Friday, August 17, 2007


I once heard Barbara Love say "The truth is, we don't need to build bridges to reach one another. The bridges already exist. We simply have to sweep off the debris obscuring them and walk into each other's arms."

I watched a recast on PBS last night of a documentary called "The Sixties".
While it had some appalling flaws -- of 28 people interviewed, only two were women, NONE were Asian, Hispanic or Native American, reinforcing the bias that it was a white boy culture -- and the slimy insincerity of Pat Buchanan was harder to stomach now more than ever -- still, it was fascinating to hear/rehear some of the words that shaped our current dilemma. Particularly the efforts of Nixon and his ilk (including Buchanan) to force the polarization that now divides us. It was their resistance to change, their insistence on senseless wars and assaults on civil liberties, that forced the so-called generation gap, despite the myth that it was a bunch of overprivileged young students who caused all the problems.

I appreciated how more than one speaker pointed out it was art (mostly music) which carried the revolution, more than politics or action. Art will imagine the unknown and make it seem possible. Certainly Lesbian poetry and music created the "women's" revolution that followed on the heels of the anti-war and civil rights movements. There's still a generation of us who have a common language that was not/is not shared by gay men or the later pastiche called queers, a language of symbols and concepts still being reinforced every year at the Michigan Women's Music Festival.

The tiny section accorded the onset of women's liberation in this documentary (which, according to them, began in 1968) did get one thing right: It was consciousness-raising groups that launched it all. Meeting in small groups, in private spaces, as women who had experienced the conditioning of girlhood -- this was where we found our common ground and created the theory that enabled us to openly question the patriarchy, in a way not done before (or since).

That tool will be used again, is being used effectively by other target groups -- no matter how much the dominant paradigm has discovered the best way to shut off identity politics is to keep us from defining ourselves without interference. Or to coopt our art and music for commercial gain.

The disillusionment and betrayal of a generation of young people by the adults in power who resisted their independence still renders us too apathetic today. The ghastly war, the FBI and CIA assaults on organizations (such as the Black Panthers), the murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the pitting of blue-collar cops against protesting students were all calculated measures to destroy free will and questioning minds. Our generation was also damaged by drugs. Reagan's bunch regrouped to also wipe out the affluence which enabled activism, and to begin the erosion of civil liberties being finalized by Bushies (many of whom, if not most of whom, began their work under Reagan).

But for those of us who have not retreated to "What's the use?", as well as the younger generations who are fucking furious at the mess things are in, the question of bridging this divide and creating meaningful communication again is paramount. If we don't give up on each other from the outset, how do we talk with one another?

I know there is a solid 12-20% of the population who will not be swayed from belief by any kind of conversation or logic. To ask them to use their own thinking ahead of faith and rigid authoritarianism is offensive in itself. They will have to remain among us, belligerent, frightened, confused, and we must allow them their institutions and communities as long as such entities have no governmental backing, as long as their children have a chance to receive word of another world view, and as long as we treat their fatwas with the same kind of repercussions we visit on the fundamentalist hatred in other religions. We can never again let them have the keys to the car.

And, just in case you think this die-hard hard-head contingent is a modern phenomenon, it's more probable they have always been among us. Here's a quote from Thomas Jefferson's autobiography, about how the wingnut crowd of his day was dealt with:

"The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word 'Jesus Christ,' so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination."

Yes, girls and not-girls, Jefferson, Franklin and their white male buddies insisted on the equal rights of Muslims and atheists. (Emphasis mine -- this quote is from an excellent, highly recommended essay at Orcinus on 11 August 2007 entitled Bill Sali Backtracks).

Here's a statistic that gave me heart this week: A Gallup poll reported in The Week showed the percentage of Americans who have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in organized religion is currently 46% -- but the number who said that in 1975 was 68%. They are losing ground, folks. Which is part of why they are reaching for more desperate means of suppressing dissent, and why batwing foamers like Guiliani are openly claiming that respect for authority is the true definition of freedom. (Yep, and we have always been at war with Oceania.)

I want to share with you a couple of helpful tools available on the web as you come up with your own means of reaching out across the Neocon-dug trenches.

One is a metric called The Political Compass. Their explanation begins "There's abundant evidence for the need of [an accurate political compass]. The old one-dimensional categories of 'right' and 'left', established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today's complex political landscape. For example, who are the 'conservatives' in today's Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher? On the standard left-right scale, how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi? It's not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can't explain. Similarly, we generally describe social reactionaries as 'right-wingers', yet that leaves left-wing reactionaries like Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot off the hook."

