Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Be Prepared...To Change

I read the story of the former Boy Scouts of America (BSA) official and his arrest for child pornography with great interest. Read the story as reported by the Associated Press.

I have always had big problems with the BSA, their structure and philosophy. I was a member of the Cub Scouts when I was in grade school. The Cub Scouts were great fun, my parents got involved and those were some great times. When I looked into the BSA, however, things seemed different. There seemed to be an agenda at work, even though I didn't know quite what it was at the time.

I think that the BSA is an antiquated, out-moded, nearly paramilitary group that inculcates boys with some valuable lessons but overall leaves them indoctrinated with values that I wouldn't want the youth of America to have.

First off, there is no role for women in the BSA. It is all guys. I have always disagreed with separation of the sexes in education or anything else involving youth and development. We live in a world where men and women live, work, recreate and everything else together. Women are over half of the population, but this organization can not seem to see that there could be a positive effect of exposing children to a strong, female role model. I guess that single mothers, tragically, have provided this for society. Any organization that feels the need to separate the sexes for anything apart from personal privacy (bathroom breaks, for example) needs to change. Let's get both boys and girls involved.

(They are also stridently anti-homosexual, but that is for another day and time).

Second, the overall philosophy of the BSA runs somewhere between a patriot militia and a jingoistic sect of an imagined frontier lifestyle that no longer exists. They seem to believe that spending a lot of time in forests, mountains, lakes and the like is properly viewed as an expression of patriotism and the rugged life that all people should lead. Are they serious? I have nothing wrong with getting out there from time to time and enjoying the sights. But putting on little uniforms, making our own shelter and pretending we are frontiersmen harkens back to Frederick Jackson Turner and the idea that the frontier is the ultimate expression of the American character. This idea, along with the BSA's ideas, are questionable at best.

Third, the moral and religious overtones. Shouldn't this be the concern of the parents and not some other wierdos from the community who have to pass no screening or present credentials to be around children. I guess that the least they could get away with is some wrong ideas to deal with. Well, the teen rebellion SHOULD take care of any of that.

Ultimately, can the BSA be saved? No, I believe that it cannot. It should wither and pass away like other facets of the "imagined community" of our past. It expresses a vision of America that is false and misleading. Taking the young and impressionable and exposing them to frontier/military/patriot/religious shock treatment is the surest way to make them hate everything you stand for. Children must be guided, but will ultimately choose their own path.

And Jeff or Dan, if you read this, this does not reflect on what I think of either of you. Just what I believe.

Insight and Invective

The weekly culling of political opinion offers these two instances, one of genuine insight, one of brainless ranting.
  1. Anna Quindlen in Newsweek - This is probably the most compassionate, even-handed assessment of not only the Terri Schiavo case but of the subject of life support and ethics that has come from the popular press in the last weeks. I really cannot agree more with her assessment that it should be the responsibility of every family to reduce the suffering of its own. If that is through death, then that is what there must be. Can we ever tell if someone in a coma feels/understands the experience of suffering? Not really; we must trust families to make the best decisions for their own and not allow such an issue to become a political/moral football.
  2. Anne Coulter's appearance at Kansas University - The shocker to me is that there should be divided opinion on Ms. Coulter and her stances on the issues of the day. College students should know better than to cheer or jeer. Be quiet, ask intellegent questions and engage this latter-day Limbaugh. If you do this, it will frustrate her. Just give her enough rhetorical rope to hang herself.

Supplemental Reading

In reference to the below entry pertaining to megachurches and their place in the spread of the suburbs, there is a book that all (especially those who live/have lived in the suburbs) should read.

It is Kenneth T. Jackson's 1984 Bancroft Prize winning Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States.

Purchase, drink deep and learn from a great historian and a great writer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Welcome to the Jungle (of Piquant Argument and Pithy Retort!)

Thanks for the comments and would like to welcome the newest readers to this small but angry part of the blogging universe.

Check out their sites:

Aaron Cynic
Kate Sandler

Keep on readin' (unless I start to suck).

Thank you. Aloha.

Christianity: Latest Victim of "Mallification?"

