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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

February 18, 2004
If it had been a snake....

Turns out there was more to object to in Rowen than I suspected when I was brooding over his geezerdom while discussing last week's Trash Day.

The article I originally read (and which is still available) didn't say any of this stuff and, quite frankly, I'm not sure I'm smart enough to have understood it even if I'd read it. (Thanks to Avedon Carol for pointing me to the relevant post.)

I'm not blogging. I came in late today (annual physical exam) in time to find my boss leaving early because he was unwell, I'm off work for the next three business days, and I don't have time to blog today. I'm just...pausing for a moment to contemplate this story.

Plus which, I'm feeling cranky because I had to wait at the doctor's office while the staff engaged in a passionate discussion of the pros and cons of that Mel Gibson movie and then the nurse wanted to talk to me about it and since she was sticking a needle in me at the time, I didn't feel it was wise to point out that a ton of movies have been made on mythological subjects in the past fifty years and that one more, or less, was unlikely to be of as much significance as everyone seemed to think.

I confined myself to saying, politely but distantly, that I didn't plan to see the movie.

They were also discussing this story and what troubled me most about their discussion is that they were blaming the girl's father for not ordering his daughter not to play college football.

And I'm sitting there, thinking, "Hello? Is she property or is she a person?"

Order his 18- or 19-year old daughter to stay out of the locker room and...where? In the stands? On the cheerleading squad?

Where she "belongs," maybe?

Is this 2004 or is it still 1904?

It did not, at least while I was listening, seem to occur to any of these people that women and men can in fact coexist without rape. Even when sports are involved.

I'm sure that by the time I left that office my blood pressure was ten points higher than it was when I went in.

Also, if I had time to blog, which I don't, I'd say, "don't miss Jeanne today because once we get the Republicans out of the White House, we're gonna need someone with a list of these actions to scamper around undoing the harm.

Also I'm realizing that some sites have a "trackback" that seems to be different from a "permalink" and yet each link leads to the same blog entry and I'm wondering which link bloggers prefer someone to use.

But I'm not e-mailing anyone to ask them about it because I don't have time for this stuff today.

I don't have time to giggle over Kevin Drum's post wherein he discovers, as so many others have before him, that grammar and punctuation do matter. Go laugh at him for me.

(I used his "trackback" link thingy. I'm alternating until I figure out which is preferable. Or, I would be, if I had time for blogging, which I don't, so I'm not. Actually.)

If I had time, I'd really like to comment on the post by Chris at Crooked Timbers about gender-bending and how far behind the curve the USofA has been when it comes to loosening restrictions on behavior for boys.

Also? If Ann Coulter doesn't shut up, I'm going to feel compelled to change my name. (Via Cursor.)

Question of the day: Does Halliburton sometimes smell like the worst example of corporate misbehavior we've ever exported or are there days when you think that an amazing number of corporations are under investigation or have been found guilty of some misdoing?

I'd talk about it, but I don't have time.

(P.S. If I had the time, I'd go apologize over at Cliopatria for making a rude comment there yesterday, but I'm afraid to even visit the site. I always wind up spending an hour surfing the entire HNN site when I go there. Someone remind me when I get back to town that I owe them.)

Posted by AnneZook at 03:23 PM | Comments (2)
February 17, 2004
Rude Tuesday

I've got a minute. Who can I be rude to?

I don't care for the tone (because I'm so I'm completely entitled to pass judgment on the attitudes of others, don't you know) but I found the content of this article interesting.

(Via KC Johnson at Cliopatria, who also has a very interesting topic going that I'd be commenting in now except that technically I'm on the phone with a client discussing how to use a service we offer on an upcoming trip to a refugee camp overseas which is unquestionably the most interesting business call I've had in quite a while but at the moment, I'm on hold.)

I agree with it, in fact. The article, I mean.

#1 - Freedom of speech. Yes, I know that what some people have to say aggravates or annoys other people. You know what? You have the right to get over it. There's a huge difference between "hate speech" and speech that just strongly disagrees with your position.

