toward Evangelical Christianity come from simply wishing to hold too many cards.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Professional Patient Speaks

Mrs. Claus and I know a lot of doctors. We like to refer to ourselves as "professional patients". Mrs. Claus is so almost to the point of obsession, down to always obtaining copies of her x-rays and MRI's, as well as keeping informal journals of our blood pressure, my blood sugar, and our weight, on her appointment book.

This is largely in self-defense. With multiple medical specialists and lots of clinic visits, not to mention about 18 separate medications, it is foolish to rely on everybody involved to send on new data in a timely manner to everybody else. So we have to be prepared to do about 3/4 of the schlepping of things around to the various medical offices.

We are in the middle of the Medicare Part D mess, by the way, with our pharmacist just tearing her hair out because she can't find out whether anybody is covered or not, and by what plan! So the company is having to distribute critical drugs, in weekly amounts, without charging for them. I say "our pharmacist", advisedly because we have had to shop around for one that will give Mrs. Claus' problems the time and attention we need, as well as a company with humane policies toward emergencies. We chose her as carefully as we choose our doctors.

Professionals, as I said before.

One of the problems we have is that no one doctor is overseeing the scripts for all her medications. This can be highly dangerous with as many medications as Mrs. Claus deals with. We have more than once had to visit the Emergency Room with bad new drug interactions. Between us, we visit two general practicioners--one for osteopathic manipulation--two counselors, two psychiatrists, a gasto-enterologist, a rheumatologist, a gynecologist, a cardiologist, an ear/nose/throat specialist, a podiatrist, and, soon, we will also have a pulmonary specialist.

I, of course, am largely "just visiting". I only have three regulars for my care--a counselor, a psychiatrist, largely for bipolar medication management, and a g.p. I picked up a fourth to have a laproscopic peek at my colon every five years or so, and a fifth to intermittently look at all the various goobers and grody spots that my outer layer now grows: skin tags in the sweat zones, seborretic caritoses on my over UV exposed arms, and other peculiar market vegetables everywhere else.

But I must help Mrs. Claus with her rolling walker, her electrical lineman's bag, and, now, her portable O2 tank and tube in her backpack. She is also insistent that we join each other in the consulting rooms. I don't have much to do in there, and I am observant by temperament and from long habit. So I have become a connoisseur of American medical care.

We have adequate medical science in America, but we are sorely lacking in the Art of Medicine, particularly among the M.D.'s. Our g.p.'s are both osteopaths, and they preserve far more of this Art. So we try to obtain D.O.'s among our specialists whenever possible, because they are far more down-to-earth and much less likely to be self-important prigs. These qualities we prefer in our doctors are part of the Art: a sense that Medicine is more important than the medicator, a willingness to treat the person rather than the pathology, and a further willingness to consider the medical conditions in which they do not specialize and how these interact with the pathology of the moment.

Over-specialization has contributed to the decline of the Art. Mrs. Claus has had to dump a rheumatologist and obtain another. The first was a coarse and unfeeling man, with all the personality of a UPS truck, who insisted on wearing horse blinders to anything but the arthritis and refused to view the person on the examination table as anything but a biological specimen. This may seem a novel concept--firing your doctor--but, for the reasons above, it is, as I have said, a matter of self-defense.

Mrs. Claus has also walked out of doctor's offices when dealing with specialists--mostly part of the toplofty University Hospital and so, also, professors--who are chronically over an hour late to almost all of their appointments. Our time is just as valuable as their time. Period.

Because we are so familiar with medical offices, and are not intimidated by either doctors or nurses as authority figures, sometimes new medical offices just don't know what to make of us.

If a nurse seems overly stressed or distant, I'm inclined to put on my best George Burns face and say something like, "Have you heard that they just repealed the law saying only landscape paintings can decorate waiting rooms?" or "Don't look now, but we're actually in a sitcom." or "The good news is, I've just saved a bundle on my car insurance."

And Mrs. Claus presents a very striking figure as well, with her walker, her lineman's bag, her tattoos and her many liberal political badges [the ones about the size of file cards that we create and have made up at Kinko's] , such as America Has The Best Health Care Nobody Can Afford, attached to the strap of her clutch bag.

