Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
It's not as if there isn't substrate. Daily, many times over, in every medium, there are noteworthy items which range from amusing to infuriating. I could write non-stop, posting dozens of times daily, and never run out of material. But, other than a personal release point, what good does it do?
I wish I could stop caring, because there's no way I can change a damn thing, even on a tiny scale. How much easier it would be to turn it all off, stop paying attention. That, I can't do. Sadly. I have a need to know what's going on. But it ought to be possible to come to grips with the fact that there's nothing I can do about it; certainly not by blogging.
I've mostly stopped watching the television talking head shows. Do they even try to illuminate issues? The opposite, more likely. Because illumination doesn't get viewers. Day after day they trot out the same people to assume their roles like putting on a neon jacket. Experts in nothing but parroting a point of view. Spinners. When was the last time Chris Matthews had an economist talking about the economy? Au contraire. Always the pundit, the same Democratic or Republican strategist, whatever the topic; knowing isn't required. Just spouting, taking a predictable position, playing their role, over and over, enlightening no one, adding nothing new.
Our politics are deeply broken, and it's not because we don't care. It's because it's just the way we like it. We prefer to have our views reinforced, not challenged. We want to get pissed off at the other guy, not to listen. We prefer our O'Reillys and Hannitys and Becks. We like that they foment hatred. Because hatred is a great substitute for and is a hell of a lot easier than thinking. If I've never convinced my disagreeing readers of anything, they've convinced me: everyone is dug in. We're doing it to ourselves. We're not just circling the drain: we're paddling with both hands and kicking like dolphins.
So what's the point? Nothing. Nothing is the point. There's nothing I can do except to accept that there's nothing I can do. I need to find something better to do with my time.
I'm hoping to resurrect Surgeonsblog. Reading some of my stuff there, and the comments, makes me realize it served a purpose, added value, if only a little. Not so, here. It won't be easy. Finding subject matter here was just a matter of waking up every day. Over there, I have to dig a little deeper, into fizzling memory banks. There's much to say about health care politics, but that'd be like what I was doing here: ranting with no hope of making any difference. If I can once again find ways to share the world of surgery, to let readers learn some things they didn't know, that would be good. Make me feel good. This blog has started to make me feel bad.
So we'll see. But probably not here.
Friday, June 5, 2009
I was impressed with the speech.
Without doubt there are people in the world who would hate to see peace come to the Middle East. Osama bin Laden is one. And, if it were to happen on Obama's watch, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are others. With exceptions like those, I think it's fair to say nearly all Americans hope for peace, and see it as so important to our and the world's security that they'd not care which people or party got the credit, if such credit were due.
Presidents, popes, and potentates have tried for decades. As a foreign policy matter, Middle East peace is surely at the top of the importance list. Something, it's clear, needs to change, dramatically. And what could be a more dramatic a change of the dynamic than a US president named Barack Hussein Obama, who lived for a time in a Muslim country, whose father was a Muslim born in Africa? Such a president, willing to speak in Cairo about the unbreakable bond between the US and Israel, and of the suffering of Palestinians. Willing to talk tough with Israel about settlements. (Bush, as we have now learned, made secret side deals to allow them. A perfect example of saying one thing in private and doing another in public, which Obama decried in his speech.) And, yes, willing to admit that America has made mistakes.
People say it was only Nixon who could go to China. People say it took a charismatic man like John Fitzgerald Kennedy to assure people a Catholic president would not answer to the Pope. I have no idea if Barack Hussein Obama can change the dynamic in the Middle East. In fact, given the deeply rooted religious differences which, as we know, lead to the most deadly sort of intransigence, I'd guess not. Still, it seems to me that it's an amazingly propitious happenstance of fate that, at this most perilous of times, we have such a president.
What's so hard about admitting it? Why can't people like all the RWS™ and their fawning and credulous minions take a break? After years of frustration, of brokered and broken deals, we might be seeing a sea-change. Someone who literally stands astride both worlds, at least to a degree heretofore unseen. Someone able not only to say "enough is enough," but to command unique credibility in doing so. Can't we agree this is something clearly new, something with potential to lead to breakthrough? At least in theory? It might not happen; it probably won't. But isn't it clear that there are some unprecedented differences between Barack Obama and every other president who tried to make a difference? Isn't that something to relish, something for which all Americans could hope? As bad as things have been, isn't it time to try something different?
