Friday, June 30, 2006

The "Southern Strategy" and the "netroots"

So what do we hear from Democratic "netroots" regarding a Southern culture? (a key to implementing the "Southern Strategey" as described by Dave "Mudcat" Saunders) Why, let's listen in:
The Peckerwood era in the south were good ole days for southerners, or at least as good as it got after Lee's crying uncle and throwing in the towel to the hated Yankees. They still had the Negroes to kick around and could freely exercise their domestic version of Apartheid, (`least till dose meddlin' hippie college boys began stickin' dere noses where day didn't belong and stirrin' up a ruckus) until that long avowed day when the south would rise again, and rising is just what it is doing in 2005 with the help of Jesus and the GOP (Good Ole Peckerwoods)...

This is the reality of the situation: deep south bible belt whites, mainly poor, increasingly hostile and always Republican now own a disproportionate amount of political power in America and they are determined to wield it. They will use it in order to drag the country backwards through time to a dark place in our history that had apparently been buried in the past. They seek to return to the days where the American south was mired in the smothering blackness of a festering, hateful and corrupt parallel universe to the more progressive states above the Mason Dixon Line, trapped like a dinosaur in a tar pit. It was only through the courage of the civil rights movement and federal anti discrimination laws that the roaring beast was able to be semi-tamed to a point where it would be able to interact with decent folk. With the ascendancy of a red state evangelical movement the south is back for blood revenge, thundering a bastardized version of Christianity from pulpits, preaching hatred and bigotry and the end times and drawing the masses of the disenfranchised into ever growing mega churches and mobilizing armies of activists. The southern regressive fervor has infiltrated the United States government itself, controlling both houses of congress, the executive branch and now is on the precipice of seizing control of the supreme court as well, engulfing all of our democratic institutions like a malignant strain of alien kudzu.
Hateful? Check!

Historically ignorant? Check!

Sure to drive moderates into your opponent's arms? Check!

Mission accomplished! Bring on the next election!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Authentic Voices

The Constant Reader will know that I have a bone to pick with Democrats who put on Christianity like a magic hat to try and convince us dumb old fundamentalists that they, too, get this "God thing."

Well, the Democrats have one national figure who "gets it." Barack Obama gave a very thoughtful speech the other day:
For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest "gap" in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don't.

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, there are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.

...over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

And if we're going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

...That's a path that has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans - evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at certain turning points in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives their beliefs and their values.

...And that is why that, if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.
And how was Senator Obama's speech received by his most outspoken fellow Democrats?

It's Bill Clinton's Fault!
But this bullshit from Barack Obama is Bill Clinton’s fault. The greatest victory of the radical right wing has been to train Democratic politicians to disrespect, mischaracterize and run against their base in the progressive movement. And that is Bill Clinton’s fault.
Man, that netroots thing is what's gonna keep Republicans in power for the next 20 years.

Unsolicited Advice I

If Democrats were asking me (which they are most certainly not) they'd be listening to Dave "Mudcat" Saunders.

One of Mudcat's myriad cris de coeur (besides the lament that Democrats "have no testosterone" and are unable to "get through the culture" of the South) is that his party can't count. "Politics is about addition, that's all it is. It's not difficult," he says, giving me a primer on Mudcat math. "If I go get a white male," he asks, "how many votes do I get?" One, I reply. "No," he says impatiently, "I get two. Because I just took one away from Republicans."

It is the most elegantly simple precept, he says, one that could end the Democratic drought, and yet they don't see it because they think targeting Bubba males alienates their base and smacks of racism. "No it doesn't," he says. "My African-American friends want to win as much as I do. . . . Democrats are insane. They say Republicans are insane, but they win. I don't see anything insane about winning."

When he and Jarding approached the Democratic National Committee about sponsoring a NASCAR truck decked out with fire-snorting donkey nostrils--as they'd done successfully with Warner, and as everyone from the NRA to the U.S. Navy has also done, as a way to start cracking the culture--he says they were rebuffed. "It wasn't the demographic they were going for." I ask what they were going for. "Fat women from New England," he snaps.

It's going to take more that running a NASCAR entry, though. The Democrats are going to have to have their Sister Souljah moment with Michael Moore and his ilk:

...You know in my town the small businesses that everyone wanted to protect? They were the people that supported all the right-wing groups. They were the Republicans in the town, they were in the Kiwanas, the Chamber of Commerce - people that kept the town all white. The small hardware salesman, the small clothing store salespersons, Jesse the Barber who signed his name three different times on three different petitions to recall me from the school board. Fuck all these small businesses - fuck 'em all! Bring in the chains. The small businesspeople are the rednecks that run the town and suppress the people. Fuck 'em all. That's how I feel.

