Fear & Loathing in the Politics of the Other

I want to revisit something I touched upon a year ago in this post. In response to those who believe the country is changing from “what they grew up in,” and that they are “scared of where the country is going,” I wrote:

It’s fear of the Other. I’m not going to a discussion of that (you can read more about it here), but I would argue that, in this case, the right wing sees the Other as anything that isn’t bourgeoisie, heterosexual, and Christian. As long as a man or woman fits those criteria, by the way, the right wing will forgive them their race (after all — they don’t have control over that, do they?), so I would make an argument that skin color is not a requisite feature (but I would also make the argument a white man, not Michael Steele, would be chair of the Republican Party if there weren’t a black man from the opposing party in the White House).

Think of the Other in the terms of the 1950s. If it would cause Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver to have a long talk without Wally and the Beav around, then you know that’s what these tea party protesters are scared of.

This is a special sort I’m referring to. These folks are the type who, as kids, would look at some new food and immediately consider it “disgusting” and claim they didn’t like it.

This group of Americans is made up of individuals who are so homogenous, their world so vanilla, they would be scared simply of a black man hosting a children’s television show. I’m sure Reading Rainbow was denigrated in these households long before Yo Gabba Gabba was even thought of, and I’m willing to put good money down that plenty of these “values voters” were completely freaked-out to see the diversity on Sesame Street and Easy Reader (Morgan Freeman) on The Electric Co. (if they even allowed PBS to be viewed in their house in the first place).

Let’s call it for what it is: It’s simply prejudice. I believe the shadow leadership of the Tea Party (those funding it) is excercisng the sort of prejudice based solely on keeping power in their hands and out of the hands of minorities in this country (in a desperate attempt to cling to their power base as much as possible while it gets whittled away by minority groups). Many of the more regional and media leaders, like Mark Williams (of “monkey god” comment and “Colored People” blog post fame), knowingly use this prejudice to stir the pot. They don’t make the prejudice, they just make it prejudice-ier.

The prejudice exercised by the grassroots members is different. They hate being called racists because they don’t see it as a matter of race at all — they see it as matter of something “other” than they know taking the reigns of power in this country. They see a black man in charge of the White House, they see a woman as Speaker
of the House, they see illegal Mexican immigrants marching in the street and not quietly working in the fields. They see things other than they saw, and were comfortable with, while growing-up.

They are outside of their comfort zone, they are unsure of what they see, and they are vulnerable.

This is fear.

They are scared. Scared of other thoughts, scared of other people, scared of anything that is “other” than what they are. As I wrote last year: “the right wing sees the Other as anything that isn’t bourgeoisie, heterosexual, and Christian.”

It’s a prejudice stemming from having to deal with others who are not like them. As long as Michael Steele “acts” like he’s white, they’re fine with him. As soon as he “acts” like he’s black, they criticize him. They may have no interactions with others on which to make their judgements. Their prejudice is solely due to a lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to expand that knowledge.

They fear because it is easier to fear. It is too much work to do otherwise (there is a reason George Lucas focuses on the Dark Side being an easier path, don’t you think?). Plus, this is something different and alien… why take the time to attempt to learn from it?

These are fearful and lazy people. But I’m not going to focus on the laziness. I want to look at why they allow fear to rule them.

Let’s examine two 20th century statements focusing on fear. The first is from Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address when he stated “…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Then, consider the Bene Gesserit ‘litany against fear’ in Frank Herbert’s Dune:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Herbert’s use of “the little-death” is important here as, in French (la petite mort), this is a metaphor for orgasm. Don’t think this is some sort of anti-masturbation or anti-sex discussion (Christine O’Donnell can keep her peculiar views on reality as I’m completely uninterested in co-opting anything that woman has to say; on the other hand, I have no issue co-opting the phrase “fear and loathing in…” from Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for this post’s title).

No, the reason to bring forth an image of orgasm to the readers’ minds is to underscore how alluring fear can be. The Bene Gesserit, in their litany, liken fear to an orgasmic experience. It is an experience monopolizing the moment, focusing the participant(s) and their attention solely upon that singular point and experience. It is adrenaline-filled and an experience that, among other things, brings you to an unreasoning state of mind where all else is paralyzed.

They simply, in their fear, are so excited, so unreasoning, that they have become nothing less than a mob. A mob that cannot be bargained with or sat down for a discussion so long as they rely on fear to keep them going (and their leaders will not let that fear subside considering how profitable it is for them to keep the members’ fear at the forefront).