And yet, from the right wing there is reflexive and nearly unanimous condemnation. The fat addict says Obama and Osama are in a race to see who can destroy our country first. What more clear example is there of placing politics over country? It's like a drowning redneck rejecting a life raft because it was made in San Francisco. (Remember that motto before which so many Republicans stood? They don't.) Are the political considerations of the right wing so entrenched that it's literally impossible for them to say, hey, this could be an opportunity that will benefit the whole world? For them, if not to voice support, at least to shut the hell up? For a while? Enough to see if there are cracks in the wall?
Richard Nixon made my skin crawl, literally. But when he went to China I was impressed. Like Obama risking the support of parts of the Israel lobby, Nixon opened himself up to the rage of the hard right of his party, and it led, mostly, to good. Is there nothing Obama could do -- even moving the Middle East toward reconciliation -- that the right wingers might acknowledge?
Clearly, the answer is no. And what does that tell us? About them.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Regarding the May 17 Obama speech on abortion, Tucker Carlson said, the very next day:
You can't have a real conversation about abortion if you're afraid to use the word.
Pro-choice? Pro-life? Those are slogans designed to obscure rather than illuminate.
The debate is about whether abortion ought to be legal, not about whether you respect "life," whatever that is, or whether you think people ought to have "choices," whatever those may be.
So let's call it what it is. That'd be a good first step. Obama, who's deeply interested in language, knows this but not surprisingly failed to mention it.
In the speech, the one given at Notre Dame:
The question then -- the question then is, how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without, as Father John said, demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?Exhibit 2a:
And, of course, nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.
As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called, The Audacity of Hope. And a few days after the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that, while he voted for me in the Illinois primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life -- but that was not what was preventing him potentially from voting for me.
What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website, an entry that said I would fight, quote, "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose," unquote. The doctor said he had assumed I was a reasonable person. He supported my policy initiatives to help the poor and to lift up our educational system, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue, who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words" -- fair-minded words.
After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and I thanked him. And I didn't change my underlying position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me, because when we do that -- when we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe -- that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.
That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually; it has both moral and spiritual dimensions."
So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Let's reduce unintended pregnancies. Let's make adoption more available. Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded, not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women. Those are things we can do.
Now, understand -- understand, class of 2009, I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away, because no matter how much we may want to fudge it -- indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory -- the fact is that, at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.
OBAMA: And at the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the archbishop of Chicago. And for those of you -- for those of you too young to have known him or known of him, he was a kind and good and wise man -- a saintly man. I can still remember him speaking at one of the first organizing meetings I attended on the South Side. He stood as both a lighthouse and a crossroads, unafraid to speak his mind on moral issues ranging from poverty and AIDS and abortion to the death penalty and nuclear war. And yet, he was congenial and gentle in his persuasion, always trying to bring people together, always trying to find common ground. And just before he died, a reporter asked Cardinal Bernardin about this approach to his ministry. And he said, "You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched hearts and minds."
From Michael Rubin, of The National Review, regarding Obama's speech in Cairo:
Obama abandons DemocracyExhibit 2b:
Obama studiously avoids the word democracy. Instead, he declared, "That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people." Dictators of the world, relax: Stage a spontaneous demonstration to demonstrate popular adulation; don't worry about those pesky votes.
From the speech:
The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)Exhibit 3a:
[He went on to mention it three more times: but the believers believe what they will believe.]
Sean Hannity, on a comment Obama made regarding the Muslim population of the US:
All right. So we're not a Christian nation, but we're a Muslim nation?Exhibit 3b:
The Obama words to which he referred:
“And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world,” Mr. Obama said. “And so there’s got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.”(Okay, turns out we'd be #35 out of about 105. So "largest" is questionable, perhaps. But not the point he was making, which, in obvious context, most clearly was NOT that we are a Muslim nation.)
So here's the question: what in gods' names motivates these people to say things that are, even as the words pass their lips and enter the atmosphere, falsified? Like oxidation kills pathogens. Instantly revealed to be untrue. What is conceivably up with that??? There are only so many possible explanations.
