Saturday, December 31, 2005

Essay - Why I Love Quebec: The Rocket Side of the River - sent to The Free Market News Network, Dec. 31, 2005

By Bernie Quigley

One of the interesting features of the North American continent is that at the very tippity top of the heavily populated regions, a river runs between the two original Canadian realms, Ontario and Quebec, forming a kind of natural yin/yang symbol. On the west side of the river in Ontario there is the feminine sphere, marked by a beautiful statue just above the bank of Queen Victoria, Earth Mother Incarnate and Empress of India. On the other side of the river in Quebec is a statue of Maurice Richard, known to all who have ever followed the game of hockey as The Rocket. The Rocket was the greatest hockey player who ever lived, but his importance transcends hockey. Decades ago, a fight broke out at a hockey game in Montreal which turned into a riot, which in turn turned into the Quebecois movement.

The Quebecois movement is generally despised outside of Quebec because it sometimes promotes secession from the confederation of Canada. Other times it doesn’t. This is basically irrelevant to a citizen of New Hampshire like myself, but I live right close to the Canadian border and go there all the time and follow it closely. What I find interesting about the Bloc Quebecois is that it is the only regional group in North America which follows the vision of Thomas Jefferson to federalism. Every American state and every other Canadian province follows the Hamiltonian view, in which the states and regions have no identity and submit exclusively to a centralized bureaucracy. The Bloc Quebecois demands its own identity and its own democratic independence. It will participate in confederation with Canada, but insists in doing so only on its own terms.

“In the beginning,” historian Frank Owsley wrote, “ . . . two men defined fundamental principles of the political philosophy of the two societies [America's North and South], Alexander Hamilton for the North and Jefferson for the South. The one was extreme centralization, the other was extreme decentralization; the one was nationalistic and the other provincial; the first was called Federalism, the other State Rights.”

The hockey riot followed a penalty issued by English-speaking officials to the French-speaking hockey star. Afterwards, French-speaking Quebec refused to be dictated to by English-speaking Ottawa, and demanded its own identity be kept intact. It demanded that provincial rights come before federal rights. As far as I can see, the only time the Quebecois movement actually wanted to secede from Canada was when English-speaking Canada began losing its own identity and slavishly followed in the wake of the United States as an imitation kind of America and a pseudo-America, most recently at the end of the Clinton administration when globalization of capital and culture was in full flower. There is always a natural tendency in Canada for the English-speaking regions to do this. And in some important ways, the French-speaking parts provide a healthy reminder. The French pull Canada back to themselves, telling them who they are and reminding them to be themselves.

In my experience French Quebec is not particularly anti-Canadian. Indeed, when Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien opposed the United States in its invasion of Iraq, Bernard Landry, the head of the Bloc Quebecois, publicly embraced the Canadian government’s position. (A week after the invasion when only 100,000 marched against the Iraq invasion in New York City, 200,000 marched in the French province of Quebec.) But anyone who visits Quebec often as I do will find that it is in no way anti-America either, and many on both sides of the border have friends and relatives on the other. But Quebec will not yield up its soul to either Canada or the United States. This is the model of a free state as Jefferson envisioned a free state to be.

It has taken enormous backbone, innate soul and indigenous character to do this in this day and age when people like George Soros see all people in the world as Americans of a sort. To some degree he is right. Laotians are readily trading up Khrishna for Britney and Indians may complain about Americanization, but they fall in line just the same. That Quebec character came from the Rocket and the game of hockey. Hockey is to Canada what the cult of the Samurai was to 16th Century Japan. It is a character-building sport with a participation mystique which all Canadians participate in.

There is a national election coming up in Canada next month and anti-Americanism has become au courant for the big-party candidates. Prime Minister Paul Martin held a news conference last week to say he wasn’t going to be pushed around by the Americans, although it wasn’t entirely clear what particular pushing was being done. But his polls went up and so the conservative candidate, Stephen Harper, who ordinarily would like Canada to be in lockstep with conservative America, held his own special news conference to say he was going to be tough on America as well, and would militarily fortify Canada’s Artic region lest an American ship slip through unnoticed. It got pretty humorous. The Bloc Quebecois candidate political leader, Gille Duceppe, seem characteristically calm and self-assured in comparison.