I’m not doubting there is a discussion that needs to be had with the members of the group, and those of us who are not sympathetic to their cause need to listen to their concerns — we cannot just dismiss them. Arguably, if the country were less polarized right now, it would be easier for all of us to sit down and talk with each other. Shouting the other person down, ignoring their views, and name-calling is not the way things will be fixed.

As Carl Sagan says in Cosmos: “Where we have strong emotions, we’re liable to fool ourselves.”

We on the other side look at the typical members as redneck country bumpkins who couldn’t possibly have anything substantive to add to the discussions in the country. We see a standard of solid yellow, with a coiled rattlesnake in the center, and we immediately make the assumption the people holding it are to be ignored.

They fear us.

We loathe them.

We loathe the backwards, inane, uneducated, reality TV show-watching, Jesus Camp-attending, and pickup truck-driving lot of them, don’t we?

And that is just as bad as they are.

If we are supposed to be the reasonable side of the polticial divide right now, then why don’t I see us acting reasonably? For every “Democrap” comment I see, I see just as many “Repuglican” ones. For every comment calling Obama a socialist or a communist, I see one calling the Tea Party a bunch of theocrats.

Since when was name calling constructive and reasonable?

This country was designed to work within the context of freely communicable ideas and to create a dialogue, or an argument (in the philosophical sense, not the throwing-vases-against-the-wall sense), in order to come to a compromise we can all agree on. Keep in mind, I’m well aware that this has never actually been the case in this country (just read about how Thomas Jefferson and John Adams savaged each other in the campaigns they ran against one another), but that doesn’t mean we can’t start now.

We can’t ignore the majority of them. We can’t dismiss them. We certainly can’t fear them. Any of that would make us just as bad, just as ignorant, as they. We are part of this country with them for a reason, and I suspect we can find a way to work with most of them that does not involve marching with placards of American politicians adapted to look like Adolph Hitler.

Granted, the leadership that is whipping these people into a frenzy cannot be worked with and won’t want to be (just watch how Dick Armey, on The Daily Show, can’t make any justification for the inflammatory language he uses in his book, Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto; these are not individuals who have any interest in compromise and only use the Constitution and its framing principles in any way they can twist to serve their own power-hungry selfishness). The true radical fringe types, the Vicki “Our children’s imaginations have to be bounded” Frosts and American Taliban types (and I do place Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell in this group) of this country, must be denounced and fought at every turn. No members of either of those groups can be worked with and don’t deserve to be.

The rest, however, do deserve our patience and attention. We don’t have to agree with them, and they don’t have to agree with us… but we do have to work with one another and respect our difference of opinions without letting it devolve into name-calling and shouting. There is no room in the philosophical underpinnings of this country’s founders for ideologues or demagogues.

So, instead of ignoring them, instead of fearing them… talk with them. Find out what they actually fear and try to quell that fear. Help them get past the “unreasoning, unjustified terror” they are experiencing so it can “pass over and through” them and we can actually have a constructive discussion that leads somewhere.

What I did on summer vacation

The title of this post is a bit disingenuous as, while I work in education, I don’t really have a “summer vacation,” per se.

I’m always amazed at the people — full-grown adults with proper jobs, kids, pets, cars, mortgages, and credit card debt — who seem to think the business of a university ends as soon as classes do. It’s always interesting to talk with some people, just like it’s always interesting to talk with a brick or small pebbles or a broom.

Yet, here I am, referring to a summer vacation I don’t really get (I could take “vacation” during the “summer,” but that’s not really “summer vacation,” is it? It’s more like “a summer vacation.”) and further perpetuating the idea university employees get to take the summer off and do whatever they like…

But I digress.

I haven’t posted in a while. The last post was while I was avoiding writing a my novel in Belize.

I figured I would have written a bit more this summer. I had it all planned out: Clean up the house, set up a nursery, have a leisurely stroll through to the middle of summer, with a baby showing up in mid-late summer

If you know Liza or me, you know it’s been a little more busy than that.

The main thing that happened. of course, was Benjamin (the aforementioned “baby”).

Benjamin surprised us (and, I’m sure, himself) on June 14, five weeks before his due date of July 15.

Five weeks.

His room hadn’t even been cleared out of the stuff (and I mean STUFF when I write “stuff” in this context) Liza and I had sitting in it. It was still painted a chocolate-milk-poo-brown color (arguably, since boys tend to be more scatological, it would have possibly been a good color to keep so as to camouflage any toddler-era artworks by this young master). And all of his furniture was still boxed-up in the overcrowded, soon-to-be turned into, library/fitness/guest room.

