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.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Seeking The Death Practice

Sometime back I wrote that the state of our country and the world so discouraged me that, when and if it ever was offered, I would seek to learn the Buddhist practice of learning how to die carefully, deliberately, and consciously.

The opportunity has arisen and I am preparing to go when June commences. I am over 50 and I have never cared much for material goods beyond immediate need or temporary amusement. I have always been, in fact, like some ronin, or masterless Samauri, wandering aimlessly, living sparely, for temporary hire, and only occupied with keeping a couple of swords clean and sharp.

In addition, the three or four genuine ambitions of my youth and maturity, have either been fulfilled, or proved fruitless, and were, in any case, no more permanent or important than material goods to me. I can legitimately write three letters after my name, if I so choose, and could parade around like "Doctor Phil" on Oprah Winfrey. But I was educated in a field where modesty about scholarly accomplishment is highly prized, and the greatest and most famous of us relished the plain title of "student" more than any other. Besides, what would be the point?

Finally, all of my near blood kin are dead. I keep a picture or two, for remembrance sake, as well as the flag the Government provided for my father's coffin, but little else is left. Only Mrs. Claus, really. She is far sicker than I am and thus likely to leave sooner.

So why should I not seek the death practice? What gift is greater than being able to say, "Let death come when and where it will. I now know how to do it properly."?

Of course, once you are taught the death practice, you need to actually practice it regularly to do it properly, rehearsing the inner steps over and over every day. And, at the end of every rehersal, as with all Buddhist practice, you should dedicate the merit accumulated for the final enlightenment of all. It is these things which create the conditions where you actually will be able to use it when the time comes.

As anyone who has been reading regularly will know, I have been slowly becoming more and more convinced that the political character of this blog is futile. Few, if any, minds will be changed; the bad things happening already have enough momentum to continue unless stopped very soon; and the good things that could happen will be readily blocked by my adversaries, since there are enough of them to do at least this no matter what else happens.

My intuition, my Buddhist study, and my plain common sense tells me that most of the men and women I encounter, in either the virtual or the literal world, are headed toward a very bad place in the short term. For they are squandering the immense accumulation of karmic merit that is required for a human birth. They are leading a life largely indifferent to fundamental things, moral merely from habit and not conscious choice when moral at all, and evading always the reality of the approach of their own death. Moreover, the rich and the powerful among us not only largely squander even more meritorious accumulation--the cause of the riches and the power--from past lives of conscious and moral living. They fairly frequently commit great immoral actions and crimes that will mature into unendurable suffering in a large number of their future lives.

They need all the merit dedicated to their ulitmate enlightenment that they can get.

So, at least for me, doing the death practice will be the best of both worlds. I will no longer have to delay my death in a world gone intransigent and insane, and I will, as well, be doing just about the only real good I can do for it, under the circumstances.

When I come back in mid-June I will sincerely wish and hope to live long and practice what I have been taught until it becomes second nature. Then it will largely happen automatically at death, if I can die with full consciousness.

That will be a death worth having, leading to a future that is simply beyond words.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Politics That Cut One's Heart Out

I'm quite peacefully partisan. This does not mean that I am not partisanly pugnatious. I am. But I am at peace with myself about my partisanship. If I were not, I could not be so forthright here and elsewhere.

Besides my particular political goals and beliefs, I have the overarching viewpoint that the point of politics is policy--the things that can be done by government. In general, a partisan is someone who wants things done. Calls for "centrism" or "non-partisan" government are ultimately futile. The hallmark of a "moderate" political viewpoint is a vision of endless political possibilities with no intellectual principle, other than "being moderate", which can be used to choose between them. This simply paralyses action, and, ultimately, results in a politics for sale to the highest bidder.

When examining politics, it is such principles that are the true touchstones of most partisan views. Issues come and issues go, events make each week a new policy week, but principles endure. As a liberal, I draw my principles directly from the most marvelous government document ever written, the United States Constitution. Our Constitution is one of the clearest and most concise statements of the philosophy of government ever made. Is is also one of the world's most durable pieces of practical governance. As such, it is little short of a miracle.

If there are committee meetings in heaven [I sincerely hope there are not.] the one that forged our Constitution is probably the closest mere mortals will ever emulate them.

"To promote the general welfare." These words tell us that the reason for government intervention by law into private affairs is to promote "the public interest". I sometimes think my adversaries recognize no such principle as the public interest which we all hold in common. When they think about it at all, they take the stance that the private welfare of all individuals is completely identical to the general welfare.

