The Gaps, Crap and Gumption Traps in Creative Work


ThisAmericanLifeThe poster above reflects hard-won wisdom acquired and shared by Ira Glass, host of PRI's This American Life, emphasizing the importance of perseverance in developing mastery of creative production. While Glass focuses on storytelling for radio and television, his insights and experiences about the gaps between ambitions and realizations - and the connections between quantity and quality - relate to wisdom I've encountered from masters of the crafts of filmmaking and maintaining motorcycles. I believe this wisdom applies to any creative endeavor, and I would argue that storytelling is an essential ingredient in every creative enterprise, as the creative things we produce and consume comprise an integral part of the stories we make up about ourselves.

The poster is derived from a video interview posted in August 2009 (Ira Glass on Storytelling, Part 3 of 4) in which he describes both the frustration and importance of making stuff that is still "kind of crappy" as an unavoidable part of the apprenticeship required for the journey to master craftspersonship ... and, according to Sturgeon's Law, 90% of everything is crap anyway.

Being_Wrong_Kathryn_SchulzIra Glass is my favorite interviewer, and so I was intrigued when he was interviewed by another experienced interviewer, Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong. The interview, which appeared in a June 2010 Slate article, On Air and On Error: This American Life's Ira Glass on Being Wrong, offers some glimpses of the wisdom captured in the pithy poster above:

One of the reasons I was interested in doing this interview is because I feel like being wrong is really important to doing decent work. To do any kind of creative work well, you have to run at stuff knowing that it's usually going to fail. You have to take that into account and you have to make peace with it. We spend a lot of money and time on stuff that goes nowhere. It's not unusual for us to go through 25 or 30 ideas and then go into production on eight or 10 and then kill everything but three or four. In my experience, most stuff that you start is mediocre for a really long time before it actually gets good. And you can't tell if it's going to be good until you're really late in the process. So the only thing you can do is have faith that if you do enough stuff, something will turn out great and really surprise you.

WoodyAllen_AmericanMastersIn a recent American Masters documentary on Woody Allen, the prolific writer, actor and director shared a similar perspective on the need to produce lots of stuff. Although the documentary is no longer viewable online, an interview with Robert B. Weide, the documentary filmmaker - a filmmaker filming a filmmaker - is available, in which Weide shares Allen's Quantity Theory:

You ask him [Woody Allen] about his endurance and his longevity over 40 years, and how prolific he is, doing a film a year for 40 years, as a writer and a director, and in many of them, an actor. And he says, "You know, longevity and endurance have their place, those are accomplishments of a sort, but those aren't the accomplishments I care about, which is to make a really great film." He says that he's working on the quantity theory, which is that if you just keep knocking them out, one picture after another, just keep making them and making them, some of them won't be that great, but every now and then, one will come out good.

ZenAndTheArtOfMotorcycleMaintenanceAllen's Quantity Theory brings to mind the Metaphysics of Quality, and the idea of a gumption trap that Robert Pirsig described in his classic 1974 book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig uses motorcycle maintenance as a metaphor for life, and explores a variety of gumption traps - externally induced out-of-sequence reassembly, intermittent failure and parts problems as well as internally induced traps arising from value rigidity, ego, anxiety, boredom and impatience - and ways of addressing and overcoming them. I won't include the full text of Pirsig's hypothetical course in Gumptionology 101 here, but the following passage gives a sense of his perspective, and its relevance to the views shared more recently by Ira Glass and Woody Allen:

Throughout the process of fixing the machine things always come up, low-quality things, from a dusted knuckle to an accidentally ruined "irreplaceable" assembly. These drain off gumption, destroy enthusiasm and leave you so discouraged you want to forget the whole business. I call these things "gumption traps."

There are hundreds of different kinds of gumption traps, maybe thousands, maybe millions. I have no way of knowing how many I don’t know. I know it seems as though I’ve stumbled into every kind of gumption trap imaginable. What keeps me from thinking I’ve hit them all is that with every job I discover more. Motorcycle maintenance gets frustrating. Angering. Infuriating. That’s what makes it interesting.

Pirsig's ideas about gumption were part of the inspiration for this blog, and I have consciously and unconsciously encountered some of these traps when writing - and not writing - posts here. When I look back on my early posts, many of them now seem like crap ... and I don't think any of the posts I've written - or anything I've produced in any other realm - have ever quite closed the gap between my ambitions and my realizations. I suppose blogging gives me a channel through which to work out - or at least work with - the ongoing tension between striving and acceptance.

Finally, speaking of blogging, I first encountered the poster at the top of this post a few weeks ago at the top of a post at Tim Kastelle's blog (which I always enjoy) on How to Make Things Look Simple. Tim found it amid one of the longest chains of Tumblr reblogs I've ever encountered, but further searching suggests that it was originally created by Sawyer Hollenshead. In digging around for the source, I also found a plain text version of the Ira Glass quote on a blog maintained by NPR's Fresh Air associate producer Melody Kramer, which I'll include - and conclude with - here, as I find it more readable (though less striking) than the poster:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Remembering Community: Fixing the Future via Community Currency at Hour Exchange Portland

Community is more like something that we're remembering than something that we're creating all over again.

I was inspired by physical therapist and sailor Stephen Becket's words at the end of a segment of David Brancaccio's upcoming special edition of PBS Now, Fixing the Future, shown on tonight's PBS Newshour. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the series, and how disappointed I was when Now and Bill Moyer's Journal were cancelled. I was grateful to have another glimpse, and look forward to watching the full segment online this weekend (our local PBS affiliate, KCTS, does not appear to be carrying the show).

image from The Newshour segment profiles Hour Exchange Portland, where members of the community contribute and receive services in an exchange that lies entirely outside the traditional financial / banking industry:

We believe in people.

We believe everyone has knowledge and skills that someone in the community can use. We help people find what they need and give what they can. We are neighbors helping neighbors help themselves. We are a community service exchange.

We believe no one is more valuable than you, and neither is their time more valuable. At Hour Exchange Portland everyone's time is equal, an hour for an hour. If you give an hour of your time helping someone, providing a service, then you can receive an hour of someone else's time who provides a service you need. Time is what our members exchange. We are a community currency based on time. We believe all people are created equal, and so is our time. Our time is priceless.

I won't say too much more about the segment, but will include a another one of my favorite excerpts - and embed the 7-minute video - below. The entire hour-long version of Fixing the Future can be found online or seen on many PBS stations this week (at least, outside of Seattle).