The ensuing five days of Liza in the hospital, and Ben’s concurrent stay in the NICU (which became a total of three weeks and a couple of days in the NICUs at Hutzel Hospital and then at Children’s Hospital of Michigan), threw the entire “leisurely stroll” through to the middle of summer right out the window, into the street, tumbling into a pothole and drowning in the puddle that had formed inside it.

This isn’t necessarily something I feel the need to relive day-by-day. It was emotional tumult of an excruciating degree, especially after knowing Liza was okay, and then watching Ben’s condition worsen. It’s one of those things that simply cannot be explained without actually experiencing it, and it’s not something any of you should ever have to experience.

Compounding the emotional mess was just the reality of existence the week they were both in the hospital. Bouncing between the house, Liza’s hospital room, the NICU, back to the house to feed the dogs and let them outside, back to the hospital, for five days on-end… I lost all sense of time. I couldn’t stay at the hospital because of the fact the dogs needed me at home… and that made me feel even more helpless in the situation.

I was able to use some of that time to get stuff out of his room, start the painting (priming, actually — I only tested the paint in the time they were both in the hospital), distract myself with some World Cup games… that sort of thing.

Even once Liza was home, not having Ben in the house was, probable, even worse than when both of them were in the hospital. There we were — parents.

Parents. With no kid.

We could go to the NICU and hold him, and talk with him, and cuddle him. Sure, we could do all of that. But we had to give him back when we left.

Practically speaking, those three weeks gave us enough time to get the vast majority of the projects we needed to finish out of the way (we were still finishing his room when he came home, but we were able to move around him (and move him around) while finishing-off the details). Practically speaking, it was a great distraction.

Rationally, one can completely understand why this was the case. He was not well, he needed 24-hour treatment, and he wasn’t going to get that at home.

But, in our reality (not necessarily real reality, but our reality), the time we were both at home and he was still in the NICU was some of the worst emotional pain I could have ever gone through. As one gets older, one expects to deal with the loss of grandparents, parents, friends, siblings, and so on. I expected, when my grandfather was in a nursing home a few years back, that something along those lines was going to occur. I may have not been prepared, but we expect it.

We, as people, never really told to expect, nor are we prepared, to deal with a newborn (from an otherwise normal and uneventful pregnancy) to spend three weeks in a NICU and have the doctors scratching their heads as to what is causing the baby’s problems. It just isn’t something we, as a society, tell expectant parents to try to prepare for. It’s obvious what the dangers are — we all are aware of them on some level. But we never think it’ll affect us, nor do we think an uneventful pregnancy will lead to problems with delivery or with the baby itself.

When they say there isn’t a manual for new, or expectant, parents… it’s true. There should be something (and I’m sure there is, but how do you find what books to read amongst the multitude of copies The Expectant Father, What to Expect…, etc.?). Do you really think What to Prepare to Expect When You are Expecting to Have a Perfectly Normal Pregnancy, Delivery, and Baby (someone might buy that… but I can imagine the editor freaking-out at the title)?

No… it’s all by the seat of our pants…. or the seat of the baby’s onesie.

Three months later, Ben is on the mend. As you can see in the picture above: Almost no jaundice, he’s growing and gaining weight wonderfully. Gastroenterology and cardiology are still observing a few things with his liver and heart (nothing that seems to be life threatening at this point), but he’s otherwise a normal, health, baby. With very healthy lungs. Extremely healthy lungs. I may have to start wearing earplugs when I feed him and he’s in a grumpy mood.

So why this posting, and why now?

On September 8, I tweeted: “Is it too cliche to say that becoming a father has seriously made me question what’s important and what’s clearly not important in life?”

Now, granted, I can be overly (and overtly) introspective to a fault. If you think Winnie-the-Pooh is an overthinker, you haven’t been around me when I start dwelling on things.

But I have been thinking about how this has affected my view on other things… specifically how I no longer have patience for minor, insipid things that have precious little to do with anything worthwhile (and, thus, have no right to my patience for them).

I’ve had a long time this summer to reflect and think about what is truly important and worthwhile. A lot of what I do day-to-day is neither. Manufactured and excessive melodrama are not worth my time or my patience.

I suppose, if you are the type vain or paranoid enough to think this is somehow in reference to you or how we relate to one another… then you might be right. It might actually be about you (See? You aren’t as paranoid as those other people think you are because we really are talking about you, aren’t we?).

