Friday, July 01, 2005

Friday This-and-That

The almost month-long heat wave has broken for a day or two here in Chicago, thank Shiva. So, if the weather pattern moves East, there may be some relief in sight for those of you on the East Coast. Constant, oppressive heat, day after day after day will really make you crazy, even if you have some sort of AC. I wonder what Baghdad is like this time of year?

Of course the big news today is the announced retirement of Justice O'Connor. I leave it to people who know what they're talking about to discuss this in any serious way, except to say, John Bolton is probably available now. He's a lawyer, ain't he? Perhaps he could - through sheer force of personality - ''shake up" a court badly in need of reform.

What Do the Kids Want?

Greg Anrig, Jr kind of answers his own question :

Josh and I just finished a brown-bagger on Social Security at The Century Foundation with about 100 summer interns working for NYC non-profits and offices of public officials. Andrea Batista Schlesinger of the Drum Major Institute, who was one of the panelists (along with Hans Riemer of Rock the Vote), pushed all of us to think harder about how to define progressives in ways that would excite young adults. Defending Social Security is all well and good, and so is opposing Bush generally, but what else can progressives say or do (beyond a platform of student loan forgiveness) that would resonate with 20-somethings? National service? Voter registration work? Expanding the Peace Corps? Anti-war? Or is it a bad idea to parse generations to begin with and better to focus on themes that resonate with everyone?

I think the answer is both that you do have to 'parse generations' in a strictly meaningful way, but also focus on themes which resonate with everybody. In other words, see the polity as it is in order to come up with the broad themes which will appeal to all. It's good to identify specific things which matter to younger people, some of which Greg enumerates. But those things must be subsumed within a message which will resonate with everybody. That broader message, and not the usual Democratic Party dilettanteism , is Job-One; I've said it before, and, at the risk of sounding like a crank, will repeat it: Democrats campaign in prose and Republicans govern in poetry. Dems are ahead of the game if we just learn how to make a decent campaign (to put it crudely).

Of course smart political people ought to think about generational differences. But rather than imposing arbitrary divisions (20-somethings, etc.), it makes more sense to look at the basic division which is clearly there: people under around 40 (possibly mid-40s) vs. everyone else. THAT is the real cultural and political break-point in this country (roughly corresponding with the Age of Reagan ). What does this 'underserved' and fairly politically-alienated group want? To be pandered to? Probably not so much. I contend they simply want what everyone that age has ever wanted: reasonable hope for the future; a chance to make their mark, to take their natural turn. I would also suggest that it would be a big relief to everyone if the country focused, politically, on this group for a change. And I'd be willing to be that if you put it to the polity this way, the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles of these voters would see that they want the same thing.

It doesn't take any kind of genius to see what this younger group of voters doesn't want: massive debt and general economic decline; fatuous culture wars and petty 'symbolic' acts of congress; boomers and their parents hanging around forever, with a strangle-hold on culture, politics and the national purse-strings ; etc. (not to mention the little problem of the Iraq/ME war). I am not advocating generational warfare, but rather it's avoidance. Ronald Reagan - and the cultural atomization (euphemized as 'individualism') he promulgated - is still the man to beat. I think people of all ages are probably ready - probably more than ready - to try a little national cohesion again. But they can't vote for it if it's not offered. The feckless 'prose' of little tweaks to Saint Ronnie's edifice won't cut it.

Howdy Folks!

Speaking of euphemism, a speech like Bush's the other day makes it almost hard to keep track of what the concept of 'euphemism' actually is. As Orwell warned (both in prose and more 'poetically' ), the object of tyrannical political speech is to drain words of their actual meaning, either by euphemism, or by simple confusion - the latter being something Bush does astoundingly well. But euphemism, strictly speaking, is alive and well. You can learn a lot from a euphemism.

Has anybody else noticed that government officials - from Rumsfeld, to Gen. Meyers, to Cheney, to members of congress - routinely refer to nihilistic religious terrorists as 'folks'? You hear it constantly, as in, 'in regards to the detainees at Guantanamo, a lot of these folks were captured on the battlefield...'. Just imagine American lawyers at Nuremberg referring to Nazi death camp commandants, or Goering, or Hitler himself as 'folks'! What the hell IS that?! I find this euphemism to be more chilling, in a way, than the usual 'colateral damage' or 'friendly fire'. 'Folks'?! Jon Ronson, in his book The Men Who Stare At Goats gives us a whiff of the positively sinister spirit in which the term 'folks' is used by our leaders:

..the detainee is inside the shipping container. He is barefoot, a thin plastic strap binds his ankles, and he's crouched in the corner, up against the silver corrugated wall. The metal floor is covered with brown dust and pools of liquid [....]

Now the rag only covers's eyes, so you can see his face, which is deeply lined, like an old man's, but his wispy mustache reveals that he's probably about seventeen. He's wearing a torn white undershirt, covered with yellow and brown stains. There's an open wound on one of his skinny arms, and above it someone has written a number with a black marker pen.

He might have done terrible things. I know nothing about him other than these seven fragments [photos] of his life. But I can say this. In the last photograph he is screaming so hard it almost looks as if he's laughing.

The detainee in question had been administered the infamous 'Barney' treatment: the 'Barney' song was blasted into the sweltering shipping container over and over for 36-48 hours straight. 'I love you; you love me....'

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