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Are you connecting with other people? Are you meeting other people through this?

JENNIFER LUNDEN: This is like the new kind of community. In this country, we have lost a lot of the sense of community, and people are so focused on just surviving economically or doing better than their neighbors economically. We're so focused on stuff, that we have completely lost our sense of community. And Hour Exchange is a way that I have a built-in community. There are about 600 members that I can go to and ask for help.


STEPHEN BECKETT: We just have this arbitrary economic system that we all have -- you know, have grown up in and believe in and contribute to and work in. If it's not working anymore, then let's do something different. I think the seeds already are planted and sprouted and well on their way.

Indeed, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Nothing brings people together like ignoring each other to stare at their phones

SanityFearAppIcon Last night, on the Colbert Report, near the beginning of the segment on Fear for All, Part I, host Stephen Colbert announced the new Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear app for the iPhone (also available in the Android store).

The app was developed by MTV Networks for the upcoming combined Rally to Restore Sanity (instigated by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart) / March to Keep Fear Alive (instigated by Colbert) in Washington, DC, this Saturday, an event that has received considerable attention over the past few weeks on Comedy Central, Fox News and other traditional and new media outlets (though the rally will apparently not be receiving any direct attention from National Public Radio).

PeopleStaringAtPhones Colbert highlighted several benefits to this new mobile social activist application:

If you're going to the rally, well, there's an app for that ... It's really cool! You can use the app to get directions to the rally, check-in on Foursquare, post photos to Facebook and Twitter, and you get a special video message from Jon [Stewart] and me on the morning of the rally. This app will truly enhance your rally experience, because nothing brings people together like ignoring each other to stare at their phones. [emphasis mine]

image from These "features" for enhancing physical world experiences reflect the tensions I recently wrote about regarding the Starbucks Digital Network and its impact on engagement and enlightment on physical world "third places". Although I have not precisely measured it, I have perceived an increasing trend of people standing or sitting together in Starbucks and becoming ever more effective at ignoring each other by staring at / typing on their phones (or laptops), and I predict less physical world engagement will result from the greater online engagement provided by this new location-based network. This may not be universally seen as a "bug" by all, but I have been encouraged to read others urging a shift of attention from the online back into the offline, such as Lewis Howes' recent post predicting the offline shift is coming, and John Hagel and John Seely Brown's recent article in Harvard Business Review proclaiming the increasing importance of physical location.

Malcolm Gladwell has also addressed the relative tradeoffs between online and offline engagement, touching off a firestorm of controversy in a New Yorker article criticizing online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and their impact on social activism in the physical world: Small Change: Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.

image from The Rally to Restore Sanity, however, is more about resolution than revolution:

We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.

image from The March to Keep Fear Alive is, of course, also intended to promote reasonableness, though employing the kind of parody traditionally used by Colbert in drawing attention to the fear that is regularly promulgated through other media channels:

America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear — that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty. But now, there are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear — forces with salt and pepper hair and way more Emmys than they need. They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget — “Reason” is just one letter away from “Treason.” Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can’t afford to take that chance.

I will not be present at the rally / march in Washington, DC, but I may attend the Rally to Restore Sanity in Seattle. In any case, I will be tuning in to the main rally  /march remotely - perhaps using my iPhone - to see how the resolution or revolution will be tweeted.

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Fear for All Pt. 1
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive

Update, 2010-11-16: Perhaps due to the fact that the only commercial TV I watch with any regularity is the Comedy Central "news" hour - The Daily Show and The Colbert Report - and even those I typically watch via buffering on my DVR to skip commercials, I was not aware of the Microsoft Windows Phone ad campaign launched earlier in October that promotes the theme of phone-based obsessive-compulsive disorder that Colbert is alluding to. While I like the video, I don't see how this would motivate people to buy Windows Phones (say, instead of iPhones or Androids), but perhaps the goal was simply to draw some attention to Windows Phone. In any case, I'm embedding the Windows Phone "Really" advertisement below.

And finally, just for good measure, I'll embed what I see as the classic short video in this genre, Crackberry Blackberry (though I do not believe this was ever used as a marketing tool by Research in Motion). Interestingly, it was prefaced by yet another Windows Phone ad when I watched it just now.

Violent communication, emotional contagion, genocide and eliminationism

WorseThanWar Last night, I watched a disturbing show on PBS, Worse than War, "the first major documentary to explore the phenomenon of genocide and how we can stop it". Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, narrator of the film and author of the book upon which it is based, argues that contrary to common conceptions of irrational and spontaneous combustion as the cause of genocide, it actually involves careful planning by rational actors, beginning with the identification of a political objective - typically the removal or elimination of an ethnic group - followed by the persistent demonization and vilification of members of that group through violent and virulent communication and other acts.

Goldhagen proposes that genocide could be more properly characterized as eliminationism:

the belief that one's political opponents are "a cancer on the body politic that must be excised — either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination - in order to protect the purity of the nation"

The 2-hour film (which can be viewed online in its entirety) reviews a number of large-scale atrocities - mass murders often accompanied by systematic rapes and other forms of torture - committed during the 20th and 21st centuries in Darfur, Rwanda, the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Armenia and, of course, Nazi Germany.

In nearly every case, the international community did little to stop the atrocities, and many actions - and inaction - of members of the local and global community reminded me of the social roles involved in the circle of bullying I wrote about in my last post (Be Impeccable with Your Word: Confrontation vs. Condescension and Intimidation): bullies, followers or henchmen, supporters or passive bullies, passive supporters or possible bullies, disengaged onlookers, possible defenders and defenders.

One of the most disturbing segments of the film (starting around the 1:03 mark) showed U.N. Peacekeepers in Rwanda abruptly abandoning the Ecole Technique Officielle school in Kigali, in which they had been protecting thousands of Tutsi from homicidal Hutus, who immediately moved in and massacred the unprotected and unarmed Tutsi. Goldhagen claims that the one post-WWII example of significant and effective intervention, the 1999 NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia, resulted in Slobodan Milošević, leader of the Serbian eliminationists, quickly ceasing atrocities and coming to the negotiation table. He argues that the biggest obstacle to preventing genocide is the lack of the will on the part of world leaders.