The Bloc Quebecois certainly does not represent all of the Province of Quebec. But it can be said that neither the Bloc nor Quebec has the pseudo-American neurosis which afflicts English-speaking Canada. It does not have to bash America to firm up an insecure identity like Ontario's - still holding hands with the Queen on the one hand and sending the most pitiful British soap operas on to the CBC to keep Canada British – but following America’s cue in almost every other way. Nor does it have to toady to America.

Instead, there is an inner strength to life in Quebec which is symbolized by the statue of the Rocket. I saw a brief glimpse of it several years ago. When Hayley Wickenheiser led the Canadian woman’s hockey team to gold victory in the 2002 winter Olympics, head coach Daniele Sauvageau gathered the team around her after the victory for a final word on the virtues that would carry the women and their families through the difficult times in their lives. Huddled in a circle, she said three words to them: Responsibility, Determination and Courage.

This is the Rocket’s gift to Quebec, to Canada and hopefully to all of North America.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Why I love Quebec: The Rocket Side of the River

This essay below is from my other blog Quigley in Exile as an introduction to other material irrelevant to this, but I thought I would include it has a tribute to my friend Barr, who passed away recently. It enters a psychological realm related to the discussion in Exile about yin and yang principles. In a word, all cultures eventually divide into spheres, yin and yang, as for example, the city of Paris is divided into Left Bank and Right Bank. A river runs between them, just as the line runs between the realms in the tai chi as they are different and opposite and one cannot be the other. One of the interesting features of the North American continent is that at the very tippity top of the heavily populated regions, a river runs between the two original Canadian realms, Ontario and Quebec. On the west side of the river in Ontario there is a beautiful statue just above the bank of Queen Victoria, Earth Mother Incarnate and Empress of India. On the other side of the river in Quebec is a statue of Maurice Richard, known to all who have ever followed the game of hockey as The Rocket. The Rocket was the greatest hockey player who ever lived, but his importance transcends hockey. Decades ago, after the French-speaking player was given a penalty by English-speaking officials, a fight broke out at a hockey game in Montreal which turned into a riot, which in turn turned into the Quebecois movement.

The Quebecois movement is generally despised outside of Quebec because it sometimes promotes secession from the confederation of Canada. Other times it doesn’t. This is basically irrelevant to a citizen of New Hampshire like myself, but I live right close to the Canadian border and go there all the time and follow it closely. What I find interesting about the Bloc Quebecois is that it is the only regional group in North America which follows the vision of Thomas Jefferson to federalism. Every American state and every Canadian province follows the Hamiltonian view, in which the states and regions have no identity and submit exclusively to a central government. The Bloc Quebecois demands its own identity and its own democratic independence. It will participate in confederation with Canada, but insists in doing so only on its own terms.

To review: “In the beginning,” writes historian Frank Owsley, “ . . . two men defined fundamental principles of the political philosophy of the two societies, Alexander Hamilton for the North and Jefferson for the South. The one was extreme centralization, the other was extreme decentralization; the one was nationalistic and the other provincial; the first was called Federalism, the other State Rights.” (For more, see “Federalist and Unitarians,” on this blog below).

After the Rocket riot, French-speaking Quebec refused to be dictated to by English-speaking Ottawa, and demanded its own identity be kept intact. It demanded that provincial rights came before federal rights. As far as I can see, the only time the Quebecois movement wanted to secede form Canada was when English-speaking Canada slavishly followed in the wake of the United States as secondary Americans and pseudo-Americans, most recently at the end of the Clinton administration when globalization was in full flower. In my experience French Quebec is not anti-American, nor is it particularly anti-Canadian. Indeed, when Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien opposed the United States in its invasion of Iraq, Bernard Landry, the head of the Bloc Quebecois publicly embraced the Canadian government’s position. (A week after the invasion when only 100,000 marched against the Iraq invasion in New York, 200,000 marched in Montreal.) But Quebec will not yield its soul up to either Canada or the United States. This is the model of a free state as Jefferson envisioned a free state to be. (See “Every State a Free State,” on this blog below).