#2 - Exchange of opinion. If you don't let the other side talk, how will you know what they really believe? If you don't know what they believe, how do you know if you disagree with them?

#3 - Change of opinion. Maybe, as you think, you're right and they're wrong. Ask yourself...how likely would you be to change your opinion if no one let you air your concerns and then responded to them rationally? You can't change anyone's opinion if you don't know what they think and you don't win a debate by only allowing one side to talk.

So, I say, let them talk. Everyone talk. Listen to each other. Especially if you disagree with each other. You might learn something.

The rudeness was here. I removed it.

I tell you what. When someone named Jesse Thomson is up for promotion and no one asks, no one even wonders if this person is male or female or has a non-white skin, then we can consider whether or not it's time to eliminate affirmative action.

Until then, why don't you band together with everyone else asking the government to start funding education at a decent level in this country? Then there'll be room at the universities and colleges for everyone who wants to go.

By the way. I'll be out of town starting early Thursday and not back until late Monday. I may and/or may not get a chance to post tomorrow, so you may not have the annoyance of my opinions for a solid week. That's a pretty exciting thought, isn't it?

Alternatively, I could be still sitting here, on hold, by next Tuesday.

Be good.

Update: To make up for my self-restraint here, I've just been amazingly rude in someone else's comments section. It's probably just as well that I'm leaving town for a few days.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:52 PM | Comments (0)
A Short Blogaround

If you still doubt that Horowitz is a biased wingnut who paints with a very broad brush when he's identifying 'enemies' then you're not paying attention. Read John McKay on the subject.

Mustang Bobby has the story, too. (Look for, "Homeless Gay Recyclers")

Reports of a potential civil war in Iraq left me unmoved in the national press. That's how much I've come to distrust their coverage. Yet when Chris said the same thing last week, it bothered me so much I was still thinking about it today.

And then I saw that Juan Cole was also talking about it and now I'm really taking it seriously.

(Juan Cole also says that Bush's military record from the Vietnam era is important not because of the choices he made but because in a time of passionate involvement and deep division in our country, Bush appears to have just floated along trying not to make any actual choices. And this is the man directing our invasions of other countries today.)

It would be difficult for me to care less about Mel Gibson and whatever movie it is that he's making that has everyone in such a tizzy. It was only through the accidental wording of a headline I saw last week that I learned that the movie wasn't, as I'd assumed, some anti-established religion thing but amazingly pro-godlike. But I'm linking to the Norbizness discussion of it anyhow, because the phrase, "invisible sky fairy" amused me and because I hadn't realized before I read the post that Mel whacked Jesus. Someone explain to Mel that there's no statute of limitations on murder and he shouldn't admit those things to the press, okay?

Susan writes about Bush and his "invisible training wheels." (Scroll down.)

I like Andrew Olmsted but if he doesn't knock it off with the silly "national sales tax" idea, I'm going to kick sand on his shoes and shake my tiny fists at him while I give him really mean looks.

But you should read his post anyhow, because I think we do need to consider some kind of real reform to our tax code. More than just the mostly cosmetic "reform" Congress managed in the 90s.

Posted by AnneZook at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)
Stop it. I'm working.

Why is it that on a day I have actual work to do, the headlines insist upon being so interesting?

Ah well. Forgive me if this entry comes out rambling and vague (because that would be different). I'm glancing at the headlines while I work.

Via Jonathan Dresner, my day started out with a smile and a frown. At first, the article was amusing, but ten seconds later, I'm thinking, they're accused of universal ignorance and intellectual vacuity and they respond with a parade? Why not, oh, I don't know, respond by doing something about the educational system?

No, no, let us, instead, celebrate our stubborn refusal to think.

Speaking of stupidity.

Alternatively, in other news of idiocy, part of the Canadian border was closed for a time. Apparently someone was trying to smuggle a bomb across. I understand how the driver got lost. I don't understand why she was toting a grenade around, and the story doesn't say.

I'm all about alternative energy and a material that can turn heat into power sounds pretty cool, but where ya gonna get the heat? Still burning coal and gas, are we? Well, it appears the answer is, 'yes' but maybe we could burn a lot less of them.