ConnectedBookCover Throughout the film, I was reminded of the concept of epidemic hysteria or Mass Psychogenic Illness (MPI) that I recently read about in Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. The authors, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, describe several instances of large-scale emotional contagion in which groups of people "catch" emotions from others through direct contact or observation over varying lengths of time. For example, in what has become known as the Tanganyika laughing epidemic, uncontrollable bouts of laughter lasting a few minutes to a few hours spread across a population of several hundred people during the first several months of 1962. Another, more recent, example was several waves of MPI at a high school in McMinville, TN, during 1998, in which gasoline was purportedly smelled and dozens of people suffered from symptoms of nausea and dizziness; no objective evidence of gasoline or any other physical agent that may have caused the symptoms was ever found. Several other examples are provided, but the important thing I want to note here is that the characteristics that tend to mark episodes of MPI include a highly connected community that tends to be isolated and/or stressed ... characteristics that appear to apply to most, if not all, of the groups of genocide perpetrators depicted in Goldhagen's film.

Toward the end of their book, Christakis and Fowler discuss the "interpersonal spread of criminal behavior as an example of a bad network outcome". As with other viral effects, people observing the commission of a crime - or perhaps its after-effects (e.g., the broken window theory) - may be more likely to commit crimes themselves. They note that "the riskier or more serious the crime, the less likely others are to follow suit (though there can be frenzies of murder too, as in the Rwandan genocide)." Unfortunately, in this context, they do not explore these more serious types of criminal frenzies further.

LuciferEffect Another book that came to mind was The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, by Philip Zimbardo, which reports on - among other things - his [in]famous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which a group of college students were randomly partitioned into groups of prison guards and prisoners and placed within a simulated prison. The experiment, which was intended to last 2 weeks, was stopped after just 6 days due to the unanticipated ferocity and sadism with which the "prison guards" adopted and performed their roles, and the depression and other signs of stress exhibited by those playing the "prisoners". I haven't actually read the book, but based on the broader coverage described in its synopsis, I believe that it provides many insights relevant to the types of genocide - or eliminationism - described in Goldhagen's film, e.g., the strength of "situational power" and the effects of "conformity, obedience to authority, role-playing, dehumanization, deindividuation and moral disengagement".

I wish I could say that Goldhagen's film depicts atrocities beyond anything I could ever imagine happening in this country ... at least in modern times (slavery, the civil war, and other epochs in our history may represent approximations of eliminationism). However, the roots of all of the examples of eliminationism he examines are all preceded by periods of persistent demonization and vilification of classes of people ... practices that seem to be on the increase in some media pundits and channels. In researching this blog post, I was simultaneously heartened and disheartened to discover that I am not alone in this concern.

In a Marquette Law Review article on Eliminationist Discourse in a Conflicted Society: Lessons for America from Africa?, Phyllis Bernard writes:

This Article proceeds from the assumption that—from a less lofty, more grassroots perspective—modern, organized, formal, one-time venues for extremist political speech do not present the most potent threat to physical safety and a stable democracy. The greater danger emanates from pervasive right-wing extremist themes on radio, television, and some online news sources (often as a modern-day replacement for hard-copy newspapers and newsletters). These media support an increasingly passionate and virulent message in public discourse. This message encourages persons who feel uneasy or displaced in society to expiate their grievances not through the political process, but through murder.


This Article addresses pervasive, long-term, mixed messages that blend ostensible news with entertainment, politics, religion, and appeals to ethnic identity and general fear-mongering. Although such discourse receives the greatest coverage in the mass media, the better forum to mitigate and neutralize the incitement to action may be on a person-to-person level. This Article will explore interventions in Rwanda and Nigeria that adapted American dispute prevention and resolution methods to African media and dispute resolution traditions. The African collaborations offer a different view of justice, based on relationships, which may provide a better fit and forum for America to address extremist media messages and their impact on society.

I hope, for the sake of all Americans, that we can learn the lessons from other conflicts, find common ground, foster more civil and respectful relationships, and avoid the kinds of catastrophes we have witnessed in countries that may be, in some key respects, not so different from our own. And I also hope that we can find and employ the will to use our considerable power to stand up to bullies in other parts of the world.

Hope and Dreams trump Fears and Smears

The speeches of the two U.S. presidential candidates Tuesday night were hopeful and inspiring, a welcome change from the fears and smears that dominated much of the campaign ... or, at least, one side of the campaign. John McCain delivered the most gracious concession speech I have ever seen, and Barack Obama delivered yet another inspiring - and gracious - victory speech shortly thereafter.

I had planned to post a blog entry summarizing some of the fears and smears promulgated by McCain, his running mate Sarah Palin, Fox News and other conservative voices - instances I'd been tracking via Twitter - after the election, but the combined positive boost of these two speeches leads me to let these go, and focus instead on hope and dreams. 

And, in letting go of fears and embracing hope and dreams, I'm reminded of a classic book by Gerald Jampolsky, Love is Letting Go of Fear, which I first read many years ago.

The Course [in Miracles] states there are only two emotions, love and fear. The first is our natural inheritance, the other our mind manufactures. The Course suggests that we can learn to let go of fear by practicing forgiveness and seeing everyone, including ourselves, as blameless and guiltless.
As each of us moves towards the single goal of achieving peace of mind for ourselves, we can also experience the joining of our minds that results from the removal of the blocks to our awareness of Love's presence.

John McCain's concession speech exemplified some of these ideals. I don't know whether McCain ever truly believed the fears that he and his cohorts were trying so hard to instill in the minds and hearts of the American people, but he certainly did his best to let these go - and urge his supporters to do so - during his speech.

Here are a few of the passages that I found particularly inspiring:

In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, [Obama's] success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.


These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.


Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

It is natural. It's natural, tonight, to feel some disappointment. But tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again.


I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.

Barack Obama's victory speech also emphasized love - through the of language of hopes, dreams and unity - over fear, despair and divisiveness.

Here are a few of the excerpts from his speech that I find most inspiring:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.


It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.


There's new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.


What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.


This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

Ever since that speech, I find that two songs keep swimming through my head. One is Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), by George Harrison:

Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from birth
Give me hope
Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with,
heart and soul

The other song was triggered by a line in Obama's speech: "It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America."

The music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young inspires me more than the music of any other band. As I noted in my review of a CSNY concert in 2006, their song, Long Time Gone, is a "goosebump" song, and one of my favorite songs of all time.

It's been a long time comin'
It's goin' to be a long time gone.
And it appears to be a long
Appears to be a long
Appears to be a long,
Yes, a long, long, log time
Before the dawn.

Turn, turn any corner.
Hear, you must hear what the people say,
You know there's something that's goin' on around here,
That surely, surely, surely won't stand the light of day.