Because of the timidity of almost all the other patients, nurses talk more freely among themselves than is common in other offices with such large contact with the public, as if the patients weren't really there. So we already know that more and more doctors are now refusing to take on new Medicare and Medicaid patients, such as Mrs. Claus. She is terrified that, within the next decade, no new doctor will see her, except for Emergency care. This is a quite realistic possibility.

There are possibilities even more chilling. We were at the office of the surgeon who did Mrs. Claus' recent emergency gallbladder removal. The follow-up visit was uneventful. But we overheard the following one-half of a nurse's phone dialog: "I'm afraid we no longer take Aetna insurance.....Well, they simply don't pay our claims.....I'm sorry, but most of the surgeons in town no longer take Aetna.....The only place I know that you can go is the University Hospital, I think a few surgeons there still take it....I'm very, very sorry, goodbye."

Think about it.

It's not just indigent and marginal folks like me and Mrs. Claus that are at risk. After all, folks like us are the ones who "go to the Emergency Room for every little ache, pain, or cold", and need to be stopped from doing that, right? It's anybody. America's health care cost and insurance crisis is far worse now than it was ten years ago, after the Clinton Administration attempt to fix it was stopped cold by thousands of dollars of scare ads on television.

Fixing it just simply interferes with too many corporations making easy money from pharmaceuticals and insurance.

Too many corporations making easy money...

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Particularly Ugly Time

The time is now. The place is here. The USA. The result is discouraging.

I go through bouts of disgust with the impasse we have in our politics. Right now I no longer think that there is anyone of goodwill and good sense out there. The nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court concentrates all of the bad will, and bad faith, that our country's politics have to offer. I'm not going to go into the pros and cons of this nomination. Probably Judge Alito has a view of the law that I disagree with. Probably I will not feel comfortable with him on the Court. But how can anyone tell in an atmosphere so poisoned by our culture war?

I think personally that many of my good conservative friends are willing to sacrifice what has made this country worthwhile, and turn it into a paranoid garrison state, with steadily diminishing prospects for anyone with an income below $50,000, and a mechanism [stock speculation] which, over time pushes more and more people below that line, particularly in their old age.

I have done my best, in this blog, to present compelling evidence of it. But, at least on the comment pages of other blogs, I have been met with the attitude of "Who needs evidence?" and on the comment pages of my own blog, my few readers are largely silent. Perhaps they are not interested in disagreeing with me. Perhaps what I write needs no comment, is complete on its own terms whether it is correct or not.

I would not bring the issue up at all but for the puzzling fact that I do seem to have some readers, a steady 30-35 hits a day. If I had no readers, if all the traffic that happened to appear was those who work their way randomly through Blogger, I would be less puzzled. But, be that as it may, I do not have the time to write many bridge pieces at the moment. Merely writing about some tangental topic to politics which interests me takes more time and thought than merely responding to a salvo in the war where I am thinking constantly.

And I have not had the time to give to the writing or the thought. Mrs. Claus is very ill. On oxygen and short of breath for reasons we don't quite know. Are they heart related? She has a discouraging family history. So far, she has gotten almost 20 years further down the road than the previous generation before her first unequivocal signs of heart trouble. Is it a matter of pulmonary weakness? Has her chronic asthma turned into Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease? We don't know and it will take weeks of horsing around with medical specialists to even come close to finding out.

And all of this demand on my time and attention doesn't even include side issues such as the blow-up with our home health care aide over her time shaving, or the time which it is necessary for me to give to Buddhism.

That time, by the way, is not just a matter of my personal conviction and commitment. I have suggested several times below, most directly in the post immediately below, that certain commitments are permanent, and you can have a real problem if you get lax with them. I will not say more. Anyone who is interested can find out why on the Net, with a little persistence.

In any event, both time constraints and motivation have been running against my writing, so my posting has been light this week. I apologise to the readers, whoever you are, and thank you for your presence on my blog, and your patience. I hope we all get through the particularly ugly manifestation of who and what we are that we are trapped in at the moment. I think we will and, maybe, dialog will be possible once again. Though I don't suppose my old fuddy-duddy demand for evidence to support argument will be any better received in the future as it has been in the past.

