Well, all this is interesting to me, anyway, and that's what matters here. The Internet is a terrible thing for someone like me, who finds almost everything interesting.
Monday, January 10, 2011
I remember the 1960s
I remember the 1960s, the political assassinations then. Maybe that's why this latest attack, on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, has hit me so hard.
And since I started this blog, nearly a year ago, I've been warning about the violent, inflammatory language coming from the right, not just from isolated lunatics in the Tea Party, but from Fox "News" and mainstream Republican leaders. As I asked yesterday, how did you expect this to turn out?
Do we really want to choose our political leaders by bullet, instead of ballot? The whole point of the democratic process is that it's an alternative to civil war. You may lose this time, but you don't lose your life. So next time, you might win. Do you really want to give that up?
We progressives suffered through eight long years of George W. Bush, quite possibly the low point of our nation. We watched as America invaded an innocent country, tortured prisoners of war, and politicized our Department of Justice. We watched tax cuts to the rich explode the federal deficit, as deregulation created enormous bubbles in arcane financial instruments, ending in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. We watched as America dragged its feet, while China raced ahead - in education, in scientific research, in 21st Century technologies.
But did we start shooting politicians? Did we put rifle crosshairs on political posters? Did we claim that George W. Bush was just an impostor, not a real American, not - much as we hated to even think about it - America's President at all? Even after he was given the Presidency, in a 5 to 4 split decision by our very right-wing and Republican-packed Supreme Court, did we go that far?
We disagreed with Republicans, but we didn't claim they were agents of a foreign power. We didn't claim they were really Germans, secretly trying to bring Hitler back to life. They were wrong - tragically, disastrously wrong - but they were still loyal Americans. And we didn't threaten to shoot people if elections didn't go our way.
I remember the 1960s. I remember 1963, in my fifth-grade classroom, hearing the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. I remember 1968, when I was in high school and we lost both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in one tragic year, just a couple of months apart.
Our nation went on, of course, but we were sadly diminished by those losses. None of them were perfect, of course. Who is? But they were inspiring leaders who pointed the way to a bright future. John F. Kennedy had created the Peace Corps and was the vibrant symbol of America worldwide. How would our history have been different if he'd lived?
King's death sparked riots, which destroyed city neighborhoods - many of which never did recover - and set back racial equality. Yes, we've moved forward, but how much further would we be today if he'd lived? Just look at the Tea Party, at the "birthers," at the hysteria over Hispanic immigration. Would this degree of fear and bigotry exist today if Martin Luther King, Jr., the great apostle of nonviolence, had lived?
And Bobby Kennedy, dead at 42. What would he have accomplished? He might not have won the presidency in 1968 - he might never have become president - but he would have been a positive presence in America, either way. That's when the dream died, for many of us. In 1968, the promise of the 1960s ended in blood.
And Republicans adopted their "Southern Strategy" of appealing to white racists, exploiting fear and hatred for political advantage. Instead of Bobby Kennedy, we got Richard M. Nixon as President. It's kind of funny, because Nixon would be way too liberal for today's GOP. Well, even Reagan would be too liberal - and far too willing to compromise - for Republicans these days.
The whole country has moved to the right since then. Today's Democrats pass laws proposed by past Republicans. They've become Republican-lite (minus the racism). The Republicans themselves, led further and further astray - first by their "Southern Strategy," then by Christian fundamentalists, and now by the Tea Party - have gone completely off the deep end. The whole nation has taken the wrong path in recent decades.
Would that have happened if we hadn't lost these three great men in the 1960s? Maybe, but maybe not. Where would we be today if John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy had lived? Heck, where would we be today if Abraham Lincoln had lived? We don't know. We can't know, not now.
We can't change the past, but we can remember it. And we can vow to do better in the future. Violent political language exists because it works. We Americans could end it today if we wished, by refusing to support candidates who push hatred, fear, and bigotry. We could end it by rejecting anyone who uses the symbolism of violence - especially gun violence.
We could end it by refusing to patronize Fox "News" and by refusing to vote for Republicans unless they take a clear stand against the loonies in their party. Oh, sure, they all express regret over Saturday's incident, and I'm sure they mean it. After all, it's bad politics to be associated with this sort of thing.
