Thursday, September 28, 2006
Fear is Foul; Foul is Fear: When the Battle is Lost and Won
It seems that literature is hot again. All the Kings Men hits the big screen soon with Sean Penn in the lead. Frank Rich’s The Greatest Story Ever Told is creating quite a stir, a renegade maelstrom of sorts in right-wing circles. Bill O’Reilly, that literary virtuoso from Fox Fiction, has published yet another volume of shit. Or “crap” as David Letterman would say; George Allen would call it “macaca,” of course. O’Reilly’s latest effort is called Culture Warrior—perhaps in honor of his tragic, out-of-court settlement in a brutal “love is battlefield” against Andrea Mackis and her rather descriptive yet strange stories of Bill’s fetish for…falafels. Let’s not go any further. Thank the good Lord for O’Shitty’s arch nemesis, the one and only Keith Olberman, who has just released his own literary effort: The Worst Person in the World: And 202 Strong Contenders. Something tells me that ol’ spinboy tops that list.
Even Chimpy is reading lit. again. Yes, W. has returned to the classics. Let’s remember, though: the man isn’t that stupid; I’m serious. He just acts stupid to get votes, to appeal to “hawd wurking American menn,” and to seem like well, Tom Cruise in Top Gun—“major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” That’s as authoritative as Cruise pontificating about post-partum depression, modern psychology and Brooke Shields.
According to Maureen Dowd, Chimpy’s red-headed Achilles columnist, who has been forbidden from the White House Press Room albeit gay male escorts are certainly allowed, and whom Zell Miller says is daemonic because of her red hair and her heritage—Irish, W. has taken a liking to a rather eclectic taste in literary choices: from novels of history to The Stranger by Camus to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. An impressive reading list indeed!
I am glad he has time to do this and run the country, a war in Iraq, which he started, a reconstruction effort in the Gulf Coast, which he has neglected, and meet, greet, and, in some cases, like poor Angela Merkel who received an unsolicited, chimpy shoulder rub, terrorize world leaders at close range—better not bring Deferment Dick along, because if you get real close, he might shoot your face off, no pun intended.
So what is this sudden zeitgeist with literature? Given our leader’s selection from the Western Canon, one can’t help but speculate about what has inspired his choices. Take Macbeth, for instance. Could it be that W. sees something “uncanny” between him and the main character? Is it that Karl has been calling poor Hillary Lady Macbeth for so long that W. wants to find out once and for all what the hell he means? Or is it that he likes those weird sisters—the witches, and, since Halloween is coming along, well, what the hell? Could it be that just as the play states from the beginning, “the battle” has begun and when November 7th is here, we will soon learn who has lost and won? Bingo: I think we have a winner.
The 2006 midterm battle for political control has more than just begun; we have entered the heart of darkness, the final stretch, the “fear factor,” and nothing scares us more than scary stories. Who cares if the National Intelligence Estimate released this week declares that the Bush Administration is systematically causing more terrorism? Just remember that we are fighting ‘em over there to prevent them from coming here, and that’s scary enough. Who cares if Bubba Clinton resurrected from the land of bi-partisanship to kick the snot out of Chris Wallace with facts, personal admission, and candor in that now famous interview? Just remember that Bubba did almost sleep with Monica Lewinsky, and that’s scarier. Who cares if two-to-three star, republican generals testified this week on Capitol Hill that the war effort is a huge mistake and Rummy is an even bigger mistake? Just remember that they are unpatriotic leftists, and this is most scary. Who cares if we are now rejoicing that gas prices are falling from over three dollars a gallon to a “save-the-middle-class-vote” of just over two fifty a gallon? Just remember that the hurricane season impacts the oil production, and this is very, very scary. Who cares if manufacturing jobs are out-the-door? Just watch the Rob Simmons commercial to make you feel better, which will scare you into not voting for Joe Courtney.
These are some scary stories indeed. But lo and behold: fear is foul, and foul is fear. Let the battle rage on. And no, there aren't horns growing out of my head because I’m Irish!
Sunday, September 24, 2006
LADY OF MASS DECEPTION
I just caught Katie Couric’s interview on 60 Minutes with Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice. And what I can say? A lot.