It comforts me, at any rate, to cling to it. And maybe, dear readers, it comforts you too.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Let The Chips Fall Where They May

The Buddhist paintings the Tibetans make are called thankas. They are done in an opaque tempera, with mineral pigments, on canvas. They are not stretched over wood bars and then framed, like our canvases, but are sewn to a set of several surrounding pieces of silk brocade in various colors. The outer layer of brocade is sewn back over itself, top and bottom, so round wood dowels, sometimes capped with fine silver fittings, can keep the canvas lightly stretched by gravity as it hangs.

They are the art of a nomadic culture. For travel, they can be rolled up into very small bulk and tied with the two long ties that are usually attached to the brocade. Rolling them wears the painted surface, so many such paintings have only a limited functional life. In addition, the traditional offering lamps burned in front of the shrine which the paintings overlook are fueled with butter. A butter lamp flame is quite bright and steady, but still releases considerable soot. Also, Tibetan incense makes a thick smoke which is heavy, clinging, and resinous. So thankas accumulate a dark patina with signs of wear relatively quickly.

There is a constant demand for new work, both from private collectors, and new dharma students, so there are specialist craftspeople who devote their lives to making these paintings. As with any artform, styles change with time, though, as in all religious art where the iconography is traditional, well known, and fixed, the style change is slow. So paintings such as the above can often be dated only by century on style alone.

Some of the artists are better than others, even under such traditional constraints, and some of the finest have been tulkus, or reborn high lamas, like the Dalai Lama. This may seem odd if you are familiar with Christian liturgical painting. It would be like Raphael or Michelangelo being members of the College of Cardinals. But, despite similar administrative and religious duties, a tulku can manifest his contributions to the welfare of all in the form of literary or artistic endeavor. In such a case, this activity would not be viewed as "less important" than his other religious activity either by the tulku himself, or by his peers.

The painting dates from the 1700's and the figure is Dorje Bernagchen, the Dharma Protector known as Black Cloak. The artist is unknown, but a true master. What I have shown is a detail of the central figure alone. In the actual thanka it is surrounded by other subsidiary figures related to the specific practices associated with Black Cloak and the most famous historical high lamas associated with those practices.

The Tibetans, like many religious artists throughout history, observe the convention of "hierarchical proportions" where the central figure of the painting is far larger than either the landscape background or the subordinate figures. This is congruent with the function of such paintings as the "support" for certain types of Buddhist meditation where the iconographic details of the figure have many complex meanings. A figure such as Dorje Bernagchen appears quite frequently as a subordinate figure, usually lower center, in the paintings associated with the particular lineage to which I belong, the Karma Kagyudpa.

But there are special practices devoted to Dorje Bernagchen, as well. And a painting where he is the central figure is the support for them. Black Cloak is what is known as an "enlightened" Dharma Protector, meaning that he is an enlightened being who assumes a terrifying form to subdue, for their own good, beings who are doing evil--particularly if they are threatening Buddhists or Buddhist teachings. If you are a Christian, Archangel Michael would be a rough equivalent as an artistic subject.

For an artist, Dorje Bernagchen is a particularly rich subject because of the specific visual details of his iconography, particularly his dwarvish proportions. His head is represented as one third of his total body and his gaping mouth as one-third of his head. The painters work from proportional pattern books and a page for Bernagchen is pictured at the left. In addition, his large black cloak blowing in the draft of the fires of wisdom which surround him, and which set his hair standing on end is an ideal detail for the display of a painters skill and mastery. As are Black Cloak's garlands of various snakes.

The anonymous artist's rendering of Bernagchen in the thanka above is one of the best and most compelling that I have ever seen. It captures superbly the terrifying wrath and electric energy of the enlightened dharma protectors. Much of this has to do with the relatively linear and contour delineated style of thankas in the 1700's. The artist's line is subtle and supple and perfectly under control. The quality and mastery of it can easily be seen when it is compared to the coarse and pedestrian lines of the pattern book page. The result is an incredibly fluid treatment of the figure, its character, and its accessories.

Beyond the enlightened Dharma Protectors, there are the Worldly or Oath-Bound Protectors. They are generally local, regional, or national spirits who are subdued by famous and realized high lamas, often through the meditations of the enlightened Dharma Protectors. These spirits are then bound by oaths to these lamas that they will protect Buddhism and Buddhists. This is not a one-way exchange--the oath and the protective actions benefit the spirits in their future lives as a seed for their own ultimate enlightenment. The first renowned teacher of Buddhism in Tibet, the great yogi and magician Padmasambavha, made a specialty of subduing such spirits. And the wild land of Tibet gave him plenty of work.