It has taken enormous backbone, innate soul and indigenous character to do this in this day and age when people like George Soros see all people in the world as Americans of a sort, and Laotians are trading even Khrishna for Britney and Indians complain about Americanization, but fall in line just the same. That character came from the Rocket and the game of hockey. Hockey is to Canada what the cult of the Samurai was to 16th Century Japan. It is a character-building sport with a participation mystique which all Canadians participate in. Everything said about Zen Buddhism as it built the Samurai culture of Japan in the 16th century can be said about hockey in Canada today. This essay is about Zen and Samurai and my tough guy friend Barr and it ends with a quote from a woman who happens to be the Chief of Police in Montreal. But she is known throughout Canada for another role and for a great day in Canada and a day that could conceivably one day be considered Canada’s first day. And the next day was even better.

It's okay to be a man. - Journals, Kurt Cobain

There is a Japanese wood cut of a famous 16
th century Zen Buddhist monk, viewing a rooster fight with rapt fascination, and if you have ever seen these animals go at it naturally in the woods or in the barn yard when they hit adolescence and fight to establish dominance, you can see the hypnotic effect. They still raise and fight these birds in the hills of Tennessee where it crosses into the mountains to Virginia and North Carolina, far from the gaze of those who would disapprove. We raised our kids in those parts.

I first saw roosters fight when our day-old chicks arrived at the post office from the mail order house 20 years ago. They arrived peeping in the box, one day old. We ordered a dozen Rhode Island Reds, docile egg layers, but received cocks by accident occasionally and once a game bird. They can be as tame as cats, allowing the children to pick them up and pet them like kittens.

Any rooster will fight if there is more than one and there are females around. Sometimes they will crow in a masculine way to express dominance over the other males, and if the cock’s crow is fierce enough, the other roosters won’t even bother to fight, but will simply submit to dominant rooster.

After that, the submissive ones never crow, unless something happens to the dominant rooster, like he is killed by a hawk. Then the strongest of the submissive roosters will take on the dominant rooster characteristics.

Once my dominant rooster, a Speckled Hamburg, proud and hyper-alert, white with black spots and reddish tints the color of autumn leaves – one of the most exquisitely beautiful animals I’d ever seen - had his crown and almost the entire back of his neck torn off by a coyote that had ravaged through the barn just before dawn. I knew by the extent of his injuries that he couldn’t possibly survive, but he strutted through the yard with his usual cockiness until noon with no sign of weakness, even looking for a fight, then found a quiet place under a piece of sheet rock to wait quietly for his death.

My friend Barr, who once lived as a Zen monk in Japan, died like that.

The submissive roosters even take on the behavior of the females sometimes, and try to sit on the eggs, like a broody hen. But usually they fight, and sometimes to the death. They circle one another slowly, intently staring, eye to eye, each ready to pounce, their cowls extended for the event in a perfect circle sticking straight out around their necks.

Then after a tense silence they pounce simultaneously, feathers flying and wings out, lifting them up off the ground, and flail at each other with their claws. It is usually over in a minute when one male establishes dominance over the other.

The focused, concentrated fight and the intense stillness that precedes it brings Zen to mind, as it was practiced by ancient Japanese Samurai swordsman. Zen monk D.T. Suzuki, writing not about roosters but about the silence of God says, “This sort of silence pervades all things Oriental. Woe unto those who take it for decadence and death, for they will be overwhelmed by an overwhelming outburst of activity out of the eternal silence.” It is the same silence and intensity which precedes a cock fight.

The swordsman class of ancient Japan exclusively chose Zen as its discipline, and the short, violent clash that follows the slow dance of the Samurai explains why: it is the most masculine of behavior in a spiritual discipline that is masculine to the core.

The Samurai tradition of Zen creates in the mind of the swordsman an ability to give up his fear of death and to face every battle thinking he will die. Only when he faces battle, like the rooster, unafraid and unthinking of his own death, will the swordsman find the ability to live with simplicity and clarity.

Samurai culture presents an exaggerated picture of the masculine force and presents in high relief the fear that most inhibits a man after he has left the womb and left his mother, the fear of death.

It is the fear of death that prevents him from finding fullness. And it is this fear that leads him to avoid risk, and to go instead to the middle ground, to middle management and to the middle class. To be, as we said in those parts of the South where we raised our kids, neither man nor master, but mid’lin.

