29 September 2011

Occupy America

I'll be the first to admit I do not understand fully what all's going on at Occupy Wall Street. I am old fogey out of place in a Deep Red South, caught up in my own middle-aged life and its parochial concerns. My first reaction is, natch, cynical: Who's counter-organizing here? The corporate-, Koch-funded Tea Party movement managed to stimulate the Right-wing base sufficiently to swing an off-year election in 2010. So, now, the tactic shifts to the other side, and instead of appearing authoritarian and right-wing, the 99%-ers claim to be an anarcho-, de-centralized, left-wing, non-violent, populist, grass roots movement. Is it a movement in preparation to stimulate the Democratic/liberal/progressive base for the upcoming elections in 2012?

Am I off-base so far?

That being said, my natural sympathies necessarily flow to the Occupy Wall Streeters. This goes back a ways: I got kicked out of junior high school in the 7th grade for wearing a black armband in support of the Moratorium against the Vietnam Police Action. The Tea Party tried to capture the magic of the bottom-up style of Sixties' protests, but it became apparent quickly how most of them were useful idiots for oily corporate interests. It was like they had all lived through the Sixties and missed out on all the fun, so they wanted to get some of their own in before it was too late.

I don't—yet—get the sense that what's happening in NY has the flavor of useful idiocy. That doesn't mean it isn't, or won't be, if it's not already, co-opted by The Man. One reason is that the PR machine has yet to latch on to Occupy Wall Street, much less political co-opters. A few yahoos at their local congressmen's town halls made loud national news during the Tea Party summer. Their significance was blown way out of proportion by outsized media attention and, frankly, outright propaganda by FoxNews. Moreover, their signs and slogans felt too glib, too scripted. Neither seems the case with the current batch of protestors. This movement feels like both a reaction to the attentions of the Tea Party and a domestic response to the Arab Spring uprisings. They are being ignored by much of the US media to the same extent as their earlier cousins who marched in the MILLIONS against Bush's drumbeat to invade Iraq.

The Tea Party, also, felt like a 'movement' (let's call it) of stirred-up 'geezers' (let's call them) who never quite got the talking points. Remember: "Keep the Government's hands off my Medicare?" The Occupy Wall Street crowd is young. Their dissatisfaction is against what? "The occupation of Washington by Wall Street" seems to be the best they can come up with. (h/t BDR). Not bad, though. It has an organic feel: where the Tea Party was a corporate-organized and -financed political operation, this is a groundswell against corporate corruption of democratic government—something Mussolini once described as Fascism.

Correntewire (again, h/t BDR) points to this:
"their solution to hacking out a platform knocks me flat with amazement: The group is going to use the next few days to talk about these demands. And then here's what they'll do: on Friday, they will spread blank sheets of white paper all across the park. Some will have topic headings, some will be all blank. Magic markers will then be distributed, and everyone will write, in large letters, the issues and goals they think are most important. If you agree with someone's poster, you can put a "Check".

Fascinating! It is actually rather Chinese in technique. It reminds me of the student Big Character Posters that appeared in Tienanmen Square.

After the writing exercise, they'll collect all the papers and collate them into a larger online manifesto, which can then be debated/modified/changed online in a Wikipedia-style collaboration."

I do question, however, how far such an unorganized, even disorganized protest can sustain itself. Tea Parties thrived because of the influx of money, the congealing of leadership, the coordination with a well-oiled propaganda machine. And because they had co-optative candidates lined up with platforms and talking points ready to swoop into power. How these youngsters fare after the first burst of enthusiasm blows itself out remains to be seen.

If you're curious about the origins of Occupy Wall Street here's, a brief history of "How Anonymous, AmpedStatus, the NYC General Assembly, US Day of Rage, Adbusters and Thousands of Individual Actions Led to the Occupation of Liberty Park and the Birth of a Movement."

In the meantime, though, if you're interested in heading to the frontlines of Occupy Wall Street or Occupy [Your Town's Name Here] or Occupy America or Occupy Together or Occupy International, or whatever they decide to call the burgeoning occupista movement, here's a Survival Guide to get you through.

23 September 2011

Comma, Comma, Comma Chameleon

When the old lion emerges from his den and roars, it behooves us to listen.

Here's William Gass in an essay about Elizabeth Bishop in the current edition (10/11) of Harper's:
"Alas, there are so many kinds of commas: those that lie like rocks in the path of a sentence, slowing its gait and requiring the reader's heed to avoid a stumble; their gentler cousins, impairing a pell-mell flow of meaning the way pebbles slow a stream; commas that indicate a pause for thinking things over; commas enclosing phrases the way the small pockets in a purse hug hairpins or collect bits of loose change; commas that return us to our last stop, and those that some schoolmarm has insisted should be placed, like a traffic cop, between 'stop' and 'and.' Not to mention those comma-like curvatures that function like overhead lighting—apostrophes they're called—that warn of a bad crack in a spelt word where some letters have disappeared to apparently no one's alarm; or claws that admit the words they enclose aren't theirs; or those that issue claims of ownership, called possessives by unmarried teachers. So many inky dabs—they enable José García Villa, in some of his wonderful comma poems, to write lines that ring like blows from a hammer:


22 September 2011

Roger...Over and Out

I'm in a DJ'ing frame of mind while polishing three new short stories.