To the right is one of the most famous of these worldly protectors: Garwai Nagpo, the Oath-Bound Blacksmith, who carries a tiger-skin bellows and a smith's hammer, and rides a goat with corkscrewed horns. This is a much later thanka than the Black Cloak one above, and you can see how the stylistic emphasis has moved away from the linear contour to feature the interaction of fully shadowed and rounded color masses in the figure itself.

The Worldly Protectors have much greater variations in treatment and iconography. This same blacksmith figure, but dark red in color instead of blue-black, is depicted on the left. In some of the practices of my teachers, he is known in the red form as Dorje Legpa, or Thunderbolt Sadhu. Often these less formally defined figures give an artist a little more ground for individual expression than the more important Dharma Protectors. One of the attributes of this blacksmith figure is that he protects by riding around in all directions chasing malign influences from every quarter away as he does so.

The particular thanka of Dorje Legpa here seems to me to express this more completely than most by taking some liberties with the traditional treatment, that we see in Garwai Nagpo above, and letting the figure develop in space in such a way that it almost looks as if it were galloping down on you.

Both the enlightened and the worldly protectors are the focus of specific meditations whose purpose is explicitly expulsive of bad influences. Traditionally all the monks of a monastery would do such a practice daily, usually at sunset. This is done even yet up at my monastery. If an establishment was large enough, a separate shrine room especially for the protectors would be maintained and one lama in particular would take on the job of doing protector meditations all day. This is less common now both in the Tibetan diaspora or in those few monasteries which the Chinese have finally allowed a half-hearted existence [to benefit the tourist trade] because there are so few monks that such a specialist is an unsupportable luxury.

At the end of the Tibetan lunar new year, there are usually several days of protector practices in a row up to the day of the first crescent of the new moon, in order to expel the lingering dregs and lees of the old year. In my tradition, this has been developed into a form of masked dancing by the lamas and monks.

Practices such as these have been openly known since about the early 600's c.e. Buddhism then had a far greater presence in India and the Near East. A major center for it was where the Himalayas meet the Hindu Kush, an area which now overlaps the northernmost Pakistan, Kashmir, northeast Afghanistan, far west China, and Tajikistan. Tibet's national guru, Padmasambhava, who spent so much time subduing Tibetan worldly protectors and binding them by oath, came from the place called Uddyana or Orgyen in this region. Orgyen was likely near the ancient city of Gilgit in northern Pakistan, the stories of many other great Buddhist practitioners from this region are preserved in the Tibetan historical annals, and there were likely hundreds more who have been lost to any record, all of whom were skilled in the practices of the Dharma Protectors.

The effects of such things are subtle, but durable. Buddhist practice is totally gone from Afghanistan. However, it is very curious that one of the final acts of the Taliban government was the deliberate destruction of the huge, stone carved, Buddhist statues of Bamyan in the same geographic region. When I first heard of the destruction, I felt an involuntary cold chill pass through me. Such things are not to be undertaken lightly in places where Buddhism has left its traces, and I, at least, have learned just a very little about why.

The Taliban government is no more. Perhaps this is a coincidence. Perhaps, too, the fact that the near total destruction of Buddhist Tibet, starting in 1959, was followed by the Great Cultural Revolution in all of China 7 years later, bringing death or heartbreaking hardship to so many, is a relation of pure coincidence as well. Who can say?

The dangers of our time are many and some are as close as our own backs. There is a great deal of freedom here in America, most preciously religious freedom, since religion is the foundation of all that we know as culture. Differences of conscience and worship are not merely tolerated here, they are explicitly given the protection of the law. But laws are man-made things and they only function properly when no one and nothing is above the law, and all people, including those in power, either obey it or have it enforced upon them.

For some years now, the rule of law, as it applies to the President, has been a matter of dispute in this country. And a few weeks ago that dispute has broken into the open. Under those conditions nobody can be truly sure just what will be behind their backs, sooner or later. But if I, as a Buddhist, had my choice of someone to watch my back, Dorje Bernagchen wouldn't be a bad choice, as I think our wonderful painting makes clear.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Person Is Not The Same As The Character

While I was putting together the compendium of posts entitled The Thrilling Adventures of Joe Claus, I returned in my mind to some prior private reflections upon personal, as contrasted with political, blog posting. I do both here and the line between them can become an ethical issue because of the general misunderstanding of my literary form.