I have noticed these places, although I don't know who is going there. I don't see these people; I guess we just don't travel in the same circles.

These places should be studied and understood by us outsiders because they seem important and potentially hazardous.

Read the article on "megachurches" in the March/April issue of Mother Jones.

The article seems not to deride these people or call them zealots or religious nutbags. It seems to point out, and correctly so, that these places of great flash and concentrated services, mixing heavenly and consumer bliss are filling a niche in the market for consumer services, community togetherness and religious fulfillment.

These sorts of places are not a distinctly urban or rural phenomenon. These are born directly of the suburbs, with the decentralized population, lack of community, breakdown of traditional small town/urban neighborhood faith/community networks. They are very aply compared to the Wal-Mart of religion. A no thinking needed, casual, easy, friendly, pre-packaged spiritual experience that fulfills a need with none of the old ceremony, foreign languages or shades of the old world.

Are these people stupid? No, but they are mentally lazy just like a lot of people these days. Religion, however you choose to define it, should involve a complex inner life coupled with outer acts. It should be an intimate part of who you are, not some base cheap commodity to be gawked at and consumed. And, no, I am not an unfailing apologist for the Catholics. What do you think all of the catherdals of Europe and pilgrimage sites were for? What FINALLY tipped off the Reformation (yes, I know that is a gross simplification...back off Ma'am; I'm a historian)?

Contemplate. Think. Argue. Engage others. If you want "religion," it must be a personal decision. Religion cannot be done unto you. If it is, that is evil and wrong.

Get off your ass and think about something for a change! Don't let the Wal-Mart mentality rob you of your spiritual life. It is one of the few things that is yours and yours alone.

"Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world."

Celebrity Justice (Not That Court-TV Show)

Apparently, according to his family, law firm and the AP, Johnnie Cochran has died at the age of 67.

Read the story from A.P.

Mr. Cochran represents a great American archetype, the lawyer as celebrity. From Clarence Darrow to Daniel Webster, from Perry Mason to Matlock, from Abraham Lincoln to the O.J. legal team, lawyers and the law have long been stars in the American sociopolitical imagination. Americans love the crusading lawyer who fights for the little guy or the lost cause. They recoil at the hubris of "big swinging dicks" who defend people who are most certainly guilty. They themselves become stars because of the cases/causes they have been involved in. It seems like Cochran had a little bit of this all in him (or at least in his public image; who knows what he is like in person).

What is it in this model that is so attractive to the collective mind of the American people? I would venture to say that it has something to do with the hated "cult of celebrity" and what we think of lawyers. I think in a certain sense, the legal profession as a whole could be a stand-in for the best and worst things about Americans and our country. In the same sort of person, we admire and rally to the crusader for truth and justice and then we scold them for pursuing their own selfish aims. We laud their pro bono work and their concern with the laws, but we deride them as dishonest shysters who want to steal and take advantage. We have seen the enemy, and he looks more like us than a shark in a necktie.

Perhaps we all should go back to the wonderful 1979 film starring a young Al Pacino, And Justice For All. This film, written by Barry Levenson, really strikes at the heart of many of the issues that I raised above. Excellent performances by Pacino, Jack Warden and Jeffrey Tambor (in his first film appearance). Makes you think and there is a great "Big Al" freak out at the end.

Watch and learn. These things DO concern us all someday.

A is A

You owe it to yourself to read the front page article in this month's issue of Reason magazine. It discusses the interesting life and troublesome ideas of "libertarian" thinker/author/novelist Ayn Rand on the event of the 100th anniversary of her birth.

I said "libertarian" because Rand is often connected with the libertarian way of thought and argument. I imagine this is because of her unabashed support for free markets, open trade and individualism. Rand, however, rejected the entire libertarian movement because it relied on many causes and arguments for liberty instead of Rand's sole reliance on reason.

Ever since I encountered the ideas of Ayn Rand they have interested me and troubled me at the same time. I have always been an advocate of a society of individuals free to pursue their destinies provided they do not damage the life or property of others. Unencumbered by weighty government regulation and needless laws, I envision a society of minimal government and high personal responsibility, where people are free to live their lives.

