Archive for 2008 July

The Burden of Freedom

"Unless a man has the taqlents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, "to be free of freedom."

Eric Hoffer — The True Believer, chapter five

I can’t help but think of Limbaugh’s promise to the dittoheads: "You don’t have to read the papers. I’ll read the papers for you. You don’t have to think, I’ll think for you…"

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Woody Guthrie l945

Found not too long ago in the Federal archives, a clip of Woody Guthrie performing "Ranger Command" on the road:

Lyrics, via a commentator named Texas Jim, who has a great story of his own…

"I met a fair maiden
her name I don’t know
I asked her to the roundup
with me would she go.
She said she’d go with me
to that old round up
and drink that hard liquor
from a cold bitter cup."

The final closing lines of this song are:

"she rose from her warm bed
with a gun in each hand
said come all of you cowboys
and fight for your land
come all of you cowboys
and don’t ever run
as long as there’s bullets
in both of your guns."

used to sing it to myself on guard duty in the 101st Airborne all the
time. I love this song. May have been the last some guys heard.

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Cartoonists Everywhere Agree on Bush

Boy, the editorial cartoonist reviews of Bush’s latest statements on energy are just harsh, dude:


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Black Kaweah

While I’m on vacation, I thought I’d leave you with vacation-y posts. Here’s one from the Southern Sierra.

If you haven’t walked over the Great Western Divide or the Whitney Crest, you may not realize that between these two rather intimidating mountain ranges, in the middle of an enormous valley at roughly 9,000 feet, lies yet a third mountain range, that is in some respects the most awesome of all. This is the Kaweah (pronounced "Ka-weer" for some reason). It’s a knife-edge of a range, with numerous peaks over 13,000. Not as high as Whitney, but much more difficult to climb. I tried to go cross this range at a 12,800 saddle that allegedly would not require ropes, pitons, etc., and simply found it impossible. On top of the most intimidating of its peaks, Black Kaweah, is a register, where numerous legendary mountain climbers left their names. These registers, sadly, have been disappearing, so a writer and climber set out to retrieve it. Here’s his story, via Sierra magazine and YouTube. He doesn’t take you right up to the top, unfortunately, but even his introduction gives you an idea of the challenge…

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I’ll put up a few musical posts saved up over the past couple of months, but be back with increased vigor on the first weekend in August…check me then.


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McCain: At Least He’s Capable of Embarrassment

In the liberal New Republic, Jonathan Chait confesses that despite John McCain’s "nauseating" attempts to deny his bipartisan past, he can’t get too upset about the possibility that McCain might win. Chait writes:

Liberals tend to view the press’s love affair
with McCain as a wildly unfair act of bias. They have a point. On the
other hand, they should take some heart in the fact that McCain
obviously cherishes the approval of the mainstream (and even liberal)
media. His accessibility to the press and public is something small-d
democrats should cheer. McCain has conducted interviews with very
liberal publications like Grist.
He’s promised to undertake an American version of "Prime Minister’s
Questions," whereby members of Congress could spar with him.

McCain spin and dissemble? Of course. But the current administration’s
practices go far beyond mere spin. In Bush’s Washington, critics are
enemies to be dismissed rather than engaged. A McCain presidency would
promise to dismantle the whole Rovian method that has torn open such a
deep wound in the national psyche.

his wildly fluctuating ideological positions, McCain is an
establishmentarian Republican. Unlike Bush, he cares about elite
opinion. He is comfortable sharing power in the traditional postwar
style rather than monopolizing it. He might not be another Teddy
Roosevelt, but right now another Gerald Ford doesn’t look so bad.

idea that McCain could establish a reputation as a maverick by standing
up to his party on numerous issues, win back his party’s support by
abandoning nearly all his heterodoxies, then prevail by portraying
himself as an unwavering man of principle is nauseating. Yet somehow
the idea of a McCain presidency itself doesn’t terrify me. What can I
say? Bush has lowered my standards.

