Wednesday, June 27, 2007

the last lone ranger

What would this man have to do in order that all good people, democrats, republicans, and independents, might join together to impeach him? He has engineered a slow, lingering coup d'etat and we seem incapable of recognizing what has happened to us and to this flawed but potentially great democracy. Why isn't there a 200 million person march on Washington to send this evil-doer out-- not out of George W. Bush's government but out of our government? This photo was published in today's Washington Post as part of the sobering series by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker on the excesses of power of Vice President Richard B. Cheney.

Friday, June 22, 2007

borders and fences

We spend our energies reinforcing and reinterpreting borders. The relationship between Palestine and Israel. The Berlin Wall. White and colored. The Latino curtain being built on our southern border. Darfur and Sudan. National Parks that preserve the wild and unrestrained commercial development around them. Christians and Muslims. Terrorists (them) and moderates (us). There is substantial archaeological evidence that we are all one people, and we work harder to build fences between us and those we see as different.

In Long Prairie, a small town less than an hour south of us, a business has a large sign in its window admonishing us to "Stop the Invasion." At first, I thought it might be referring to our invasion of Iraq. Then I read the smaller print: stop the invasion of Hispanics from Mexico. The small town of Long Prairie is now 25% Latino, mostly folks from Michoacan who have come to work in the meat processing businesses of the area. But as far as that business owner can see, we're in a war here at home. Even though Long Prairie would be dying if it weren't for the new immigrants.

Vice-president Cheney is making new apartheids too. He has now relocated his office outside of the executive branch of government. We need a fourth branch now, after more than two and a quarter centuries without. So he imagines another border and builds another fence.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

'Tis a muddle, and that’s aw.’

Seymour M. Hersh's series of articles in the New Yorker outline the Iraq war we hear little about. His most recent story, "The General's Report," is about Major General Antonio M. Taguba and what happened to him after he investigated, wrote, and submitted his March 2004 report describing the terrible happenings at Abu Ghraib. One story related by Hersh is especially revealing.

The day before Secretary Rumsfeld was to testify before the Senate in May, 2004, General Taguba was called to a meeting with the Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen Gambone, General Myers, and General Schoomaker and others. When Taguba entered the room, Secretary Rumsfeld mocked him, saying "Here . . . comes . . . that famous General Taguba--of the Taguba report!"

This story of Rumsfeld's mockery of an honest person who has completed a difficult job embodies the entire muddle of this awful war. Taguba told the truth, certainly one of the most difficult of tasks in Rumsfeld's Defense Department. Taguba was stunned at the reception he received, and he told Hersh that he had believed that everyone at Defense had wanted to know the truth of Abu Ghraib. Hersh's June 25th story is pretty plain, confirming the chain of information flow from Taguba's investigations beginning in January and then his March report. The information Taguba learned became known in the Pentagon and the White House possibly as early as January and almost certainly by March. Rumsfeld's testimony, denying any prior knowledge about Abu Ghraib, was given in May.

Monday, June 11, 2007

signs of the times

I was reading in Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton recently. The author makes what was for me a really startling comment about how through their history books have been read for their meaning whereas electronic communications today are read for how we are able to use them. For the most part, this seems to be true in my experience.

That helps explain how short the shelf life of information on the web is. Use is closely tied to being up-to-date, and it seems that most communications on the web are headed toward a short life of usefulness, and after that they have little purpose remaining. There isn't much room on the internet for what Harold Bloom calls wisdom literature.

Ms. Lupton's book is most interesting, and useful too. The contents aren't organized in a linear progression from start to end but in an emulation of the web organization we are more and more used to.

death of the commons

Not exactly news, I guess, just one more way of life curtailed. The Washington Post reported this week on the plight of the Hadzabe people of the Yaeda Valley of Tanzania. These hunter-gatherer people are being threatened by a royal family member of the UAE who is leasing their ancient hunting lands from the Tanzanian government so that he can have an uncrowded hunting preserve for his private use. The Hadzabe people have been trying to get along in the changing world for the last many centuries, and they seem resigned to the inevitability of this unfair financial arrangement, but they wish that someone might have thought to ask them what they thought about the matter before it became a fact of their lives. Of course no one did ask them.

To say that I feel sick when I hear of unfairnesses like this doesn't adequately represent my feelings about the matter. In a far less significant level, I resent the dozens of no trespassing signs around my home place here in north-central Minnesota. Tiny insults visible every day remind of the values most important to us. So much, if not all, of the energies of the world seem to be spent on rounding up the resources of the earth, fencing them off from the people who once lived there, and then spending huge sums of people's lives and money guarding the fences. Now we're in the process of agreeing to build a new fence between us and the Republic of Mexico. And we have a similar very costly fence, with openings only for oil, between us and Iraq. And yes, I have a fence around my farm.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

rhetoric and Lizzie Palmer's "Remember Me" video

Two of the three great branches of classical learning are in eclipse, and rhetoric, the study that Cicero regarded as the greatest of the three, is perhaps the most neglected.

As the concluding story on the Fox Sunday talk show today Chris Wallace introduced Fox's "Power Play of the Week," high school student Lizzie Palmer's video-collage of still photographs of American soldiers titled Remember Me. Ms. Palmer's point seems heartfelt to me: remember and respect the service and sacrifice of American soldiers. Her story seems to come directly out of her experience and strikes me as genuine. Ms. Palmer, Chris Wallace tells us, plans to enlist in the Army after high school.

Fox Sunday's motives in use of her video are more complicated. Brit Hume, William Kristol, and Chris Wallace are satisfied to play the video and let its message seemingly remain the heartfelt naive message of Ms. Palmer, to honor the individual efforts of American soldiers. But their primary motive is to require Americans' unquestioning, naive support for the war. Hume, Kristol, and Wallace have no interest in our understanding the war. Their rhetorical intent in showing this video without discussion at the end of the broadcast serves their ongoing purpose of encouraging American sentimental riding-into-the-sunset endorsement of the war. We can't oppose the war on its merits because to do so would be to disrespect the American soldier.

Ms. Palmer's world view as an American teenager doesn't include Iraqi people who have suffered far greater losses in this war than Americans, and it doesn't include any assessment of the meaning of the war--how we got into it, why we are there, and whether we ought to be there. Our schools teach technical skills that allow her to make a very sophisticated video from a technical perspective but they are ill prepared to impart a similarly sophisticated view about the content of such a video, or its relationship to the audience, or what it tells us about its creator.

I accept Ms. Palmer's video as the naive expression of a young person who has powerful and authentic feelings but limited understanding and experience. Fox network's use of the same video for its continuing simplification of the meaning of this war is exploitative and disingenuous.

Friday, June 1, 2007

love and hope

Sally and I are just back from Reno after becoming acquainted with our grandson Tate, now about six weeks old. It was a good thing for us to see, the love of his parents, and it was also good to be able to express our love as grandparents. I'll now (happily) have to change my note about myself on this blog--no longer "virtual" but an in-the-flesh, honest-to-god grandpa. The hope part of this title also applies--what better manifestation of hope could there be?