This seems to me to be obviously incorrect on the face of it when any adequate evidence is examined. The interests of the stockholder, say, are not identical to the interests of the corportate employee, though both overlap. The interests of the CEO [particularly the acquiring of the Golden Parachute] are certainly not identical to either the stockholder or the employee, and, in fact, are likely to be detrimental to both.

My adversaries simply cannot face such commonplace evidence which props up the vast bulk of governmental action to establish the "commonwealth"--which is but the public interest under another name. In fact, one of the key emotional components of their worldview is the very selective examination of common facts, to the point of abandoning common sense. This is a capacity they have developed in all areas to the edge of dangerous lunacy.

Securing "the equal protection of the law". This is the most important principle to actively promoting the general welfare because it is the only assurance that we have a level public playing field, where the differentials of money and power do not override opportunity for all. My adversaries seem to think that a level playing field occurs, magically, on its own. Any fair examination of the actual evidence contradicts this. Moreover, the moneyed and empowered interests which stand behind my adversaries, squeezing their adrenal glands on command with smooth and well-financed propaganda to use them "like straw dogs" [the phrase is Lao Tse's] before tossing them aside, have systematicly, deliberately, and quite consciously suborned the principle of equal protection of the law since they began to dominate our politics twenty-five years ago.

If they finally succeed, they will simply burn out the opportunity for a better life, or even to sustain the quality of our current life, for the vast majority of ordinary Americans. You can see the process transpiring right now at your local gas station, and I have written about it in detail here.

Preventing the "establishment of religion". My adversaries generally take the position that any attempt whatever to assert or enforce the "anti-establishment" clause of the first amendment, is a deliberate attempt, from hostile anti-religious motives, to restrict the "free exercise" of Christianity which is also guaranteed by that amendment. Their own genuine religious freedom has warped what very little sense of Christian history they may have ever had.

My Christian Conservative adversaries, in fact, have little or no clue what the word "establishment" actually means. In every country with an "official" Church all of that country's clergy are quasi-civil servants and the Church itself is an arm of government policy. There can be no "free exercise" of religion under such conditions, there can only be mere tolerance of "heterodoxy" and "dissent". Under such conditions, all people who are not members of the "established" church are, inherently, second class citizens, and, throughout much of Christian history, the "heterodox" have not been citizens at all and their religious opinions constituted disloyalty to the Monarch or the State.

Religious tolerance is legally revocable without notice and for any reason. Religious freedom is the legal and permanent commitment by the Commonwealth to step beyond mere tolerance. Moreover, under "establishment" even the clergy of the official religion are not truly free to speak their political minds, any more than secular civil servants are truly free to speak their political minds. In both cases their livelihoods largely depend upon keeping silent. And in the case of "established" clergy, it requires keeping silent even about religious matters if the breach of such silence would offend the current goverment in power.

In short, it is the anti-establishment clause which makes the free exercise clause possible. My adversaries are like those who think water has no taste because they were born with it in their mouths and it has been there ever since. They do not understand how free they truly are nor do they understand that it is the rule of law, both enforced and respected by proactive Government, that keeps them free.

The statements my adversaries make in the political arena simply cut my heart out, because, however honest and good a people they may be, they are offering arsenic to all in the mistaken belief that it is cane sugar. And all this from the lack of fundamental contact with principles that prohibit the selective mental editing of plain fact.

They are largely honest and good. This is why they are even willing to spread the arsenic on their own strawberries in matters such as our prison camp in Cuba and the domestic spying by agencies of our government. They are honest and good even though they are inching ever closer, with the inexorability of fundamentally bad premises, to advocating suspension of the "free exercise" clause for the Muslims within our country in the name of preventing their "inherently treasonous" beliefs.

But all their honesty and goodness will be of no avail after we all eat the strawberries.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Wilderness Of Mirrors

I started this as another late night post from a brain too wound up to sleep. And a brain prone to lucid despair. The weight of writing it was too much for me then. But I am finishing it rested, albeit with a caffine starvation headache. No, I'm not doing anything so silly as "cutting back on my coffee", I simply got too involved with another project today to notice that I hadn't had any coffee until the pounding headache began to grip. Three Excedrin and one strong cup later, I am starting to chip at the wall of pain. But here is the start of my original draft:

My political adversaries comprise two groups, one of which I am in partial agreement with. The first group consists largely of the morally corrupt who recognize nothing except money, power, and contempt for others. They are boring beyond words and largely beyond help in this life. All one can do as a Buddhist is dedicate the good results of sincere practice to their eventual enlightenment in some future life. I do this every time I practice.