I don't know the Rubin guy; I've seen Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. Hannity is clearly a man of limited intellectual means; Carlson is remarkably clueless sometimes, but I don't sense an idiot, the way I do with Hannity. And, as a writer on NRO, I'll give Rubin a pass. So, with only one of the three undeniably dumb as an anvil, I don't think it flies to say they're just too stupid to know the meaning of words.
Might it be that they are so convinced of their rightness in all things that they simply hear what they want to hear? False processing of information based on some sort of observer bias? Plausible. But I know of no counterpart on the left. Sure, there are people of liberal views who are over the top. Me, sometimes, included. But I don't know of any who regularly simply spout demonstrable falsehoods. Me, always, included.
So it seems most likely that they are willfully saying things they know to be untrue. I'll give them, in other words, enough credit to assume they know the basics of English language. Obama's thoughts are often complex, but his words generally up don't require looking. Which raises the most fundamental and troubling questions: why do they do it, and what does it say of their imagined audience?
Here it seems there are only two options, neither of which speak well for them or their intended audience. Either they think people are too dumb or lazy to notice, or they believe the truth won't matter to them. Between those two options, I find myself unable to choose. Blogging here has left me with data that strongly support both conclusions: we've seen studies that show facts don't matter to conservatives, and we see proof of that in the comment threads to nearly all my posts. I'll not go so far as to call any of my readers bereft of neurons, but it's hard to deny many seem unable to follow a thought or to provide either relevant arguments or factual support.
Right wing talkers and writers simply lie to their audiences. (I didn't even give Limbaugh/Gingrich/Cheney (D and L) examples. Where's the challenge in that?) As far as I can tell, the only ones who point it out are people on the left (and, sadly, rarely the mainstream -- incorrectly characterized as "liberal" -- media); the right happily eats it up, swallows it whole like the sea lions I see from my home, snarfing salmon.
For the life of me, I simply can't fathom it. It's like talking to an alien. It's an unfair fight; and, given a proclivity to stick to facts, it puts liberals at a distinct disadvantage. And it's not the political equivalent of "taking a knife to a gunfight:" it's way worse -- assuming the goal isn't to kill the opponents. It defines extremism, in an important way. If one side will say and their followers believe anything, how do you have meaningful dialogue?
One expects it of Osama bin Laden. But these guys?
Which, of course, is exactly why I feel so hopeless.
Monday, June 1, 2009
I have nothing to say about the murder of Dr Tiller that hasn't been said and responded to at all levels of rhetoric, on both sides. To me it's symbolic of a much larger issue. I'll just ask a question which I'm sure has been asked elsewhere, too, and probably more eloquently. It's directed at those who, whether they excuse it or not, refuse to call the act one of "domestic terrorism."
Let's imagine a Jewish synagogue, recipient of numerous threats from Islamic radicals. This, of course, happens regularly, and increases when Israel does something in Gaza. What if, last Friday night or Saturday morning (which is when services are held) such a Muslim radical entered the sanctuary and killed a congregant, in the name of saving or avenging Palestinian lives? Would anyone refrain from calling that an act of domestic terrorism? Would we be rejoicing, and heading to websites saying he had it coming? Or good riddance? Other religious radicals would, for sure. But would, you know, "we?"
I'm saddened by everything about it. Both sides of the arguments, the women involved, the doctors, the families, the protesters and activists of all persuasions, the responses. As President Obama has said, there are probably a few things on which all parties could agree if they'd stop shouting. But the demonization by each side of the other, the refusal to acknowledge the humanity and heartbreak of those on both sides is but one of several apparently unhealable wounds in our body politic, the sum total of which is such that we are slowly and inexorably destroying ourselves.
This incident is but an especially dramatic example of the ongoing and ever-increasing (voting for change notwithstanding) and ever more vitriolic and irreconcilable political decay of our country, the ultimate result of which will be self destruction. Neither party is guiltless. But what we've seen since the recent election is, to my eye anyway, unprecedentedly unhinged paranoia and rhetorical excess from the right. These self-described patriots and singular lovers of this country are the ones most responsible, if not for this particular incident, for the devaluation of the democratic ideals that once could have saved us: open honest debate, search for common ground, willingness to give a little in the greater goal of preserving our democracy.
Oh, the irony.