On this, I agree with Rand. Her ideas that I find puzzling are her stances on religion, philosophy and reason. First, religion. I am not a particularly religious person (at least in any formal sense) and Rand herself was a life-long atheist. She saw no value in religion, even to the point of a Marxian "opiate of the people" stance, calling religion the path to servitude and weakness. While not religious myself, I recognize that religion helps people in their lives and can even give it meaning. I have known several "true believers" in my day and they are well-adjusted, successful people. Religion seems unreasonable, so Rand rejected it. Simple as that? It shouldn't be.

Second, philosophy and reason. The center of Rand's philosophy is reason. What irked me the most about her beating the reader over the head with reason as if she had invented it. Reason has been a central idea in Western philosophy for thousands of years. Plato, Aristotle, the Pre-Socratics, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, Bishop Berkeley, Spinoza, Descartes (I could go on, but you get the point). Reason is a central notion in exploring human thought. I cannot believe, however, that all behaviors, all humans in all they think, do and say could ever act completely as reasonable. Some of the greatest things about BEING HUMAN are those things that seem to never make sense/are unreasonable. It is what maintains the spice and grit of real life on earth, not some fantasy world of heroic architects, evil compassionate villains with feelings and uncompromising reason.

I don't think anyone could honestly live like that. It would suck the very joy and wonderment out of life, leaving it cold bland and mathematical. If that is how it is to be, then I want no part of it.

So, where does that leave us vis-a-vis the erstwhile Ms. Rand? Like anything, she must be considered for what she is/is not, dealt with mentally and learned from in whatever way possible. Read a few of her books and see what you think, but beware! Maintain critical focus and see her not for what her supporters (who are organized and somewhat scary) or detractors. If you are really interested, read the books by Mimi Gladstein and Chris Schiabarra mentioned in the Reason article.

Make up your own mind for a change. Maybe not reasonable, but it will be yours.

Isn't that what we do as flawed creatures trying to make sense of it all?

Fat People of the World, Arise and Shine!

...and this is what we will be eating!

Burger King teased us with the Double Crossanwich...this thing pimp slaps that and sends it home to mother.

Check it out at the BK website.

For once, someone is speaking to my needs in ready-made breakfast foods.

Now, do 'em one better McD! Fight for my love and my $3.79.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Check Your Briefs!

Just some short observations/musings and other interesting flotsam on the sea of information:

Now get to it. There will be a test. Bring a towel (especially if Pat O'Brien plans to be there.)

Past Due for the Pastime

Baseball's house is in disarray. Many thought that MLB hit it's nadir in the years following the 1994 strike that shook fan confidence (and, in my humble opinion, cost the Chicago White Sox their best shot at a pennant in years). Then came 1998, that wonderful year when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire made us love the game again.

Well, I should have not let my boyish optimism overtake my adultish cynicism. It was all a veil of lies, steroids and egos run amok.

Jose Canseco is a dirtbag: always was and always will be. Mark McGuire is a liar and any legacy that he might have had is fading fast. Barry Bonds will convict himself by his silence. If dodging the rules, lying to each other and cheating are the national pastimes, then baseball fits right in.

Yes, I am one of those fans who "went on strike" against baseball after the 1994 strike, but over time I came to forgive them. Last season, with the Red Sox, was quite exciting. I am, however, having increasing trouble keeping interest in sports. They are showing all of the worst signs of the American cult of celebrity that seems to have become our sole civil religion.

Perhaps it was the lack of a lot of these stardom issues that made the 2004 Boston Red Sox so nationally popular. There were no real "stars" on the team. Just a group of talented athletes playing the game they love and, in the end, giving all praise and thanks to the fans. That is what it should be about. Professional basketball is in even worse shape.

What to do? Here is my radical plan for baseball. Have two leagues: one where steroids and performance enhancing substances are illegal and there is a "zero-tolerance" policy. Use steriods or anything like them once and you are gone. The second league will be an all-drugs allowed league. Let these guys take whatever they want and turn them loose on each other. Sure, there may be fights and other problems, but at least it will be out in the open. This is what they wished the XFL would have been for football.