Maybe there is a growing desire for freedom among the younger generation of Arabs, but it takes more than that.

There was a growing desire for freedom in China once. All that generation got was Tienaman Square.

Don't get me wrong. I like the sound of these people arguing their future. I'm just saying, it takes more than an urge to be free. When I started thinking about that article, I was thinking, "Well, why is it any of our business? I wish we'd keep our noses out of it and let people determine their own destinies."

And then I thought . . . Tienaman Square.

So, I read the article again and decided we should help if they want us because we're not much of a beacon of liberty if we're not willing to spread it around.

I'm just saying, the more I read, the more it confuses me which battles we choose to fight or run away from.

(By the way, China hasn't changed as much as some people want you to think.

They've made some more arrests in the Parmalat case.

Is being a gay male a defense against a charge of rape? It might be . . . if rape were about sex and if just because a man was gay meant he wasn't functional sexually with a woman, neither of which is true.

Should a citizen vote, even if the elections are unfair and qualified candidates were prevented from running?

And what about democracy, anyhow? As a follow-up to a recent book review I did, here's a little discussion of how you can't just staple democracy onto a medieval society and expect the graft to take. Read it.

Wasn't it H. Beam Piper's science fiction stories about "Fuzzies" that introduced that chair...you know the one . . . you sat in it and it read your brain waves and used colors to tell the court if you were telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I'm sure it was.

Pravda isn't reliable, but it's very entertaining. "Fidel Castro: "Bush couldn't debate a Cuban ninth-grader"

And while I'm sorry this woman decided she'd made the wrong marriage choice, but I really don't think a political campaign is the vehicle she should use to publish her woes.

Is Google practicing censorship?

And look at this...CBS's Bob Schieffer is actually discussing Friday Trash Day.

The timing of the release of Bush's military records (which, it seems, the press may be failing to read correctly, Bush's sudden decision to meet with the 9/11 commission (but not all of them), and Bush's upcoming visit to yet another military group (Louisiana National Guard), are all combining to make Schieffer suspicious.

That polio outbreak in Nigeria is worrying.

Anyone curious about the primary in Wisconsin? Unsure what the outcome is going to be?

Anyone doubt Kerry can take Bush?

Didn't think so.

I think he's a good candidate. Really I do. There are individual things about the others I like more and certainly Kerry's opposition to gay marriage has given me many second thoughts. Given my preferences, I would probably have preferred to see Edwards out in front, but I didn't think he could do it and he hasn't. But Kerry's a good candidate. He can beat Bush. He already has the Bush re-election pot simmering with anxiety.

He's just not . . . exciting. I'm already missing the passion Dean brought to the campaign and he's not even out of the race officially.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:13 AM | Comments (2)
February 16, 2004
They're just different

Guys, I mean.

There's a guy, we'll call him Annoying Andy, in this office who really irritates me and I never could figure out why. I mean, he's friendly enough and clearly he likes me (in the co-worker sense, I mean) but he gets on my nerves. Today I finally figured out what it is about him.

Although Annoying Andy is over 40, he acts just the way my brother did when he and I were 8 and 7, respectively. Annoying Andy finds the same kinds of things funny, pulls the same unfunny teasing pranks, and in general relates to me the way my brother did when we were in grade school.

It occurs to me that I've run into this before. It's almost always a single guy, too.

I begin to wonder (in a rude, sexist, and completely unfair sort of way) if boys don't become men unless they get married and have children or something.

Or if, in fact, a lot of them don't become men at all.

At some point, girls become women and it has little or nothing to do with marriage or reproduction. They get bored with adolescent or pre-adolescent behavior and move on.

A lot of men don't seem to do that. Of the three delivery people that regularly visit this office, one of the three of them (they're all men) acts exactly the same way and he's well over 50.

A guy at 50 finds the most of the same things interesting, or funny, that he liked when he was 15. That's sort of sad, in a way, donít you think?

Maybe it has to do with time.

