Friday, January 21, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"I try to imagine my father speaking to me across the abyss between the dead and the living, and I hear him saying this: Do not pity me because I in my prime awaited romantic challenges which never came. If you wish to carve an epitaph on my modest headstone in Crown Hill Cemetary at this late date, then let it be this: IT WAS ENOUGH TO HAVE BEEN A UNICORN."

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

When the Trumpet Summoned Us

President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous Inaugural Address fifty years ago today. Here are some excerpts that usually don't get quoted but should:

"The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required -- not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.

Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation," a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

R.I.P. Sargent Shriver

Nobody embodied the energy, the "vigah" of the JFK administration more than Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps. I was inspired by his enthusiasm and his book about the Peace Corps (though it was apparently written mostly by an assistant and future PA Senator, Harris Wofford.) He gave substance to the Kennedy emphasis on idealism and service, and many in my generation answered the call. Shriver not only built the Peace Corps, but as the first head of the Office of Economic Opportunity which ran the LBJ War on Poverty, he supervised the invention of Head Start and VISTA, the domestic Peace Corps. With his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he started the Special Olympics, and together they championed the cause. Even when he himself succumbed to Alzheimer's Disease, his prominence enabled his family to help bring this condition out of the shadows. He died Tuesday at the age of 95. Here's his obituary at the Washington Post, and an article about him, the Peace Corps and Martin Luther King at the New Yorker. Condolences to his family, and may he rest in peace.

Update: This fine piece by Bono.

Elected 2008, President 2011?

New polls are showing a surge in President Obama's favorability rating, above 50% for the first time in awhile. The difference seems to be from those who identify themselves as Independents. Part of this is likely coming from a more positive mood about economic improvement. But the energy behind it may also be from the overwhelming approval across party lines for President Obama's speech at the Tucson memorial, and his general handling of that situation.

I think it may be even more significant than that. A sort of delayed racism seemed to add to the calculated politics and Rabid Right resentment over President Obama's electoral victory (some of it payback for the left's treatment of GW Bush.) But its general tenor was to deny legitimacy to Barack Obama as President of the United States.

The major mouths of the Rabid Right won't back down on this, but it seems that after Tucson most Americans are ready, however reluctantly, to acknowledge that Barack Obama is indeed the elected President of their United States, and due the respect of his office. That's my intuition and we'll see how true it might be. But if it is true, politics will become at least a bit different than it has been for the past two years.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Second Amendment Solutions: Welcome to Tumbleweed

As we know, only alarmists, political hacks, cowards and blood libellists can be against the right to carry lethal weapons in public, including public meetings and (as legal in one state and proposed in others) on college campuses. I guess high school is the logical next choice. But maybe not: two students were wounded, one seriously and one critically, when an assault weapon brought to Gardenia High School by a student went off accidentally.

And as we also know, any implicaton that the Rabid Right's rhetoric indicates or inspires violent intentions is blood libel and a pogrom and...whatever. Except maybe in Spokane, where a bomb was planted along the route of a Martin Luther King Day parade, intended as a weapon of mass destruction. But probably it was actually a left wing socialist plot, cynically aimed at martyrizing other socialists in order to pin it on good Christians, like....

The new governor of Alabama, who spoke at MLK's old church to make the point that Christians are his brothers and sisters, and non-Christians are not.

I don't usually highlight these sorts of stories here, and I really don't like the progressive news blogs that make stars out of these people, but sometimes it's useful to take note of the ongoing hypocrisy parade. Especially when it is leading more and more to dangerous and lethal consequences.

But for all the protestations of progressive sites, they seem to be becoming their enemies in some respects. It suddenly struck me that the tenor, the cynicism, the violence and even the vocabulary at Daily Kos in 2011 to me resembles that of Rabid Right blogs of five years ago, more than the Daily Kos of five years ago...Or maybe I'm just smarting from my latest foray over there.

I knew that Democrats had backed off on new gun control legislation, and that Congress had let the assault weapon ban lapse, but I must admit I wasn't aware of how far things had gone in the direction of insanity on the subject. But re-posting the Guns in Town piece from here to Daily Kos certainly educated me. There was almost no agreement in the comments and a lot of hostility. I was even accused of not being progressive because I was supporting the principle that guns in public are a public danger, and in public meetings are an anti-democratic threat to free speech and the right to peaceably assemble. By suggesting that only the police should be armed in public places, I was in favor of a police state.