Let's take it all the way. If not, I may not be able to justify being disappointed in the White Sox for another year.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Pundits A'Poppin!

Dredging the muddy delta of American political writing:
  • Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal - Noonan writes that the Republicans will take a political hit if Terry Schiavo is allowed to die. I agree that they deserve a political hit, but for a completely different reason. They should be utterly ashamed of themselves for the grandstanding and hitching up the bandwagon. Their talk about working together and consensus building can be safely put by the wayside. We know (and always kinda did) where they stand. This gross misuse of the powers of the Congress just shows that the Republican lip service paid to less intrusive government is quite a quaint notion.
  • John Podhoretz in the New York Post - An interesting take on Hillary Clinton and her assumed run for the Presidency in 2008. Podhoretz sees Clinton as doing great harm to the party if she were to run, and the Republicans are not going to make it easy for her, peppering the calendar with difficult votes. Hillary is doubltess a force to be reckoned with, but they are playing with fire with the Republican leadership in the Senate. Also, he interestingly suggests a Pataki run for Senate against Clinton and a gubernatorial run for Rudy Guiliani (with a nod for vice president in 2008). I like his thinking on that score.
  • Thomas Sowell at - In an earlier post, I wondered what the basis of our culture is if it is at all. Sowell has a possible suggestion, at least for our political culture. We live in a culture of cynicism that is built on a veil of lies and exaggeration for political gain. Maybe so...
  • Mort Zuckerman in U.S. News and World Report - Zuckerman really points out the actual issue in play with the Harvard/Larry Summers controversy. He suggests that Harvard needs to get its house in order before crucifying Summers. Summers points out a serious issue (in a very clumsy and off-putting way). Harvard has other problems and these need to be fixed. The academy is a world unto itself that hates change while promoting it and guards its position of privilege from the outside. From inflated grades to preferential admissions, Harvard has it all. Read Zuckerman's article; it really cuts to the core.

Rise Up and Kill the Popular Kids!

We all knew it. We all understood that it would only be a matter of time before another kid took a weapon and killed classmates, teachers and school personnel. The deaths of these people at the hands of Jeff Weise in Red Lake, Minnesota is horrible with out a doubt.

We must look deeper into this issue. Michael Moore would have you believe, in his 2002 movie Bowling for Columbine that the issue at hand is our prevailing "gun culture" and the inherent violence in the American psyche. It is too bad that Mr. Moore forgot what he said in his 2001 book Stupid White Men.

In that book, Moore spoke briefly about the terrible ordeal that high school has become for children in America. His analysis was right on the money. High school is not an institution for learning and helping the individual grow. High schools today have more in common with a prison or work camp than with the Academy of Athens. The emphasis is on discipline and punishment (Michel Foucault reference certainly intended) not on academics, activities or anything else. The first responsibility of all students is to follow a list of restrictive rules and also some unwritten rules. Wether you do well in school is your own problem; follow the rules or else.

I am sure that there are some good high schools with good teachers and administrators out there. It is just that I have never seen one. Having gone to high school, student taught in a high school and coming from a friend/family group that includes a lot of teachers, I think I can say that high school sucks for almost everyone.

Think about it. Jam a bunch of people going through weird hormonal things in a small building, force them to compete with each other, expect them to form into rival social groups and hope all goes well...

In the Columbine case and now in the case of Jeff Weise, I cannot condone the actions but I do understand part of the motive. I was somewhat of one of the "outsiders" in school. I was a smart, socially awkward kid who felt better alone or among my own kind. I had a small group of similar people, clinging together for mental survival. It is always the smart, weird kids who are marginalized and shut off from the dyslexic vision of high school that is the "party line" of faculty, administration and the "average" kid.

What can be done about these kids and their issues? They need to be treated like human beings and not be afraid to express their opinions, no matter how unpopular (this is why hate speech rules are rather misguided). In high school, kids make decisions and try to figure out who they will be as adults. We need to support this.

That would truly define "no child left behind."

Culture: Not Life or Death

With the issues surrounding the Terry Schiavo case (and the unnecessary intrusion of the Congress therein-more on that later), there has been talk that we live in a "culture of death." This culture is supposedly composed of violent television and crimes, abortion, right-to-die, assisted suicide and a general disrespect for life. We, according to these people, need to embrace a "culture of life" where life is held sacred and dear to all (except for the death penalty; those people are evil and deserve to die, right?)