It's been said that women are 'ruled' by the 4-week lunar cycle and in some ways that's probably true. Today, for instance, I'm acutely aware of the fact that it's been a full four weeks since I had my roots done. And I need a haircut. Every, single month I go through this.

Costs $95 bucks a trip to get cut and color and it has to be done every, single month unless I want to give up the 25-year battle I've been fighting against prematurely graying hair. (Genetics can be cruel.)

Most men, on the other hand, seem to drop by whatever barbershop or hair place they see when they're driving down the road and spend ten minutes and ten bucks about once a week. (As opposed to the 2-1/2 hours I have to invest each month.) Very few of them appear to have or would admit to having color work done.

They do it more often, but it doesn't take as long and there's no real commitment, not like having to make an appointment two weeks in advance . . . and suddenly my brain is going to a very bad comparison, so let's move on, shall we?

Seems to me there's some kind of short-attention-span thing going there that, with a little work, I could have turned into a diatribe against men but suddenly I'm out of the mood. I think I embarrassed myself.

You know what I really want out of life?

I was riding the elevator a few minutes ago, and there was a 6 year-old boy ricocheting around in there with me (and his mother) and I suddenly realized what I want out of life.

I want to live in a country where a forty-$!#static*%^ year-old woman can buy and wear a pair of those athletic shoes that light up when you walk, without being made fun of. Seriously. I think life would be excellent if my feet twinkled when I walked, don't you?

That's what I want. Today, anyhow.

(P.S. Someone finally explained that RSS thing to me. When I make a new post, it sends out a message or something and anyone who cared enough to sign up gets a notification. I hope no one is using it for this blog. I'd be embarrassed to have someone come dashing over here to read some new news or politics-related item and find something like this post.)

Posted by AnneZook at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)
I'm sorry.

I'm sorry, but if physicists don't know that an oval, oblong, or oblate spheroid, to be pretentious, shape packs more closely than a perfect sphere, then they need to . . . I don't know. Find another line of work? What kind of "expert" gets away with taking some amazingly obvious fact and releasing it as though it were some astounding new discovery?

Better question - can I get a job as that kind of "expert"? Announcing the merely obvious in a tone of breathless fervor . . . I think I could handle that.

Also, let me tender an apology, on behalf of my species, to the ground squirrel. You see, we just sort of assume anything that eats plants is going to like our plants better than any other plants and that's why we put a bounty on you and killed off several million of your friends, neighbors, and family members. Now that we realize you don't, in fact, like the crops we plant and that there are only about 350 of you left, we're really, really, really sorry. If we had a prairie left, we'd let you live on it. Honest.

(While I'm at it, let me apologize for the mindless stupidity of automatically generated "related advertising links" that attached the "Rat zapper kills rodents" ad to the bottom of that column.)

I'm sorry for all of the hearing-impaired people in the country whose television viewing is limited to what the government, in its infinite hubris wisdom decrees is "suitable" material for closed-captioning.

It seems that such programs as Bewitched, CNN (in Spanish), I Dream of Jeannie, Nancy Drew, JAG, Law and Order, and Women We Love (women in film) have been deemed inappropriate places to spend funds. PGA Golf also failed to make the cut.

I was unaware that such picking and choosing took place, but Ryan has much to say on the subject, not all of which I agree with.* I doubt, for instance, that this is some massive conspiracy to keep all but the blandest, most "puritan" content from the eyes of the hearing-impaired. The post is interesting reading, though.

* I'm happy to say that I was wrong. Not that I like being revealed as a 'skimmer' instead of a 'reader' yet again, but it gives me an excuse to use one of my favorite words. Pursuant.

Pursuant to a brief exchange with Ryan, I'd like to correct this. Ryan was not, in fact, decrying censorship on the part of the government. (Knowing his political views, I'll admit that that first reading of his post didn't make sense to me - which should have clued me in that I was missing something.) Hew was arguing there's no actual sign any censorship is taking place.

And, in any case, he's also right about the "new" Scooby Doo. It should be censored. As a mea culpa I am, at long last, getting around to adding his blog to my sidebar.

And, in keeping with the theme of this post, let me say, "I'm sorry."