I will be working to make a few things change in the coming months. Here’s hoping they actually bear fruit.

The Belizean Thing on the Roof

The thing I heard on the roof this morning isn’t out of a Robert E. Howard-penned Lovecraftian horror. It was a bird, a big bird, bouncing around a warm corrugated aluminum roof on a humid Beleizean morning. (Perhaps “Bird on a Hot Aluminum Roof” would be a better title?)

It’s interesting to see the college students Liza and I are with and their reactions to the nature around us. A coconut falls from a tree in the dark and one of them is insistent that there’s a large animal in the tree ready to attack. Leaves rustle in such a way to make you think there’s something lurking in the underbrush (not that there’s much of that where we’re staying). It’s partially culture shock, of course, but it’s an entirely different world for them (and me, no doubt) here. As we were talking at breakfast this morning, the wife of the doctor on this trip called it the “suburbs of the rain forest.” I think it’s an apropos statement.

The growth of the flora is not as dense as I had expected. Belize, intriguingly, seems to be logged beyond belief (the populated areas, that is). Clearly the Baymen’s logging swath from centuries ago is where the bulk of the population still lives. It’s been two days, and I can’t say I’ve seen that much old growth (even only being five or 10 miles from the border with Guatemala) except in and around Cahal Pech. Even that growth isn’t old, comparatively speaking, to the true rain forest. For such a small country, with such massive natural beauty, one can only wonder about what the state of the flora and fauna would be had the Baymen been a little less aggressive in their logging.

The state of the people themselves is another question. I am reluctant to use the word “poverty” because of the definition of it and “poor” in the second edition of the NOAD (for the record: that is my favorite reference book and the first place I look to for definitions). The definition of “poverty” is “the state of being extremely poor” and “poor” is “lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.” Comparatively speaking, this is clearly a poor country when compared to others on the continent (though, compared to Haiti, especially after the Port-au-Prince earthquake, this is probably a very well to do place). However, one needs to look at the question of what is “normal in a society” and compare that within the society itself.

From what I’m seeing, at least in San Ignacio and from passing through a bit of Belize City and Belmopan, is clear poverty by US standards (though there might even been some regions of the Appalachians that are more poor than than these urban areas). To get to San Ignacio, we drove through some villages that are clearly at the same level of some areas of West Virginia I’ve driven through. I have yet to go into villages (I’ll do that tomorrow or the day after) but, comparatively speaking, we do not have this sort of poverty in the US.

It’s a question of the standard of poverty here, and how the rural and the urban here compare to one another. The state of the people here seems to be “at a standard considered comfortable or normal.” I’m sure there is jealousy towards the US, Canada, and probably even Mexico. We all (especially the US and Canada) give off an air of having an immense ability to basically throw away our money and flaunt it while we do so. Let’s be honest: I’m writing this on a laptop (a MacBook Air) that, bought new, probably costs well out of the reach of the average Belizean. I have doubts that computers themselves are in no more than 15% of households (and that even feels high to me, but I’ve spent precious little time in Belize City at this point). There is a clear dichotomy at play here.

However, the standard of living here, at least in this point of the trip, seems to be a true standard and not a massive sliding scale. The people are not straddling immense wealth and immense lack of wealth. For the most part, it looks as though these folks are lacking wealth. But is the lack of wealth “poverty?” Especially when comparing the people solely to their countrymen? I would argue it isn’t. The nation as a whole is impoverished, but I do not see that the people are (does that make sense?). The people expect this standard of living, they see it as normal, and, thus, the definition of “poverty” can’t be applied to the people as a people, solely to the nation and its economy. Normality for the population here seems to be focusing on handling what can be handled as best as it can be handled. The children are not running around in dirty clothes or naked, the adults all seem to be be actively working on things. This is not the typical developing nation we see Sally Strothers hocking to us after Craig Ferguson and the Sham-Wow commercials (at least not in the populated areas).

It’s clearly a country standing with one foot in each of the two worlds. They want to shake off their logging and slavery-ridden past, embrace their massive multi-cultural heritage, and take a long stride into a modern world. The students were able to talk with a woman named Cynthia Ellis yesterday, and listening to her statements show the precipice the Belizeans find themselves standing on. The next decade or so will see major changes, I think. I see three distinct possibilities.