If that's how you feel, Michael, Okay. You were the one that got invited to sit in former President Jimmy Carter's box at the Democratic Convention.

The Paranoid Style of Netroots Politics

It's become a common observation among conservatives to note that Richard Hofstadter's essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," more and more closely describes what is happening among the warring factions of the Democratic party. Hofstadter's comments about conservative criticisms of the Korean war now apply to Liberal criticisms of the Global War on Terror:
...Any historian of warfare knows it is in good part a comedy of errors and a museum of incompetence; but if for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination. In the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United States has been brought to its present dangerous position but how it has managed to survive at all.
The group that was the banner carrier for the paranoid politics about which Hofstadter wrote was the unhinged John Birch Society of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Society was more than a collection of "old ladies in tennis shoes," as they were often characterized. Members included high-technology aerospace workers in Orange County, California who sent Richard Nixon to congress.

Josh Trevino writes a nice comparison between the "netroots" campaigns of sites like DailyKos and MyDD and the John Birch Society:
...Its leader was one Robert Welch, Jr., an erstwhile Massachusetts manufacturer who looked at the past quarter-century of statism’s march, and saw relentless conspiracy. He was not alone in his analysis: surely this sea change, counterintuitive and counter-American as it was, could never have succeeded simply by the will of the people. Surely it was not a function of the mere zeitgeist. Surely it was not coincidental. No: forces were at work. The Birchers meant to identify them.

And identify them they did. In the classic manner of the conspiracy-minded and the cultist, having arrived at the effect — which is to say, their own relentless marginalization by hidden forces — they set out to identify causes and agents. One obvious agent was international Communism. Fair enough: it had an objectively-verifiable existence, acknowledged by its own participants. Less obvious were the American agents of that agent: the secret Communists advancing the cause within our very nation. And here the Birchers went astray....

Hofstadter characterized their alienation this way:

...But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.

How do they compare with the "netroots" crowd? Josh Trevino writes:

Consider the average member of this group. He (or she) remembers the era of leftist dominance of American politics — and he remembers the beginning of its end, on election day 1980. He is around 50 years old. He is professional living in a coastal enclave, mostly on the Pacific coast or the northeast. His political consciousness was formed by the McGovern and Carter campaigns — and of course the American retreat from Vietnam. He may have grown up in Iowa, or Texas, or Missouri, or Utah — but he went to college elsewhere, and fell in love with the people in California, or New York, or Boston, who were so much more progressive and intellectual than the hayseeds back home. His initial concept of conservatives, which he’s never really abandoned, was formed by Nixonian malfeasance: they’re all crooks and corrupt, in his mind. The ascent of Reagan in 1980, and later the 1994 revolution, came as a profound shock — how could America forget so soon? He is well-off: and the bulk of his working career — and hence the font of his personal prosperity — was spent in the boom markets of the 1980s and 1990s, under Republican national governance in one form or another. He doesn’t think about the implications of that much.

But for all his generally good circumstances, he’s been on the political and cultural losing side all his adult life. He’s tired of it. And he’s found a website which, at last, makes him feel empowered. He is, in short, the typical member of the so-called netroots: the left-wing movement, organized around blogs, that seeks to “take back” this country from its usurpers. The netroots is a movement born of desperation and a sense of embattlement at being on the losing side of historical forces. It sees itself as the inheritor and the guarantor of true American tradition and identity, and it seeks to restore those things to their rightful primacy in national life. Critically, it choose to not merely fight its foes, but emulate them. It sees the prime virtue of its enemies as their ability to win, and if they can just crack the code — if it can grasp the very methodology of victory — then they will turn the tables, and victory will be theirs.

Sound familiar? It is — to us. To the left, it’s all very exciting, and all very new. And so we see the self-proclaimed netroots go through a trajectory very much like what the Birchers went through, albeit in highly compressed time. The elements are all there: the resentment, the conspiracy-mindedness, and especially the leaders with stupefyingly poor judgment married to Napoleon complexes.
This knd of thinking ends up in with self-appointed leaders condemning other, older leaders for lax ideological purity.