The end of the millennium has brought Middle Man to the high water mark. Here in the Age of Information the binary matrix offers alternatives to the sword and the path to manhood of the Samurai. Archetypally, the prevalent dangerous myth in the computer culture most resembles the maze designed by the shaman Daedelus to hide the whereabouts of the Beast, so to ease the mind of King Minos. The maze creates an “alternative consciousness” for the King. So too middle man’s defector, the computer geek – and computer geek cults are almost exclusively defaulted male or man/boy types like the Lost Boys – projects his consciousness onto the computer screen and slays imaginable beasts, but none to match the bull within himself which is the one that is calling. The bull is the man calling the boy forth and if he is denied or circumvented the boy will not enter manhood.

There is no alternative. In the end, the computer man/boy lost in Daedelus’s maze is left behind when the age passes. To the defaulted man/boy of Computer World, information is not power, it is a distracting dance of light, distracting him from the fear that Lord Krishna instructs him to resist: the fear that prevents him from becoming himself. Better to go mad and die on the river like Mr. Kurtz.

At a college I worked at a few years ago an imaginative doctor at the teaching hospital observed over the years a difference in the reaction of his male and female patients before they went under the knife.

A man, he noticed, even for a trivial operation, often asked the doctor if he was going to die before he went under the anesthesia. The doctor began to take notes and tally these questions and he found that over 50% of the male population who entered surgery with him wanted to know if they were going to die. The number of occasions when the female population under similar circumstances asked that question? Zero.

I can well picture computer man/boy, his life extended behind a screen, being afraid to get out of there to face his death. But can you imagine Anwar Sadat who instinctively raised himself bolt-upright when he saw the gun man coming at him, and unflinchingly stood at attention to take the bullet in the chest? Can you imaging Walter Reuther, facing the federal agents and their armed goons about to fire on the Detroit factory workers, standing high on a wall in plain sight, pulling off his shirt and baring his chest, telling the thugs to fire the first shots here?

In the movie Gladiator, there is throughout the conspicuous use of the salute, “strength and honor” among the Roman soldiers and the gladiators, terms which recall both the Third Reich and the honor code of the officer class of the Confederates in the Civil War. With artistry by the director, Ridley Scott, and the masterful craftsmanship of actor Crowe, these human strains of personality are retrieved as if from a dark cave where no one should go, and retrieved for the general culture as virtues utterly needed by any human society, and particularly by the boy about to become a man in that society. These virtues are needed for the man or boy to pass successfully to the fullness of his adulthood, whether he aspires to be priest, pirate or panderer. Strength and honor, in an exaggerated and explosive masculine episode brought on the destruction of Europe. But without strength and honor there is no manhood, there is no balance, there is no dharma.

And it is not a guy thing, it is a cultural thing - a yang thing. When Hayley Wickenheiser led the Canadian woman’s hockey team to gold victory in the 2002 winter Olympics, head coach Daniele Sauvageau gathered the team around her after the victory for a final word on the virtues that would carry the women and their families through the difficult times in their lives. She said three words: Responsibility, Determination and Courage.

These are the Three Celestial Visitors.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Barr Ashcraft, 1940 - 2005

When Barr first walked into my office in North Carolina it was like a vision out of Kipling. Like Peaches and Denny, coming out of the jungle, but bringing a sense of the jungle back with him. He was fully at home in the jungles of Southeast Asia and it was something we had in common. He was nervous, uncomfortable and out-of-place in town and city. He was a huge man with a white beard and he always wore a blue United Nations beret. He was donating his pictures to Wake Forest University. Over 10,000 in all, pictures he had taken as a war correspondent in Vietnam and Indonesia. Pictures from Time, Life, Associated Press. I immediately remembered the dancing girls from Bali in National Geographic from 30 years before. We became fast friends.

Whenever he came back to North Carolina he always stayed at our house. He loved our kids and the kids loved him, as children love big, playful men and think of them as bear playmates. I knew this was a new experience to him, as when my daughter was born Barr happened to be in the North Carolina hospital that day giving a talk to the trauma center about death and dying on a massive scale. This occation was of course more auspicious. I asked Barr to come up and see my wife and up he came, blue beret hat in hand. He had a deep, hoarse voice and when we took Catherine, about six hours old, and put her in his hands, she craddled in his palms.