This sort of polarization makes me ill at almost a cellular level.

We cannot live in a culture of life or death. Both are inevidable conditions: we do not ask to be born and we are all destined to die. If we really lived in a culture who's focus lie on death, we wouldn't have a culture for very long. If, on the other hand, we lived in a culture of life, we would be engaging in dangerous self-delusion over the inevidability of death.

Where does that leave our culture? It cannot be said for sure and that is the whole point. It would be difficult to come up with a single guiding principle that can describe the whole of American culture at the start of the twentieth century. As a historian, this is a difficulty that plagues all who study the past. How can you generalize? Well, through research and careful observation. We do not have the benefit of the historian's distance with regards to our culture today, nor will "we" ever really have it. That will be for future generations to decide.

Where does that leave us? We would be well to avoid blanket generalizations about the direction of American culture. As the famous historian of 19th century Britain E.P. Thompson said "people are present at the creation of culture." Culture is what we make it; it dosen't need to be about life OR death. We should live and die and follow our own paths and not worry about the judgement of history. No one really takes us academic historians seriously anyway.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tiocfaidh ar La? Can It Ever Be?

While all of us Irish Americans were pleasantly self-absorbed with our own St. Patrick's Day plans, hard life and tough reality continued to build again "back at home."

Rather than many links to the stories surrounding Gerry Adams and his visit, the McCartney murder and the continued emperiling of the peace process, read the "Northern Ireland" pages at the BBC. For a more republican perspective, check either Sinn Fein's website or the Irish republican weekly An Phoblacht.

Ever since the December bank heist that was blamed on the IRA by the PSNI and the British authorities, the withdrawl of the IRA's offer of decommissioned weapons in February and now the murder of a man in Belfast that the IRA offered to avenge (leading to the dismissal of several Sinn Fein members), the situation in the North of Ireland has been getting progressively worse.

Questions that were seemingly solved are now being called into peril once again. What is the division between Sinn Fein and the IRA? Why do the British elements in the North insist on blaming the IRA for everything as they did in the 1970's and 1980's? Can Gerry Adams (or Martin McGuinness or the party as a whole) be a part of a legitimate political process?

Can there be any negotiating with stonewalling British officials or militant Protestants like Ian Paisley and the DUP? Was the IRA responsible for the bank robbery and are there elements in the Republic of Ireland that were involved in laundering the money? Who killed Robert McCartney and why did the IRA offer to avenge him while Sinn Fein released several members at the 2005 Ard Fheis?

All began to look better when Gerry Adams met with then President Bill Clinton in 1994. The Good Friday Accords were signed in 1998. In 2000, the IRA agreed to have the U.N. oversee the process of decommissioning weapons forever, ending the IRA as a force in the political process. Sinn Fein had been starting to reframe itself as a legitimate political force in the North and in the Republic. It has been within the last few months, however, that the situation has deteriorated and the chances of real change or devolved government for the North again seem a distant hope for the people of the North.

What can be done? Hard to encapsulate in simple suggestions, but the political process must be central to any discussions. The IRA has clearly outlived its original purpose. The same goes for the Protestant militias like the UVF or UDA. The people want peace, not your selfish motives and internal politics and continued violence. If violence happens for its own sake, it is utterly indefensible. You have devolved into near-criminal organizations with no ideological cache left. Lay down the arms and become part of the process.

A big issue was made by the BBC and the American press that Ted Kennedy refused to meet with Gerry Adams, calling into question the suppport of Irish American for the republican movement (refer to the above web pages for the particular stories). The Irish Americans who even care (the "non-secular" Irish in America) I imagine still buy into the image of the IRA as freedom fighters (with our history, can you blame us?), battling for their lives and the glory of Ireland. This is simply not the case and the events of the last decades bear this out.