But dismissing this as the actions of a lunatic is disingenuous. Of course he was a lunatic. It's the lunatics who actually go through with something like this, rather than rant and rave and then go home. But it's the environment of hate, the environment of fear, the environment of violence created by these politicians and their media allies which persuades the lunatics to act.
You can't abandon your own responsibility - as a politician or as a supporter of these people - by just saying that you didn't mean for anyone to get shot. No, of course not. Who could have imagined that someone would take you seriously?
I haven't been in the mood to post cartoons or quotations or... really, anything else the past couple of days. But I need to move on, I guess. I don't know why this shooting hit me so hard - more than any other tragic incident of gun violence, I mean. But this post is an attempt to explore that.
I didn't know Gabrielle Giffords or any of the other victims of this shooting. But they were good people trying to do the right thing. Disagree with their politics if you wish, but you can't disagree with that. Giffords had just won re-election. She was only three days into her new term of office, and she was meeting with constituents.
This is what our representatives do. She wasn't campaigning for their vote or for political contributions, although both of those things are always in the back of every politician's mind. She was meeting with constituents because those were the people she represents in Congress. And she became a victim because of the cesspool of hatred, fear, and paranoia stirred up by the right-wing.
What kind of America do you want? Reasonable people can disagree, but can we at least agree that this isn't the kind of America either of us wants?
But note that agreeing is not enough. You also have to act in a way that completely repudiates these purveyors of hate, whether you agree with their politics or not. We all have a responsibility here.
I'm a skeptic. I think it makes sense to have reasons for what I believe, so I apportion my belief to the evidence. You're welcome to disagree. Please, tell me I'm wrong. I probably don't agree with anyone about everything. Why should disagreement be a problem? Check the Pages section below for series posts and links to book reviews and game posts, as well as contact info. Unfortunately, I rarely blog at all, anymore. So don't expect new posts. - Bill
We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true. - Robert Wilensky
It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong - Richard Feynman
The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other. - Sir Francis Bacon
When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Speculation is perfectly all right, but if you stay there you've only founded a superstition. If you test it, you've started a science. - Hal Clement
No matter how many times a theory meets its tests successfully, there can be no certainty that it will not be overthrown by the next observation. This, then, is a cornerstone of modern natural philosophy. It makes no claim of attaining ultimate truth. In fact, the phrase "ultimate truth" becomes meaningless, because there is no way in which enough observations can be made to make truth certain and, therefore, "ultimate". - Isaac Asimov
The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. - Treaty of Tripoli, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed by President John Adams (1797)
I don't doubt the sincerity of dowsers, but even after we've demonstrated that they can't produce results that are any better than chance they'll still go away believing in their abilities... It is like the mother whose son is caught shoplifting on tape. She wonders why someone would want to frame her child by producing a fake video. - James Randi
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church ... imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. - Mark Twain
Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths. - Bertrand Russell
A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. - Friedrich Nietzsche
I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. - Adlai E. Stevenson, Jr.
This is not about proof. Science does not use proof. We favor evidence, and the work consists largely of the slow accumulation of evidence in support of ideas, not magically potent proofs that establish an idea as unassailable. - PZ Myers
No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. - President Barack Obama
The formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat. - Shekhar Gupta
We are prodding, challenging, seeking contradictions or small, persistent residual errors, proposing alternative explanations, encouraging heresy. We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs. - Carl Sagan
We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. - Richard Dawkins
120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. - Sam Harris
To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man. - Michael Servetus, burned at the stake in 1553
Democracy is not about majority rule; it is about minority rights. If there is no culture of not simply tolerating minorities, but actually treating them with equal rights, real democracy can't take root. - Thomas L. Friedman
We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us and with just as much apparent reason. - Thomas Macauley, 1830
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and remember we are not descended from fearful men. - Edward R. Murrow
The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence. Science is simply common sense at its best - that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic. - Thomas Huxley
There is no absurdity so obvious that it cannot be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to impose it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity. - Arthur Schopenhauer
Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. ... Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. - President Thomas Jefferson
To be elected in America, no matter from what party, the candidates have no choice but to year after year pledge to lower taxes further and further. We have become the nation of Ken and Barbie, looking good but very poor at the math. - Rack Jite
Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them. - Steve Eley
We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. - President Franklin D. Roosevelt
I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn't actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle. - Molly Ivins
In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican. - H. L. Mencken
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. - Winston Churchill