But I'm leaving the rant up becase, in spite of the New Scooby Doo fiasco, I think everything, even the trash should be treated equally. Not that I care for the quality of "entertainment" we're getting these days, but it's no one business to decide that one program is more worthy than another of being accessed by all citizens.

I know, I know. These things cost money. Should I suggest that for the cost of one war, you could pay for a heck of a lot of domestic programs?

Posted by AnneZook at 11:51 AM | Comments (2)
The Old Blogaround

Can someone please ask Avedon Carol not to let Lileks get to her? He's a nut and people know it. There's no reason to contribute to his delusion that he's some kind of a political pundit, so let's not talk about him. It only encourages him, okay? His opinions are shallow, predictable, and rarely based on any particular facts. (And when I wondered why the heck she wasn't posting, I did go and check the other blog.)

Taking a look at Hesiod I see that NASCAR fans might, after all, be a voting bloc. If I were a NASCAR fan, I think I'd be humiliated by the behavior of the ones at this event. It was the epitome of the kind of narrow-minded, lowbrow bigotry that I thought we were all pretending didn't really exist. (And that Jack K. says isn't really reflective of all NASCAR fans, but we knew that.)

I really just Do. Not. Get. the NASCAR thing. Who looked around one day and picked that bunch to campaign to? Was it, as it appears, a desperate attempt on the part of Bush's re-election campaign to find a group outside of a military base, almost any group, he could address without fearing that over 50% of the crowd would be booing? (Via Cursor.)

On the other hand, to be completely fair to NASCAR fans, protests of almost any sort are a fairly unsafe undertaking these days. Whether or not politics itself is more "polarized" than ever is hard to say, coming, as we do, off of eight years of frenzied Clinton-hating from the Right.

David has an awfully good post (and discussion) going on over at Orcinus. It's about the increasingly violent rhetoric being directed at the Left.

I'm just saying. If John. W. Dean of Watergate fame thinks the current Administration has an alarming obsession with secrecy, you have to consider the idea seriously. It's possible he's mellowed and become all liberal and open-government-minded in the past 30 years, but you can't deny the man knows his stuff about government cover-ups. (Via Cursor.)

Helen Thomas is a constant source of delight to me so thanks to Josh Marshall for giving us that priceless excerpt from the Feb 13 gaggle. (I feel sorry for McClellan. I'd feel sorry for anyone whose job it was to be the public face of the Bush Administration's news distribution these days.) Read today's follow-up, as well.

If you haven't read this Meteor Blades entry at Daily Kos, read it now.

Ronald Reagan: Conservative Icon Of Glory.

Yeah. If I were a Republican, I'd get me a new icon. Or a new party.

And Desbladet has had the honor of being "blocked" by the Tennessee Department of Education as an inappropriate site, which is reason enough to read his blog, even if he didn't enjoy saying, " Take the Fourier transform of the autocorrelation function!"

Bush. Kerry. Campaign money. Special interests. Payoffs. Politics is a complicated business. And a dirty one. (Via Cursor.)

(Why do I bother to write my own posts? I could just point you to Cursor.)

What an odd, little article this is. I already felt sorry for Laura Bush, but then I'd have felt sorry for any intelligent being trapped in marriage with George Bush. (Via Atrios.)

Over at Wampum, Ms Williams has decided to take the plunge and run for office. We salute her courage and nudge your attention toward that "support" button on the right-hand sidebar.

I don't mean to be rude or anything, but I wish the people blogging on Cliopatria would be quiet for a while. I'm having trouble keeping up with the volume of posts and comments and there are so many things I want to comment on that I wind up sounding inane when I do get something posted.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:56 AM | Comments (3)
It's Presidents' Day. Are You Happy?

While I understand what these kids trying to say, they really do miss the point, which is a bit scary. Affirmative Action is going to be needed in this country until there really is equality.

And why am I somehow not surprised that this one came from the infamously unwise Young Republicans? And why am I further not surprised by the hypocrisy being displayed?