So how did the political right deal with its own wingnuttery?
...but the beginning of the end for its place in American conservatism came the preceding year. Nearly concurrent with its founding was the founding of the National Review, and in the beginning, there was much overlap between the personnel of each entity. Under William F. Buckley’s aegis, the National Review did what the Birchers did not: specifically, it eschewed the foe rather than mimicking it; and it inculcated within itself and its fellow-travelers a basic optimism about the American people that the Birchers, with their dark Weltanschauung of dupes and proxies, found utterly alien. Buckley in particular wrestled with the problem of Welch’s unhinged theories, until publicly concluding in the seminal February 1962 NR essay, “The Question of Robert Welch,” that the Birchers’ leader was simply a paranoiac who had to be ejected from the still-nascent conservative movement.

The gravity of Buckley’s action cannot be overstated. Conservatism was still on the ropes. Its declared adherents were few, and it would shortly suffer a crushing rejection from the American electorate in the 1964 election. In this circumstance, many argued that to turn away any ally was a fool’s act, bringing division in dire straits where unity was paramount. Mercifully, the National Review rejected this in favor of doing what was right rather than what was seemingly pragmatic. Considering the probable resulting alternatives in the modern day — a conservative movement twisted by a dark vision of paranoia and loathing, or no conservative movement at all — we owe a debt of gratitude for this simple essay in winter 1962.

Will the leaders of the Democratic Party find the courage to dump the "nutroots"?

Their inability to keep from slobbering all over race demagogues like Al Sharpton do not give me much hope.

Moving to the Right

Mona Charon muses on the reasons she is a conservative and quotes one of the finest bon mots I have ever read.
...He has reminisced about moving to Washington in the 1960s. Paraphrase: “I was a young, brash Barry Goldwater conservative. But in the intervening years, I’ve matured and grown and moved steadily to the right.”

Jim Baen, R.I.P.

After suffering a stoke, publisher Jim Baen has died. While I will write more later, David Drake has written a wonderful obituary.

UPDATE: Just Barking Mad reminds us that Jim remembered when he was a young soldier:
The final, and perhaps the most important thing to me, is that Jim never forgot the serviceman. Once a lowly private on the Bavarian border Jim would later send tens of thousands of first run books to soldiers, seaman, airmen and Marines around the globe at no expense to them. Naturally there were some who decried this a publicity stunt. I know that it was not…Jim cared. He was honored when they thanked him. Letters from service members took place of pride on his website.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Democratic Disconnect

It's like falling through the looking glass. Howard Dean likens 2006 to 1968:
"We're about to enter the '60s again," Dean said, but he was not referring to the Vietnam War or racial tensions.

Dean said he is looking for "the age of enlightenment led by religious figures who want to greet Americans with a moral, uplifting vision." . . .
Baby, the last thing the Democratic Party wants is a to be led by a religious figure with a moral vision.
Alternating between references to the "McCarthy era" of the 1950s, which he accused the Bush administration of reviving, the decade of the 1960s and the current era, Dean explained that he was "looking to go back to the same moral principles of the '50s and '60s."
Man, are we back to that 50s "Happy Days" nostalgia again?
That was a time that stressed "everybody's in it together," he said. "We know that no one person can succeed unless everybody else succeeds." . . .
Leave No Child Behind!
Before leaving Tuesday's conference, the DNC chairman thanked those in attendance for giving him "a big lift."

"I came in the wrong door when I first got here," Dean said. "I came in the back, and everybody was talking about praising the Lord, and I thought, 'I am home. Finally, a group of people who want to praise the Lord and help their fellow man just like Jesus did and just like Jesus taught.' Thank you so much for doing that for me."
Howard, if saying "Praise the Lord" makes you feel at home, I know a lot of gun-toten' rednecks that you'd feel real cozy with.

James Taranto seems to characterize this best when he says:
But there's something bizarre about the head of the Democratic Party yearning for a return to the 1960s. After all, 1968 marked the beginning of the Republican ascendancy in American politics. Richard Nixon's narrow victory in that year's presidential election began an impressive 7-for-10 GOP streak, and of course the Republicans eventually broke the Democrats' congressional majority too. For a Democrat to long for a return to the '60s is the equivalent of a Republican looking back wistfully on the glory days of the Hoover administration.

The Silence of the Dems

Christopher Hitchens has written about the silence of the Peace Movement when it comes to actually..., you know..., doing something more that pounding drums.
...may I propose some ways in which those who don't want to be associated with Michael Moore, George Galloway, Ramsey Clark, and the rest of the Zarqawi and Saddam apologists can make themselves plain? Here are four headings under which the anti-war types could disprove the charge of bad faith.
He lists the four things:
  1. Promote the ban on land mines.
  2. Human shields to protest the tageting of Iraqi civilians by terrorists.
  3. Reaffirm the condemnation of sanctions against Iraq.
  4. Re-start the drive to allow homosexuals to serve in the US armed forces.
I don't have much to say about number four. This seems to be kind of tacked onto the whole Iraq thing, like a senator placing an earmark for his home state in a highway appropriations bill.