I will begin with the reality. There’s no question: Condi’s one smart woman, and you’ve got to give her credit, like her or leave her. As an African-American woman, she never ceases to amaze me how the hell she navigates the GOP stratosphere, especially with the likes of Five Deferment Dick and Lunatic Rummy dwelling in the celestial realm. Especially since a large part of her party put up a stink in the House with renewing the Voting Rights Act in the spring. Especially since much of the right-wing talk radio echo chamber resounds with openly racist comments daily. And there’s no question that she along with likes of General Colin Powell are the GOP success stories of individuals who did not come from the best backgrounds and who truly pulled themselves up from their “bootstraps.”
Now let’s move to the deception. Did Dr. Rice have the right to talk with Couric about her childhood? Absolutely. Did Dr. Rice have the right to talk with Couric about the segregationist South during her childhood in Alabama? Absolutely. Did Dr. Rice have the right to comment on racism and its horrors? Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Should Dr. Rice have equated the racist-motivated bombings in the South in the 1960s with the “war on terror,” against which she and the Bush administration have waged real war, against which she and the Bush administration propagandize on a daily basis, against which she, George W. Bush, and the Republic Party use as a campaign tool? Probably not. But it worked; it was convincing; and as Frank Rich has noted in his new stunning book, it’s another narrative strand of The Greatest Story Ever Told. And how clever of them to air this effort on the season premiere of 60 Minutes.
Couric did her best. She was as pointed as she could be. But this interview was with a high-profile politician; in such cases all questions, editing, and sequencing were probably checked by Condi’s people ahead of time. In a few instances, like when Couric asked Dr. Rice about whether or not—wait minute, the story shifted a bit—she believed in Bush’s plan of spreading democracy in the Middle East, Couric became a little tough; but Couric was no where near as tough as Senator Barbara Boxer’s questioning of Condi during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January ’05. Couric's pseudo moments of toughness were far and few between. The point is: Couric wasn’t certainly as tough as she should’ve been and it seemed that she may have been muzzled. That's because she seemed to be mesmerized by the ever brilliant Lady of Mass Deception, or at least Couric was told to look as if she were.
Condi was clearly allowed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes in this interview. From claiming that she and the administration didn’t know about the scanty intelligence, pre-Invasion to Iraq to the claim that she “resents” it when people think that she—the “mushroom cloud” fear-mongerer—and the administration misled the country, Condi just made it all look as controlled and appealing as the gorgeous clothes she was wearing. Both the red and white dress suits looked great; you go, girl! My friends from Stanford tell me she’s one hell of a shopper. But let’s not forget, though, that although she’s brilliant and she has quite an inspiring life story, she’s one of the team. She was one of the team when the neo-conservative establishment was mobilizing in the late 90s to put together a foreign policy strategy for their established candidate, Chimpy Bush; she’s been part of the team and her dividends have paid off as she was (it’s uncertain if she still is) on the board of directors at Exxon Mobile; she was part of the team when she sold the war to the American people; and she’s been part of the team that has shifted the focus away from the now-proven-false justification of weapons of mass destruction to “freedom’s on the march”—nation building and “spreading” investment opportunities—better known as capitalism.
I don’t have a problem with Condi personally, and I unequivocally believe that she’s very good at her job: deceiving. Perhaps this is why talk show personality Randi Rhodes claims that every time Condi lies, that gap between her teeth widens ever so more. Well, Randi, it seems to me that those shiny fangs have been capped, and for good reason.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
WHO'S YOUR DADDY?
I know I’m not the first to make this claim, and there are those who are far better informed than I to explicate it, but: We, Americans, are in the midst of a pandemic known as the “daddy” trauma. And we need to get help—quickly.
This can be scene in the best show in town: the 24/7 political theater, which is quickly going into warp drive as we jet into October. Just look at the political advertisements here in CT. Those congressional republicans who face a serious challenge from democratic opposition have the “daddy” fever like no one else. What’s the “daddy” fever? It’s quite simple; it’s the rhetoric of “fear not little ones, I am here to protect you simply because my party and--regarldess if I'm truthful or not--I have said so.” I wish I could say that there was more to it, but that’s the gist of the message and what’s even more frightening: it works.