I've written about another verse, "But you know, the darkest hour, Is always just before the dawn", in another post (The Darkest Hour) in another, far less celebratory context, in which the song offered an unexpected catharsis.

Although I invoke it again here, in a truly celebratory context, I will also note that the song was written in response to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, an event which many, including myself, see as the end of an earlier era of extraordinary hope. Listening to NPR this morning, a commentartor noted that Obama's promise that "we as a people will get there" invokes the spirit - and hopes and dreams - of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from King's inspiring "I've been to the mountaintop" speech  ... the one he gave on the eve of his assassination.

[Update: I found videos of this speech - in two parts - on YouTube; including them below.]

The speech ends off with this inspiring and prophetic passage:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! [emphasis added]

As I noted in an earlier post, on ignorance, indenciaries, ironies and inspiration:

The increasingly incendiary invective incited by the McCain / Palin campaign instill me with fear that Obama may meet a fate similar to other inspiring political figures from our naton's past. On this week's pledge week installment of This American Life, host Ira Glass played a segment from a Fresh Air earlier this year on Pete Hamill Remembers Robert Kennedy. I was deeply moved by Robert F. Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis the night that Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis, in which he raised the questions of "what kind of nation we are, and what kind of direction we want to move in". Many of those hearing the speech at the time were also moved: although there were riots in 180 American cities that night, there was relative quiet in Indianapolis.

I sincererly hope that the combination of speeches from McCain and Obama will put an end to the fears and smears represented by the ridiculous "Who is Barack Obama?" rhetoric, and help us focus instead on the questions RFK raised:

What kind of nation are we, and what kind of direction do we want to move in?

I believe the election of Barack Obama on Tuesday represents the beginning - or perhaps the continuation - of a hopeful answer to these vitally important questions, and I hope that we, the people, can collectively let go of our fears, and our politics of divisiveness, and embrace the love and courage that will be required for us to climb the mountain toward a more perfect union.

Conservativism, Liberalism and Independence

As the campaign draws to a close, two classic Doonesbury cartoons have been regularly recurring to me, a visual analogue to the aural experience of a song I can't get out of my head. One of them was the pithiest summary of the differences between conservatives and liberals I've ever read; the other was a parody of college students acting as sheeple, uncritically accepting anything and everything their professor says, despite his assignment of writing an essay on independent thought.

This campaign has been emotionally charged for me (and others). I generally try to be positive on this blog, and yet have been finding myself increasingly indignant from the [literally] incredible smears and fears shamelessly promulgated by the campaigns and their supporters. I've started using my Twitter account to vent some of this irritation by simply and briefly noting some of the acts I find most egregious - occasionally sprinkled with sparks of hope. 

The recent news that Gary Trudeau has created an "Obama Wins!" strip for Wednesday, based on his reading that "Nate Silver at is now giving McCain a 3.7% chance of winning" (though my reading of Today's Polls, 10/31, says "McCain’s win percentage is down to 2.8 percent") leads me to delve into these strips and describe how I see them as framing the current political climate in America.

Doonesbury-Conservatives-2003-07-13 In the first strip [first published on July 13, 2003], two Doonesbury characters who play the role of commentators on the public radio show All Things Reconsidered, liberal Mark Slackmeyer and conservative Chase Talbot III (who also happen to be homosexual lovers, and eventually became a married couple), discuss the differences between liberals and conservatives. The strip starts out with Mark watching Fox News, where an announcer trumpets "Fox News: we report, you decide!", to which Mark muses "That has to be the most cynical slogan in the history of journalism" [personally, I find their other slogan, "Fair and Balanced" to be far more cynical].

In the main portion of the strip, Chase sums up the differences between liberals and conservatives: "[Y]ou liberals are hung up on fairness! You actually try to respect all points of view! But conservatives feel no need whatsoever to consider other views. We know we're right, so why bother? Because we have no tradition of tolerance, we're unencumbered by doubt! So we roll you guys every time!" When Mark replies "Actually, you make a good point...", Chase responds, "See! Only a loser would admit that!"

As I noted in my last blog post - and as is reflected in many of my recent "tweets" - what irks me the most this campaign season is the ignorant and incendiary statements made and actions taken by some of my fellow Americans. Revisiting Doonesbury's characterization of conservatives, I can see that many of these statements and actions reflect the core conservative values of righteousness, intolerance and certainty.

Doonesbury-TeachingIsDead The willingness to consider alternative perspectives, think critically, and arrive at independent conclusions - hallmarks of liberalism, from Doonesbury's perspective - is the subject of the other Doonesbury strip that has been on / in my mind a lot lately. In this strip [first published on January 27, 1985], a professor is lecturing to students, who eagerly write down everything he says, without thinking about or challenging any of the increasingly provocative statements he makes:

  • "... and in my view, Jefferson's defense of these basic rights lacked conviction. Okay, any discussion of what I've covered so far?" [no response]
  • "Of course not, you're too busy getting it all down. Let me just add that personally, I believe the Bill of Rights to be a silly, inconsequential, recapitulation of truths already found in the Constitution. Any comment?" [no response]
  • "No, scratch that! The Constitution itself should never have been written! It's a dangerous document! All power should rest with the executive! What do you think of that?!" [no response]
  • "Jefferson was the antichrist! Democracy is fascism! Black is white! Night is day!"  no response].

After the professor slumps over the podium, decrying "Teaching is dead", two students turn to each other; one says "Boy, this course is really getting interesting", to which the other replies "You said it, I didn't know half this stuff."

Now, this strip was originally printed on January 27, 1985, shortly after Rush Limbaugh started his conservative radio show in Sacramento, but a few years before it made its debut on WABC-AM radio in New York during the 1988 campaign. I don't know if Doonesbury knew about the show at that point, but his strip perfectly illustrates the legions of Limbaugh fans - sometimes referred to as dittoheads - who unquestioningly accept and repeat the hateful, righteous, intolerant views he regularly espouses on his show. The strip also has current relevance, given the confusion about the First Amendment recently exhibited by Sarah Palin (the conservative Republican vice presidential candidate), the evangelical furor over [allegations about] Obama being the antichrist that I mentioned in my last post, and the growing acknowledgment (by conservatives) that conservativism is increasingly anti-intellectual and some going so far as to claim that conservatives are addicted to misinformation.