The only answer is the political one. Is it frustrating? You bet. Might it fail before it succeeds? I think that we are going through this right now. Is it better than robbing and killing? It has to be or then the whole idea of politics and diplomacy can be called into questions. All must be involved, and Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein must distance itself from the IRA. Don't make it seem as if you are so chummy; you are politicians despite what the loony Unionists want to show. All must come to the table and think of what is best for the people, not some percieved history of injustice, terrorism, nationalist violence and bloodshed.

"Tiocfaidh ar La" literally means "our day will come." I believe that it will but it will be a hard and telling road. I close by remembering the immortal words of Robert Hunter:

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone.

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

South Side Nocturne

As per my post of last Friday, I did attend the South Side Irish Parade on Sunday. I fully expected the day to go how it often does: begin drinking early in the morning and do not stop until blacked-out or shown to a quiet place to wind down.

I was pleasantly surprised when this did not really happen.

After staying for the entire parade, we went to a friend's house in the neighborhood. We ate, drank, talked, played cards and lit a fire in the backyard. It was pleasant, friendly and ultra-subdued. After the party ended, me and part of my crew adjourned to a hotel room to continue the festivities. There was no attempt to make the room look like Led Zeppelin stayed there as there often was in years past. The card games, filthy jokes and general merriment continued long into the night. It was great fun.

The whole day just had a different feeling, a more mellow flow than usual. It was a great thing, one that I hope never changes. I guess we are getting older and our idea of fun, while maintaining its core, has matured a bit. I would at least like to think so.

With days like parade day, I guess you try to lose yourself in the day, find the flow and go with it. I was pleasantly surprised that this dynamic was mellow and easy...a welcome change from years past filled with clashes with other people, the police, hotel security and a creeping feeling of regret. It was not so this year.

I hope these feelings can last...

Estimated Prophet: Wanting to be Wrong

In my follow-up on the Lefkow murder last Friday, I ruminated on possible measures for increased security of judges and courthouses in the U.S.

As I entered that post early Friday morning, I had no clue that I would end the day wishing that I was wrong.

The tragedy in Atlanta that unfolded Friday and Saturday (as summarized by this Reuters news item) further underlined this need for greater security. I guess it always comes in the wake of tragedy questions of "why" and "what next?"

Clearly, there needs to be armed security in court facilities. The safest way to do this, in my estimation, would be to station plainclothes armed security in courtrooms. The identities of these people would be known to few, possibly only the judge and the other uniformed bailiffs and security personnel. And for the uniformed security, I agree with the use of "less-than-lethal" weapons such as tactical batons, truncheons or Taser-like weapons.

From blood and tragedy must come considered change. It is our duty to the lost. We owe them nothing less.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Massacre on Western Avenue

This Sunday will see the 27th Annual South Side Irish Parade in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. A great local tradition, the largest neighborhood St. Patrick's Day Parade in the nation and a perfect tip-off to St. Patrick's week (which handily includes my dad's birthday).

They have been making threats about the public drinking for the past few years (read the "Important Info" section of the website). It sounds like they are taking a hard line and that you best not step out of line. This should take care of all of the troublemakers.

It should, that is, if they have never been there before.

Wanna see an unenforcable law and all of its implications in action? Or wanna be a for-real lawbreaker with (most likely) no consequence? Come and watch. More that a quarter of a million people attend and the police are simply outmatched. They may engage in spot enforcement, but little else.

Look, cops, all I want is to watch a parade that celebrates my heritage, gather with old friends and have a beer on a sidewalk in 24 degree weather. Is this a problem? I guess that this is a classic case of "a few rotten apples..." When will they ever learn? I am, at heart, a pacifist. I don't want to fight (especially when I am drunk; I will lose).

Well, I hope that all have fun and behave themselves. Cops, let's call a truce; leave me alone and I will leave you alone.

I always hold up my end of the bargain. What say you?

The Democratic Party: Phoenix Rising or Has This Bird Flown?