With one part smear and four parts fear, both Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons, better known on this blog as Washington Rob, have launched commercials that look like they were produced by the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer of the Armageddon genre—you know, the action-packed, testosterone laden, special effects extravaganza that bedazzles the eyes and does nothing for the mind?
Let’s face it: Johnson takes the academy award for this one. Her newest commercial shows the map of the world, with “phone-links” allegedly between her opponent Chris Murphy and some random-ass terrorist in Pakistan, suggesting that Murphy talks to the terrorist, when in reality Murphy merely supports the federal FISA law as written: to do random phone-tapping, the federal government needs to get a court order within 72 hours of initiating such a program. Let me break it down for you: Murphy supports the law whereas Johnson does not, as does our favorite little chimp, W. But this is not about truth; this is not about reality. This is about who’s your daddy. Put simply, it’s about perception management, and, our gal Nancy looks like a better, stronger, ass-kicking Daddy. And poor law-abiding Chris looks like, well, a whimp.
Washington Rob, whom my republican friends keep insisting is a nice man, jumped on the Daddy Wagon recently with gusto. I have been telling the Courtney campaign that they need to turn aggressive and stay aggressive. But no. Albeit Joe Courtney gave a respectable performance in his debate with Washington Rob on Monday evening and can easily come off as a bulldog, Rob has got that formidable “daddy" fever that transfixes and controls. From the get-go, Rob cleverly conflated the war in Iraq with the war on terrorism—surprise! surprise! He then quickly referred to the McCourt mother and child, New London residents, who lost their lives on 9/11, with a grieving paternal tone, a despicable, disgraceful move on this part. And then he discussed how he has been responsible for saving the sub base from closure. This was just in his opening remarks; and you can see and hear the “daddy" fever all over the place. Who cares that time and time again, the links between Iraq and the 9/11 have been disputed, disputed, and disputed? Who cares if people invoke the deaths of 9/11 for political gain and exploitation; they’ll just say they are paying homage to those who lost their lives? Who cares if it was a delegation of Connecticut politicians, both state and federal, both republican and democrat, who were responsible for saving the sub base? Washington Rob and Oedipus Lieberman, another “daddy" fever addict, just want to claim it for themselves, regardless of the facts that both Electric Boat and Pfizer, Inc., have been laying off left, right, and center. Simmons, quite frankly, only got better as an “our father” in his closing remarks, when making one claim after another he turned to Joe Courtney, and in a condescending tone rhetorically asked if Joe could do a better job. While Simmons’s television ads pale in comparison to Daddy Johnson's, the message is the same. What’s slightly scarier, though, is Daddy Washington Rob is seen outside EB, shaking workers’ hands, as they leave the yard: only if people were focusing on the real truth that hundreds of workers have, in fact, really left the yard due to layoffs. A sad reality. But Daddy Washington Rob makes it all look better.
What is it with this daddy trauma? Reports have abounded that W. has had a long history of daddy trauma of his own; everyone knows that it was Jeb whom Momma and Daddy Bush had pegged for the White House, not chimpy. Everybody knows that chimpy was a big fuck-up pretty much all his life until he was reborn. Everybody knows that W. likes to look tough, masculine and…a bit like Tom Cruise in Top Gun to make such declarations that our missions are accomplished. But just like with Cruise, we all know deep down, an enormous disparity exists between the surface daddy and, well, the daddy in the closet. And let’s not even consider the strange, surrogate daddy relationships W. has with Darth Cheney and Lunatic Rummy. It’s daddy trauma overload!
Don’t mistake me: I think the “daddy” thing works for republicans. This is why I suspect that there will not be this tsunami wave of democratic take-over in November; it isn’t going to happen. There may be some gains. But the “daddy" fever taps into peoples’ unconscious fears and desires to blind them to the truth. It lulls them into feeling safe, secure and aligned with people who look like they know better simply because they claim to know better.