I'm a sucker for Wilco. (h/ts) Great live band. Saw 'em here with Wisdomie and Wisdoc in a driving rainstorm for two hours. They said they'd play 'til the rain stopped. And damn if they didn't. Said they'd come back. They're coming back next week to kick off their new album. 'Spect I'll be there.

Daddy Rock Rules!

20 September 2011

"Exit Light/Enter Night"

Speaking of NeverNeverLand, Pat Boone, crooner and member of the Beverly Hills Tea Party, insists President Obama was born in Kenya.

Sounds like somebody's been smokin' on the water!

Or ridin' on the crazy train too long!

I guess he meant it when said "no more mr. nice guy!"

15 September 2011

The Gods of War

You want a 9/11 post on or about the 10th Anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers? You want a frame? Okay, how's this? After 9/11, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld junta unleashed the gods of war and destruction on the peoples of the planet (that includes us Americans, too, by the way), and we are now beginning to reap the consequences. Paying the piper, if you will, at the expense of a creative and productive society which looks after its own and is capable of human charity.

Founding Father James Madison had a few words for the current situation:
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

"Political Observations" (1795-04-20); also in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1865), Vol. IV, p. 491
The U.S. Department of Defense currently employs 3.2 million people, that's 1% of all Americans. It is the world's biggest employer. Want to know who's second? The Chinese People's Liberation Army at 2.3 million. The FY 2012 budget requests a total of $676 billion for DoD.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, professor of economics at Columbia University, estimates the total costs of 9/11 to be somewhere between $3-5 trillion. And that, he believes, may be on the conservative side
"Even if Bush could be forgiven for taking America, and much of the rest of the world, to war on false pretenses, and for misrepresenting the cost of the venture, there is no excuse for how he chose to finance it. His was the first war in history paid for entirely on credit. As America went into battle, with deficits already soaring from his 2001 tax cut, Bush decided to plunge ahead with yet another round of tax “relief” for the wealthy.

Today, America is focused on unemployment and the deficit. Both threats to America’s future can, in no small measure, be traced to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increased defense spending, together with the Bush tax cuts, is a key reason why America went from a fiscal surplus of 2% of GDP when Bush was elected to its parlous deficit and debt position today. Direct government spending on those wars so far amounts to roughly $2 trillion – $17,000 for every US household – with bills yet to be received increasing this amount by more than 50%.

Moreover, as Bilmes and I argued in our book The Three Trillion Dollar War, the wars contributed to America’s macroeconomic weaknesses, which exacerbated its deficits and debt burden. Then, as now, disruption in the Middle East led to higher oil prices, forcing Americans to spend money on oil imports that they otherwise could have spent buying goods produced in the US.

But then the US Federal Reserve hid these weaknesses by engineering a housing bubble that led to a consumption boom. It will take years to overcome the excessive indebtedness and real-estate overhang that resulted."
Another aspect of these costs is to consider what the money spent on these wars would have purchased if put, instead, to societally productive/creative or socially beneficial uses. These costs, often called "opportunity costs" or "lost opportunity costs", and the return of their investment seem incalculable. Forgone investments in infrastructure and education, interest payments on debt, the development of alternative sources of energy, new industry, tax breaks, all must be factored into the cost of these ruinous foreign adventures. Not to mention the non-financial costs of the loss of freedoms—e.g., having to take your shoes off every time you fly and then having your junk x-rayed, blanket e-surveillance, paranoia and suspicion, xenophobia, mistrust of "the commons" and government. Stuff like that. Oh yeah, and the corruption that took place in government no-bid cost-plus contracting with oil patch industries like Dick Cheney's Haliburton, along with the rise of private mercenary outsourced security armies like BlackWater (aka Xe).

And let's not forget that prior to bankrupting the government, President George W. Bush reorganized it. He centralized "homeland security" functions (an Orwellian concept if ever there was one) into a vast Department of Homeland Security—something incongruously distinguished from the Department of Defense which itself should probably be re-termed the Department of War. The costs associated with this reorganization and its re-tooling to fight the (Orwellian, again) "War on Terror" need also to be included.

The question then rises: is this period of war and destruction the prelude to a period of creation/production and enhanced social welfare? Both Marx and Schumpeter wrote about capitalism's tendency to run in these sorts of self-destructive cycles of self-(re-)creation.

For Nietzsche, "Creation is … inseparable from destruction. This relationship exists only in one direction and does not function when reversed. Denial does not imply affirmation, destruction itself does not lead to creation; this to Nietzsche is the case of the anarchist or the nihilist."

Nihilism is destroying without creating, according to Nietzsche. This seems to me to be the ethos of the the post-9/11 era.

The nihilist blood lust we're seeing among the Tea Party Republicans (see my previous video post: The Party of Death) is the product of this rise of the gods of war.

