Some of my fellow citizens who are compelled to be 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 supported by their synergistic (or is it symbiotic) relationship with the thing thoughtlessly (that’s a digression I may pursue if I have call to think of it again) labeled as ‘mass media’. Recently I read that 1900 American men were polled by Esquire magazine and voted Ronald Reagan the ‘greatest living American’ and that report may add to the dyspepsia of the dyspeptic. But then again, an amusing counter-weight to the perennial national self abasement Americans engage in—to show the world and each other the scope of our ignorance by pointing out what our youth cannot currently find on the map or globe—has been in my mind, established by 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 historical figures as William Shakespeare and Charles Darwin is the poster girl of fin-de-sicle ersatz celebrity, Princess ‘Di’. Now, I think it is a sign of the glass being more than half full that Shakespeare and Darwin are on this list…And then there is Lachlan Murdoch, scion of that perpetrator of cynical abasement of humanity (you know who and what I am talking about), lecturing Australian media colleagues about the need to make a profit, because "good business supports great journalism…" "The profit motive is not only fundamental to our ability to reward shareholders and pay employees, it's fundamental to excellent journalism." Reportedly he scolded "the self-anointed media elite" who believe "making a profit is positively sinister." After reading this account I wished somebody had practiced some basic journalism and asked young Murdoch whether great journalism led to good business. I must confess I have picked up a new habit from my dog Rosie. When she intends to settle down for a nap or some respite from her ambitious life style she tends to circle the anointed spot four or five—or sometimes more—times before settling. Much like my canine companion I am aware of circling around my intended subject before getting to it. In this case I wanted to offer the good news that despite the sorry state of newspapers, magazines, television, movies, radio, billboards and public signage there is evidence of intelligent life out there. I should say I am not a devotee of the nascent (maybe not so nascent, if measured by contemporary tech standards) blogging movement. Part of my recalcitrance is aesthetic, as I find the word “blogging” un-pleasing in all its aspects and 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-less point of view. It has taken me a lifetime to calm my aspirations to read all the books that I am even faintly interested in and now the opportunity to peer into the minds of and converse with so many mentally agile and intellectually passionate people suggests the possibilities of overdose. Anyway, I suppose this is where I finally get to the point. I recently engaged in some commentary regarding "leftism" at 2Blowhards.Com. The exchanges included four or five people and within a day ended with 16 comments, of which two were mine. Then two days later the definitive, conversation-stopping posting:
"Why would a rational person with some knowledge of the world choose to be a leftist?" quite simple, that. A: So as to never become as profoundly addled or arrogant as the likes of you and your ilk. Posted by: s. melmoth on December 4, 2002 10:55 PM
There is a better than even chance that I will modify my 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 proud to be identified as a person of the Left. And that identification has come mostly from the rancorous public debates of the last forty years, which is to say that being against the Vietnamese War and against Jim Crow early branded me a ‘leftist’. But I am also not a political theorist and like most people my politics flow from my sense of right and wrong. I believe in social and economic justice. What does that mean? I am against people starving in the midst of plenty and of not having adequate medical attention and medications. I am against the poisoning of our air and our water and our land by careless or greedy individuals or corporations. I am for protecting and educating our children. I believe in human rights and am against the deprivation of those rights by governments and global corporations. It may certainly be a triumph of hope over experience but I believe in the perfectibility of man much in part because I share Mark Twain’s belief that we—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 that you 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 you say your are a "leftist."
And it was as I considering my response to this that I intuited an unsatisfying endgame, a kind of intellectual coitus interruptus and folded my hand, returning to my breezy reading of Bob Woodward’s new dare-I-say expose, Bush At War. Perhaps I should be more subtle about revealing my 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 never lived up to Robert Redford’s portrayal of him in “All The President’s Men.” Setting that aside, I am not sure what I got out of Woodward’s account. Near the end he is at President George W. Bush’s 1600-acre ranch in Crawford, Texas. The ranch has a simple, one-story house in a corner of its vast acreage. Woodward goes for a tour with our president in the President’s pick up truck. The National Security Adviser goes along as does a Secret Service agent:
He seemed to gave a particular destination in mind as he tucked the truck into a hidden corner of trees and stopped. We got out, having come perhaps two miles across his property. Rice said she was not getting out because she did not have the right shoes. The Secret Service agent did not follow, so the president and I walked alone across a wooden bridge about 20 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 if a mammoth seashell had grown out of the Texas canyon. A tiny natural waterfall tumbled from the center of the overhang. The rock looked ancient, as old as the Roman catacombs. The air had a sweet pungent smell that I could not identify. Bush started tossing rocks at the overhang, and briefly I joined in. As we walked back, Bush brought up Iraq. His blueprint or model of decision making in any war against Iraq, he told me, could be found in the story I was attempting to tell—the first months of the war in Afghanistan and the largely invisible CIA covert war against terrorism worldwide. “You have the story.” He said. Look hard at what you’ve got, he seemed to be saying. It was all there if it was pieced together—what he had learned, how he settled into the presidency, his focus on large goals, how he made decisions, why he provoked his war cabinet and pressured people for action. I was straining to understand the meaning of this… Before he got back in his truck. Bush added another piece to the Iraq puzzle. He had not yet seen a successful plan for 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 adverse to giving the book much serious thought. But then Bob does have access to Don Rumsfeld and Colin Powell and Ms. Rice and some other senior policy people and his account of their interactivity is significant. I think. Maybe.