It’s that "would promise" that worries me. [Photo by Ted Soquoi, via Flickr]


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How Barack Can Reach Out to Disaffected White Males

Simple: Talk to Merle Haggard. Charm the SOB, just a little. He’s waiting to be asked.

Back when Barack was duking it out with Hillary for the Democratic nomination, Joe Klein for Time interviewed the country music legend (here). Klein argues, with justification, that Haggard has his "guitar hardwired to the gutbucket pulse of Middle America."

Haggard dropped jaws nationwide by revealing that he had turned against the Republicans.

"I supported George W. I’m not exactly a liberal. But I know how that
Texas thing works, who those oil folks are and what they wanted in
Iraq… I’m a born-again Christian too, but the longer I live, the more
afraid I get of some of these religious groups that have so much
influence on the Republicans and want to tell us how to live our lives."

But he gets tougher!

"The thing that gets under my skin most about George W. is his
intention to install fear in people. This is America. We’re
proud. We’re not afraid of a bunch of terrorists. But this government
is all about terror alerts and scaring us at airports. We’re changing
the Constitution out of fear. We spend all our time looking up each
other’s dresses. Fear’s the only issue the Republican Party has. Vote
for them, or the terrorists will win. That’s not what Reagan was about.
I hate to think about our soldiers over in Iraq fighting for a country
that’s slipping away."

Listen to that and you have to think he’s not going to vote for the GOP. Barack, do yourself a favor — reach out to this guy. See if you can get him to like you, just a little. Could be worth a million votes from hard-bitten underemployed Okies all over the country.

Don ‘t believe me? Check out this song, called "What Happened."

Download 03_what_happened_.mp3


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Green and Conservative in East Tennessee

Interesting post from Kayla Webley of Off the Bus, who reports  (here) that East Tennessee is conservative politically — and environmentally.

…conservative here implies much more than tight tax laws and low
government interference. To be conservative is, well, to conserve.

"It’s been interesting living in East Tennessee because I think it
is very much a pro-environment mind set," said Randy Gentry, director
of the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment at the
University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "Although it is a very
conservative base traditionally."

But it’s not just academics. It’s also businessmen such as George Thacker, who is fiercely pro-Republican, but believes just as fiercely in conservation…for others as well as for himself.

"I’m environmentally minded," Thacker said. "I think everyone should
change. I don’t know if so much it’s Al Gore’s global warming idea or
if it’s the Bible. But if you read the Bible it pretty much lays out
all these things."

He’s fiercely Republican, pro-business, owns several oil change
shops and is making quite a profit out of developing the area
surrounding Watts Bar nuclear reactor.

Yet he designed the Howard Johnson hotel he owns to be as energy
efficient and green as possible. He uses compact fluorescent light
bulbs and has the ability to shut off all power to the second floor if
the hotel is not full to capacity. Not only does this help conserve
during today’s swelling energy crisis, it helps keep his energy bills
down to under $2,000 a month, which he said is rather low for a hotel.

The most controversial part of his green hotel? There is no elevator, just stairs.

American politics can’t seem to keep up with the American people…


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Obama as a Community Organizer: Left v. Right

Now that a former community organizer is running for the White House, reporters from both the right (Byron York, from the National Review) and, arguably, the left (the Boston Globe) have visited his former stomping grounds in Chicago, and reported on what folks there think about Barack Obama.

It’s a case of the dog that didn’t bark: everyone seems to like Barack, even though he’s moved on.

York writes (in a blog post, since his formal article is behind a paywall):

I spent some time in Chicago last month talking to the people who
worked with Obama there. Everyone I interviewed, from the man who hired
him, to a fellow organizer, to a pastor allied with Obama, to the women
Obama trained to be "leaders" in his group — they all told me they have
high regard for Obama and support him for president.

