To Be Hopeful…

Here’s something I’ve been needing to hear recently:

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.


What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.


And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

— Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times


“We Wouldn’t Deserve To”

I never thought I’d be quoting John McCain, of all people, but when you’re right, you’re right:
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last best hope of earth for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did.
“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”
Well said, sir.

Fire and Fury Like the World Has Never Seen

After the Berlin Wall fell and the old Soviet Union disintegrated, I thought I’d never again feel as nervous about the likelihood of nuclear war as I did during my teenage years in the 1980s.

As with so many other things I believed in my twenties, I was wrong.

Relevant link.


A Bit of Perspective from an Interesting Read

… our public religion is, in large measure, an invention of the modern era. The ceremonies and symbols that breathe life into the belief that we are “one nation under God” were not, as many Americans believe, created alongside the nation itself. Their parentage stems not from the founding fathers but from an era much closer to our own, the era of our own fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers. This fact need not diminish their importance; fresh traditions can be more powerful than older ones adhered to out of habit. Nevertheless, we do violence to our past if we treat certain phrase — “one nation under God,” “In God We Trust” — as sacred texts handed down to us from the nation’s founding. Instead, we are better served if we understand these utterances for what they are: political slogans that not to the origins of our nation but to a specific point in its not-so-distant past.

— Kevin M. Kruse,
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America


Thoughts on the Fourth of July, 2017

America is the promise of liberty and justice for all.


Sometimes we forget that promise. Sometimes we misunderstand it. Sometimes we even get stupid, because we have forgotten who we are supposed to be. We get scared, angry, desperate.


But when we stop, when we remember, when we recommit ourselves to our better selves, we rediscover not only our nation’s potential for greatness, but our own as well.


Our greatness comes from our ability to imagine better — to see America as a vision of a better future, for ourselves, for our children. America was built by men and women who took that journey step by step. Yes, mistakes were made, crimes were committed, horrific things were done, slavery, genocide, eco-catastrophe — because there were many different visions of a better future, [and] because greed and corruption tainted our commitments.


Some of us have learned better. Some of us have not. And those with the wisdom to see the potential for damage always run the risk of falling into despair.


But we’re still a young nation, still suffering from our own growing pains, still learning how to be a nation, with all the responsibilities that attend. As long as we the people can remember what the founding fathers promised — a commitment to justice — we will be okay.


And those who forget that commitment… History will have it’s say about them as well. They will be the examples of what not to do and who not to be.


Our job, as we approach America’s birthday, is to celebrate the possibilities that are still available — and recommit ourselves to create them as realities: a nation that works for ALL of us, with no one and nothing left out.”

David Gerrold


The Rising Tide of Barbarism

“We live in troubled times. Hate and barbarity are always with us. But today they are being granted permission to act. Like the wink and a nod one gives to dissolute youth to help them along to do evil. It’s part of what I’ve called the ‘great disinhibition.’ All of this can only be fought — mercilessly. It must also be understood, yes. But only in a pragmatic and instrumental fashion to fight it more effectively, more totally. I think of the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jewish partisans rising out of their displaced persons camps who took vengeance on Nazis in the months and years after the War. No one of age is an infant and none deserve coddling. Of course the tide of barbarism is not only upon us. It has taken critical high ground. It is coming for Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, every group that is marginalized. We must fight it everywhere and not simply with words and ideas. It’s a fight, not a metaphor. Treat it that way.”

— Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, writing about the massive vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis this week





Like the Greatest of Trees…

The Old Republic was the Republic of legend, greater than distance or time. No need to note where it was or whence it came, only to know that… it was the Republic.


Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens when wealth and power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, there appear those evil ones who have greed to match.


So it was with the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside.


Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.


Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.


Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights, guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions.


But a small number of systems rebelled at these new outrages. Declaring themselves opposed to the New Order they began the great battle to restore the Old Republic.


From the beginning they were vastly outnumbered by the systems held in thrall by the Emperor. In those first dark days it seemed certain the bright flame of resistance would be extinguished before it could cast the light of new truth across a galaxy of oppressed and beaten peoples…

Old-timer Star Wars fans like myself might recognize those words as the prologue from the novelization of the first film, Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (as it was then known), credited to George Lucas but actually ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, copyrighted 1976. I’ve always loved this passage, in particular that line about the greatest of trees rotting from within. So very evocative.