But look at number one. Remember Princess Di? Patron saint of the tabloid? She was making some waves, lending her image to a very large movement to ban the use of landmines. As Hitchens points out, news about the ban has been displaced by news of casualties caused by terrorists using IEDs which are homebrew land mines.

And look at number two. What about those crazy human shields? Weren't they loveably kooky? Yep, they hung around Bagdad until it looked like the shooting was really about to start, then, "Oops! Sorry guys, but I've gotta get back for a....a.... drum circle! Yeah, that's the ticket! I've gotta get back to my drum circle and help drive that evil Chimpy McHallibushitler outta office. Email me!"

And number three. The lament of some, back in the 1990s was that the sanctions against Iraq were causing the death of half a million children, between 1991 and 1998. The alternative to war wasn't some utopia where, "They had flowery meadows and rainbow skies, and rivers made of chocolate, where the children danced and laughed and played with gumdrop smiles. " It was a totalitarian regime where death was brutal and common.

What do these three things have in common? I think that they show that the "Peace" movement isn't primarily concerned with peace. It's concerned with a desperate attempt to delegitimize the actions of people with whom they have style issues at the cost of suffering and misery of people that they don't want to acknowlege.

Theocratic Crack-up?

Russell Cobb over in Slate writes about the appearance of cracks in what is usually seen as a monolithic American Christian Nationalism. In this article he counters the alarm-crying of cultural observers such as Kevin Phillips and Michelle Goldberg.

I have written about my own differences with the National Association of Evangelicals over their stance on Environmental issues.

What astonishes me is that anyone who has 1) any knowledge of church history and 2) access to a newspaper would conclude that Christians--especially American Christians--would be able to form some sort of long-lasting, all-encompassing political coalition.

The branch of the church that seems to have observers such as Michelle Goldberg exercised is the Fundamentalist/Evangelical branch of Protestant Christianity. Let's take a look at this unity:

Christianity hasn't been monolithic since, least seven years after its founding when the Apostle Peter baptized a Roman commander, scandalizing what had been a Jewish church.

In the 11th century the Church split between Rome and Constantinople. In the 16th century we have the Reformation with the Protestant church splitting away from the Roman church--a fragment of a fragment. Then in the 1500s, the non-conformists (Presbyterians, Congregationalists, etc.) broke with the Church of England, becoming a fragments of a fragment of a fragment. Some of these fragments separated themselves from their mother churches by fleeing to the American Colonies.

American Christians have a propensity, nay a delight, in schism. There are a dizzying array of church denominations in the United States. Along with the churches that were transplanted into the colonies, many more have sprung up. Methodists, Anabaptists, Amish, Mennonite, Restorationists, as well as others seen as completely heterodox: Christian Science, Mormons, Jehovah's Witness. A drive through almost any American urban or suburban neighborhood would show a kaleidoscope of denominations.

And this doesn't mention the tensions between American Catholics and Rome.

Politics has been the "art of the compromise." People who are the recipients of Divine Truth cannot compromise that Truth for mere political gain. No compromise--no political gain.

The question has never been, "Will the Christian Right split?" The question has always been, "How and when will the Church set aside earthly power and turn their hearts to God?"

Monday, June 26, 2006

Follow the Money

Many on the Democratic side of the aisle seem to be hell-bent on bringing down the Bush administration--even if it takes wrecking the United State's national security to accomplish it.

Taleena at Sun Comprehending Glass has intemperate words for the editors and publishers of the New York Times regarding their publishing of the details of a anti-terrorist program that tracks international funds transfers.

On Fox News Sunday, the often-likable NPR commentator Juan Williams felt that it was a good thing that the news was published because, as he said, the terrorists would stop moving money around--there was no alternative to the international banking system.

I weep.

The First Rule of Fight Club is: You Don't Talk About Fight Club.

The Second Rule of Fight Club is: You Don't Talk About Fight Club.

You never, never, never expose to your opponents your intentions, capabilities or actions. Perhaps your opponent doesn't know; perhaps he suspects, but isn't sure; or perhaps he's got the information, but he's looking for confirmation.