So, you can go to the link above and take their anonymous test for yourself. I came out somewhere to the "left" and more "libertarian" than the Dalai Lama -- to see the grid of my results, go to Maggie's Political Compass

Let me know how this worked out for you. Remember, the self-examined life is worth having.

The second tool is a List of Common Fallacies used in debate, compiled by Carl Sagan in "The Demon Haunted World" (Random House, New York, 1995) and reprinted, along with other useful information, at No Beliefs. I'm not going to reprint the whole list here, just a few examples to whet your appetite:

argumentum ad populum: An argument aimed to sway popular support by appealing to sentimental weakness rather than facts and reasons.

confusion of correlation and causation: (e.g., More men play chess than women, therefore, men make better chess players than women. Or: Children who watch violence on TV tend to act violently when they grow up.) But does television programming cause violence or do violence oriented children prefer to watch violent programs? Perhaps an entirely different reason creates violence not related to television at all. Stephen Jay Gould called the invalid assumption that correlation implies cause as "probably among the two or three most serious and common errors of human reasoning".

excluded middle (or false dichotomy): considering only the extremes. Many people use Aristotelian either/or logic tending to describe in terms of up/down, black/white, true/false, love/hate, etc. (e.g., You either like it or you don't. He either stands guilty or not guilty.) Many times, a continuum occurs between the extremes that people fail to see. The universe also contains many "maybes."

reification fallacy: when people treat an abstract belief or hypothetical construct as if it represented a concrete event or physical entity. Examples: IQ tests as an actual measure of intelligence; the concept of race (even though genetic attributes exist), from the chosen combination of attributes or the labeling of a group of people, come from abstract social constructs; Astrology; god(s); Jesus; Santa Claus, etc.

Lastly, I'm going to share with you the entirety of a post at FireDogLake by Marisa Trevino, Texas to Bush: Get Off My Lawn!, which illustrates what can happen when groups do insist on bridge-building. Share it on.

"A funny thing happened on the way to building the Lower Rio Grande Valley portion of the Texas-Mexico border fence.

It was something that caught Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security off guard, the White House, Congress and even the average American citizen who lives miles away from the border in question — Texans, who actually live along that portion of the border, don't want it.

It’s a concept that is hard for the rest of the country to grasp. After all, aren’t border residents living in fear for their lives by living on the frontlines with what conservative extremists like to term 'the invasion' of illegal immigrants?

Well, according to border residents, the only invasion they’re feeling is the one from Washington that is dictating that a fence be built through, along and around their communities.

The idea of a physical structure being built is so repulsive to these residents that in a show of rare solidarity, unlike anywhere else seen in the country, activists and environmentalists are joining forces with politicians, business owners and local law enforcement to present to Congress alternative ways to secure this portion of the border.

Border residents have been contending all along that the border fence was an ill-conceived idea. In the original plans, the fence cut right through the University of Texas at Brownsville campus and gave Mexico a prized U.S. historic landmark.

But Washington has barely taken notice of the embarrassing gaffes of the fence map or the combined voices of a constituency for whom officials in Washington seem to be treating like second-class citizens by purposely ignoring their requests that a fence not be built along their communities.

Well, being Texans, these border citizens have had enough. So, they’ve joined with their counterparts in Mexico for the border’s first-ever binational protest. They’re calling it Hands Across El Rio and it begins August 25.

Spanning 16 days, 1,250 miles, it’s a protest that involves Americans and Mexicans forming human chains across the international bridges, daily binational press conferences and the launch of a flotilla of kayaks, canoes and inner tubes that will paddle down the Rio Grande to each international bridge to join the protests in progress.

Longtime border residents are saying they’ve never seen anything like this before in their lives and the consensus, from both sides of the border, is that this is a historic event.

But what is really amazing is that these organizers, for the most part, are average residents who have felt forced to make their voices heard. Because so many have never participated in a protest, the organizers are sending out a plea for assistance.

If ever there was an example of the Little Guy going up against Big Government, this is it.

At the least, this effort deserves our collective attention. At the most, it deserves our support."


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Last night, I'd gone to sleep, then awakened again and was lying there motionless, thinking about plotting in "Skene". My cat Dinah leaped onto the bed and began crossing the top of the mattress toward her eyrie in the closet. Apparently she thought I was still asleep and didn't see me reach out to pet her on her back, because when my hand made contact, she catapulted forward in terror as if shot from a cannon, a 3-foot upward arc that crashed her head and chest into the closet door. Still in a panic, she scrambled up to her shelf in the closet, then turned around to stare at me, shaking her head and vocalizing loud protest. I, of course, was in convulsions of mirth.