"So that's what a baby looks like," he said.

Every year or so we got together in a Chinese restaurant in Amherst, Massachusetts, near where he lived and invariably we talked about Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. We had both been called to war and Barr went readily. I felt he never calmed down from the excitment. Like the rest of the elite photo corp in Vietnam, he was used to daily danger and I believe he thrived on it. But Barr was the consumate artist, and like every real artist, the child had managed to survive into adulthood intact and came forth with strength and playfullness. The soldiers of the South Vietnamese army were barely children and the playfullness showed in their faces. But it would quickly turn to terror as machine guns riddled the helicopters they were riding to battle. From the photographs, Barr always seemed oblivious to the bullets. It was the smiles, the joy and the terror - the faces of the young soldiers that his camera caught. I'd seen him focuse when he was behind the camera. He was perhaps, like those soldiers they say, who are impercious to the dangers of battle. Intent instead on his craft.

Last time we shared a meal we talked of Thailand and Vietnam. The war, the joy, the marketplace, the shamans at night and fortunetellers in the French city squares, the magicians with snakes and cobras which entertained the night crowd, the wary eyes of Buddhist monks in safron robes, the children always playing, always running, always kidding around with the Round Eyes, especially playful with a big bear-like man such as Barr.

One of my smaller children had asked that day what Paradise was. The park in the French Quarters at night and the children, even in wartime. That was Paradise. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia. That was paradise, Barr considered. I shall miss him.
The Hillary Illusion - How the Clintons could destroy the Democratic Party

“Did you read Doonesbury yesterday?” my teen-age son asked with a snicker.

“I don’t read Doonesbury,” I said. “Its cynical and dark and leftover from the Sixties.”

That was a lot before bagels in the morning, but we all love each other here and understand each other. It is an ongoing discussion. He’s a thoughtful reader and a good writer. But as he gets one point of view in public school, he gets another at home. And we talk about this or that at each turn and with every book he brings home from English class. We talk about Willa Cather for example: With Willa Cather suicide is only a part of life and a part which leavens the spirit and strengthens the character of the living that remain on the Plains of frontier Nebraska. And we talk about Salinger: With Salinger suicide is all of life.

But Willa Cather, who was considered perhaps the greatest American writer before World War II, is never on the English department’s agenda. (Why do women professors today hate Willa Cather? Because they were selected for their jobs by old men from the 1930s who hated the heartland, hated America and hated women?)

The high school reading venue today generally consists of the suicide, the schizophrenic the maladjusted, the disassociated, the murderer, the alienated and the psychotic. Propose Cather to your kids’ high school English teacher or Principle and you will be met with a long pause and a stony silence, followed by Scubby Doo’s timeless response to life’s complexities: “Hummmphhh?”

I checked the newspaper and sure enough. Gary Trudeau’s Sunday strip was about a man receiving a bad prognosis from a doctor. The doctor asks, “Are you a Creationist?” Then he gives the Creationist a prescription that is “intelligently designed.” The point of course, is that Creationists are stupid, and yuppies that went to Yale to learn to write cartoons are oh-so-smart.

Which brings up so many questions. When did people who write comic strips need to go to Yale? And why do the ink-stained hacks like those who write the most poisonous and dangerous opinions today for The Los Angeles Times or The Washington Post need to go to Yale?

Walter Cronkite wrote an essay last year saying that he thought the weakness in the press today came from the fact that newspapers draw from Ivy League schools. Day Hops, no doubt. That pejorative distinction which Old School Elys and Harvard Blue Bloods understand. And make no mistake, the Bloods are keeping track.

There has always been something in Trudeau’s cartoon that says I went to Yale and you didn’t. I’m from the Sixties and you’re not. I’m a yuppie and you’re a Creationist. It is essentially a generational point of view in opposition to everyone in the world who isn’t from the Sixties. You can’t imagine that he’s from an actual place in the world like Nebraska or Clinton County, Ohio (except Yale and that’s not really a place). He identifies only with the Sixties generation.