Mr. Williams certainly knows that on June 13th Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar was breifly delayed at the Cairo airport with seven suitcases stuffed with cash.
The foreign minister is the third Hamas official to enter at the Rafah crossing into Gaza carrying large amounts of cash. Last month, a Hamas lawmaker passed through with $4.5 million in banknotes. Before that, a Hamas spokesman brought in $800,000. Not a single dollar of these cash deliveries ever reached official Palestinian national coffers. Rather, Palestinian sources report that the cash covered the wages of Hamas’s militiamen and “security forces” — that is, the hired killers of “one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world today.”

The reason the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times did what they did is that they could count on Bush Derangement Syndrome to cover their ass. And now we are facing international terrorism with one less weapon.

In the words of Jake Gittes:
You can follow the action, which gets you good pictures. You can follow your instincts, which'll probably get you in trouble. Or, you can follow the money, which nine times out of ten will get you closer to the truth.

Well, now we are going to have a harder time following the money.

How Shall We Find the Concord of this Discord?

A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.'
Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!
That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow.
How shall we find the concord of this discord?
The Seattle Times has run an unsigned editorial about the resignation of Dean Logan.

For those who are not familiar with him, Mr. Logan was Elections Director for King County, Washington during the late Gubernatorial* race. Mr. Logan's department mislaid ballots, certified ballots that were in clear and open violation of state elections law, and kept finding "lost" ballots until Democrat Christine Gregoire edged ahead of Republican Dino Rossi. The ill will generated by that debacle will poison Washington state politics for a generation.

Now Mr. Logan is to decamp to sunnier climes of Los Angeles County. I wish him safety, for Los Angeles is rough political scene. That kind of electoral jiggery-pokery will have Orange County rioting like South Central.

But what I want to look briefly at that editorial. It contains two paragraphs of amazing prose:
Logan was by no means perfect. His office made many unacceptable mistakes during the 2004 election. He accepted responsibility for the missteps and then worked tirelessly and cooperatively with three committees or task forces to fix the problems.

But few people can withstand incessant ranting of talk radio and sometimes rabid musings of the blogosphere, not to mention heavy-handed political posturing from the County Council.
So in the first paragraph we have "unacceptable mistakes" for which Mr. Logan has "accepted responsibility." I think I know what they mean, but someone needed to see the conflict between those sentences before they went to print.

The next paragraph contains the coining of the phrase, "rabid musings" of the blogosphere. Rabid evokes images of uncontrolled ferocity straining to break the leash, while "musings" evokes those of quite, even ironic, reflections. How do those get along?

Finally we have "heavy-handed political posturing." The metaphores have not been merely mixed, they've been blended to a frappe like a mochaccino.

Of course I don't believe a word of this stuff; but, once again, it's like the Democrats are sending in the second-string team.

* I just love that word, "Gubernatorial." It's like all state executive officers are at heart, Jimmy Carter. Gubernatorial!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Summer Re-reads

I wonder how many people start summer, or re-affirm summer, by re-reading a specific book each year. I had thought that I was the only one who did such a thing, but I have met, through the years many people who do it.

Years ago, my friend Alex told me that every year since seminary he has started each summer by re-reading Dune. I completely understood. Dune is a novel that, if you are lucky, takes you in and transports you to a distant, not altogether nice, place. But the lapse of a year allows the ideas and themes of the novel to grow roots in your mind; and re-reading the novel allows new growth to experience of reading.

A former boss, Bill, told me that he started every summer re-reading The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. I read through that series twice, both times carried by its story and repelled by its anti-hero. I cannot imagine doing that to myself again. But for Bill, summer didn't start until he had cracked open Lord Foul's Bane.

What triggers this rememberance is R. Andrew Newman's article on NRO about his summer ritual of re-reading Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.
It’s not, I think, a bearing in life I seek. It’s an annual desire to reacquaint myself with the vistas of summer. Vistas wide and golden as the prairie itself. Times when school hallways darkened and three months of light beckoned. Days when the air seemed saturated with possibilities.
And, that, I think is the key. The annual desire to reacquaint ourselves with books that changed how we viewed the world.

And my annual summer read?


It used to be The Lord of the Rings, but I have set that aside for a while. I'm looking for the next big, complex narrative, loaded with the frieight of ideas and new viewpoints that will be worth re-reading.

Any suggestions?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Hard Falls

So no sooner did I post the haiku about getting flung, than it happens. Last Friday Mrs. Islander had customers to attend to, so I took off to attend aikido class alone.