The Globe, a real newspaper, even if it does come from a liberal part of the country, digs a little deeper:

…some residents remain upset at Obama’s characterization of the people
in the projects and his role in helping them. He writes unsparingly of
his frustration, for example, with a "plump woman with a pincushion
face who was president of the official tenant council and spent most of
her time protecting the small prerogatives that came with her office: a
stipend and a seat at the yearly banquet; the ability to see that her
daughter got a choice apartment."

That woman in the project known as Altgeld Gardens is apparently no longer alive, but small-mindedness remains. One woman in the project complains that she was organizing before Obama arrives. York points out that Obama’s legacy on the South Side isn’t too visible.

But when it comes to lasting accomplishments, Obama’s list isn’t very
long. His greatest hits seem to have been a successful effort to
convince the city of Chicago to locate a jobs placement office on the
far South Side and his part in a drive to push the city to clean
asbestos out of a housing project in the same area.

Obama’s successor as a community organizer, Johnny Owens, seems to agree, as he told the Globe.

"The problems on the local level were so huge that you could spend the
rest of your life working on those sort of things and have some
marginal success," Owens said. "So he understood that change would take
a much more global approach. I do remember him saying at that time that
the country was politically in a more conservative mode but that things
operated in cycles and that a much more liberal mindset would begin to
develop in the country and he wanted to be prepared to be an effective

Far-sighted, I’d say. The upshot is that reporters from two publications with very different politics visited the South Side to talk to those who knew Obama as a community organizer, and both returned saying he was an extremely likable young man, ambitious, who had real but limited success.

Once again Obama passes the truth test. The Globe concludes:

For all its impact on Obama, Altgeld Gardens today seems far from the kind of success story politicians like to tout.

of buildings are boarded up, with fences surrounding much of the
property. The roads are a potholed mess. Blinking lights illuminate a
series of towers where police have mounted cameras.

Last fall,
Obama returned here for a television interview, walking past the
boarded-up buildings, waving at children, and promising not to forget
the residents as he runs for president. "It was, it is, a tough, tough
place," he said.

Below, a photostitched panorama of Altgeld Gardens at night, courtesy of a Chicago photographer on Flickr who goes by the name Metroblossom.


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The Uselessness of the Instant Expert

David Appell takes Matt Ygleisias, his readers, himself, and the entire blogosphere to task in a memorable rant.

He’s got a point: instant experts on any issue can be worse than useless, especially on difficult subjects — such as drought in the Southwest — that require more than an hour’s reading to understand.

Why am I wasting my time reading this? Nothing Yglesias wrote there
matters to me in the least. Nothing about it teaches me even the
slightest thing, offers the slightest insight, solves even the smallest
problem. I would be far better off reading anything by John Fleck or
Charles Bowden or Colin Fletcher or or even Edward Abbey. It’s only
designed to get him some hits and maybe an appearance on MSNBC some
night, and then tomorrow it’s off to stories he’ll cover equally

And anymore I’m finding the entire blogosphere like
this. Even what I write. It takes weeks and months and years to
understand situations, to write from anything like a position of
expertise. You don’t get it by quickly flying out to Aspen and back, or
by reading an article from the Brookings Institute or from Harvard’s
321 course on Environmental Philosophy. It takes blood, sweat, and
tears, it takes going out and looking at rivers, pouring over
government reports and spreadsheets, hiking to the tops of mountains
for the big picture, calling 25 people a day — precisely the thing the
blogosphere does least of.

So I am wondering why I am reading it
any more, or why I am even writing meaningless tidbits in this blog
(and that’s all they are). Or why anyone is reading. Is this seriously
the future of this magnificent medium? It would be a full-time job to
really blog about a few serious issues on a particular beat, and who
can possibly attract 125,000 readers a day and support yourself doing

But I disagree, for this reason. We live in a soundbite society. As pollster George Barna told me: "We hear the Federal budget is three trillion dollars a year and we want to understand that in fifteen seconds."

Given this vast chasm between the facts and the willingness of the American public to face them, the blogosphere performs a vital function — an experiment in how to bridge the gap.

Personally, I think a big part of the answer is more visuals and less snark.

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