Life, not Death, should be our organizing principle. Yet, unleashing the gods (dogs) of war cannot be easily undone. They are gods. An era does not end in a day. Creation is hard, risky work. Social security and universal health care are costly. And neither can be achieved while the destructive urges of anarchy and nihilism prevail.

This is the frame, and one in terms of which discourse can be guided.

14 September 2011

The Burden of Persuasion: Why Rhetoric Matters

Safety is the Cootie Wootie.

"The mechanism of intimidation is framing, not just the use of words or slogans, but rather the changing of what voters take as right as a matter of principle. Framing is much more than mere language or messaging. A frame is a conceptual structure used to think with. Frames come in hierarchies. At the top of the hierarchies are moral frames. All politics is moral. Politicians support policies because they are right, not wrong. The problem is that there is more than one conception of what is moral. Moreover, voters tend to vote their morality, since it is what defines their identity. Poor conservatives vote against their material interests, but for their moral identity."


"To a large extent, Democrats don't understand this. They think that language is neutral and that reason works by logic. If you just tell people the facts and reason logically, everyone should be convinced. But they aren't, because language works by framing and by brain mechanisms. Framing is just the normal way people think and talk. Conservatives tend to understand this. They avoid using liberal language. They frame issues very carefully to fit their goals. Democrats need to do the same - avoid using conservative frames and instead frame the issues with their own values.


"We Americans care about our fellow citizens, we act on that care and build trust, and we do our best not just for ourselves, our families, and our friends and neighbors, but for our country. Americans are called upon to share an equal responsibility to work together to secure a safe and prosperous future for their families and nation.

The conservative consolidation of power violates this most basic of democratic principles. It replaces social and personal responsibility with personal responsibility alone. It approves of the government over our lives by corporations for their own profit, and hence sees government by, of and for the people as immoral and to be eliminated.

The conservative move to defund government is a means not an end. What conservatives really want is to run the country and the world on conservative principles: to control reproduction (no abortion); to control what is taught (no public education); to control religion (conservative Christianity); to control race and language (mass deportation of Hispanic immigrants); to guarantee cheap labor (no unions); to continue white domination (no affirmative action); to continue straight domination (no gay marriage); to control markets (eliminate regulation, taxation, unions, worker rights, and tort cases); to control transportation (privatize freeways); to control elections (institute bars to voting)."
George Lakoff, 9/11: Intimidation by Framing.

13 September 2011

"If It Makes Me Feel Better...": The Party of Death

Where does the politics end and the comedy begin?

Clips from the last two Republican presidential nomination campaign debates:

Clip from Ron White's stand-up comedy routine on Country Music Television:

People should pay attention to these folks. They mean business.

11 September 2011

The Burden of Persuasion

Thus begins a new and intermittent serial post: a compilation of rhetorical devices, tropes, tactics, and strategies. It is the skeleton of a non-fiction work I've been compiling for several years intended primarily for writers and arguers. At the end, the reader should be able to click the Label 'Rhetoric' or 'Burden of Persuasion' and produce the whole thing either for review or copying and pasting.

First up, one device which should be familiar to us all. Many, though, will be quite obscure.

Alliteration is a figure of speech which repeats the same sounds at the beginning of, or sometimes within, several words in close sequence. Alliteration calls attention to a phrase and fixes it in the reader's mind, and so is useful for emphasis as well as art. Sometimes several words not next to each other are alliterated in a sentence. Here the use is more artistic. Alliterations may also be employed to emphasize antitheses as well as similarities. Alliteration can be overused—and dreadfully so.


• Alliteration can produce a satisfying sensation in the listener.

Veni, vidi, vici. Julius Caesar

• Let us go forth to lead the land we love. J. F. Kennedy, Inaugural

• The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,/The furrow followed free.  Coleridge

• The moan of doves in immemorial elms,/And murmuring of innumerable bees.  Tennyson

• Ah, what a delicious day!

• I shall delight to hear the ocean roar, or see the stars twinkle, in the company of men to whom Nature does not spread her volumes or utter her voice in vain. --Samuel Johnson

• In some cases he could establish a first rough draft, with versions following in well-spaced succession, changing in minute detail, polishing the plot, introducing some new repulsive situation, yet every time rewriting a version of the same, otherwise, inexisting story. --Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things

• O brood O Muse upon my mighty subject like a holy hen upon the nest of night.
 O ponder the fascism of the heart.
 Sing of disappointments more repeated than the batter of the sea, of lives embittered by resentments so ubiquitous the ocean’s salt seems thinly shaken, of let-downs local as the sofa where I copped my freshman’s feel, of failures as frequent as first love, first nights, last stands; do not warble of arms or adventurous deeds or shepherds playing on their private fifes, or of civil war or monarchies at swords; consider rather the slightly squinkered clerk, the soul which has become as shabby and soiled in its seat as worn-out underwear, a life lit like a lonely room and run like a laddered stocking. William Gass, The Tunnel

• Yes, I have perused that puny packet of purple prose, but I shall proffer no pronouncement upon it at present.