Saturday, January 23, 2010

Elegy for Blue

Pema has been progressing further in becoming a house cat--she's actually drinking water from a dish now, as opposed to only when it's mixed with wet cat food --although recently she's been spending a lot of time in one of her little beds (as in the bottom photo.) But this past fall we were also visited regularly by a cat I called Blue, for her startling blue eyes (top two photos.)

At first she seemed like just another of the cats that have come and gone in the neighborhood, sniffing through the yard, curious about Pema. But Blue had a sweet, calm but insistent disposition, and followed Pema into the house a few times, just to look around. Sensing Pema's lack of interest (and occasional hostility), Blue turned her attention to the human members of the household. She became my particular friend. She had no problem being picked up (something that Pema still won't allow), and loved to be petted. She was very responsive to words and even thoughts, but she was also a puzzle.

We didn't know where she came from or who kept her, yet she seemed well-fed and groomed, at least at first. But when I saw her outside at all hours of the day and especially night, I started to wonder. Yet she wasn't interested in food or even water. It seemed to me she lost weight, although she seemed generally healthy. Then when we had a cold spell, I worried when she was outside at night. She came around one of those nights and I carried her inside. She stayed with me, on my lap as I rocked gently on the old rocking chair, but after checking out a couple of rooms, she clearly wanted to go back outside. Still, when we left an old blanket on the porch, she would sleep there through the morning.

One night we sat together in a chair on the patio, checking out a reputed meteor shower. She liked to get her head inside a jacket or sweater, or just under an arm. She came around late Thanksgiving night, and I sat with her in a chair on the porch for probably a half hour or so. She purred continuously for most of that time, until she dozed briefly, and then she was off. She would come around every day, sometimes more than once, and then not show up for a few days. I saw her last in mid December, when she finally deigned to eat from the dish I left for her, although not when I was looking.

I last saw her at just about the time that students were leaving after first semester. They're back now, but she hasn't reappeared. I can only hope that she belonged to a student who wasn't returning, and took her home. But especially since she was abroad at night, there's really no telling. There are raccoons around, and other dangers, like humans and their machines. Blue is a beautiful cat, as you can see. I miss her, and I just hope she's doing well wherever she is.

Corporate 1984?

The Obama administration is embarking on tougher talk and proposals on jobs, the economy and reining in Wall Street. According to the NY Times: "The tougher approach to financial regulation that President Obama outlined on Thursday reflected a changed political climate, the rebound in big banks’ fortunes after their taxpayer bailout and a shift in power within the administration away from those who had been seen as most sympathetic to Wall Street."

But is it all too late, and was it ever really possible? It's clear now that Republicans and insurance companies--perhaps in conscious collusion--lied repeatedly to the White House before getting brazen on their so far successful attempts to delay a health care bill until they could change the politics enough to kill it.

Corporate money also flowed into creating and maintaining the so-called Tea Party movement, currently with factions at war with each other over money as much as anything else, and the largest group proving to be a profit-making enterprise.

So now the Supreme Court weighs in, by misapplying law to the wrong case, in order to unleash corporate money to further corrupt politics and government. It's the most blatantly political decision since Bush v. Gore.

This has the obvious potential to turn this country into a corporate version of the Orwellian Nineteen Eighty-Four. Except that it probably won't be that obvious. As repugnant as it is for me to agree with anything in Politico (and I will instead link to the Caucus blog describing it), it had already occurred to me that corporations are unlikely to put their logo on their actual political stands. They could lose customers that way. They are far more likely to continue their currently successful practices of creating dummy advocacy groups and phony scientific research institutes, all with deceptive names--and of course, the lying only starts there.

So the real effect of the decision is probably not in giving corporations the right to buy political commercials but in allowing them to spend a great deal more money contributing to their dummy groups that create and buy political commercials, and otherwise engage in buying politicians.

What dim hope there is for balance resides in corporations with a stake in the future--technology companies and those engaged in clean energy businesses, for example. Plus the citizen activism that can boycott offending companies, although to be effective, these boycotts may require some self-induced pain. Will people stop using their electricity completely once a month, say, to protest even more coal and oil money pouring into politics?

Of course this doesn't work so well for health insurance, since the whole goal of these insurers has been to soak up market share and then kill off or eat the competition, so that they have a monopoly in entire areas, even entire states and regions. Making sure they got no new competitors--a public option, say--seems to have been the first stealth goal of killing health care, although killing any sort of regulations on their conduct came in a close second.

In an immediate sense, the clear beneficiaries of the Supreme Court decision will be media companies and public relations firms. We will soon be even more awash in bullshit--all of which we pay for as surcharges to every product and service we buy--as wells as more Newspeak and doublethink, on the way to thoughtcrime and the Thought Police.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don't Blame Me, I'm Not From Massachusetts

Back in the early 70s, I traveled around with my guitar case emblazoned with a bumper sticker that read: "Don't Blame Me, I'm From Massachusetts." And in those days, I was, and proud of it: the only state to not vote to re-elect Richard Nixon to the presidency. Yes, 49 states did so in 1972, despite the abuses of power that were already known, including the outlines of Watergate, and the bombing in Cambodia, as well as the violent and disastrous policies in Vietnam.

The rest of the country soon came to regret that vote. As they did their election of G.W. Bush in 2004, as well as the votes that made it possible for the Bushites to steal the presidency in 2000.