I arrived late (something I loathe) and thought that I would just wait out open-hand techniques and participate only in weapons class. Pierce Sensei had other ideas. He called a senior student over to show me the current technique. The attack was a ryotetori (two-hand grab) and the defense was a type of koyu nage or throw. (My ignorance is due to my late arrival.)

I am still gokyu (rank beginner) , so my partner was releasing me into forward rolls. At least she was trying to. Because I had been late arriving, I had not warmed up, I had not seen the technique demonstrated, and I was being a poor uke. If you can imagine someone stepping onto the dance floor and attempting a new step for the first time, bumping into their partner, treading on their partner's feet, that was me.

After a moment, Pierce Sensei came over and asked my partner to sit seiza. We bowed and he signaled for me to attack.

Now, about the only real error you can make in this situation (attacking your sensei) is to make your attack half-hearted or to not follow through with the attack you have begun. I would make neither of these mistakes. I stepped towards Pierce Sensei, grabbed his wrists firmly...and entered the maelstrom. He stepped back with a quarter-turn, grabbed my wrists and swept my arms (and the rest of my body) up and around. I approached the portion of the technique where nage should release my hands to allow me to execute a graceful ukeme forward roll.

Except Pierce Sensei never released my wrists.

With my wrists pinned in his fists, my body sailed up over my hands and I landed streched out, flat on my back in a hard breakfall. No one was more surprised than I. I landed okay, keeping my breath, so stood back up and prepared to attack my sensei again.

Expecting a roll,
Kohai rushes at Sensei.
The mat rushes up.

Friday, June 16, 2006

What is Haiku?

What is a haiku?
five syllables, followed by
seven, then five more.

Pondering the cup,
sitting seiza, we can see,
that it is empty.

Oh lowly kohai,
do not correct your betters,
lest Sensei fling you.

After Class

Last Wednesday, Mrs. Islander and I attended our usual akido/kenjutsu class. After the aikido class, Pierce Sensei held the weapons class two doors down the street in a room with mirrors lining one wall. It was unnerving but helpful to work out in front of the mirrors. It's great to be able to keep an eye on your posture as you move through an awase.

When the class ended, the students trooped back down the street to our usual classroom. I grabbed a vacuum cleaner and went back to the mirror room and began vacuuming it out. I was alone for 10 or 15 minutes, pushing the machine back and forth, up and down the long room. Alone with the whirring sound of the vacuum, focusing on the threads and lint that had fallen from people's dogi while they practiced, I reflected on the practice of cleaning the dojo.

When I was a child, one of my teachers told us that Japanese children spent the last 10 minutes of each school day cleaning up the classroom. We were all aghast. Couldn't they afford janitors? At that age, school seemed to be a great burden on my free time. Cleaning it up every night seemed to imply that Cinderella's evil stepsisters had moved to town and gotten elected to the school board. All that gum stuck underneath the desks! Ugh!

But nowadays I see things differently. Cleaning the dojo after class shows respect for the school, makes us responsible for the conditions under which we practice, and allows us to participate in the space in which we learn, not just the content of the lessons.

It was nice to take a few minutes to reflect on where I had been and where I was. I finished the job, wound the cord, and returned to our classroom to put it away.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Using the Rules

Taleena posts about a Connecticut school district that has instituted a rule that no high school football team shall win a game by more than 50 points. In a comment to that post I reminded her of Torvill and Dean and their run-ins with the ISC over their interpretations of the rules.

I found this on Wikipedia:
Getting around Olympic rules

Ravel's original Boléro composition is over 17 minutes long. Olympics rules clearly state that the free dance must be four minutes long (plus or minus 10 seconds). Torvill and Dean went to a music arranger to condense Boléro down to a "skatable" version. However, they were told that the minimum time that Boléro could be condensed down to was 4 minutes 28 seconds. This is still 18 seconds in excess of the Olympics rules. Torvill and Dean reviewed the Olympic rule book and found that it stated that actual timing of a skating routine began when the skaters started skating. Therefore they could arguably use Boléro if they did not place their skates' blades to ice for the first 18 seconds. They timed the performance so that when Jayne first places a blade on the ice, they would have the maximum skating time remaining. In their medal-winning Boléro routine, Torvill & Dean move their bodies to the music for 18 seconds before they began skating.

Barracks lawyers the lot of them! But man, when I watched that routine my jaw was on the floor.

Peggy (Hearts) Rudy?

The early markers are being laid down for the run-up to the 2008 presidential elections. This promises to be an very interesting contest--the best since 2000, perhaps since 1980. Neither side has an heir-apparent. Let the tournament begin!