Although I do not listen to Rush Limbaugh nor watch Fox News regularly, I have heard and seen many clips from a variety of their shows, especially this election season, and all of them have exhibited some combination of righteousness, intolerance and certainty ... and none of them has exhibited anything that I would consider to be fair or balanced (though I want to note that I've never heard Rush refer to himself - or his show - as "fair and balanced" ... and in fact, he has strenuously argued against the Fairness Doctrine).

Now to be fair, Fox News is counterbalanced, to some extent, by MSNBC, a network which seems to be increasingly liberal - the "antithesis of Fox News". As I've noted before, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is my hero ... or, at least, he was. I have to admit that as the campaign has worn on, it seems to be wearing down Olbermann, whose candid, direct and provocative style has become increasingly affected by righteous indignation ... and contemptuousness. In his recent Special Comment on "It's Palin doin' the pallin'" (embedded in my last post), which is both a fabulous refutation of Palin's charges against Barack Obama "palling around with terrorists" and a strong indictment on her - and John McCain's - associations with people who might be considered terrorists, he condescendingly refers to "poor Sarah Palin", and uses a mocking tone in many of his other references to her ... a tone I typically associate with Rush Limbaugh and the conservative pundits on Fox News.

In another dimension of "balance" between conservatives and liberals, I was very disturbed to see an article about a mannequin dressed up as Sarah Palin with a noose around its neck hung outside a house in West Hollywood this week, and then to read about an effigy of Barack Obama with a knife through its neck that was hung outside a house in Redondo Beach in response ... all in the spirit of Halloween "fun". Both of these effigies have now been removed after protests, and I was heartened to see that one of the protesters against the Barama effigy was a local McCain campaign official, Pete Kesterson [I do not know whether any Obama campain officials officially protested against the Palin effigy]. I was also heartened to see a video of Daniel Zubairi, a Muslim McCain campaign official, and other supporters, confront other supporters who were promulgating misinformation about Obama being a socialist with an Islamic background (though, disheartened to later read that Zubairi was then asked not to talk about the incident by the McCain campaign).

Finally, I want to also note that I was heartened - and humored - to see John (and Cindy) McCain's appearances on Saturday Night Live last night. Although there was some booing of John McCain from the audience, I have to say that the skits he appeared in seemed to strike a fair balance between the serious issues McCain wants to emphasize in the campaign and a rather self-effacing, humorous look at some of the issues I would have expected that McCain would not have wanted to emphasize. I have to say that the effect - for me - was to re-humanize McCain a bit, after a long, downward spiral of increasing negativity coming from McCain, Palin and their supporters (including Fox News and Rush Limbaugh).

Although SNL is often criticized by conservatives for having a liberal bias, the show has recently been willing to poke fun at liberals (e.g., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Barney Frank in an interpretation of the recent bailout of the banking industry) as well as conservatives (e.g., their interpretation of Katie Couric's interview of Sarah Palin).

To end off on a light note, I'll embed a couple of these videos below.

McCain QVC open:

Palin / Couric open

Oops! I just discovered that last night's show included an SNL parody of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, played by Ben Affleck:

Consistency, Change and Conventions

Between the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention, and their coverage on PBS (especially the Lehrer NewsHour), I've probably watched more TV in the past two weeks than I have in the past two years. It seems that change is very much in the air - or, at least, on the air - but it appears that the conception of change is not consistent across parties ... and, indeed, in at least one case, it does not even appear consistent within a single individual.

I've watched the party nomination acceptance speeches of Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and John McCain, as well as the speeches by Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton - which, I suppose, could also be considered speeches of acceptance (of Obama's nomination) - and the speeches by Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman - which often times seemed to focus more on rejection (of Obama) than acceptance (of McCain).

As is the convention with political conventions, and politics in general, the speeches were generally high on emotion and low on fact. One generally has to turn elsewhere to learn more about the facts. One source I found increasingly helpful - both for facts and an emotional uplift (particularly during the Republican convention) - was The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (part of Comedy Central's Indecision 2008 coverage).

The Daily Show obviously plays loose with the facts and exhibits a certain bias throughout its coverage, and this applies to its coverage of the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. However, I suspect the level of truthfulness and bias is on a par with Fox News, and it's important to remember that the former is billed as a comedy show while the latter is billed as "fair and balanced" reporting. And, although a vocal minority on the right claims that PBS exhibits a left-leaning bias, and John McCain once claimed that cable networks are less biased than PBS and "superior in some cases", I think most people recognize that PBS offers the least bias and greatest depth of any news and information source on U.S. television.

Regardless of one's views of the respective (if not respectful) biases exhibited by various organizations and shows, there was a recent segment on The Daily Show that reviewed some of the facts and fictions about John McCain as a maverick reformer - or, as they so humorously reframe it, reformed maverick - which contrasts sharply with his running mate's claim that

"As for my running mate, you can be certain that wherever he goes, and whoever is listening, John McCain is the same man."

As the following video suggests, consistency is in the eye of the beholder:

Personally, despite my disagreement of some of Senator McCain's views, I had a generally positive impression of him during what the video describes as "The Wild Years (1936-2006)". But, in the segment "Abandoning Everything He'd Ever Stood For (2006-present)", the juxtaposition of statements by Senator McCain and Presidential Candidate McCain highlights striking inconsistencies in his views of the intolerant right wing of his party, a woman's right to choose (about which The Daily Show had a great segment entitled "Bristol Palin's Choice"), taxes, and the "difficulties" encountered in the war in Iraq.

Now, I suppose these statements could simply reflect that John McCain is an agent of change (i.e., he is willing to change his own views). And, as they showed in another segment on his acceptance speech, his views on change are not terribly different from the views of change articulated by the Republican nominee for president in 2000, George W. Bush, on topics such as abortion, education, taxes and bipartisanship (see the segment between 4:51 and 5:48):

I'm reminded of Ghandi's views on consistency, change and truth:

"My commitment is to truth as I see it each day, not to consistency."

Ghandi never ran for the office of U.S. President (or Vice President), and I suspect that holding - or admitting to - this kind of perspective would not serve candidates well in this time and place. He also once noted that

"I have sacrificed no principle to gain a political advantage"

This uncompromising policy would also not serve him well in U.S. politics.

But speaking of consistency, change, conventions and compromise, I want to note that in her introduction to the president's speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention, First Lady Laura Bush reminded the conventioneers that she had introduced her husband during the 2000 Republican National Convention as "a man of character, whose principles would not shift with the winds of politics or polls". I do believe that President Bush has an uncompromising commitment to the truth as he sees it ... and I suppose that one of the things that has bothered me during the last 8 years is that his view of the truth is often inconsistent with mine.