The second group consists of honest and sincere people whom the morally corrupt exploit for political advantage. These are the people with whom I often agree and among whom I have sustained [up to now] a real, if strained, dialog.

The honest and sincere people who are my adversaries, and who are largely Christian, agree with me on one important point. The United States is in the midst of a moral struggle and not a political one.

But my view of the moral struggle is not the same as theirs. Theirs, essentially, is that of a struggle against a nebulous consortium of evil demons: Muslims, illegal immigrants, gays, news organizations, liberals, and, and, and, and....Even the ones whom I like the most show lapses in viewing mere strong political disagreement as a struggle with irredeemable moral evil. In other words, lapses of plain common sense.

In my view, the real moral struggle is a struggle to continue to sustain plain common sense.

We can take any issue you please. We can take global warming, for example. There are certain objective things we can ask and answer about the issue. We can ask whether Greenland's ice cap is melting or not. We can ask how fast is it melting. We can ask what it will do to the oceans if most of it melts. We can ask what we can and should do about all of these things.

My adversaries simply refuse to ask these questions seriously. They act as if the answers to such questions are mere matters of opinion. And that is the abandonment of common sense.

They live in a wilderness of mirrors and the demons they see are the reflections of their own terrified faces. One of the useful things about this blog [besides the fact that the owner of it has a darn good left hook, which I know empirically because I have put my head in the way of it] is that it puts the reflections of self-loathing and self-horror at the head of every post.

Struggling against these adversaries is, as I said, a moral struggle. It is as much a struggle for their future--or, as they would say, their immortal soul--as it is a struggle for the public future of this country. The greatest flaw of most of them, even the one in the highest office of the land, is that they believe themselves to have moral principles without first establishing mental principles.

This is a subtle matter and one which is not wholly measurable with literal description. You can best point at it by reflecting that religious doubt is just as religious as religious faith. For many of my Christian adversaries, their political and social opinions are primarily a means of evading the problem of religious doubt.

You may wonder that I include the President among my Christian adversaries rather than among my amoral ones. Unlike many of my party, I take his Methodist Christianity seriously. He is no longer a drunken, drugged sot, as he once was, because of it, and that is an objective moral result. You do not get such things without some modicum of faith.

But the point of taking religious doubt seriously is the fact that merely accepting religious faith does nothing to address the underlying qualities of personality which make you a drunken, drugged sot. If you wish it translated into Christian terms, it does nothing to foster a sense of personal sin, and the humility which accompanies a sense of personal sin.

Why? Because merely having faith in God, in Christ, in Allah, in something or someone else bigger, better, and more powerful than you are does nothing to address who and what you really are. And you wear who or what you really are for all to see. If you can't or won't look at it, it will rule your actions for good or evil no matter how strongly you believe in what "higher power". And the good or evil you do will follow you inexorably like the Eye of God followed Cain in the desert. So will your defiance of plain common sense.

Indeed, such religious faith without address of your real and personal qualities as a human being is the source of the blackest spiritual pride.

It is also the absence of the firm mental principles that need to ground the assertion of moral principles by anyone. For religious doubt is not doubt of a Diety. The Diety is not self-evident in our common world. This is why Christianity, say, must be held to with "faith". If God were interviewed on Larry King tonight and was taking questions from around the country, there would be no need for "faith" whatever. And disbelief in God is as much a matter of "faith" as belief in Him. His non-existence is no more self-evident than His existence. Real religious doubt is doubt by you about you.

The firm mental principle which must ground your assertion of any moral principle is the fact that you are limited. You are not omnicient. You are not automatically right or good or even sane in whatever you think and whatever you do. In fact, a good percentage of the time you are wrong, bad, and nuts. Keeping from being wrong, bad, and nuts is a constant mental struggle which the wrong sort of "faith" projects on the actions of others in the blithe assertion of personal omnicience, rightness, goodness, and sanity.

When you do this, you are really wrong, bad, and nuts.

I find that my adversaries do this quite frequently and I strongly suspect it pervades the public policy of our most Christian President. But there is always room for doubt whether, in believing this, I, myself, am not being wrong, bad, and nuts.

As a Buddhist, I not only cleave to and practice Buddhism as a religion, I also sustain an abstract intellectual interest in my own struggles to be a Buddhist. I have an equally abstract intellectual interest in anyone else's struggles to be a Christian or a Muslim or whatever. When I have written about Buddhism here it has been in that spirit, under the assumption that the readers find spiritual struggles interesting, too.