It did give me an opportunity to expand my argument in the comments:

If anyone can carry a concealed weapon into a public meeting, then the danger can come from anyone, and therefore there is a threat. The test on free speech and freedom of assembly grounds would seem to be: would a reasonable person be constrained from speaking or asking a question that might offend or anger anyone in the crowd who could respond with lethal gunfire?

More to the point, is an expression in favor of, say gun control, going to be constrained by the fact that others in the crowd may have lethal weapons, concealed or unconcealed?

Moreover, the threat is even greater when this practice is legal, because the presence of guns is more likely. The danger is also increased, simply by the likely presence of more guns. This is as well a prior restraint on the right to assemble and on free speech. Especially having seen the effects of gun violence in a public meeting, and the reasonable assumption that guns are more likely to be present when they are legal, and given the contentiousness at public meetings and especially the anger that is so openly expressed there these days, people who don't want to risk getting in the line of fire or get involved in anybody's gun fight, are less likely to attend such meetings

However, this cut no ice with most of the other commenters, some of whom used the opportunity to discuss the relative merits of their guns. And this is on the premiere left/liberal blog site. But at least Steve Lopez at the Los Angeles Times also thinks this is all pretty insane:

"The California Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, meanwhile, has launched a statewide project to demand "gun-free dining," urging restaurants to prohibit firearms on their private property. I told Brady coordinator Karen Arntzen that if we need a conversation about whether it's OK for someone to show up at the local diner with a six-shooter, we've lost our marbles.

Is it 1823? Do we live in Tumbleweed?"

The absurdity and insanity aside, and the now daily harms way we apparently are all subject to every time we leave the house, an America bristling with guns is so much more likely to self-destruct in any nerve-wracking crisis. Those who make lots of money from guns may be as usual the motive force behind all this now, but it's the social fabric--as well as individual innocents--who will pay.

Monday, January 17, 2011

After MLK

Little more than a week after gun violence killed a federal judge and five citizens and severely wounded a member of Congress, we have a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., shot and killed at the age of 39. Weeks later, Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed at the age of 43, while running for President. It only takes a glance at, for example, this collection of quotes from MLK to see how far--and how much farther away--we are from becoming the country and the society MLK envisioned. His words may as well come from Mars, they are so far from today's public dialogue. The prevailing attitudes about guns is one depressing indication, but the militarization of spirit is evident throughout. MLK's words--beacons of hope in their time, inspiring action--are today considered heavenly idealism, with genuflection and bows of the head as the response, rather than consideration or determination.

Just about the only positive that can be noted is expressed in the photo above, one of my favorites of the past several years which I've been looking for an excuse to publish. You can read all American history, and particularly the decades from the 1960s to 2008, in Sidney Poiter's face as he embraces President Barack Obama. It was a political outcome only someone with the vision of MLK could have imagined in the 1960s.

But while racial justice was the cause of his life, it was not the limit of his concerns or his vision. Both he and Robert Kennedy had visions of a better America--not just better in some absolute idealistic moral and political sense, but better because the times demanded it. To meet the challenges of their present and their future--which is our present and onrushing future--they knew what was required. It's easy to miss the progress we've made in certain areas. But in others we not only haven't moved forward, we're sliding back dangerously. If we measure 2010 against MLK's words, that sobering conclusion becomes hard to avoid.

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The pathos of death is this, that when the days of one's life are ended, those days that were so crowded with business and felt so heavy in their passing, what remains of one in memory should usually be so slight a thing. The phantom of an attitude, the echo of a certain mode of thought, a few pages of print, some invention, or some victory we gained in a brief critical hour, are all that can survive the best of us. It is as if the whole of a man's significance had now shrunk into a mere musical note or phrase suggestive of his singularity--happy are those whose singularity gives a note so clear as to be victorious over the inevitable pity of such a dimunition and abridgement."

William James
photo: "Ancestor Portrait Mask" by John Marston (Coast Salish) at Inuit Gallery.