The first possibility is this country could turn into another Haiti (elect or otherwise place into power a popular demagogue, a supposed man or woman of the people, fabricate a “common enemy,” stir) and the people, in their comparative poverty to the rest of the world, could embrace a destructive path if they are somehow convinced it is in their best interest. After all, that’s the formula Adolph Hitler and Robert Mugabe, amongst others, used, is it not? That’s definitely the formula that kept George W. Bush in power in 2004 in the US. Please keep in mind I am not meaning to come across as stating the Belizean government is, in any way, comparable to the governments of Hitler and Mugabe. I am attempting to illustrate the way a demagogue uses jealousy and fear to attain and retain power. Make no mistake, though: I am definitely tying George W. Bush and his administration’s political use of fear tactics directly to the practices of governments run by people like Hitler and Mugabe (I personally am of the belief Bush is a traitor to the US and should be tried for war crimes, but that is an entirely different topic for another day). Considering the comparative poverty and the presumed jealousy in this country, such a circumstance could happen (but, to be more than honest, this could happen in any country under the correct circumstances). Looking at the past stability of Belize as a nation, however, I suspect it will not.

One thing could undermine that stability, though. I’ve already heard mentions of various people in the government who are getting rich and shouldn’t be. We watched the drugs we were bringing in for the people in the villages be confiscated at the airport because there are new rules for bringing these things into the country (I personally think a bribe of $50 USD, which is $100 in Belizean currency, probably would have gotten the drugs through). There’s clearly a subculture of corruption beginning to make a marked appearance in governmental functions, and that corruption can destroy a society trying to improve itself. Those leaders who are responsible need to work to ensure that the corrupt and corruptible stay out of power here. If the government is eventually seen as a corrupt entity, that will destroy the people’s trust and allow for a demagogue. This country, as we’ve seen with Haiti, would not survive as any type of productive member of the international community.

The second possibility is nothing will change, or that change will be glacial. Ten years hence, we could return, and nothing would be different. It is a distinct possibility if the international community does not assist Belize in lifting itself up. I do not mean solely by monetary means, either, but also by actual assistance, teaching, and training. Watching the situation with the group of students Liza and I are working with down here shows me, clearly, that the aid groups based in country are utterly disorganized.

I’ve heard some Belizeans claim it’s their laid-back lifestyle, but being laid-back doesn’t preclude organization. One can be laid-back and still have a sense of process and procedure. This is the third year an undergraduate group from our university has come down here, and I was shocked by the amount of basic questions Liza had to ask, and keep asking, in order for this to come off correctly. Even as we’ve been here, I’ve heard one of the group leaders (essentially our “fixer,” to use some Anthony Bourdain terminology) state she didn’t know the students were supposed to speak in school settings (while her, I assume, boss has reinforced that, yes, this is going to happen). Then, last night, as the students were talking with the doctor, practicing taking blood pressure and poking each other in the fingers with glucometers (in order to test for diabetes), the fixer’s boss noted that they should do this sort of things with all of the groups. (He is, I should note, the same one who keeps making the “laid-back” statements… while supposedly responsible for upwards of nine international groups of doctors, nurses, and students at any given time.)

Aid groups from outside of a country need to be properly prepared and assisted by those in country in order to correctly address the needs of the people. I’m not saying they need to emulate American business practices. But a standard set of instructions for groups coming in to help? That would be excellent.

The third possibility is what I see as most likely. American corporate interests will soon realize how close to the American mainland this country is, that they speak English, that they take American currency at an easy exchange rate, their power comes out at 110 volts and uses the same receptacles we do, that Sally Strothers is unlikely to have a camera crew filming her next commercial here (at least, again, in the heavily populated areas), that American music flows out of the bars and American TV is all over the airwaves, and, last but not least, that the Belizeans are more than willing to make spaghetti and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for food squeamish student groups. Once those corporate interests see that (if they haven’t already), this country will be awash in more logos than Logorama or Blade Runner featured. The Las Vegas of the Caribbean along the barrier islands, with the areas further inland becoming vacation spots for middle- and upper-class Americans who have tired of Hawaii.

I think the Belizeans would welcome a massive amount of increased tourism by (relatively) wealthy Americans. But is a service economy what they really need to survive? A portion, yes, but I should hope they would balance it. If you think about it, in this situation, one big recession in the US could have massive, and irrecoverable, repercussions on this country (I’m sure the current one already has had an affect). The country could become service-based, tourist-centric, and completely collapse in the next financial meltdown, leaving it a rotting corpse of a country… with Sally Strothers filming her next commercial in San Ignacio.