I really didn't mean to frighten her. It probably wouldn't have been as effective if I had intended it.

I lay there thinking about the surprising levitation abilities of some animals. In particular, armadillos have that genetic response to fear and can go straight up several feet when startled -- an attribute you wouldn't guess just by looking at them. And one which must have had evolutionary advantage until the era of semis and highways. Poor dumb clucks.

That reminded me, irresistably, of when we lived in Dilley, Texas (my ages 9-12) and a family of armadillos moved in under our house. The foundation was pier and beam, with a large crawlspace closed off all the way round by latticework, except for one rotten portion at the front of the house where, with judicious digging (now, you would think armadillos can dig like blazes just by looking at them) a large tunnel-like access to the crawlspace was created.

On warm evenings, which occurs about half the year in that locale, my family would go out into the front yard after dinner, between the palm on our right and the magnolia on our left, and sit facing the house. We were on the edge of that small town, and the stars were bright. Mama knew every Greek and Roman myth about all the constellations, it seemed like, and she'd tell us stories as we sprawled back in those metal lawn chairs, staring up into infinity.

These were not the scallop-back metal chairs of the 1950s and 60s. These were an older version, slatted, extraordinarily heavy, with a droopy seat and a bit of bouncy action to them. They came with that rent house, and I've never seen anything similar (or as comfortable) since.

As we lounged, often drifting in long periods of silence, the armadillos would emerge from under the house and amble in our direction, because their foraging route lay beyond us. Armadillos are very hard of hearing and have weak eyesight -- with all that armor, who needs keen senses? -- so if we were silent, they'd come right up to us without being aware of our presence.

We loved waiting until they were at our feet, then one of us would shout and clap hands, sending them into headlong flight. It was hilarious enough watching their shambling run -- again, not something they'd need to do very often -- but the real humor came once they were under the house and bolting for the back, as far away from their entrance hole as they could get. There would be a loud, interrupted series of wooden thuds as each of them hit one of the house beams at headlong pace. We'd count the percussions out loud in glee.

Eventually, the armadillos moved on (wonder why?) and a family of skunks moved in. These were definitely less desirable tenants. My mother had a mortal fear of skunks, and no one was willing to tangle with them in order to oust them from the premises. At night when they emerged, we kept talking to insure they detoured around us on their way to the mercury vapor light at the corner of the REI equipment yard -- a light which drew a veritable insect buffet. I say, "We kept talking" but Mama would fall silent, watching them with deep suspicion, until they were across the road: two adults and three little skunks, with wafts of odor that had now become rather homey to me.

One night, however, Mama was distracted in lighting a cigarette as the skunks picked their way by the palm tree toward their first easy meal of the night. Just as Mama took a drag, my older brother pointed to directly underneath her chair and screamed "Skunk!"

My little brother Bill and I didn't even stop to look. We raced for the front porch, and we had a good lead on Mama because she was a large woman and removing her hindquarters from those chairs took a certain effort. Once on the straightaway, however, she outpaced us. She passed me just as I arrived at the steps, scrambling up them two at a time and reaching little Bill at the screen door just as his hand closed around the handle. She grabbed his T-shirt with both fists, dragged him backward, leaped into the house, then shut and locked the door.

Bill turned and gaped at me, and we both looked into the yard, to see how close the skunks were. Of course, there was no skunk. My father and older brother were in gibbering, shrieking hysterics. After ten long seconds, the door opened again and Mama began apologizing in an abject tone. But now We Knew.



My favorite online response to the Democratic rollover on the FISA regulations (cartoon by This Modern World
-- this is at Salon so you may have to click through the ad to get to this)

And while we're plugging brilliant comics: Lola Granola and Bill the Cat returns (check out the background on the opening panel, and the Opus side-story).

Of course, the headline of this article distorts the findings of a recent study with teenage girls. It's not that sharing your feelings with friends is necessarily "unhelpful and unhealthy", it's all about how the sharing is done. Going over and over negative experiences without having your feelings about it (i.e., intellectualizing), without problem-solving, and without any contradiction by your listener (i.e., sharing with someone who agrees with your pessimism) will not help you to "get over it". But doing the opposite does greatly enhance the healing process. So don't just shut up and take it -- don't "be more like a boy", as the article pointlessly states. Instead, let yourself grieve or be scared, brainstorm solutions or alternative viewpoints, and bond with a friend in the process.

And -- I was asked to submit my photo and URL to a huge listing of : Writers' Websites . Go here and see me on a page with James Joyce.