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Wargames, Real Genius and Brainstorm

I came of age in the Reagan ’80s, and the political landscape was fairly bleak.  While some of my classmates joined the College Republicans, others simply wanted to make as much money as possible.

I was concerned with HOW we were to be making money and WHERE that money was coming from.  This didn’t make it easy to find a job, but, in looking back, while there are some things I regret about my younger years, my choices in employment are not among them.

The mathematician Paul Halmos published a book that I’ve seen recently at Powell’s Books called I Have a Photographic Memory.  It’s a collection of photographs of mathematicians from the mid-20th century.  One picture in particular stays in my mind.  It’s from (I believe) the 1968 joint meetings of the AMS and MAA, and it shows a mathematician holding a sign over his head that reads:


The Media Wars

It’s pretty well accepted that to participate on the grand stage in the 21st century (and this was obviously true of the 20th century as well) requires a media strategy and that the major players will, of course, have competing media strategies that seek to further their own goals and impede those of their ideological opponents.

It’s interesting to consider two recent multi-day stories in this light.

First off, just this afternoon, over at Talking Points Memo, I saw what is evidently a new development in the the whole “Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party” imbroglio.

Just to backtrack a little – it’s certainly been interesting to watch the whole Michael Steele/Rush Limbaugh fiasco especially in light of the power that Limbaugh unquestionably holds in the party.  Back at the end of January President Obama reportedly told Republican congressional leaders “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”

Looking Backward: Justice at the DOJ (?)

Dan Froomkin usually has some interesting things to say about what’s going on in Washington.  Usually, his perspective his detailed enough to be interesting, but not so overly wonkish as to be aimed at insiders.

Mortgage Fraud

If there is any doubt as to how this financial mess came to be, there is no shortage of stories of folks who saw and/or knew of significant fraud but were unable to do much about it.


There are many things to say about what is happening right now, and that will, with any luck, continue to happen.  

They didn’t happen by themselves and, if we don’t continue to push, they will stop happening.

Ten years ago, I listened to Democracy Now on MLK Day and heard for the first time King’s speech from the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967.  It was part of a political awakening for me that began with reading David Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World, followed by many of the books by Boston’s Dynamic Duo – Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn – as well as Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred and The Case Against the Global Economy.

Mainly what I’ve been feeling this past week is joy and relief, but also pride that we rid ourselves of the Bush error through the electoral process, without violence.

Many people have worked hard doing what they could – in a spirit of non-violence – from whatever circumstance they were in to change this country.

When I taught at Hopi High School, I learned that the Hopi believe that we are in a period of transition between the fourth and fifth world.  They say that the form of this transition is up to us.  If we make this transition about taking care each other and working together to make it through tough times, then the end result of this effort will reflect that intention.

If you’ve never heard King’s Riverside Church speech, youtube has a good clip of it here. (audio only)

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Let’s hope that we can work for a civic, political and spiritual renewal together.

They knew exactly what they were doing

I like David Michael Green’s writing.  I’m not well acquainted with a wide range of his views, but typically when I read his work on Common Dreams, I enjoy it immensely.  His post this week is a post-mortem on the Bush years and it gets at an important point that we ignore at our peril.

Most people have completely failed to perceive the magnitude of the Bush crime, because they see it as limited to ‘merely’ dumb policies, poorly implemented, by incompetent stewards of government. Would that that were so. We’d be so much better off as a country and as a world had it been only that…

This president – and indeed the entire movement of regressive politics these last three decades (which I refer to as Reaganism-Bushism) – can only be properly understood as class warfare. Its purpose was never to make America a better place. Indeed, if we define America as a country belonging to its 300 million inhabitants, then the purpose was actually precisely the opposite. The mission of this ideology was in fact to diminish if not impoverish the vast bulk of these citizens, so that the already massively wealthy among them could instead become obscenely wealthy.

Where you or I might have looked at the middle of the twentieth century and seen the moment when America finally did justice to its national promise by introducing a measure of serious economic equality for the first time, and thus vastly expanding the middle class, the plutocrats behind Reaganism-Bushism saw a filthy aberration to the natural order of master and slave that had long existed in human history. They therefore set about to overturn that aberration and return to ‘better times’ through a process of class warfare. That meant that labor unions had to go, along with workplace protections, good wages, decent benefits, government protections, and a far-too-moderate average CEO to lowest-paid worker salary ratio on the order of fifty-to-one, replaced instead by something closer to five-hundred-to-one.

And, where Washington was concerned, that meant that government was to become a vehicle to serve not the 300 million, but rather the 300 families at the top, who already owned the most but craved ever, ever more…

It’s not that there weren’t unqualified, inept bureaucrats put into positions for which they were woefully unprepared, I’m sure that there were.  But, I would also bet when there was money to be made, when the important decisions came down, they were deftly handled by expert bagmen, who took their cut and siphoned the rest off to the designated cronies.

George Orwell and fin de siecle America

I returned to New York from the four corners area in early 1998 and saw an economy that had completely decoupled from reality.  I was born in Westshecter County in 1965 and lived there until 1994.  When I returned in 1998, there was money pouring into NYC from all over the world and the Russian debt crisis and “Asian Contagion” did very little to slow it down.

By the time the tech crash and 9/11 attacks had tamped down somewhat on the economy, I had moved to Maine to teach high school there.  While in Maine, I picked up a copy of George Orwell’s essays and read it through.  I love his up front style.  In particluar, there were two sections of Such, Such Were the Joys dealing with Edwardian England that struck me as particularly relevant to America in those years.

There never was, I suppose, in the history of the world a time when the sheer fatness of wealth, without any kind of aristocratic elegance to redeem it, was so obtrusive as in those years before 1914…

The extraordinary thing was the way in which everyone took it for granted that this oozing, bulging wealth of the English upper and upper-middle classes would last forever…

The goodness of money was as unmistakable as the goodness of health or beauty, and a glittering car, a title, or a horde of servants was mixed up in people’s minds with the idea of actual moral virtue…

By the social standards that prevailed about me, I was no good, and could not be any good.  But all the different kinds of virtue seemed to be mysteriously interconnected and to belong to much the same people.  It was not only money that mattered: there were also strength, beauty, charm, athleticism and something called “guts” or “character,” which in reality meant the power to impose your will on others…

That was the pattern of school life – a continuous triumph of the strong over the weak.  Virtue consisted in winning: it consisted in being bigger, stronger, handsomer, richer, more popular, more elegant, more unscrupulous that other people – in dominating them, bullying them, making them suffer pain, making them look foolish, getting the better of them in every way.  Life was hierarchical and whatever happened was right.  There were the strong, who deserved to win and always did win, and there were the weak, who deserved to lose and always did lose, everlastingly.

This British idyll was, of course, ruptured by The Great War of 1914.  Personally, what I was seeing in those six months I spent in NY between January and August of 1998 was a mad scramble for a declining piece of what was once middle class America, but which had become harder and harder to come by since the 1970’s.  Remember that this was the beginning of the school shootings and the height of Rudolph Guiliani’s  reign as mayor.  The Abner Louima incident had occured the previous summer and 1998 would see Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond killed by NYPD as well an eruption of no-knock warrants and repeated stop and searches in minority neighborhoods.  I remember one statistic as being that 45,000 people in Brooklyn were stopped on the street and questioned by NYPD and 10,000 were cited for some offense, which means that 35,000 people were harassed by NYPD for no apparent reason.

Well, the page will turn in 8 days, and hopefully we can say good-bye to the Bush era and move on to a real effort to realize the potential of this country and its people.  This nation can no longer survive with its citizens focused on “me and mine.”  Rather, we must look out for all of US.  Peace.