It’s my hope the Belizeans are adept enough to control the American corporate interests from running roughshod all over them. Unfortunately, if the leaders of the aid groups can’t get their acts together as they deal with students groups, how are they going to stand up to McDonald’s and Wal-Mart?

Our country is changing for the better

After running some errands yesterday, I saw a group of people in St. Clair Shores, MI protesting Obama and the health care reform. It was a group of normal white folks from SCS just hanging out in the parking lot of one of the older bars in the city. They were waving “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and, in general, exercising their right to free speech.

Good for them. But they aren’t really focusing on the true issues, just raising specters of socialism (and fascism, though I have to seriously question where these people were from 1/2001 to 1/2009 if they are crying “fascism”) and making Obama the face of their protest (while not keeping in mind that neither Obama nor the administration have put forward any legislation — everything has been happening in Congress in this regard).

But where is this going? Where is the name calling going? When a white congressman from South Carolina is disrespectful enough to call Obama a liar during a presidential address (prompting even Craig Ferguson to say the congressman went too far and was acting like he was on Jerry Springer, not a member of Congress), is this actually a debate about health care?

I don’t think so. I think this is about race and class. Let’s keep in mind that the right wing really harped on the “death panel” bit in the latest bill, but conveniently forgot that many of them voted for the same thing in the Medicare reform bill a few years back under Bush. How many of these folks have truly ever had to deal with an aging relative who needs this discussion? My grandmother, mother, and I dealt with it when it came to my grandfather a couple of years ago. My mother and I are now having to explore a lot of the same issues with my grandmother (though it’s a touch better than it was with my grandfather). Having some avenue to discuss all of the end-of-life options, someone who is competent and knows what they are talking about, is a necessity and that’s what the supposed “death panels” are.

Trust me, I’m not ready to put my grandmother down, no matter how aggravating she can be. I’ve read the language and that isn’t what would happen. So, clearly, the “death panel” thing just isn’t going to gain traction.

What about the expense? The massive expense of covering all of these people? What happens then?

Those people without coverage are already causing our expenses to go up. Every uninsured visit to the ER, every uncovered cost that ends up going to collection or sending someone into bankruptcy… we, as a country, end up paying for that. Is it that difficult to understand that? Every person who is un-, or under-, insured costs all of us. We pay the price in inflation, we pay it in increased personal bankruptcies across the country that, in turn, affect our ability to get credit or see our property values stay afloat. We are already paying.

Socialism? Perhaps we can call it socialism and make that stick, right? Wrong. Even the chair of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, has made it clear that he wants Medicare to be protected… but that program is socialized medicine, isn’t it? The chair of the Republican Party says he wants to preserve it.

That’s hypocrisy. If the right wing were calling for a full-fledged removal of the government from health care, then they could cry socialism. But if they even try to attack Medicare, their senior citizen constituents will turn on them so quickly that the Democratic majority in Congress would only grow next year… so they’ll just continue to pander instead.

So what’s left?

As Wilmore astutely points out above: Race. Not just Obama’s race, but the race and class of the people who will be affected by such a program. All of this is about the fact that the “country of our forefathers” no longer looks like that country.

I, for one, am grateful it doesn’t. This issue is about people scared that the color of their skin will no longer grant them carte blanche (no pun intended) to many things originally set aside just for them. Now anyone will be able to see a doctor, just like (eventually) two gay men or two lesbians will be able to marry each other… it’s fear.

It’s fear of the Other. I’m not going to a discussion of that (you can read more about it here), but I would argue that, in this case, the right wing sees the Other as anything that isn’t bourgeoisie, heterosexual, and Christian. As long as a man or woman fits those criteria, by the way, the right wing will forgive them their race (after all — they don’t have control over that, do they?), so I would make an argument that skin color is not a requisite feature (but I would also make the argument a white man, not Michael Steele, would be chair of the Republican Party if there weren’t a black man from the opposing party in the White House).

Think of the Other in the terms of the 1950s. If it would cause Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver to have a long talk without Wally and the Beav around, then you know that’s what these tea party protesters are scared of.

It’s natural to be scared of change. But change is a necessity. Human beings, by necessity, must push the race forward. We’ve moved so far in the past century and a half, yet it amazes me that such vitriol continues to be spouted.

This isn’t about “values” (as the right wing wants you to believe) — that discussion is long over.

This is about our responsibility to move the race (not white, not black, not American, but human) forward.