Hillary Rodham Clinton (I am never sure whether to use her maiden name, so she ends up with the assasin's three-name moniker*) has oodles of cash, which she has not been hoarding, Midas-like. She has built up a reputation as a hard-working senator and a good and generous campaigner. When the day comes, she will have I.O.U.s from all over the country to collect.

That old comedy team of Kerry and Edwards have broken up and are going solo. Edwards is the Tab Hunter of the Democratic party--a pretty face, but eventually he'll wind up opposite Devine in some John Waters production.

In modern times Vice Presidents are often an Administration's heir-apparent, but Dick Cheney has said that he won't run; and his behavior as Vice President hasn't been the behavior of someone looking to a future election. He has fiercely loyal partisans, but among the general electorate he has very high negatives.

I see Newt Gingrich on the Sunday talk shows very regularly now. He's showing a little ankle to his supporters, but hasn't declared his intentions. With the failure of the congress to contains spending and the growth of government, his Contract With America looks better and better.

But the big boys on the Republican side as of today are John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. And Peggy Noonan seems quite taken:
Let me close with something that I thought had the sound of the future in it. I was at a Manhattan Institute lunch this week at which Rudy Giuliani spoke. He impressed the audience of 200 or so, which was not surprising as it was his kind of group, urban-oriented thinkers drawn not to ideology but to what works and will help in the world. (I am a longtime supporter.) At one point he was asked about national education policy. Mr. Giuliani said he wanted more national emphasis on choice. He spoke of it as a civil rights issue, and told stories to illustrate the point.

Then--this is the part with the sound of the future in it--he laid out the reasons both parties have failed to push the ball forward. The Democrats fear the teachers unions and the educational establishment. The Republicans are heavily represented in and by suburban and country areas, which tend to have good schools, tend to be happy with them, and are wary of a movement they fear might take something from them. And so the students who need the most help, city kids who would benefit the most from creativity, are held captive to a failed public-education monopoly.

His candor was refreshing. Mr. Giuliani's approach was nonpartisan in the best sense--i.e., not fuzzy but frank. It wasn't Public schools want to be free; it was This is what will help, this is why it isn't happening, this is why we have to make it happen. That didn't sound like the same old same old. It didn't sound like the past.

Peggy Noonan was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. She's a devout Catholic from an urban, working-class Irish background--the very people that the Democrats drove off in 1973 and need desperately to woo back.

If she can live with Rudy's checkered personal life, he may have a bigger chance in 2008 that I had first suspected.

* From the movie Conspiracy Theory:
Jerry: David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, Richard Speck...

Alice: What about them?

Jerry: Serial killers. Serial killers only have two names. You ever notice that? But lone gunmen assassins, they always have three names. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark David Chapman...

Alice: John Hinckley. He shot Reagan. He only has two names.

Jerry: Yeah, but he only just shot Reagan. Reagan didn't die. If Reagan had died, I'm pretty sure we probably would all know what John Hinckley's middle name was.
Jerry: I just thought of another one: James Earl Ray, the guy who got Luther King. Then of course, there's Sirhan Sirhan. I still haven't figured that one out. Maybe it's Sirhan Sirhan Sirhan, I don't know.

A New Direction for America

This week Democratic members of Congress and other elected officials unveil their "New Direction for America," the party's declaration of its reason for being.

It's symbol? Two arrows pointing in opposite directions.

By the way, the phrase "New Direction for America" has been used. Check out this John K. King listing of rare books:
N.p. (The Republican National Committee) n.d. (1972?). Photos, 12.5x11", stapled wraps, page numbered 9-16, stples rusty, pages a bit worn and soiled. SIGNED ON THE COVER BY THEN-VICE PRESIDENT SPIRO T. AGNEW.

Book Id: 94-0378

Price: $95.00
Are you guys even trying?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Price of War

Taleena over at Sun Comprehending Glass posts about the problem of suicides at the Guantanamo detention faclity. Her take is to compare the suicide rate at Gitmo against the suicide rate at other American prisons and jails. I wonder though, what is the suicide rate in a prision in the Middle East or Persia? Those who read the book or saw the movie Midnight Express back in the late 1970s must suspect that the rate is much higher than anything that exists at Gitmo.

But I think that we should realize that war is never sanitary and nobody fights in a war without violating the norms of civilized conduct.

