Saturday, July 09, 2011

Wildflowers Weekend

In the end just about all we've got is music.  So in this nervous weekend, a treat I stumbled upon: from a 2002 Wildflower Festival concert, a version of Eric Andersen's "Thirsty Boots"--his 60s song about civil rights marchers--with a rare U.S. appearance by Andersen together with Judy Collins (she's the host, and in fine voice), with assistance from Arlo Guthrie and Tom Rush.  Enjoy this one, and have a nourishing weekend.

Friday, July 08, 2011

American Exceptionalism?

Among the many wrong directions this country is going is the continuing sense in some quarters that the United States is its own planet, unrelated to the rest of the unenlightened world.  In Texas, the power mad governor with the connivance of the Supreme Court of Shame executed a foreign citizen (a Mexican, so maybe that doesn't count) without the opportunity to seek help from his own government since his arrest, in violation of international agreements that in turn protects Americans charged with crimes on foreign soil.  It opens the wounds of torture under Bush that also violated international law.

America is exceptional in many ways, but not all of those ways are good.  For example, in the civilized world the United States has the biggest gap between the rich few and the non-rich many and the highest percentage of men in prison.  It is virtually alone in not providing guaranteed health care, and in all states but one, permitting concealed guns in public.  These are not unrelated.

It is among the world's top polluters and propagators of greenhouse gases, and virtually alone in not seriously acknowledging the climate crisis.   How backward we are is made painfully obvious by the action of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in announcing a greenhouse gas pollution tax.  Most European nations have one.

Yet in these trying days in America, reactionary voices are louder than ever, taken more seriously, and seem more powerful than ever.  They want to make America even more exceptional--a conservative Christian xenophobic and racist nation, the world capital of denial, run by stupid slogans that would end up comitting national economic and social suicide, while bringing down environmental wrath on the world far beyond our exceptional shores. 

It is a pivotal moment, and the hope is that this is the last hurrah of a dying self-righteous barbarism.  Josh Marshall opines:

  " I think we will look back at this moment as the chaotic time that the old order turned to the new. In my opinion, we are seeing the remants of the soon-to-be old power structure see their grip on power slip with the predictable response of ever greater efforts to hold power through cohesion, projections of power, and inflexibility. I would change the term pollsters use here from enthusiasm to desperation or fear. The end is coming. The demographics are clear. Majority minority is marching closer every day. Their team is the long-term loser, the horse and buggy to the Model T. We are now in the Battle of the Bulge phase of this transition. I don't think the transition will be smooth nor do I think that Democrats can't lose elections, but the behavior seems to fit to me. Democrats will compromise because the future is theirs while Republicans have to hold on to every vestige of their order remaining as though their lives depend on it...because it does. Tomorrow is not bright for them."

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Emerson for the Day

"It is vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves."


Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Following up on yesterday's posts, a couple of quotes from President Obama's press conference last week.
First, on defining what raising the debt limit actually mean--not making room for future spending, but allowing the U.S. Treasury to pay its bills for past spending:

"These are bills that Congress ran up. The money has been spent. The obligations have been made. So this isn’t a situation -- I think the American people have to understand this -- this is not a situation where Congress is going to say, okay, we won’t -- we won’t buy this car or we won’t take this vacation. They took the vacation. They bought the car. And now they’re saying maybe we don’t have to pay, or we don’t have to pay as fast as we said we were going to, or -- that’s not how responsible families act. And we’re the greatest nation on Earth, and we can’t act that way."

He finished the press conference with these words:

You know, every day I get letters from folks all around the country who show incredible resilience, incredible determination, but they are having a very, very tough time. They’re losing their homes. Some have lost their businesses. Some have lost work and have not been able to find jobs for months, maybe a year, maybe a year and a half. And they feel some desperation. And some folks who are working just are having a tough time paying the bills because they haven’t seen their wages or incomes go up in 10 years, and the costs of everything else have gone up.

And every day that weighs on me. Every minute of every day that weighs on me. Because I ran for President precisely to make sure that we righted this ship and we start once again creating a situation where middle-class families and people who aspire to be in the middle class, if they’re working hard, then they’re living a better life.

Now, these structural changes in our economy that have been going on for a decade -- in some cases, longer -- they’re not going to be solved overnight. But we know what to do. We know that if we are educating our kids well, then they’re going to be more competitive. We know that if we are investing in things like infrastructure, it pays off.... We know that we’ve got to get control of our deficit. There are some things that aren’t going to solve all our problems but can make progress right now. And the question is whether or not Democrats and Republicans are willing to put aside the expedience of short-term politics in order to get it done.