That is what we are supposed to be striving for. The past is for learning lessons from, not for yearning to return to. We cannot simply be content and complacent — we were both of those things, and the disintegration of the manufacturing economy is our punishment. What are the lessons we can learn from the past 70 or 80 years? What lessons can we pass along to other countries? What can we do to diminish our embarrassing infant mortality rates, or dramatically disturbing education levels?

We don’t have to occupy a country to encourage it to change. We don’t have to shoot abortion providers to discuss how to better handle that choice. We don’t have to be consistently contentious and at each others’ throats in order to come to a consensus.

It’s a difficult path we have set upon. We have the chance to take steps into a brand new world and shake free of the past that continues to shackle our discussions. But to do so we will have to let go of the petty differences, specifically our view of the Other (which we continue to cling to), and move towards better understanding of all.

I suspect we’ll all be happier in the end if we can go there.

Now we grow up

Originally uploaded by Barack Obama

If America lost its innocence after Kennedy’s assassination, and lost confidence in its leadership after Watergate, then I suspect the post-Watergate years (up to W.’s administration) were like a teenager fumbling around for an identity and a meaning. That lack of identity was especially obvious after the USSR fell and communism collapsed across most of the countries in the world.

Now we find ourselves at the point where we have to work, where we have to stand up and lead. Let’s be very honest: Bill Clinton’s a good manager, but he’s not a leader (he wants to be everyone’s friend), and W. has cut our throats in the international community. We needed to grow up.

No matter whether the economy was the prevailing factor on Tuesday or not, we have, over 146 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, taken a new step forward. We’ve begun to grow up and realize our place in the world.

We aren’t an empire and we aren’t meant to be. Regardless of the fact that this country was founded by white men who, basically, were just tired of paying taxes to Britain and wanted that money to stay here, there is different dream that has been popularized by the writings of Jefferson and Franklin. We promised to be a country where all people could be something, where all people would be respected, and where all people could live freely no matter their beliefs.

Electing Barack Obama actually goes light years in following those ideals. No, I don’t envy him the task before him and, no, I would not be surprised if he has a difficult go of it in 2012 on the trail to be re-elected. But the reality is: We’ve finally shown that someone other than a white man can become president. We’ve actually seen people come together to support this man because he is the embodiment of the dream that our forefathers (in the popular imagination) established for this country.

There will, for many years to come, be people who denigrate Obama for being the “other” and not like them, but the world has moved past those people.

Dare I say that the majority of the American electorate realizes that, for our country, our dreams, even humanity, to survive that it was time for us to prove that we could move beyond the shackles of slavery and racism that we, ourselves, placed on ourselves so long ago?

I’m not sure.

But the reality is that is the face we have put forward. We’ve shrugged-off the old and familiar and stepped into a new age that we, now, can all shape. This is no longer the domain of one ethnic group or class or sex… it’s all of ours.

The USA, as a nation, is young. China, after all, is more than 6,000 years old, Japan is roughly 2,000 years old and Great Britain (in its current form) dates back over 400 years. We have only been at this for 232 years (219 if you start counting at the Constitution and not the Revolution).

We stand at a unique point. We can either wall ourselves off an fend only for ourselves, leading to an isolationist and xenophobic society that even begins to turn upon itself, or we can accept the mantle of responsibility and lead the country and even humanity itself into a new age of cooperation and prosperity.

No, we should have no patience with dictators or those who would bring harm to others due to a difference of beliefs. But we must also understand that leaders in other parts of the world are there for a reason and, instead of threatening them with guns-a-blazing, we should be working with them, and their governments, to bring their populations up. In this day and age, no one in a civilized society should be living in poverty.

This, of course, cannot be done solely by Obama and his administration. In fact, very little of it can be. They can lay the groundwork and prepare for future generations to take much larger steps, but they can’t do it all. He’s a good man, and a strong leader, but he’s not a god. This is work we will all have to do for many, many years.

But we took the first step on Tuesday night. I can honestly say that, in my 35 years, electing Obama is the most sincere and strong stance I have seen the USA make. And I’m proud of it.

Are Republicans like Trekkies?

Watching the people (the rude, condescending, racist people) attending McCain-Palin rallies, I’m becoming more and more curious as to why McCain isn’t doing the honorable thing and correcting them.

Think of Shatner on Saturday Night Live all those years ago:


When is McCain going to grow a pair? Shatner did it. Shatner not only bit but ate the hand feeding him with that skit. Yet John McCain stands idly by as members of his audience call Obama a terrorist or teach their children that you can only touch him with gloves on.