A few years ago, in a revelation of the truth as he sees it, President Bush claimed that God told him to invade Iraq, which is more consistent with reality than any other rationale I've seen regarding his reason(s) for doing so. The high cost of the war in Iraq - and the willingness to continue paying the price - is one of the important differences between the two U.S. presidential candidates. While McCain supports the war, I don't believe he does so for divine reasons ... but, as a final note on consistency, change and convention, it is noteworthy that the "beautiful, charismatic, and creationist" [as Jon Stewart put it] Republican Vice Presidential candidate appears to share Bush's view that the war in Iraq is "a task from God". In the truth as I see it, this does not reflect the kind of change we need.

Religion, Politics, Racism and Invisibility: Obama and Wright vs. McCain and Hagee

Robb's comment on my post about the Capitol Steps show in Seattle got me thinking - and writing - [again] about some of the religious and racial issues in the U.S. presidential race. I started to write a comment in response to Robb's comment, but as it grew longer and longer, I decided to move it into a separate blog post.

Robb is a good friend from college who grew up in the U.S. but has spent many years living in New Zealand, where he has been increasingly appreciating the natural beauty of the land (especially the mountains), the indigenous people - Maori - and their culture ... and writing inspiring prose and poetry about his experiences and growing appreciation in his Musings from Aotearoa blog. In his comment on my post, Robb, raised a number of provocative issues:

I find this issue of 0bama "throwing" Wright "under the bus" to reveal the real dark side of this issue, old fashioned racism. I still fail to see what he, Wright, has actually said that can be construed as being either inflammatory or has anything to do with 0bama directly. What are people so afraid of here, or should I write, perhaps inflammatorily, what is conservative, entrenched, white America so afraid of here? I am trying to track where I read it down, but I recall reading somewhere John McCain's religous mentor saying the New orleans devastation was the "wrath of God on those people". Where is that in the news media? 0r what things are spoken from the pulpit of many white churches on any given Sunday in the land where Emmett Till was murdered? Where is the balance?

Good questions! I want to spend a bit of time reviewing some of Wright's recent remarks before exploring McCain's religious connections.

WrightAtNationalPressClubReverend Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of the current Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, has made a few appearances lately. I enjoyed watching Bill Moyers interview Wright on PBS a week ago, a venue in which Wright came across as a relatively reasonable - and clearly passionate - man. I did not watch Wright's more recent National Press Club speech and Q&A last week, but it was carried on C-SPAN (and there are segments posted on YouTube), and Fox News has posted a transcript; I had seen and heard snippets of commentary during the week, but it was not until Robb's comment that I decided to sit down and listen the entire speech and read the transcript.

As with my earlier experience in reviewing the larger contexts of Wright's sermons from which short snippets have been repeatedly rebroadcast in the mass media, and which have been reportedly perceived as so inflammatory by so many, I found myself agreeing with nearly all of the views expressed by Wright in his National Press Club talk on "The African American Religious Experience; Theology & Practice". And, in an effort to help provide a larger - or at least different - context than has been offered in most accounts of this talk, I wanted to share some of the excerpts that I found most inspiring.

Invisibleman Wright starts off describing the relative invisibility of the black church and black religious tradition, beginning with its roots during slavery, and continuing through the present day, referencing The Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison - implicitly and explicitly - throughout his remarks, and I think this invisibility characterizes - or cloaks - many of the issues that are arising throughout this controversy. As he progresses through the talk, his presentation become more inclusive, promoting liberation for all peoples, urging acceptance of differences without presuming deficiencies, and closing with an invitation to reconciliation, through which greater unity can be achieved ... and I can't help but note that the theme of unity is one of the key messages of Wright's [former?] church member, Barack Obama.

Robb's reference to "throwing Wright under a bus" highlights the unfortunate, but understandable (given the mass media focus on the most controversial aspects of Wright's views), tone of Obama's response to Wright's most recent remarks, in which he condemns the "outrageous" and "destructive" nature of some of those remarks. I find Obama's assertion that Wright is "giving comfort to those who prey on hate" to be particularly interesting. Wright's refusal to recede into the background - to become invisible - may be giving ammunition to those who prey on hate, but I don't see how it offers any comfort to anybody. The explosive charge of that ammunition is more the result of media coverage of Wright's comments than the comments themselves, which, in my interpretation, represent more of a challenge to those who promote and prey on hate rather than a comfort to them.

Anyhow, before offering further interpretations and judgments, here are some extended exerpts of the actual words spoken by Wright during his National Press Club speech: 

The black religious experience is a tradition that, at one point in American history, was actually called the “invisible institution,” as it was forced underground by the Black Codes.

The Black Codes prohibited the gathering of more than two black people without a white person being present to monitor the conversation, the content, and the mood of any discourse between persons of African descent in this country.

Africans did not stop worshipping because of the Black Codes. Africans did not stop gathering for inspiration and information and for encouragement and for hope in the midst of discouraging and seemingly hopeless circumstances.  They just gathered out of the eyesight and the earshot of those who defined them as less than human.

They became, in other words, invisible in and invisible to the eyes of the dominant culture.  They gathered to worship in brush arbors, sometimes called hush arbors, where the slaveholders, slave patrols, and Uncle Toms couldn’t hear nobody pray.


The prophetic tradition of the black church has its roots in Isaiah, the 61st chapter, where God says the prophet is to preach the gospel to the poor and to set at liberty those who are held captive. Liberating the captives also liberates who are holding them captive.

It frees the captives and it frees the captors.  It frees the oppressed and it frees the oppressors.

The prophetic theology of the black church, during the days of chattel slavery, was a theology of liberation.  It was preached to set free those who were held in bondage spiritually, psychologically, and sometimes physically.  And it was practiced to set the slaveholders free from the notion that they could define other human beings or confine a soul set free by the power of the gospel.

The prophetic theology of the black church during the days of segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and the separate-but-equal fantasy was a theology of liberation.

It was preached to set African-Americans free from the notion of second-class citizenship, which was the law of the land.  And it was practiced to set free misguided and miseducated Americans from the notion that they were actually superior to other Americans based on the color of their skin.

The prophetic theology of the black church in our day is preached to set African-Americans and all other Americans free from the misconceived notion that different means deficient.


This principle of “different does not mean deficient” is at the heart of the prophetic theology of the black church.  It is a theology of liberation.