But there’s something enormously problematic about the “daddy" fever, and we can only sustain this cultural headache for so long. Just take a look at Jodi Rell’s political ads to know the difference: unlike her republican colleagues, Rell comes off as the good witch from the west. She uses no fear; she seems like you want to invite her to your house for tea; she refers to being “part” of the team that saved the sub base; and, well, she makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. That’s right: I am predicting a big Rell win in November. DeStefano doesn’t stand a chance. But what’s interesting here, though, is for all the dark and negative attributes of “daddy" fever that Daddy Johnson and Daddy Washington Rob have, our beloved Jodi has gone to the opposite pole--the good mother—and it works.
Because we’ve nursed the “daddy" fever for so long in American politics, because we’ve been like that speaker in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy”—symbolically living in a black shoe seeing enemies all over the place, because the “daddy" fever has become so epidemic and has caused seismic rifts in the electorate, I can’t help but think if and when the paradigm will ever change?
Plato believed that a state was in part a direct reflection of those who lead that state and served as a paradigm for those who followed. In light of this consideration, are we doomed with more “daddy" fever because W. can’t appropriate his “daddy issues”? Are there too many “daddies” around him to swing the pendulum back to the center? Or is it that just maybe we need different daddies and some good mothers in the mix so that the center can and will hold?
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Unlike a cat on a hot tin roof who struggles to withstand the heat, Joe just lies and lies and lies and tries to be a cool cat that you just love to hate. Just take a look at his most recent television ad. At first, I thought I was watching a promotion for "Thomas, the Tank Engine & Friends" who usually cameo at the Essex Train Station in the Fall. Playful music accompanied serene sequences of nature--interspersed with Joe, of course, trying ever so desperately to hide his narcissitic personality disorder. Only if it were Thomas, that cheeky little engine. Instead, we get Joe doing what he does best: promoting himself in agonizing detail and lying. You know: attacking Ned Lamont for negative ads--blah, blah, blah. That he concluded with the statement he's running because it's not about politics, it's about people conjured up images of a Saturday Night Live parody in the making, with a part Bab Streisand rendition "People" along with a Linda Blair revival of the pea soup puke scene from "The Exorcist."
Check out Joe's high holy lies of Sunday, as documented by David Sirota:
Saturday, September 16, 2006
AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, AN AMERICAN SOLDIER, & WHO'S AFRAID OF VINDICATING THE TRUTH
Visit Crooks & Liars at
What happened to Pat Tillman boldly highlights how the Bush Administration has botched their foreign policy, manipulated the media to its own design, and shown time and time again a complete disregard for Americans, our needs and rights, and our families.
The Pat Tillman story is rather honorable and clear: Tillman, a star NFL football player, felt the call to duty, the call to serve. After the 9/11 attacks, he made the conscious and bold decision to enact the ultimate sacrifice: to serve our country. Leaving behind a lucrative and much publicized career in the NFL, a loving wife and family, Tillman entered the United States Army in May 2002. He served in Iraq and then subsequently in Afghanistan. In April of 2004, Tillman was killed on the battlefield. At first, the news media reported that Tillman was killed by enemy fire while heroically carrying out his orders in intense combat.
The Tillman funeral was a national event, as it should've been. Politicians and cameramen were there en masse to comment on and/or to document the passing of a hero in ritualistic detail. What made this even more spectacular, especially for those of us who have been following the war and the Bush Administration's handling of it, is that the media and the administration have virtually ignored the sad return of the fallen. When do we see the coffins? The ceremonies honoring loss and sacrifice? The families and loved ones who grieve? Hence, you can understand why Cindy Sheehan--like her or leave her--has responded so passionately and heroically to a president and his team who have predicated their ideology on a "culture of life," which more oftentimes than not paradoxically seems like a cold and insenstive culture of death. Shouldn't an integral part of the "culture of life" movement be to honor the dead, especially when a tragedy has ensued?
A month after Tillman's funeral, his family learned that the Pentagon managed to cover the story up: Tillman was, in fact, killed by friendly fire. Their quest to uncover this ugly truth, its details, and the cover-up that happened has been a painful, neglected story that every and now again resurfaces, which it has done as of late.