Now it may still be a piece of cant in the academic circles I used to frequent 15 years ago that “the personal is political”, or it may be that academics have found some newer, more fashionable, cant to wave at one another, but I have never been in doubt that the personal and the political are two distinct things, though I was too polite to respond to the cant in those days with anything but a sage nod. I needed to be, if I wanted to keep my cohones intact.

These last two paragraphs are exemplary of the literary interweaving of my personal life and my political views. In the first paragraph I describe something that happened to me personally in a way that implies that the events were far more structured and coherent (“I returned in my mind”) than they actually were. What it was really like is captured in James Joyce’s Ulysses in the interior monolog of Leopold Bloom—much more fragmented and scattered than my description of it implies. Joyce is a permanent master of English for the ages so I will not try to imitate him, for the Bloom monolog requires nothing less.

In the second paragraph, my political view of academic cant is punctuated with a Full Stop formed from a literary exaggeration of my actual academic experience (“keep my cohones intact”) which, even metaphorically, was not exactly the case. I was actually far more aggressive in the academic world towards such cant, and my regular readers probably have guessed this. I’ll also leave my readers to guess exactly what academic “movement” the cant sustained. The readers, after all, ought to do as much work as I do.

So are either of these paragraphs “true” about Joseph Marshall?

To ask this question is to misunderstand my literary form. The concept of “truth” is beside the point, nearly as much beside the point as if you asked it about Leopold Bloom. Nearly, but not quite. And that ambiguity is the real literary pleasure involved. I write in the tradition of the twentieth century familiar essay, particularly in that of such masters of the form as G.K. Chesterton and E.B. White, for whom personal narrative was a foil for abstract political, cultural, or social views.

As a literary device, the personal narrative is actually about a literary character, about G.K. or E.B. and not about Gilbert Chesterton or Ted White. It is not about “the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast”. The phrase, by the way, is from Yeats, W. B. Yeats, I would point out. The features of the character are made up more vividly than the actual man, the incidents detailed are rearranged in a more dramatic form than is usual in life, and the line between fact and fiction is constantly blurred.

I occasionally have dopey confrontations, or field hostile questions almost as dopey, usually on the comment pages of other blogs, about whether what I write here is “true” or not.

Our literary taste in America has coarsened and, in some cases evaporated. The antonym of fiction is fact. The antonym of truth is lies. These pairs of antonyms are not intersynonymous and a developed literary taste is perfectly aware of this. I write with fact that is lightly fictionalized, to make a political or cultural point.

Since this literary form is not common in blogging circles, I have named the personal character doing the narrating here Joe Claus. Some folks can’t understand the literary distinction even then, so I have attached a broadly comic autobiography for Joe Claus at the head of my blog. Some of the things in that autobiography are true about Joseph Marshall. All of the things in it are “facts” about Joe Claus. And the narrative is so obviously fictionalized that all but the dullest should get the point.

Even then, some people escape this fine-meshed a net and get all frazzled about my so-called lies here. Such things come with the territory, I suppose.

I write familiar essays because I loved to read them, want to read some more, and can hardly ever find good new ones these days. Google and Blogger allow me to indulge this taste for free, and without literary scutwork, for which I don’t have time.

I write about politics because I care about politics. And that, at least, is “true”.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

What Do They Really Want?

For your consideration I have a little gem of a quotation showing the attitude of prominent Republicans toward the art of government:

"I will do everything in my power to stop anything beneficial to New Jersey, period. I will use everything I have until New Jersey lives up to their commitments," said U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican and third-ranking official in the Senate chamber. "Every single thing that benefits New Jersey in particular I will do everything I can to make sure that it gets slowed down or stopped."

This is about an interstate dispute with Pennsylvania over draining a river!!! The sheer malignity of it is incredible. This sort of thing among lawmakers started with Newt Gingrich in 1994. It continues to this day in punditry such as Ann Coulter's and Conservative blogs all over the net. But if there is one place it shouldn't be, it is in the public statements of government leaders. The point of civility in politics at the working level is to be able to come to compromise when necessary.

There is nothing more telling about the current Republican government as its willingness to burn its bridges to compromise. It is arrogant beyond belief. They are arrogant beyond belief. And they are futile, even with hefty Congressional majorities and a Republican in the White House.