The prophetic theology of the black church is not only a theology of liberation; it is also a theology of transformation, which is also rooted in Isaiah 61, the text from which Jesus preached in his inaugural message, as recorded by Luke.

When you read the entire passage from either Isaiah 61 or Luke 4 and do not try to understand the passage or the content of the passage in the context of a sound bite, what you see is God’s desire for a radical change in a social order that has gone sour.

God’s desire is for positive, meaningful and permanent change. God does not want one people seeing themselves as superior to other people.  God does not want the powerless masses, the poor, the widows, the marginalized, and those underserved by the powerful few to stay locked into sick systems which treat some in the society as being more equal than others in that same society.


God does not desire for us, as children of God, to be at war with each other, to see each other as superior or inferior, to hate each other, abuse each other, misuse each other, define each other, or put each other down.

God wants us reconciled, one to another.  And that third principle in the prophetic theology of the black church is also and has always been at the heart of the black church experience in North America.


To say “I am a Christian” is not enough.  Why?  Because the Christianity of the slaveholder is not the Christianity of the slave. The God to whom the slaveholders pray as they ride on the decks of the slave ship is not the God to whom the enslaved are praying as they ride beneath the decks on that slave ship.

How we are seeing God, our theology, is not the same.  And what we both mean when we say “I am a Christian” is not the same thing. The prophetic theology of the black church has always seen and still sees all of God’s children as sisters and brothers, equals who need reconciliation, who need to be reconciled as equals in order for us to walk together into the future which God has prepared for us.

Reconciliation does not mean that blacks become whites or whites become blacks and Hispanics become Asian or that Asians become Europeans.

Reconciliation means we embrace our individual rich histories, all of them.  We retain who we are as persons of different cultures, while acknowledging that those of other cultures are not superior or inferior to us.  They are just different from us.

We root out any teaching of superiority, inferiority, hatred, or prejudice.

And we recognize for the first time in modern history in the West that the other who stands before us with a different color of skin, a different texture of hair, different music, different preaching styles, and different dance moves, that other is one of God’s children just as we are, no better, no worse, prone to error and in need of forgiveness, just as we are.

Only then will liberation, transformation, and reconciliation become realities and cease being ever elusive ideals.

During the Q&A following his speech, Wright was asked about about his recent remarks about the political nature of Obama's recent remarks renouncing some of Wright's earlier remarks.

Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever’s doing the polls.  Preachers say what they say because they’re pastors.  They have a different person to whom they’re accountable.
He didn’t distance himself.  He had to distance himself, because he’s a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was anti-American.  He said I didn’t offer any words of hope. How would he know?  He never heard the rest of the sermon.  You never heard it.

Wright was also asked about his earlier assertion that "the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color" - still, for me, the most disturbing of his statements during the increasingly infamous sermon snippets. He referenced the books Emerging Viruses: AIDS And Ebola : Nature, Accident or Intentional?, by Dr. Leonard G. Horowitz, and Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, by Harriet A. Washington, and went on to say:

I read different things. As I said to my members, if you haven’t read things, then you can’t — based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.

I share Wright's distrust of our government, though I still do not believe his earlier assertion. However, given the larger scope of all he has said (at the National Press Club, during Bill Moyer's interview, and in his sermons I have watched on YouTube), I am not willing to dismiss all of Wright's views based solely on this one questionable dimension ... and I can think of many, far more destructive, examples of questionable assertions by political and religious leaders.

Speaking of which, getting back to Robb's comments, and his reference to a hateful "wrath of God" condemnation of the victims of Hurricane Katrina by a religious figure associated with U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, I tracked down an article on "McCain’s faith: Pastor describes senator as devout, but low-key" in the Associated Baptist Press. McCain's pastor, Dan Yeary, notes some controversial religious connections for McCain:

The candidate endured some criticism in February after San Antonio pastor and Christian Zionist leader John Hagee endorsed him. Catholic and Jewish leaders denounced Hagee for statements he has made in the past that could be interpreted as anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic.

Hagee claimed the critics had misunderstood and de-contextualized his comments. Nonetheless, McCain’s campaign issued a statement in which he distanced himself from the preacher’s more controversial remarks without rejecting or repudiating the endorsement.

The senator has received less media scrutiny for a separate endorsement of his candidacy by Ohio pastor Rod Parsley. Parsley, who leads a charismatic multi-media empire, has been criticized for statements insisting Islam must be “destroyed” and for denigrating gays, the separation of church and state and secularists.

This led me to another article, "McCain, Hagee and the Politics of God's Wrath", in The Nation blog, which provides references to John Hagee - not McCain's pastor, but an endorser (and we know Obama has been criticized for people who have endorsed him) - and his "wrath of God" condemnation(s):

Hagee, whose views about a host of social issues give new meaning to the term "hateful," is not McCain's pastor. They have no personal or spiritual relationship. Rather, Hagee is a close political ally of McCain and an ardent supporter of the Arizona senator's presidential bid.

McCain sought Hagee's endorsement and continued to defend and embrace the pastor – saying he was "glad to have the minister's endorsement – even after Hagee said that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans because of the city's "sinful" acceptance of homosexuality.

"What happened in New Orleans looked like the curse of God…" Hagee explained after the city experienced a national disaster that cost at least 1,836 lives – making it the deadliest hurricane in American history – and permanently dislocated tens of thousands of Americans from not just their homes but the communities of their birth and upbringing.

I hadn't heard about this rather hateful comment that Robb mentioned - it was, one might say, invisible ... leading me to wonder about the relative visibility and invisibility of religious and political connections as they apply to white presidential candidates and black presidential candidates - but it reminded me of the many hateful pronouncements by Christian Coalition of America founder, former minister and erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson (who has endorsed many other Republican candidates over the years). [BTW, I was surprised to discover there is a Christian Coalition in New Zealand.] One example of hateful speech by this self-described "Christian" was uttered in response to Gay Days at Disney World:

"I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you, This is not a message of hate; this is a message of redemption. But a condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It'll bring about terrorist bombs; it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor."  

I'm further reminded of some of the hateful speech associated with other conservative commentators, such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage and Sean Hannity, but do not want to digress further. I'll simply note that while Hagee is not McCain's current or former pastor, his unsolicited endorsement of McCain seems to be far less visible in the mass media than some of the unsolicited endorsements by controversial figures that Obama has received.