Granted, ugly realities like this happen in war. My father and two uncles who served in Vietnam have told me about stories like this that happen all the time and that never make a front page. What's disturbing here, though, is how the Tillman narrative embodies Team Bush's handling of things, which presents an extremely dismaying collage of cold, calculating politicians who are the polar opposite of what a genuine culture of life conveys; a lazy and controlled media that remains pathetically supine in hard times, when at its core a free media should be presenting all sides of what's happening in a truly fair and balanced way; and an American public that remains, sadly and understandably enough, largely unconscious of what unfolds around them.
From the beginning, the invasion of Iraq has been an enormous mistake. What the Bush Team thought what be a strategic move in an effort to redesign the Middle East, its politics, and its peoples, has devolved into a chaos from which we have no way of knowing how to extricate ourselves. Even now that Congress has released a declarative report asserting that no operational ties between Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden existed before the invasion, the administration and its controlled media are still conflating things.
Our people, our children, and our future generations will grapple with this mess for years to come. What's even more troubling is that throughout this horror show our country has largely ignored our basic rights, which include the right to a free press, and on a symbolic level, the right to the truth.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
A NEW SCARLET LETTER--"A" FOR ACADEMIC
"Tradition with a twist." It was a marketing slogan for Apple Computers for quite some time. In the ad campaign, which was launced approximately ten years ago, "tradition with a twist" was superimposed on photographs of some of the world's greatest minds: Pablo Picasso, Miles Davis, Gandhi, and several other thinkers who have made our planet and its history a better, more conscious place.
As a teacher in training during this time, I was drawn to "tradition with a twist" for good reason. Having received an undergraduate liberal arts education at Fordham University, I was entrenched in the Jesuit philosophy of education: wisdom and knowledge are essential for learning, essential to becoming human, and learning HOW to think is far more important than learning WHAT to think. This philosophy emphasized that studying the great texts, ideas, sciences, religions, arts, languages, and histories of our world were essential to becoming more educated, more enlightened, and more humane. The end goal: a well-rounded, thoughtful person will hopefully contribute to the fabric of humanity, making the world a better, safer place.
To me, "tradition with a twist" means fusing the old with the new; examining the past while keeping an eye on the future; going outside of yourself to learn but demonstrating a willingness to introspect to mature; and, last but not least, learning from as many different sources as possible to give back to the world that has offered you so much. A bit convoluted? A bit idealistic? Perhaps. But that's my philosophy on life, and my philosophy on education.
Since entering public education ten years ago, I have been rather stunned by how the word "academic" has become, on some level, the soucre of the new Scarlet Letter A. Every now and again, I am reminded of this by how many of my colleagues frown upon the word. When I had my first teaching job, many teachers considered the word "academic" to be elitist and snobby. Interestingly, I often found the same people to be the ones who thought the students to be to too "dumb" and unworthy of canonical texts like "The Scarlet Letter" itself. How these same critics could deem students not worthy of reading great literature was always beyond me, especially considering that some of the loudest had read very few classics themselves.
Fast forward to last year. A colleague of mine and I were heavily criticized by one of our very own for using the word academic in suggeting improving a particular course. In sum, we, the proponents of "academic," were simply stating that ninth grade students needed to be exposed to more traditional writing assignments that were "academic" and less "authentic" in nature. Note: for those of you who don't know what "authentic" means, the educational jargon translates to "real life application."
What was simply a concern for students and their needs quickly became an ideological (and in many instances) a personal battle that turned severly ugly at times. It was like we stepped aboard the death star. Seismic eruptions occurred; the silent treatment toward me and my "academic" ally went on for months; and to this day, the scab on this symbolic wound has barely transmogrified toward healing. I never fully understood why this individual took issue with us advocating for academic rigor within the confines of an academic institution. Go figure.
Recently, in a meeting with colleagues, in response to a discussion I had with one of my superiors, I discussed the importance of academic rigor in teaching reading and writing. I was trying to point out that it's important to expose all students to academic rigor, not just the honors and advanced placement kids. Part of ascribing to "tradition with a twist" involves the inherent belief that all students should have the same educational opportunities, especially in a public school, especially in a democratic society. It's sort of insane to suggest that "A great education is meant for you...but not for you. Just get on the right side of the tracks." It's even more insane to convey: "You're not worthy of these classic stories or challenging writing assignments because, well, we have deemed that you're not. Damn it--go read your young adult novel." Well, if I could've harnessed the energy emanating from the dirty looks on some my colleagues' faces, I could've easily created an IED--that's an improvised, explosive device. Obviously, some were deeply offended and it is unclear why.