Most of even their own agenda has stalled. Think about it. Stalled.

Why? They have no moral, intellectual, or emotional capacity to compromise. What do they think they have? The power of life and death over those who disagree with them?

Is is it possible that they want that? Is it possible that they want a government of one party rule just like the old Soviet Union?

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Everybody's Got A Hungry Heart

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack.
I went out for a ride and I never went back.
Like a river that don't know where it's flowing,
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going.

Jack Abramoff fall down go boom to the tune of eleven years in Club Fed.

He is likely to take a fair number of Republican office holders with him, maybe a few members of the Executive Branch, maybe two or three news reporters, and, perhaps, a stray Democrat here and there. It is being touted in the media as the biggest corruption scandal in 50 years. We'll see.

We're all adults here. We know that corruption and influence peddling knows no partisanship. But it is still the case that, for the past ten years, the Republican Party has done everything it could, quite successfully, to corral every last quid pro quo from the K Street lobbyists like Abramoff. This started under Newt Gingrich and has continued under Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert, Bill Frist, and Tom DeLay. So when any or all of them fall into corruption, then the Party as a whole has sown the wind, and, if they reap the whirlwind, I'll be cheering on the sidelines.

I'll be cheering for more than Republican downfall. No one can end corruption permanently, but an explosion of this magnitude will result in cleaner government for some little time after. This definitely beats a blank.

More importantly, Howard Dean has done record setting off-year fundraising for the DNC. And this with virtually no K Street involvement at all. This is a refreshing change from the smarmy days of Terry McAuliffe. Nothing would please me more than a Congressional class of 2006--with lots of new Democratic faces--having no indebtedness whatsoever to Washington lobbyists. No guarantees, but it looks like we might get this. If anyone holding office wishes to stay clean, that is the place to start.

Further, McAuliffe had the nasty habit of appropriating for the national committee all the money that got raised on fundraising trips outside of Washington. Dean has stopped this and made his tireless fundraising tours a showpiece for local party organization building. Because of Dean, out here in places like Ohio we will finally be able to mount state and local campaigns without fighting a playing field with a 30 degree slope.

Even with this, Dean's national fundraising has set an off-year record.

My good friend the Anchoress made the following prediction for New Year's Eve:

Howard Dean will not be DNC chair by the end of the year. He will be replaced by affable eye candy of some sort, capable of bumper-sticker-speak.

When I read this, I managed to keep a straight face and, since I had less evidence than I like to support my inner mirth, I didn't contest it. As my Conservative blogging friends know well, I'm a big fan of using evidence to support an opinion, a bigger fan, I think, than most of them are.

I now have the evidence. Dean delivers. He not only delivers nationally, he delivers locally. It was us folks in the local parties that put him in the DNC chairmanship in the first place, and I don't think we'll abandon him any time soon--a few blunt and thorny remarks notwithstanding.

A while back, I gave the Anchoress a piece of advice. I'll reiterate it. Don't bother watching what Harry Reid does. Under current conditions as Senate Majority Leader, he can't do that much. But listen carefully to what he says. What Reid says is where the Democratic Party as a whole is likely to gravitate at the end of the day.

Conversely, don't pay that much attention to what Howard Dean says. Part of his job is to play the role of "Howard Dean, Loose Cannon"--the media narrative that was forced on him in 2004. This allows him to articulate strong opinions from the Democratic base satisfyingly, and with a minimum of fuss, because, of course, he's just being Howard Dean.

But pay very close attention to what Dean does. As I said before, Dean delivers.

Incidentally, one of the most impressive things about Dean personally is that he figured out how to use the narrative the media attached to him rather than to fight it. It took a lot of intelligence and a rock solid, psychologically healthy, self-esteem to pull that off.

The self-aggrandisement of Abramoff, DeLay ["I am the Federal Government."] , and everybody else falling down and going boom is anything but psychologically healthy. It is the mark of the touchy, the thin-skinned, and the insecure.

Whether your thin skin tempts you to corruption, or your corruption thins your skin, comes down to the same thing in the end:

Everybody's got a hungry heart.
Everybody's got a hungry heart.
Lay down your money and you play your part...