And, speaking of Young Republicans, at exactly what point did the Bush Administration "lurch to the left" and how did I miss it? (I'm not surprised that they think Kerry is a bigger threat to Bush than Dean. Had Dean not imploded in a hail of media speculation about "electability" I think they might have learned to change their minds, but whatever.

And, speaking of the Bush Administration, whenver I read another article about the recess appointment of Pickering I'm astounded, all over again, by the degree of insensitivity shown by both the appointment and the timing of the announcement. And yet...I doubt it's the blatant display of racism that some are claiming. For one thing, I can't imagine any elected official doing something for that reason in an election year.

And, as long as we're still speaking of the Bush Administration, what happened to those rosy promises about money to fight AIDS? (Note the point in here where they found it necessary to create a separate bureaucratic entity to distribute the money, rather than using one of the capable, established organizations. This not only reduces the amount of money actually available for fighting the disease but increases government spending. And, not incidentally, allows us to refuse money for the kinds of programs that really work, like condom distribution.

You find the weirdest things for sale on e-bay.

And you find the weirdest things in the news. Exactly when did NASCAR fans become a voting bloc?

Reading this article, I wonder if it strikes anyone but me as odd to find the coverage of the protests against Iran's upcoming elections sticking out from the center of a story about enriching uranium? It's one big paragraph that begins, "In separate news...." but it seems very oddly placed.

I've been listening to stories about Aristide and Haiti on NPR for a couple of weeks or more and keep meaning to do some serious reading to figure out the situation down there. It's hard to know what, if anything, we should do. This morning (on NPR, naturally) I heard a story about a young man in the northern part of the country who had to go out and buy six gallons worth of fuel out of his own pocket in order to give the local hospital power for an emergency operation on his brother.

And I really am wondering what's going to happen in Chechnya. Sad to say, being labeled as a "terrorist" by the USofA and Russian governments can be as much about politics as anything else.

And speaking of the government, do you think they're aware of the truth in advertising laws?

Remember what I said yesterday about the erosion of what we consider 'entertainment'?

If your schedule of things to worry about this week isn't full yet, take a few moments now and then to keep worrying about media consolidation.

Look what we did.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:07 AM | Comments (2)
February 15, 2004
The Last Best Hope: A Democracy Reader

The Last Best Hope: A Democracy Reader (Edited by Stephen John Goodlad)

"Political indifference is the death of democracy." Neil Postman, Democracy (1999)

I've been struggling for months over how to write a short, succinct review of this book in a way that will do it justice.

When we say, "democracy" what do we mean? How does democracy work? When does it not work? What does education have to do with democracy? What are the pitfalls of democracy and what are the forces arrayed against it? Are we truly born "free" or is the concept of a "free society" an unnatural one that requires warping or even parting away parts of human nature?

These may sound like dry, academic questions and you may believe (for those of you in the UsofA) that having been born into this country at this point in time, you have an instinctive understanding of the answers, but neither assumption is accurate. You don't necessarily know what democracy is or how best to nurture it. And reading about the subject can be interesting and engaging.

There's material in the book for reviews focusing on twenty topics if I only had the time.

Neil Postman's Democracy inspires a train of thought on the fundamental transience of public opinion in the UsofA.

"In America," [Tocqueville] wrote, "parties do not write books to combat each other's opinions, but pamphlets, which are circulated for a day with incredible rapidity and then expire."

It's no wonder we invented the internet. This has always been a country in a hurry.

I could easily write ten pages on this aspect of the "American" character, but that wouldn't produce a review of this book.

(Today, as I'm re-reading this passage, I run across the information that the "South had lagged behind the North not only in the formation of schools but in its use of the printing press" and I'm almost sidetracked into discussing another recent research project, the formation of the character and identify of the South as a unit somehow discrete from the rest of this country, but I'm determined, finally, to stay on topic and get this review done.)

What is Postman writing about?

"Democracy is not a thing, a process, or an idea. It is a word, and a word that has had a checkered career at that."

And, before you ask, yes, it is important to know where a word came from. From those origins come varied and variable uses for the word and from the origins of "democracy" we can trace the roots of the differing definitions of the word as it has evolved into...whatever it is we think it is today.