And these folks are counting on us. They desperately want to believe that their leadership is thinking about them and not playing games. And I think that if all the leadership here in Washington has the faces and the stories of those families in mind, then we will solve this debt limit issue; we will put in place steps like a payroll tax cut and infrastructure development; we’ll continue to fund education; we’ll hold true to our commitment to our seniors.

These are solvable problems, but it does require us just getting out of the short-term and, frankly, selfish approach that sometimes politics breeds. We’ve got to think a bit long term."

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Without virtue, happiness cannot be."

Thomas Jefferson
Founding Father (really) and author of the
Declaration of Independence

Fair Warning

Politics and politicians have been so extreme in recent years and especially in recent weeks that it's seemed this is all moving fast to some extreme moment.  That moment could be soon, as Washington has only about two weeks to resolve the debt limit crisis before it takes on a horrible life of its own.

As action that may be swift and strange begins after the holiday in perhaps the decisive act in this drama, it's worth stepping back to get in focus who we are.

It's been the conventional wisdom that as a species we are programmed to be selfish to the extreme, always aggressive and destructive, and ready to react to fear with unbridled and irrational violence.  But for all the considerable evidence that history holds, human societies and human beings--as well as animals and animal societies--have another side.

This was noted in one way in yesterday's New York Times--and intentionally timed to our current situation and debate.  Thirst for Fairness May Have Helped Us Survive  is the headline for the Natalie Angier piece, which offers examples from several cultures to make the point that "Darwinian-minded analysts argue that Homo sapiens have an innate distaste for hierarchical extremes, the legacy of our long nomadic prehistory as tightly knit bands living by veldt-ready team-building rules: the belief in fairness and reciprocity, a capacity for empathy and impulse control, and a willingness to work cooperatively..."

In particular humans have a tendency, reflected in various societies, of a balance in which some may have more than others, but nobody has way more than others.  This is a general rule that contemporary America breaks, with its multimillionaire CEOs at a time of decline for most and hardship for many. It is this sort of American exceptionalism  that GOPers are pushing with such fervor.  And it is the failure to push back on Wall Street excesses, Frank Rich maintains, that has weakened President Obama politically.

Other research supports the notion that innate tendencies towards helpfulness, kindness, fairness and sharing have survival value, for individuals and societies--or even species.  This crisis requires both a sense of reality (of causes that have effects, regardless of which party says so) and a sense of empathy for those who will be most hurt by yet another economic blow.  We don't have to invent these capacities, or virtues.  We need to value them, and bring them to bear.  Right now.

Monday, July 04, 2011

How Sweet It Is

Since it opened in 2001, the main attraction of PNC Park in Pittsburgh has been---PNC Park, voted by ESPN the best major league baseball park in America.  But this year, the home team is playing exciting, winning baseball--and the park is overflowing.  There was another sellout crowd on Monday to watch the Pirates come from behind to beat the Astros.

Pittsburgh is drenched in baseball history and tradition--right down to the most famous homerun-heralding line on the radio broadcast from the 50s, Bob Prince singing "And you can kiss it goodbye!"  I don't know who the latest announcer is, but I caught him using this phrase.  I watched the Pirates teams--at Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium--that won three world championships and were perennial division leaders in the 90s, but could never get past the league championship.  When that team, with its Outfield of Dreams (Bonds, Bonilla and Van Slyke) was broken up, the Pirates went on an 18 year hiatus of losing seasons (and "losing season" doesn't mean failing to win a championship--it means losing more games than you win), and set an all-sports record for consecutive futility.

Now near the season's midpoint, this year's team is 3 games above even and a game and a half out of first in their division.  And by all accounts they're playing exciting ball---solid starting pitching, lights-out relievers, good fielding and scratch-hitting and running, with the occasional you can kiss it goodbye.  Plus it's a very young team and so they're excited, too.

Pittsburghers are seizing the moment and filling that park with the cheers it has never known until now.  On the summers I've been back and the Pirates have been in town I've seen a game, but I probably won't get back this summer.  But I can kind of guess what it's like--after all, the SF Giants play in a ball park very much like PNC, and I've been there when that place was rocking.  Baseball doesn't get any better.  (But a fashion note.  On Monday they played with red caps.  Red caps?  That's Phillies stuff. Ditch em, guys.)