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Welcome To Joe Claus' Workshop

I have been noticing an increase in my traffic recently. Thanks to all for stopping by. I am a little under the gun this week, taking on a lot of vacation replacement time at my job, so my one post a day average may suffer a little. Please bear with me. As you can see immediately below, I've served up plenty of meat and potatoes for you. And I should have a little dessert ready by this evening. Enjoy.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

The Thrilling Adventures of Joe Claus

The political posts I do here are occasional and, largely, are of no real interest for any longer than two weeks after the original posting. But I have other writing in me, familiar essays of the major and minor journeys of my life, which are somewhat more durable. Now that I have made over 300 posts, they are worth collecting together for both you and I to get a rounder and more comprehensive picture of the man making the political judgements. So here they are:

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Who Put The Bong In The Bong, Shabong, Shabong?

A Confrontation With Consciousness

If Joe Claus Were Not Joe Claus He Would Be Claude Rains

For November Eleventh

The Vision of Simplicity

The Perils Of Being Invisible

A Generation of Workaholics With Dreams of Adequacy

"Well, There Ain't No Use In Turnin' On Your Light Babe, I'm On The Dark Side Of The Road."

Bamboo Redux

The Joys of Spring in Columbus

Joe Claus' Reading List

Methuselah's Daughter Is Curious

On The Day One Was Born

Pen & Prose

A Good Round Hand

Cooking In Self-Defense

The Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation

A Post For Buster: Learning How To Learn

The Red-Leaved Bamboo

The Genuine American Epidemic

The People of The Garden of Eden

A Meditation on Disgust and Despair

The Laborer is Worthy of His Hire


Capturing The Flag

Adieu And Not Au Revoir

The Bright, White Wall of 2007

Of Time Past and Tennessee Ernie Ford

The Ghosts of the City

The Face You Deserve

The Vividness of the Ache of Youth

The Contents of Joe Claus’ Pockets

Of Red America, Wal-Mart, and Starbuck's

October! ....and the Unplumbable Depth of Grief

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The American Decline Revisited

In keeping with my segregation of prior posts and placement of links on my blogroll, I will now list what I think are my significant economic posts.

[Full list of posts below the fold]

The Ill Wind Blows Nobody Good

The Real Problem of Poverty

Meanwhile Back In The Materialist Conception of History

Messages From The Conservative Garden of Eden

The American Decline I: The Richest Rich People Money Can Buy

The American Decline II: Oiling the Cogs of the Stock Market

The American Decline III: The Middle-Class Con Game

The American Decline IV: Where We Stand and What We Can Do

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Fine Madness--the Mental Illness Posts

Over my 300+ posts, I have often written of my own mental illness. It is now called a Bi-polar Condition. It used to be called Manic Depression. I just think of it as a fire in the brain. What is it like? When you are unmedicated, it is like trying to sail a boat in a gale. On medication it is like driving a different company car every day, with slightly different locations for the controls and the dials everytime you step behind the wheel, and with a subtly different pattern of responsiveness on the road.

[Full list of posts below the fold]

I write about my mental illness to combat what we mental health clients call "the stigma", the nameless fear and horror projected on us by the outside world. We are not moral lepers. We are not lazy loafers. We are not, by and large, dangerous to the ordinary people around us.

We are simply mentally ill, usually under incredibly strong psychotropic medication, and struggling for what is known as Recovery. This is the capacity to play a functional role in ordinary society. Recovery is never a given. It must be worked for, and your strength must be husbanded to sustain it. Recovery is also not a "cure" and relapse into non-functionality is an ever present possibility. Relapses have triggers, which you must learn to avoid.

Below are the links, updated periodically, to my mental illness posts. They are a testimony to the fact that you don't come out of mental illness by the same door you went in. When you encounter us, please try to remember this about us, if nothing else.

The Whispering Of The Darkness Gets Louder.

A Whisper Of The Darkness

So Why Did Downtown Columbus Smell Like A Box Of Fresh Doughnuts?

My Enemy, The Stigma

Under The Gun Of The Mind

This July Was A Very Long Time Ago

And Now For Something Completely Different

Everything Ordinary in the World Began to Strike Me as Screamingly Funny

The Encounter with True Silence

The Characters In My Travels
The Reality of Mental Illness And The War Against The Poor

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A Really Nice Graphic To Start Off The New Year

This is just the thing I needed to clear my bout of the blues. H.T. = Bob Geiger.

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