What about education? To paraphrase Benjamin R. Barber in An Aristocracy Of Everyone (1992), no one is born free. We are born helpless, dependant, and ignorant. We must be educated into freedom. Freedom is the business of an educated, national citizen.

The education of the population is a constant theme throughout much of the book and certainly I could write more than one essay on the topic myself since it's a 'hot button' of mine. The vital importance of education - the way we're failing ourselves as well as failing to safeguard our future - I've ranted about these things before.

But why bother when Barber puts it all so much more succinctly?

"Yet the fundamental task of education in a democracy is the apprenticeship of liberty--learning to be free."

Also from Barber, I found words to articulate what "liberal" means to me.

Democracy is a "leveling process" - it struggles to create equality, but it struggles to level up. Not the lowest common denominator but the highest - to bring the ignorant and unwise up to the level of a learned, committed citizen.

He captures the idea that the best democracy to strive for is an aristocracy where every member of the society is also an aristocrat.

The classical notion of an aristocracy grades on a curve (something I've never respected). Those "above' define themselves by the people they are superior to - they are superior on comparison only to the inferiority of others.

A democratic aristocracy, in contrast, would define superiority by the approach to a standard of excellence. A citizen is not superior by virtue of the difference between themselves and others but by virtue of their own, personal attainments. Measurement against how nearly they approach an ideal.

(I'm sure I need hardly point out that the more an individual assists others in their approach to the goal, the more nearly the individual moves toward the same ideal.

Grading on the curve is a prime example of the failure of any other approach to democracy. You can only be an 'A' student if someone else fails, if someone else is an 'F' student. Ask yourself - are you actually a success if your "success" is purely a measure of by what percentage you outperformed the worst possible students?)

Next, Robert D. Putnam asks, What Makes Democracy Work? and then provides a fascinating Italian experiment through which he and investigating colleagues discovered an answer.

I'd like to quote the entire experiment (but you know how I feel about transcribing things) or at least enough of it to give you a context for the experiment but somehow I doubt that quoting six pages of a seven-page essay is quite covered under Fair-Use agreements so I'll confine myself to the flat statement that civic bonds, the interaction and participation of equal citizens in those activities that define their region, is the key to "installing" a successful democratic system.

"The correlation between civic engagement and effective government is virtually perfect."

The education I got from Putnam's discussion of the differences between a "horizontal" society of equals and a "vertical, patron-client" exploitation of dependence was worth the price of the book by itself.

Civil engagement. At this moment, I'm tempted to stop and discuss the bruising of our national psyche by McCarthyism, followed by the painful divisiveness of Vietnam, followed in turn by the public disillusionment of the Nixon Administration and the subsequent Iran-contra crimes of the Reagan Administration but even as I consider the subject I'm forced to admit that these contributions to voter disillusionment, significant as they are, are just pieces pulled from the middle of the puzzle. There's more to the waning of political involvement in this country than those events.

Anyhow. Putnam does not attribute low civil engagement to a lack of education, but I think a case could be made for the idea that his "horizontal collaboration among equals" necessarily contains components of or would be enhanced by Barber's "civic education." What else is a 'discussion of issues and ideas' but a kind of cooperative education between citizens?

Beyond this, Putnam offers a lively historical section on the development of cultural and social ties (based on engagement, trust, and reciprocity) in those areas of Italy where successful democratic institutions existed in 1993.

Although I'm trying desperately to avoid recapping the entire content of every, single essay, I'll add that at the heart of Putnam's theory is "social capital" - the relationships of people to those within their neighborhood or society. The "banking" of "social capital" with our fellow citizens is what allows democracy to work.

"Cynicism is despair before it loses the ability to act."

That's a paraphrase of C. Douglas Lummis in The Democratic Virtues.

Trust is at the core of this essay. Specifically, public trust, which neatly ties this to the previous essay. The making and keeping of promises, not only by people but by public institutions.

Again, I could easily get sidetracked here. Lummis was writing in 1996 and his topic was timely then, but how much more important does it seem today with Enron, Parmalat, and other corporate scandals in the headlines?