Speaking of media, further on in his comment, Robb notes:

I am not at all acquainted with American television these days, hardly with New Zealand television for that matter, but I must say when I do watch television here I find the best, and most informative, and most balanced programs on Maori Televison. And even as "enlightened" as white New Zealand claims to be, I readily recall the battle in the late 90's it was to get that up and running. Privileged people are always afraid of change it would seem.

The reference to Maori Television was prompted, in part, by my reference to 1995 testimony in which Senator McCain claimed that cable networks are less biased than PBS and "superior in some cases". Robb's observation that "privileged people are always afraid of change" really strikes a chord, and reminds me of an unfinished post I started months ago - after finishing Yochai Benkler's book, The Wealth of Networks, and after hearing an interview on NPR with Tony Blair, in which he shared his father's perspective that "if you became successful then you became Conservative" - and may just prompt me to finish (and post) my rumination on the issue of incumbency, and the encumbrances that incumbents sometimes erect to maintain their unfair advantage(s) ... which, in my mind, relates to issues of religion, politics, racism and invisibility.

The Beginning of the End of America

Keith Olbermann is my hero

In a scathing commentary on George W. Bush's recent signing of the Military Commissions Act, Keith takes the president to task, comparing him and this act to earlier presidents and similar actions that gave them the authority to ignore and abuse the constitutional rights of our citizens:

  • John Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts, in which hundreds of American newspaper editors were jailed for speaking out against the government.
  • Woodrow Wilson's Espionage Act, in which thousands of pacifists were jailed for speaking out against the government.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, in which over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps, simply by virtue of their ancestry

With a presidential administration that is more secretive, less truthful and more vindictive than any other in history, I share Keith's concern that anyone, including me, could be arbitrarily labeled an "unlawful combatant" and be shipped off somewhere, anywhere.   

It's never been clear to me whether the so-called terrorists want to do away with the American way of life (or simply stop our unwelcome interventions in their ways -- and places -- of life), but it's increasingly clear that this administration is doing away with the very constitutional liberties that underly our way of life ... liberties George W. Bush swore an oath to uphold.

As Keith notes:

"One of the terrorists who planned the September 11 attacks," you told us yesterday, "said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America."

Habeas corpus: gone. The Geneva Conventions: optional. The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards to ourselves as an eternal protection: snuffed out.  These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would constitute the beginning of the end of America.

Big Brother is watching, and he is happy.

No One Can Terrorize Us Without Our Consent

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, some politicians and members of the media are promoting and perpetuating terror, consciously or unconsiously.  I'm reminded of a famous quote from the former First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

I would expand that to a broader statement: no one can make me -- or anyone else -- feel anything without our consent.  People may try very hard to evoke certain feelings in us, but ultimately, we decide what our responses are to these stimuli, individually and collectively.

I acknowledge, with sadness, the suffering of the people who died or were physically injured during the attacks of 9/11, and the families and friends of those people.  However, the emotional and spiritual scars have been far more extensive, and this culture of fear is only benefiting the government, the media, and individuals and groups that fear-mongering members of the former two groups call terrorists.

John Mueller, Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies at the Mershon Center of the Ohio State University, wrote an insightful cost / benefit analysis of terrorism, entitled "A False Sense of Insecurity?" in which he addressed the question "How does the risk of terrorism measure up against everyday dangers?"  His conclusions are

  • Assessed in broad but reasonable context, terrorism generally does not do much damage.
  • The costs of terrorism very often are the result of hasty, ill-considered and overwrought reactions.

People are generally unable to realistically assess personal risks and comparative probabilities, and our government and the media take advantage of this -- consciously or unconsciously -- to keep us fearful enough to vote against change and stay tuned to Fox News, but not so fearful as to become debilitated consumers: "Be scared; be very, very scared -- but go on with your lives".

The costs for perpetuating this fear are high.  Money spent on the Department of Homeland Security (US$30 billion annually) and the war in Iraq (estimated between US$657 billion to US$2 trillion) -- which, at least in the view of the current administration, is part of the "war on terror" -- is being diverted from other programs that would keep us healthy, safe and sound.  Mueller quotes a study by Roger Congleton that estimates the annual economic cost of increasing the average delay of airline passengers by 30 minutes to be US$15 billion, a level we may have reached during the more recent "war on moisture".

The United States "won" the cold war against the former Soviet Union largely through spending more on defense -- with the higher GDP in the U.S., the Soviets were unable to match our government's pace of arms buildup, thus ending the mutual assurance of each other's destruction.  In that arms race between nations, the competition was a matter of apples to apples ... or, perhaps, missiles to missiles.  The relatively smaller, less centralized groups who are now pledged to the destruction of the United States cannot be defeated through a similar race, as very small investments by such groups -- who are often depicted as having little to lose -- can carry far disproportionate costs in a society where people feel strong attachments to what they "have", and thus [believe they] have much to lose.  Such groups do not have to inflict much real damage if mere allegations of plots can have such immense emotional and economic impact.

Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown w/ Keith Olbermann, recently offered some piercing commentary on the Nexus of Politics and Terror, in which he noted how the U.S. government has benefited from each announced elevation of the Department of Homeland Security's threat level.

Keith has also noted parallels between Donald Rumsfeld's tactics in promoting the current "war on terror" and the tactics of other leaders who have promoted wars, including Adolf Hitler and [another] Joe McCarthy.

Keith finishes off with an invocation of Edward R. Murrow, and I want to finish off with invoking the wisdom of a few other luminaries.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. (Margaret Mead)

However one might judge the motives of "terrorists", there is little doubt that they are thoughtful and committed.  Would not the best defense, then, be for everyone to be more thoughtful and committed, rather than fearful and disengaged?

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. (Albert Einstein)

We appear to be applying tried and untrue methods to solving the problem of terrorism, and are likely to achieve the same poor results, unless we are willing to risk a higher level of consciousness. 

I would argue that the central problem we face is the persistence of our government and media -- and the people who listen and unquestioningly believe them (despite mounting contrary evidence) -- in distinguishing between "us" and "them" rather than seeing everyone as part of one world.  The Bush administration regularly decries the goal of terrorists ("them") as trying to destroy "our" way of life.  In fact, the current First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, has offered a quote on this issue:

Terrorists are the enemy of freedom. And they seek to destroy more than our institutions of democracy and freedom, like our schools or places of worship. They want to destroy our very way of life.

Yet the administration itself appears to be taking advantage of terrorist threats to do more harm to our democracy and freedom (e.g., through the erosion of civil liberties enabled by the so-called USA Patriot Act) than the enemies they claim to be defending "us" from. 

Indeed, in the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."