Just something I’ve been thinking about lately…


Parting Words


“I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad. I believe tragic things happen. I think there’s evil in the world, but I think at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we’re true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time. That’s what this presidency has tried to be about. … at my core, I think we’re going to be OK. We just have to fight for it, we have to work for it and not take it for granted.”

— Barack Obama at the conclusion of his final press conference as President of the United States,

January 18, 2017




Letter to the Outgoing President


A couple weeks back, I did something I’ve never done before: I sent an email to the President of the United States.

I didn’t expect a response. Honestly, I didn’t even expect that he would see it with his own eyes, as opposed to some anonymous staffer. Nevertheless, as I contemplated the waning days of Barack Obama’s presidency, I experienced a sense of personal connection and impending loss that was unlike anything I’ve ever felt for an an outgoing president. I felt compelled to reach out and say a few things to the man.

History and hindsight will be the ultimate judges of whether Obama was a good president, and what lasting impact his presidency may have. Personally, I think the future is probably going to look upon him quite favorably. (If anyone reading this happens to disagree, well, in the immortal words of The Dude, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.) I won’t pretend I wasn’t occasionally frustrated or disappointed by him. He flat-out failed to deliver on one of his campaign promises that meant a lot to me: Our extra-national gulag at Guantanamo Bay remains in operation, its handful of remaining inmates trapped in a legal Phantom Zone and the very existence of the thing a blot on America’s moral character. But given the resistance he faced in Congress to quite literally everything he proposed, I really can’t lay the blame for this one at his feet. Also, I wish he’d been more effective at selling his administration’s achievements and countering the other side’s non-stop avalanche of disinformation that’s led to some people actually thinking, among other things, that “Obamacare” and the ACA are two different things. But again, that’s not all on him. The Democrats in general have failed on this point. Finally, I wish he hadn’t been so doggedly determined to keep reaching across the aisle when the Republicans made it very clear from the very beginning that they were not, under any circumstances, going to work with him. There were times when he looked like Charlie Brown chasing after that damned football, with all of us knowing that Republican Lucy was just going to jerk it away and send him flying through the air again. It was embarrassing, frankly… and watching good progressive ideas get whittled away compromise by compromise (and still failing to pass) was pretty damn infuriating. But it was his belief in the inherent goodness of people, and in their willingness to listen to a rational appeal — his optimism that he could bridge the partisan divides that had opened up during the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations — that drew me to him in the first place. As satisfying as it might have been to hear him tell Mitch McConnell to go screw himself, that’s not the man I originally voted for.

In the end, Obama did not change the country as much as many of us hoped he would. Partisan tribalism is worse than ever, everybody is pissed off about everything, and “post-racial America” turned out to be a cruel fantasy. Indeed, his mere existence in the Oval Office seemed to draw out the very worst elements of this country from whatever dank hole in which they’d been hibernating. There’s no question in my mind that the incoming administration is the product, at least in part, of a backlash against whatever social progress the Obama administration did manage to foster. And all of that is immensely disappointing. I really hoped eight years ago that we were more evolved than that as a nation, and I can’t help feeling like we let him down, not the other way round, because we just weren’t ready for what he represented. But no matter what happens in the next four years, the Obama administration will always be a turning point in this country’s history. He was the first non-white president, and nothing is ever going to change that; I’m still proud of him for that achievement, and proud of this nation for taking a step forward by electing him. I hope I live long enough to see another such step forward, whether it’s another person of color or a woman, or perhaps even both.

I’m proud of him for much more than being an interesting statistic, though. Of the four presidents I’ve seen in my adult life — indeed all the presidents of my lifetime — Barack Obama is the one I most admire as a human being. His intellect, his sense of humor, his down-to-earth decency (so wonderfully evidenced by the photo above)… the fact that his administration remained scandal-free for eight years, that I didn’t have to make any excuses for him as I so often have for the last Democratic president… his dedication to his wife and children, the very embodiment of family values… and the dignity and unflappably cool head he so consistently showed in the face of unprecedented disrespect and obstruction from his political opponents… by all those measures, I would say Obama has been an extraordinary president. And I’m going to miss him.

Thanks, Obama. Sincerely.








If Our Democracy Is to Work the Way It Should…

President Obama’s Farewell Address tonight had a number of memorable passages as he tried to put an epilogue on the past eight years, but to me there were none more salient or moving than his words about race, reflexive partisanship, and the tendency to demonize “the other”:

…if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.


We have to pay attention and listen.


For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.


For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.


So regardless of the station we occupy; we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

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