But let's stick with the book. Better yet, let's stick with Lummis' own words:

"The act of making and keeping a promise is a conquest of the chaos that would come if each of us followed our individual passions from moment to moment wherever they lead. It is a conquest that establishes order without placing humankind under a punishing God, a punishing leviathan, a punishing conscience, or a punishing order of exploitative work. In Rousseau's words, it leaves us "free as before." There is no need to ask why making a promise is an act of freedom: we make promises only where there is freedom. Where there is no freedom there is no need for a promise."
Through promises, people faced with more than one choice can create order by collectively willing one.
"The specific context of a promise need not . . . be moral or honorable. But even when it is indifferent ("I will meet you at 7:00 p.m. in front of the post office"), keeping it takes on moral weight. This weight does not come from some metaphysical source: god, transcendent law, absolute reason, the form of the good. It comes from the people themselves, and their act of promising."

Again and again, the book comes back to these ideas. Democracy is the product of an informed, active, and committed population.

Lummis quotes, "Politics is the art of the possible" and offers a brief discussion of realpolitik and its relationship with despair.

"In democratic politics, the art of the possible means the art of extending the possible, the art of creating the possible out of the impossible."

Moving on, Robert D. Kaplan's Was Democracy Just A Moment? discusses, again, when and how democracy can flourish, and warns of a "world government" spawned and controlled by giant, multinational corporations that take upon themselves the duties and powers of nations.

Unguided, democracy is not a guard against tyranny.

"Hitler and Mussolini each came to power through democracy. Democracies do not always make societies more civil--but they do always mercilessly expose the health of the societies in which they operate."

Kaplan also argues convincingly against universal democracy on the grounds that, "for many parts of the world, the historical and social arguments supporting democracy are just not there."

In other words, the social, educational, and moral grounds for democracy do not currently exist in all parts of the world and we do those peoples no favor when we attempt to force our version of democracy on them.

"[O]ur belief in democracy regardless of local conditions amounts to cultural hubris."

There is a level of development that must be reached in a society. The social bonds that tie individuals together must cross tribal, religious, and regional boundaries - there must be the development of Putnam's "social capital" before democracy can flourish.

In warning against the formation of a world government, Kaplan tells us that, "[of] the world's hundred largest economies, fifty-one are not countries but corporations" and points out the disproportionate amount of the world's wealth concentrated (in 1997, when he wrote) to the point that 500 corporations accounted for 70% of the entire world's trade.

While not ruling out the possibility that multinational corporations could become entities responsive to international moral or social pressures, Kaplan makes it clear that a transition to this system (as politics follows power follows money) will be difficult and will mean the end of our "domestic" democracy as we know it. And of national culture, as we know it today.

He ties in comparisons to the Roman Empire, as many of us have done in recent years, pointing to the degradation of our "entertainment" as a sign.

"The mood of the Colosseum goes together with the age of the corporation, which offers entertainment in place of values."
"Is it not conceivable that corporations will, like the rulers of both Sparta and Athens, project power to the advantage of the well-off while satisfying the twenty-first century servile populace with the equivalent of bread and circuses?"

Kaplan also warns of the "return of the oligarchy" to the enrichment of the rich and the detriment of the poor.

The previous essays constituted the first two Parts of the book (Why Democracy? and Concepts and Complexities). There's much more.

Citizenship and Character

Democracy and Its Troubles

The Public and the Personal

Education in a Democratic Society

Human Potential and Democracy's Future

These are all more than worth reading and I regret that good sense (and a tired writing hand) prevent me from discussing the entire book at more length.

I think anyone concerned about the future of this country and the way society is evolving would be doing themselves a favor by reading this collection.

Essays on Law and Justice, and Egalitarian Solidarity, and Moral Imagination, and Practical Utopianism offer something for everyone from the casual browser to the serious thinker. (Okay, I know. I always say, Read This Book! but they're good books and worth reading, okay?)

( Read it.)

Posted by AnneZook at 05:48 PM | Comments (2)