Wretchard at The Belmont Club writes about the likely possibility that Jordan tortured Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly to gain information of the whereabouts of the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; and that Jordan passed that information onto Coalition forces who used the fruits of torture to carry out a "targeted assasination" of a opponent. Both actions are roundly condemned by the international community.

It does no good begging the question by saying that Zarqawi should have been taken alive. I do believe that coalition forces would have done so had that been a realistic option. As it happened, the only assets that could get on site quickly enough were "fast movers," and they carried 500-lbs bombs, not tasty cream puffs.

This situation poses a kind of grisly "laboratory case" of ethics:
The interesting thing about the Zarqawi case is that it allows one to examine the effect of necessity over law in an actual case. There's no need for a hypothetical like "what if you could save Europe by targeting Hitler?" or "what if you could save the lives of hundreds of children by torturing a terrorist?" In this case the hypothetical is actual. This has the effect of inverting the roles of the principles on trial. Would it be justified not to resort to unlimited measures in order to hunt down a person responsible for killing thousands of individuals? Can one ever allow a person like Zarqawi to live a single day more knowing that hundreds and perhaps thousands of innocents will die for our scruples? How many lives is a punctilious observance of the Geneva Convention worth? One, one hundred, one thousand, one million? And if a million is the price, what are our principles except for sale. The only question being the price.

Yet, some would say, if the ends justify the means then where do we stop? Historically the Allies did not stint at incinerating Hamburg and Dresden to beat Hitler; to level Hiroshima and Nagasaki to avoid a bloody invasion that may have killed even more Japanese. Nor did they stick at engaging in unlimited submarine warfare or machine-gunning the survivors of sinking Japanese troopships in the Bismarck Strait. We flatteringly call them the Greatest Generation not only because they bore the burden of the fighting but more importantly because they conveniently carried a burden of moral responsibility that we would never care to face. The Greatest Generation committed atrocities to secure victory. Because atrocities they were. Regrettable but past and so we could forget them. And for sixty years their victory kept us from needing to make such choices and we were glad of it. Until we faced our own war.

...I'm not sure if there are any canonical answers to the question of when it is proper to cast away the law. But I think it's important to make the choices clear to the public. It's dishonest to promise to keep them always safe; to ever "connect the dots" yet simultaneously promise never to match savage men for savagery. It would be better to tell the truth: that if in order to maintain our values we must sometimes stop short of harsh methods, we must also risk and spend lives to preserve those ideals. That if we hold them dear enough then a price must be paid for keeping them. In the very same way that US soldiers must daily risk their lives to obey rules of engagement. And a public unwilling to bear that risk should take the moral burden upon itself and change the rules rather than expect men to transgress them in secret for its guilty peace of mind.
Both Democrats and Republicans hark back to the "Good War" that was World War II. But even with all the ambiguities and uncertainties we suffer in the I don't think that we would want to return to the uncomplicated racism of that time.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New Template

Maybe it's the changing season. Maybe it's that Taleena over at Sun Comprehending Glass is changing her look.

I just got tired of the dark black. This green is more my current mood.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Climate (Lack of) Control

This weekend was a perfect example of Puget Sound weather. Saturday, which had been predicted to be rainy, was sunny and blue. A perfect opportunity to get out and mow the backyard. The temperature was in the mid sixties (Fahrenheit) and humidity was above 70%. Warm and just slightly muggy. I know my Los Angeles siblings will smirk to read mid-60's as "warm," but I have become acclimated to the Sound and I was sweating freely by the time I was finished.

I spent an idle hour on the front deck, reading some technical manuals, waving at the neighbors as they walked by, and listening to the dive-bombing buzz of the hummingbirds as they chased each other from the feeders that Mrs. Islander has hung on the eaves.

Sunday I woke to the sound of soft dripping. I stepped into the backyard with my cup of coffee and sat at the patio table, underneath the umbrella, and watched the heavy mist fall from the air. Too quite to be heard itself, only it's collection in eaves, leaves, and the patio umbrella provided enough mass to drip. I tried to lean underneath the umbrella as much as possible, but the mist was light enough that It didn't soak through my fleece robe.

In the trees around the neighborhood I heard the raucous sounds of the songbird's dawn congress. I sipped my cooling coffee and noted how perfectly conifer needles are adapted to this climate. I was struck again that I lived just across Admiralty Inlet from North America's temperate rainforest.

I had plans for the weekend that expected rain on Saturday. When Saturday was fair, my plans for Sunday changed to require that it, too, to be fair. Nope. My plans had no control over the weather.

Quiet. Cool. Wet.

I felt an absurd sense of peace.

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