I just recieved the January/February issue of Mother Jones. The cover article by Todd Gitlin argues that the spirit seen in the effort to defeat President Bush in 2004 suggests that the Democratic Party (or the "left" in general) has what it takes to rise up and become relevant again in the American political landscape. He uses the political cohesion of these forces in the Democratic effort in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I have some issues with Gitlin's assessment. First, the fact of the matter remains that the Democrats lost and the Republicans won (if not by much). If there is any groundswell that should be seen here is that the United States (despite what Michael Moore might have you believe) at the beginning of the twenty-first century is a "conservative" country. People, having witnessed 9/11, war (right or wrong) in the Middle East, economic decline and general uncertainty want to maintain (conserve) that which makes them comfortable about their country. Not a retrograde jingoism, but the comfort of the imagined community of past "American decades."

Could these voters be swayed by the right message from Democrats or the "left?" Sure they could, but the party must do some soul searching and intense introspection. Did this coalition that Gitlin puts his hopes in have anything else in common apart from a rapacious need to defeat George W. Bush?

It seems, and Dr. Gitlin should have noticed this, that this was the problem that the Democrats faced in the 1960's, culminating in the presidential elections of 1968 and 1972. The radical elements of the party just could not see eye-to-eye on much with the conservative, blue-collar ethnic base of the party in the North or the traditional "Southern Democrats." Think also of the "Reagan Democrats," such a factor in the 1984 election. Upper class social democrats and radical leftist students will never get steel workers and farmers to adopt their ideas about life and politics. It was painfully certain, moreover, that John Kerry was not the man to do this sort of coalition building.

This argument, second and finally, shows not the strength but the weakness of the Democratic party and the left in general. They have not been able to present a united front and control the tenor of the nation since the 1960's, Presidents Carter and Clinton nonwithstanding (although it seems like both of these presidents were the "rebound" administrations after the horror of Watergate and the GOP dominated 1980's).

They are fragmented and need to get their act together if they want to make a difference. They cannot afford to be a "one-issue" party; if that did not win it for them in 2004, it will never work. There needs to be good political debate and ultimately uniting of common interests if a party is to be powerful in America. What will unite the Democrats? Hillary Clinton? A "second-term" scandal in the Bush administration? "It's the economy again, stupid?" Gains in the 2006 off-year congressional elections?

Don't look at me, Democrats. Only you can help you.

Still Sad, Still Tragic, Lessons to be Learned

An update came today in the case of the Lefkow murders in Chicago with the suicide of a man in West Allis, Wisconsin. Read the whole story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

It is a relief that it appears that white supremacists were not involved. If they were, the news media seemed afraid to call these people what they are...domestic terrorists. It is good that their evil grasp is not seeping through the walls of our jails, at least not in this case.

It seems to be a desparate last act of a broken man who blamed Judge Lefkow for his personal problems. This is, naturally, a developping story and should be watched closely.

What can we learn from this?
  1. Our federal officials, especially in the justice system, are vulnerable. They make enemies quickly and must understand that their jobs include a great amount of risk. I suppose that they know this. They must not live in fear; I am not hinting that all do, but it must be a concern.
  2. If adequate security is not available, how about a concealed carry allowance for federal judges? Remember, an armed society is a polite society. I know that this was just the family of a judge, but just to know that there may be an armed person involved may have influenced such a decision.
  3. Broadly, we live in a dangerous world filled with potential and real harm for all people. Grim but true. We must all learn to assess risk, understand it and then live our lives. Living in fear is the greatest enemy of freedom. There is something that I think we can all agree on.

Punditpalooza 2005!