What type of man who puts “country first” allows this to pass?

John McCain is not going to win this election unless it comes out that the Obama family eats babies three times a day. This is the point where McCain needs to reel in his campaign, tell Palin to shut the fuck up, and shake some damn sense into the people who are following him.

McCain, and only McCain, needs to get it through their heads that it’s time to get a life, get their own apartment, and grow up. I doubt he’ll do it… but it’s the most responsible thing he can do with the remainder of the train wreck that is his 2008 presidential campaign.

UPDATE: Looks like McCain finally took his supporters to task by saying Obama is a “decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.” Good for him. However, like Shatner in the skit, still backpedaled a bit… but at least he has had the decent graces to not cast Obama as the boogeyman.

Darth Bailey & the Sixth Wedding Anniversary

And all I got her was The Sims 2 and a couple of expansion packs for it… Arrrrrrrrrggggggghhhhh!

This was part of my anniversary present from Liza this year: “Darth Bailey and his apprentice” (which is, of course, Darth Zookie, the large pit bull mix on the right). Len Peralta, who does a ton of these Monster By Mail drawings, put this one together. It is an excellent example of how nefarious a beagle can be and how much of a follower a certain “amstaffador” can be.

That picture, alone, would have been great.

However, as Yoda would say: “There is another.”

It turns out that Liza mistakenly told Len to put the wrong dog in the illustration and he originally did only “Darth Zookie,” seen here with the little Godzilla in the corner (she was named Zookie after “Godzookie,” Godzilla’s son in the 1970s cartoon).

Last, but not least, Len recorded the process on “Darth Bailey and his apprentice” in order to fully support my argument that, yes, beagles can be nefarious! See the video at the end of the post.

Thanks to Len for all of his work — I love it.

And, of course, thanks to Liza for making this such a great present for our anniversary. I love you!

An Irresponsible Supreme Court

Think free speech rights are safe in the US? Think again. The student was not on school property and he was being satirical, yet his high school principal felt it was in her rights to suspend him for 10 days for, again, a prank that was not held on school property. This is coming from Alaska, even — one of the most libertarian societies in the country.

This isn’t just about free speech rights, folks. This is about our rights as private citizens to express ourselves in ways that are protected under the Constitution of the United States. George W. Bush, in talking out of his ass about a smaller government and less federal interference in private lives, has hypocritically pulled the wool over America’s eyes.

Don’t let the modern conservative movement fool you — they are not concerned about anything other than policing morality from their point-of-view as to what morality is (fundamentalist Christian morality). Their view of “moral law” is restricted to that which they learned in Sunday and Vacation Bible schools. They do not bring Kant or Locke into the discussion, and perish the thought that Jefferson’s views be discussed. Just consider yourself a heathen and a sinner because you don’t goose-step to the Christian fascists currently in power in the administration.

Do not let this stand, ladies and gentlemen — otherwise your rights will disappear one night.

Kurt Vonnegut has died. So it goes.

So, Kurt Vonnegut is dead at 84.

Well, he was getting up there, but it wasn’t like he died from a heart attack. It was a fall a while back and the injuries he sustained from it.

It’s also not like I was the world’s biggest Vonnegut fan, but to discount the work he did would be silly. Plus, I think he’s the one who helped science fiction become “literary.” It was rare before Vonnegut that science fiction was taken seriously outside of the genre’s circles.

Kurt Vonnegut has died. So it goes.

Peanut Butter, the Atheist’s Nightmare!

Normally I don’t like to give any audience to the nutjobs in the creationist community, but this one is even better than Kirk Cameron getting turned on by the intelligent design principles of a banana (that video still scares the hell out of me).

Basically, the issue is that the creationists in this video are mistaking evolution, which is “process of change over time in the heritable characteristics, or traits, of a population of organisms” (from Wikipedia) for abiogenesis, which is “the generation of life from non-living matter” (also from Wikipedia).

Last time I looked, peanut butter was no longer living matter. If it’s not living matter then that means we are talking about debunking abiogenesis in this video, not evolution. Never mind the pasteurized content, the decontaminated storage vessel and the sealed environment that exists in order for the peanut butter to not become a comfy bed for airborne bacteria and other little creatures.

And, if you were wondering: No, I do not believe that any divine power had any hand in creating anything, living or not, in the universe. That to me does not disprove or discount a divine presence, I just personally think it would have a hell of a lot of other things to do than deal with us.