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

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.

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