Back to "tradition with a twist." Why is that in education once one fad, concept or theory comes along we "knee-jerk" to reject what we've done in the past? Why is it that we to tend to disdain anything that has to do with tradition in favor of innovation just because it is "new"? Have we educators become solely addicted to new, "out-of-the-box" approaches to teaching or learning without truthfully considering what these approaches have to offer, especially to our students? Why is that so many teachers and college professors have ignored or discarded some of the world's classic texts, when so many of our contemporary writers have beared witness to how these works have come to shape their craft? Why can't we accept what would perhaps practically work best: balance, tradition with a twist of the new. Combining the best of the old with the best of the new makes a lot of sense. We can't ignore modernity; the wave of the future moves too fast. But we do no justice to our students or ourselves when we neglect from where this wave comes. Call me crazy, but I appreicate the minds of Picasso, Davis and Gandhi, and I believe my students can as well. The world is a better place because of these thinkers, not because of their absence.
And why have we enshrouded the word "academic" with shame? Or, more importantly, why has the "a' in academic become the new scarlet letter a? Can we, like that chic Hester, transform the meaning of the word to mean great things instead of...shame?
Saturday, September 09, 2006
If you want to understand how & why the radical right (not decent & conscious Republicans) thinks and works the way it does, then you need to read this book and what John Dean, a Republican himself who worked in the Nixon administration, examines as an authoritarian complex/disorder. A must.
LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NOVEMBER
Like the Tyrone family who remains stuck in the past, the Republican Party finds comfort there as well.
With the 5th 9/11 anniversary upon us and bascially no good midterm election strategy for Republicans--the economy, at least for middle class Americans, is in the toilet; our foreign policy is creating more foreign mayhem; and our national security is more appropriately national insecurity, ABC decides to release an enormously flawed 9/11 docudrama that pins the blame on Bill Clinton--surprise!surprise!-- and everybody and their grandmother except the Bush administration. With no commercial breaks--you're going to love this one, the network has allowed for one, grand interruption: W, who will--I'm sure--beat his war drum as if he were Keith Moon in the flesh. I'm not kidding. And what's even more fascinating, several conservatives inlcuding the likes of Bill Bennet are stepping forward to condemn this "docu fiction." When we are with Bill Bennett, the stars and planets are aligning for who hell knows what.
But we need a little history, quasi literature lesson here: As Eugene O'Neill's Mary Tyrone says, "The Past is the Present, it's the future, too." Remember: the Republicans, especially the neoconservative psychos, love fear, fear, and more fear, especially during an election year. How the hell they made Kerry, a Vietnam Veteran, pale in comparision to chimpy, a Vietnam Dodger, is beyond many of us. Call it "perception management." What's so pathetic (and a bit sacrilegious, I think) here is that they will use the anniversary of a tragic event to make their message loud and clear.
For more information about the controversy: check out media matters: http://mediamatters.org/
Monday, September 04, 2006
Flip-flopping his way in temper tantrum after temper tantrum, Lieberman appears tragically addicted to contradictions and parsing: first he criticized those—in particular, congressional Democrats—for criticizing the Iraq war, then he appears on “Face the Nation” to rehash the very criticisms he criticized; first he accuses Ned Lamont to be a closeted, Greenwich Republican, then he casts Lamont as the patron saint of the left; first he insists that he is a true Democrat, but then ignores results, his former party’s will, and launches an independent run, with GOP influences in tow, only to undermine the efforts of other democratic congressional candidates.
As has been said before, Joe wants it both ways. Better yet, he wants things his way. This might explain why the GOP-backed Vets for Freedom (Swiftboaters, version 2006) that bombarded John Kerry and scudded Max Cleland, a Vietnam Veteran who sacrificed 3 limbs on the battlefields in Southeast Asia, have appeared from the shadows to support Joe.
As Sophocles and Herman Melville asserted in their most notable characters, Oedipus and Captain Ahab respectively, dangerous men are not only dangerous to themselves, but, more importantly, to those whom they represent.