Scanning and shovelling through the ranks of punditry, that grand American art form:
  • Tom Shales in the Washington Post - Shales writes a great column eulogizing Dan Rather's career as the anchor of the CBS News. A fair treatment and, most importantly, calls the likes of Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace for their cheap shots at Rather at the last minute. Way to kick a guy when he's down. Rather was, in my opinion, never made to be an anchor; his strong suit was always reporting (recall the famous 1972 incident with Richard Nixon). He did an admirable job in tough times for network news, the period when network news became all but irrelevant. "Uncle Walter" was never exactly the paragon of good journalism; he hurt the world by making the anchor an authority figure.
  • Sidney Blumenthal in the Manchester Guardian - It is truly unfortunate that we must rely on the foreign press to break stories like this. I guess Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart are more crucial to diplomacy and national security. Anyway, Blumenthal warns of a non-diplomat becoming our envoy to the U.N. We lose a career diplomat like John Negroponte and gain a sleazy North Carolina double-dealer. The Rice/Bush European charm offensive is fading. This guy sounds like he'd kill the possibility of that ever happening again.
  • William F. Buckley, Jr. in National Review (where else?) - It is this sort of collegial admiration and critique is sorely missing in the public discourse today. We are used to the shrill voices from both "sides" espousing and attacking (see Walter Cronkite above). Here is a paragon of the modern conservative movement praising and evaluating the legacy of John Kenneth Galbraith. These two men could not disagree more with each other, but the admiration of academic vigor is apparent. The long term influence of Galbraith and his Keyensian economic theories are undeniable; for Buckley to say this is important. Civility is necessary to democratic debate. Without it, it is mere playground bickering.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Sad, Tragic, Unfortunately Not Surprising

The top story in the national news today comes from my own back yard. The sad story of the Lefkow family and their deaths hits, as all such stories should, at a viceral and emotional level because we are wired to react that way.

Read the full details here in the Chicago Tribune (remember, this story is still developing).

The thing that worries me the most is that is seems dangerous people are not insulated from the rest of society when they are in prison. Just this week, it was revealed by NBC News that three of the conspirators in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center were able to communicate their praise and admiration for OBL from jail without any trouble. If this was possible, who is to say that Matthew Hale could not communicate with the outside and his sick followers, passing on new marching orders from behind a prison wall?

These sorts of people are smart and dangerous. They realize these security problems and exploit them to the hilt. Hale inspired hate, murder and could he be different now?

This is all speculation on my part, of course. It could be a random act of violence, so terrible and common in Chicago and other metro areas. It could be any number of factors seeing that judges often gain quite a group of enemies.

I cannot help making the connection. It is in these moments that the enemies of civilization show themselves to be cunning, devious and truly agents of evil in our time. Hopefully, from tragedy can come new hope for the world. We must believe this; it is the only step between hope and utter despair.

Liquor Ads on CNN: Now More Than Ever.

My two worlds colliding? You bet and I couldn't be happier. Two great components of my life (distilled spirits and the news media) have struck a deal and are speaking to the needs of news/alcohol co-dependents nationwide.

If you don't run liquor ads, you are misinformed and a bad network (now go sit in the corner). In these times of war, shaky economy and impending social dissolution, America needs more than a few drinks. These people have accepted the fact that drinking is a part of American culture and should not be treated like buying smack in an alley.

Read the story from the NYT and rejoice. Then get out and do your part.

Cheap Beer: The Next O.K. Thing With America To Go?

Well, as the old saying goes, everything old is new again. Put more bluntly, there are no new ideas. These vague axioms (truisms, really) seem to capture a lot of the spirit of our age, no? While these "retro" rehashings of old things for the sake of misplaced nostalgia (we historians HATE misplaced nostalgia) were fine when they were confined to idiotic clothes and people listening to disco again, now I am starting to really worry.

According to my observations (and articles like this one from Metromix), so-called "retro" beers are undergoing a resurgence in popularity amongst the younger set.

This needs to stop and it needs to stop now.

While an increase in popularity could insure the survival of some of these storied brands, beers that our fathers and grandfathers passed down to us could suffer from their own success. The reasons that lower-middle class folks such as myself and my cohorts drank these beers were the simple reasons that anyone chooses one product over another. First, there is socialization; I challenge you to find one kid on the south side of Chicago who's dad didn't drink Old Style. Second, value for price; these beers were affordable and they taste good. There was no desire to make it a "lifestyle choice." Beer is tasty and refreshing and can lead to a universe of wonderful stories and times among friends.

It should and must not become a fashion accessory for trendy bastards who have no culture of their own so they must appropriate the cultural aspects of other people. Cheap beer is a part of our culture and not yours. You will only serve to drive the prices up and make a whole lot of people mad enough to remove that trucker hat and wry smirk from your face and make it a lot harder for you to walk comfortably.

Go and swill some shitty imported beer and let us have ours. That's the only reason we import beer in the first place. Except Guinness, which is more of a religious supply in my book.