Thursday, December 10, 2009

Uncle Yoda

I have observed that old men become more compact as they age and that they begin to look like small benign wizards - our collective Grand Uncle Yoda adept in mystery, bestowing lessons to those who care to notice...

Yeats says it better...

"That is no country for old men;
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
a tattered coat upon a stick,
Soul clap its hands and sing."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Obama

Any discussion of the Obama presidency is multi-dimensional. It encompasses ideology, policy, expectations, hopes, disappointment, fear, and paranoia. The far right attempt to paint Obama as a Socialist, Communist, Muslim, anti-American other has had traction in a certain portion of the population. Considering that his economic policy is in the hands of the titans of American Capitalism, that his foreign policy is closer to McCain than even Carl Levin, that his health care reform plans have left the single payer option to wither on the vine, there can be no question that the far right paranoiac view of Obama is a fantasy that serves some other agenda, an agenda that is still developing.

My view, which is still fundamentally in support of Obama, despite his centrist policies, is rooted in the belief that he is operating responsibly and honestly. Obama is attempting to balance his own perspective, with his practical assessment of how to make incremental progress across a number of terrains. It is clear that the Democratic Party will not march in lock step with the President. The fantasy of the 60-vote veto proof majority has dissolved in the hands of Lieberman, Nelson, Building a majority party meant expanding what it means to be a Democrat, and those chickens are coming home to roost. So, on domestic policy, Obama has bravely, and at the expense of much of his popularity, thrown open the divisions in this county and in his own party in an effort to make some progress on providing health care to more people with less chance of being dropped from coverage in the crunch. This is not nothing, but far from universal health care.

On Afghanistan, the escalation is a most egregious betrayal for the anti-war left that supported him. But there are the following questions to ask: Is pulling out of Afghanistan militarily, and completely, an option, and if so, would it be acceptable for Obama to watch as the Taliban restored themselves to power? Or, is the position of staying with a more modest military footprint acceptable in the face of more sophisticated and lethal attacks? Can you as commander in chief, decide not to provide the strongest military profile if you are going to be lethally engaged? The dream of a pacified Afghanistan, and a stable Pakistan are a long way off.

The point is that there are no ideologically pure answers to actually governing this country. The purest ideologically driven governments, either theocracies, Stalinist regimes, or Fascist Dictatorships have the darkest track records. We have the messy, frustrating, debased mess of this democracy with powerful elites still holding the majority of the real power. Obama is not the supreme leader, as much as the fantasists would like to imagine him that way. He is working systematically, expending all his capital on real problems: Re-building and re-regulating the financial system, reforming health care, stimulating the economy, dealing with climate change, managing two inherited and complex wars, all under the shadow of massive unemployment, huge deficits and the treat of terrorism. He has his hands full, and at least he is an adult.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hate Public Option, Love Medicare

The Health Care debate makes for some strange contortions, on all sides. But the current winner is the Republican Party, tea baggers and all going to the barricades in defense of Medicare. No matter how they got here, it is great to see the haters of all things Public defending every penny in the current Medicare system. Beautiful.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Indignation (by Philip Roth)...

Set in 1951 the second year of the Korean war, a studious, intense youngster from Newark, Marcus Messner, begins his sophomore year of college at the conservative campus of Winesberg College in Ohio. Meanwhile his father, the sturdy, hardworking, neighborhood butcher, seems to have gone mad - mad with fear and apprehension and worry of the dangers of adult life, the dangers of the world, the dangers he sees in every corner for his beloved son.

Before worry consumed him, this was the father seen through the son's eyes:

"You know Kosher meat has to be washed every three days. My father would take a whisk broom with a bucket of water and wash all the meat down. But sometimes you had a Jewish holiday, and though we ourselves weren't strictly observant, we were Jews in a Jewish neighborhood, and what's more, kosher butchers and so the store was closed. And one Jewish holiday, my father told me he forgot. Say the passover Seder was going to be on a Monday and a Tuesday, and he washed the meat on the previous Friday. He would have to come back on Monday or Tuesday to do it again, and this one time he forgot. Well, nobody knew he'd forgotten, but he knew, and he would not sell that meat to anyone. He took it all and he sold it at a loss to Mueller, who had a non-kosher butcher store on Bergen Street. Sid Mueller. But he would not sell it to his customers. He took the loss instead."

But Marcus has to try to find his own way. A way to navigate the worrisome waters of Indignation, of "ass-kissing and apologizing", of "lunatic piety, but "what else could he do, like the Messner that he was, but ... bang his fist on the Dean's desk and tell him for a second time, "Fuck you"?'

And so having thus lost his student defrment ...

"... that was it for the butcher's son, dead three months short of his twentieth birthday - Marucs Messner 1932 - 1952 - the only one of his classmates unfortunate enough to be killed in the Korean War, which ended with the signing of an armistice agreement on July 27, 1953, eleven full months before Marcus, had he been able to stomach chapel and keep his mouth shut, would have received his undergraduate degree from Winesberg college - more than likely as class valedictorian - and thus have postponed learning what his uneducated father had been trying so hard to teach him all along; of the terrible, the incomprehensible way one's most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result.".

A beautiful book.


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