How soon will yesterday's election in MA be regretted? Not soon enough. As to why it happened, there was a vaguely interesting debate at Kos, between someone's mother who said it was all local politics and someone's father who said it wasn't. (Kind of tells you the age of the posters at Kos, though.) If it was something of a referendum on Obama, there's suspicion that race was involved (not too surprising in MA actually), and GOPers seem comfortable with that idea.

So the Senate seat of the man who championed health care for decades goes to a man who promised to kill that dream, and probably will. The minute hand just moved up a notch on my personal Doomsday Clock.

Well, at times like this the choice of responses narrows down to sarcasm or escapism. I choose escapism. Bye.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During a church service on Sunday, a visibly moved President Obama spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but in terms of today. More in the post below.

But Never Lose Infinite Hope

President Obama's remarks in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (which can be seen here; transcript is here) applied the spirit of Dr. King to events and the context of the past year, including some obvious references to the health care fight:

"Reverend Wheeler mentioned the inauguration, last year's election. You know, on the heels of that victory over a year ago, there were some who suggested that somehow we had entered into a post-racial America, all those problems would be solved. There were those who argued that because I had spoke of a need for unity in this country that our nation was somehow entering into a period of post-partisanship. That didn’t work out so well. There was a hope shared by many that life would be better from the moment that I swore that oath.

Of course, as we meet here today, one year later, we know the promise of that moment has not yet been fully fulfilled. Because of an era of greed and irresponsibility that sowed the seeds of its own demise, because of persistent economic troubles unaddressed through the generations, because of a banking crisis that brought the financial system to the brink of catastrophe, we are being tested -- in our own lives and as a nation -- as few have been tested before."

After enumerating some of those challenges--particularly the pain caused by economic hardships and unemployment--he suggested what lessons might be drawn from Dr. King and the Civil Rights generation, and applied to today's problems.

"First and foremost, they did so by remaining firm in their resolve...

Second, they understood that as much as our government and our political parties had betrayed them in the past -- as much as our nation itself had betrayed its own ideals -- government, if aligned with the interests of its people, can be -- and must be -- a force for good. So they stayed on the Justice Department. They went into the courts. They pressured Congress, they pressured their President. They didn’t give up on this country. They didn’t give up on government. They didn’t somehow say government was the problem; they said, we're going to change government, we're going to make it better...

Third, our predecessors were never so consumed with theoretical debates that they couldn't see progress when it came. Sometimes I get a little frustrated when folks just don't want to see that even if we don't get everything, we're getting something. (Applause.) King understood that the desegregation of the Armed Forces didn’t end the civil rights movement, because black and white soldiers still couldn't sit together at the same lunch counter when they came home. But he still insisted on the rightness of desegregating the Armed Forces. That was a good first step -- even as he called for more. He didn’t suggest that somehow by the signing of the Civil Rights that somehow all discrimination would end. But he also didn’t think that we shouldn’t sign the Civil Rights Act because it hasn’t solved every problem. Let's take a victory, he said, and then keep on marching. Forward steps, large and small, were recognized for what they were -- which was progress.

Fourth, at the core of King's success was an appeal to conscience that touched hearts and opened minds, a commitment to universal ideals -- of freedom, of justice, of equality -- that spoke to all people, not just some people."

President Obama noted that Dr. King also "remained strategically focused on gaining ground -- his eyes on the prize constantly -- understanding that change would not be easy, understand that change wouldn't come overnight, understanding that there would be setbacks and false starts along the way..."

He spoke about the difficult steps his administration has taken, and the difficulties ahead in making a better America and a better world. He urged everyone to remain involved:

Let's work to change the political system, as imperfect as it is. I know people can feel down about the way things are going sometimes here in Washington. I know it's tempting to give up on the political process. But we've put in place tougher rules on lobbying and ethics and transparency -- tougher rules than any administration in history. It's not enough, but it's progress. Progress is possible. Don't give up on voting. Don't give up on advocacy. Don't give up on activism. There are too many needs to be met, too much work to be done. Like Dr. King said, "We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope."

He added this personal note:

"You know, folks ask me sometimes why I look so calm. (Laughter.) They say, all this stuff coming at you, how come you just seem calm? And I have a confession to make here. There are times where I'm not so calm. (Laughter.) Reggie Love knows. My wife knows. There are times when progress seems too slow. There are times when the words that are spoken about me hurt. There are times when the barbs sting. There are times when it feels like all these efforts are for naught, and change is so painfully slow in coming, and I have to confront my own doubts. But let me tell you -- during those times it's faith that keeps me calm.."

Like Martin Luther King, this is a religious faith. But it is also a faith in the future, as Dr. King expressed in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, excerpted below.

Okay, I trot out this photo of MLK every chance I get (although this version's a little sharper) because I'm in it, sort of. It's at the March on Washington, and I'm over by the trees somewhere to the left. I wasn't at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, however, where he gave the address excerpted below.

Martin Luther King, Jr: Faith in the Future

In the midst of a strife-torn decade of change, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. professed his faith in the future--a future which is still developing, as President Barack Obama noted-- with these words in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech:

"Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow."

Hope in Haiti

New York Times photo and story: "rescue workers pulled more people alive from the rubble — including a 7-year-old girl who survived more than four days eating dried fruit rolls in the supermarket that collapsed around her — as water and emergency aid deliveries improved on Sunday..." UN Secretary General on the scene has message of hope, but the tasks and challenges are enormous. Former Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush heading up effort to raise private funds for relief. Meanwhile, there have been several earthquakes in South America. No word of damage.