Why I find Buddhism, and, particularly, the Tibetan tradition of it which I practice, intellectually riveting is that virtually everything you do in it is a confrontation with who and what you really are. And it is undertaken, in part, with the goal of achieving "enlightenment" which is simply the total accomplishment of sanity and common sense, a state where mental principles and moral principles are finally unified and need no "faith" to sustain them.

The way I have been taught to practice Buddhism is like riding a burning razor in the middle of a windstorm. That is why it is interesting. And also why it is painful. Inordinately painful, because it is real; because, as we Buddhists say, "life is suffering", and no mere "faith" in someone or something else is going to make it any better.

What is the point of faith without such pain? None that I can see. The moral struggle to sustain common sense is the use of that pain as the starting point for all judgments. And when I, or anyone else, abandons this, we are condemmed quite literally to the Wilderness of Mirrors.

In this life the Wilderness of Mirrors is bad enough, but it is not absolute. The mere fact that totally abandoning common sense causes you to frequently stub your toes [if no worse] keeps you sane to the degree that you cannot ignore everything in life which contradicts your opinions.

But after death the Wilderness of Mirrors can turn into an endless chamber of horrors where any form of objective common sense is no longer possible. And this is the danger that I strongly believe most of my Christian adversaries face without realising it. Not because they are Christian, but because, essentially, they are not Christian enough. Because they have religious faith without religious doubt.

It is not fashionable to say such blunt things about the followers of other beliefs. But I care little for fashion and I care a lot for the future of my Christian adversaries as well as that of all beings. And the reactions my adversaries have to me when I do say such things can be quite personally painful. But I will ride that burning razor into the very wall of the storm, if need be, if doing so alerts anyone to the horrid danger of the Wilderness of Mirrors. The need to do this, and for this very reason, is the bedrock of my own "faith".

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Thanking The Readers

You deserve it. I have watched my counter numbers still rise without my having given any reason for you to look in here for far too long. Writing was simply impossible. I had taken on a job which demanded eight solid hours of constant intellectual work on a computer and allowed me to do absolutely nothing else. I don't know if you have ever done such a thing. I never did by choice, even when writing a doctoral dissertation. At my age and health it has pushed me absolutely to my mental limit. I did it well, but it hurt like a bastard, and it made writing here impossible.

I am still not fully recovered. It will probably take another week before I can get back up to my usual rate of one long post every two or three days. But I have not forgotten you, and, since I am at least convalescent after ending this horrible mental strain, I will at least be putting some more prose in here on a regular basis.

The disgust and despair of watching the creeping fascism of the Bush Administration and the Nazi saluting of its apologists still remains. My rhetoric to castigate both of them is simply exhausted. I am sustaining the political tone of this blog solely in hope that we can save this country in November of 2006, despite the probability that the clowns will start yet another war before then to try to cow us all into accepting the wholesale destruction of our privacy and the rule of law.

As I have intimated below, it is hope only. I personally think that one of the most devastating things about recent Democratic Congressional defeats is that it has left only the safest Democratic seats occupied. Over these last four years I have come to believe that many, if not most, of these seats have been occupied by Democrats who have risen to their level of incompetence.

What will it take to overcome their spinelessness? Guantanamos for American dissenters as well as foreign Muslims? Or not even this?

I had some hopes from Russ Feingold and Jack Murtha. But all the rest have slipped back into the oblivion of Beltway manuvering and spin. The true voices of courage--Al Gore, Howard Dean, and thousands of smaller Democrats in the base--have simply been marginalized by those Washington Democrats who fiddle while Rome burns.

But there is hope, even if it is hope of a rather offensively tasteless sort. The blatant "we can do business with her" courting of Hillary Clinton by Rupert Murdoch indicates that the saner elements of the money behind the Republican Party are beginning to want to hedge their bets. Do they know something we don't? Nah. With Presidential approval starting to crack the floor of 30%, the people who think the country is "headed in the wrong direction" flirting with 70%, and a growing number of sitting Republican officeholders and back door fixers being investigated or indicted, nobody in their right senses would discount the possibility of a Democratic landslide in November.

But the fact that it still remains a possibility only, rather than a goal relentlessly pursued by Hillary Clinton and their ilk, taking courageous advantage of the growing Republican political weakness, is a tribute to the impotent flaccidness of the Democratic Party brought about by Bill Clinton's Presidency and its neglect of the party base.

Here's hoping that a stunning defeat of Joe Lieberman by Ned Lamont in the Connecticut primary will be a wake-up call for Hillary and the Boys in Washington to stop "triangulating" and start fighting.

Here's hoping.

It's good to want to write again. And thanks for being patient with my exhaustion.

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