“Some of my fellow citizens who are compelled to be in constant despair…” –Dec. 6, 2002

Some of my fellow citizens who are compelled tobe in constant despair about the persistent decline of civilization(an attitude I have always associated with my undergraduate years)or the impending apocalypse are, I think, very much aided and supportedby their synergistic (or is it symbiotic) relationship with thething thoughtlessly (that’s a digression I may pursue if Ihave call to think of it again) labeled as ‘mass media’.Recently I read that 1900 American men were polled by Esquiremagazine and voted Ronald Reagan the ‘greatest living American’and that report may add to the dyspepsia of the dyspeptic. But thenagain, an amusing counter-weight to the perennial national selfabasement Americans engage in—to show the world and each otherthe scope of our ignorance by pointing out what our youth cannotcurrently find on the map or globe—has been in my mind, establishedby the competition in Great Britain to ascertain the Greatest Briton.Winner of this, uh, contest was the estimable Winston Churchill.No surprise there, I think. But placing ahead of such world historicalfigures as William Shakespeare and Charles Darwin is the postergirl of fin-de-sicle ersatz celebrity, Princess ‘Di’.Now, I think it is a sign of the glass being more than half fullthat Shakespeare and Darwin are on this list…And then thereis Lachlan Murdoch, scion of that perpetrator of cynical abasementof humanity (you know who and what I am talking about), lecturingAustralian media colleagues about the need to make a profit, because"good business supports great journalism…"

"The profit motive is not only fundamentalto our ability to reward shareholders and pay employees, it's fundamentalto excellent journalism." Reportedly he scolded "the self-anointedmedia elite" who believe "making a profit is positivelysinister." After reading this account I wished somebody hadpracticed some basic journalism and asked young Murdoch whethergreat journalism led to good business.

I must confess I have picked up a new habit frommy dog Rosie. When she intends to settle down for a nap or somerespite from her ambitious life style she tends to circle the anointedspot four or five—or sometimes more—times before settling.Much like my canine companion I am aware of circling around my intendedsubject before getting to it. In this case I wanted to offer thegood news that despite the sorry state of newspapers, magazines,television, movies, radio, billboards and public signage there isevidence of intelligent life out there. I should say I am not adevotee of the nascent (maybe not so nascent, if measured by contemporarytech standards) blogging movement. Part of my recalcitrance is aesthetic,as I find the word “blogging” un-pleasing in all its aspectsand moreover something I would ascribe to a distasteful bodily dysfunction.More seriously, I sense the endless fertility of the Internet weblogs,and I am overcome by the vertigo that arises from a horizon-lesspoint of view. It has taken me a lifetime to calm my aspirationsto read all the books that I am even faintly interested in and nowthe opportunity to peer into the minds of and converse with so manymentally agile and intellectually passionate people suggests thepossibilities of overdose.

Anyway, I suppose this is where I finally get tothe point. I recently engaged in some commentary regarding "leftism"at 2Blowhards.Com. The exchanges included four or five people andwithin a day ended with 16 comments, of which two were mine. Thentwo days later the definitive, conversation-stopping posting:

"Why would a rational person with some knowledgeof the world choose to be a leftist?"

quite simple, that.

A: So as to never become as profoundly addledor arrogant as the likes of you and your ilk.

Posted by: s. melmoth on December 4, 2002 10:55PM

There is a better than even chance that I will modifymy attitude toward this, uh, blogging experience. At this moment,the best of it was the opportunity to express a truth about myself:

As uncomfortable as I am with labels I am proudto be identified as a person of the Left. And that identificationhas come mostly from the rancorous public debates of the lastforty years, which is to say that being against the VietnameseWar and against Jim Crow early branded me a ‘leftist’.But I am also not a political theorist and like most people mypolitics flow from my sense of right and wrong. I believe in socialand economic justice. What does that mean? I am against peoplestarving in the midst of plenty and of not having adequate medicalattention and medications. I am against the poisoning of our airand our water and our land by careless or greedy individuals orcorporations. I am for protecting and educating our children.I believe in human rights and am against the deprivation of thoserights by governments and global corporations. It may certainlybe a triumph of hope over experience but I believe in the perfectibilityof man much in part because I share Mark Twain’s belief thatwe—each of us—contain some “secret kindness.”

Well, this was responded to, by the following:

Your statement of economic justice is not leftist.It's moderate and conservative. So, I might rather conclude thatyou and I are both moderates (which is the same as "conservatives,"as I've argued on my blog). But I guess you must believe other,more inalienably leftist, things you don't mention, since yousay your are a "leftist."

And it was as I considering my response to thisthat I intuited an unsatisfying endgame, a kind of intellectualcoitus interruptus and folded my hand, returning to my breezyreading of Bob Woodward’s new dare-I-say expose, Bush AtWar.

Perhaps I should be more subtle about revealingmy bias, but I have never really taken Woodward seriously. Firstly,I have suspicions about people who actually call themselves ‘Bob’.And secondly, Woodward’s television appearances have neverlived up to Robert Redford’s portrayal of him in “AllThe President’s Men.” Setting that aside, I am not surewhat I got out of Woodward’s account. Near the end he is atPresident George W. Bush’s 1600-acre ranch in Crawford, Texas.The ranch has a simple, one-story house in a corner of its vastacreage. Woodward goes for a tour with our president in the President’spick up truck. The National Security Adviser goes along as doesa Secret Service agent:

He seemed to gave a particular destination inmind as he tucked the truck into a hidden corner of trees andstopped. We got out, having come perhaps two miles across hisproperty. Rice said she was not getting out because she did nothave the right shoes. The Secret Service agent did not follow,so the president and I walked alone across a wooden bridge about20 yards away.

As we crossed it a giant limestone rock formation,maybe 40 yards across loomed above us, nearly white in color,shaped like a half moon with a steep overhang. It looked as ifa mammoth seashell had grown out of the Texas canyon. A tiny naturalwaterfall tumbled from the center of the overhang. The rock lookedancient, as old as the Roman catacombs. The air had a sweet pungentsmell that I could not identify. Bush started tossing rocks atthe overhang, and briefly I joined in.

As we walked back, Bush brought up Iraq. His blueprintor model of decision making in any war against Iraq, he told me,could be found in the story I was attempting to tell—thefirst months of the war in Afghanistan and the largely invisibleCIA covert war against terrorism worldwide.

“You have the story.” He said. Lookhard at what you’ve got, he seemed to be saying. It was allthere if it was pieced together—what he had learned, howhe settled into the presidency, his focus on large goals, howhe made decisions, why he provoked his war cabinet and pressuredpeople for action.

I was straining to understand the meaning of this…

Before he got back in his truck. Bush added anotherpiece to the Iraq puzzle. He had not yet seen a successful planfor Iraq. He said. He had to be careful and patient. “A president,”he added, “likes to have a military plan that will be successful.”

Hmm. Based on this passage I would probably be adverseto giving the book much serious thought. But then Bob does haveaccess to Don Rumsfeld and Colin Powell and Ms. Rice and some othersenior policy people and his account of their interactivity is significant.I think. Maybe.

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