I myself am from the Sixties generation and I write of it all the time . . . of the frail and delicate avatar who spoke fleetingly of love and was gunned down in the streets of New York City; of the howling animal cries of mourning and celebration which came as if out of a river in northern Ontario and followed all the way down to Nashville; of the Monkey God who single-handedly changed fate and the flow of history by the simple act of switching from a wooden guitar to an electric guitar at a traditional music festival in Newport.

The Sixties was much like the Transcendentalist Movement here in New England. It brought forth the timeless and celestial bard, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and enriched New England’s identity. But it often resembled George Ripley’s commune, Brooks Farm, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, of which Nathaniel Hawthorne, after living there for a year said, “A man’s soul may be buried and perish under a dungheap.”

As a political point of view Creationism grows not so much per its inherent intellectual properties but because plain folk from Willa Cather’s Nebraska refuse to be dictated to by some Day Hop from Yale whose entire life experience and identity consists of being a college kid in the Sixties and whose cartoon has from then to now featured one of the most despicable and poisonous characters of the Sixties, a nihilist drenched in drugs and doom, the late Hunter S. Thompson.

I enjoyed the Sixties a great deal, and even stopped at Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love, when I was in San Francisco waiting for my plane ride to Than Son Nhut. But after that, and after college, I got a job I liked, raised a family and some sheep. And especially after my first child was born I never really thought that much about it again. But I am constantly amazed at the many my age that still do and continue throughout their lives, to relate to only that moment in their life here on earth and to that generation.

With most people, life goes on and takes over. I remember once or twice someone saying, “The Sixties is coming back.” But I always had the Scubby reply. Then when Bill Clinton suddenly arrived on the scene it really surfaced.

I’m not sure if they still have Trudeau’s shameful Fear and Loathing advocate and his pitiful little Maoist side-kick to further continue to alienate the Democrats from the real world, but the Democrats still have a Sixties problem and now they have a Clinton Problem.

Bill Clinton looks bad. They are putting him on the cover of supermarket tabloids again, this time asking, “What’s wrong with Bill Clinton?” “Is Bill Clinton Dying?” When you are a politician you’ve got to watch those papers. They tell you something you don’t get in the everyday press, but they do express what is really on people’s minds.

I don’t think he’s dying. I think he’s just bored. Now that he’s not President anymore he doesn’t have anything to do. From the beginning it was a mistake to move to New York and make all those appearances with Bono. Last summer he tried to start his own United Nations but the only people who covered the event was fashion writer Tina Brown.

That should have told him something. It should have told him this: it’s all over. Go home.

In a way, the Clintons are an accident of history. They would never have found their way to public life and the Oval Office had it not been for the maverick Texan Ross Perot, pulling 12% and then 19% out of the body politic in two consecutive elections. In that, Bill Clinton’s credibility has always been an illusion, but it is an illusion which the Trudeau factor of his generation saw as a kind of salvation for the undergraduate point of view. But Clinton never had the votes and is not now and never was representative of enough Americans to pull a majority in a squared-away election.

This is still true. And it is more so with Hillary, as Hillary is merely an extension of Bill Clinton, Clintonism, and the generational aspect of politics that they represent.

Yet the Democratic rank and file love Hillary and so do the media. I can only think that this is because they are all leftovers from the Sixties. That is where they go. This is what they do.

Last year, the day after John Kerry got the Democratic nomination, The New York Times ran an op-ed saying he should announce Bill Clinton as his vice president. It showed how out-of-touch with reality even the most prestigious newspaper is in regard to the Clintons.

Today it is becoming the widely accepted fallacy that Hillary (Billary) is the front runner in Democratic politics. Yet there is nothing which presents Hillary Clinton as a reasonable candidate for the Presidency except the shrillness of her voice. That voice was first heard famously as valedictorian of her class at Wellesey College in the 1960s. It is the voice only of her generation.

The Democrats exhibited a serious problem in the last two elections when they could not bring up candidates able to beat an accomplished incompetent like George W. Bush. Next time they will be running instead against someone vastly competent. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, perhaps. Or someone vastly popular, admired and respected, like John McCain. If they couldn’t beat young Bush with their tired slate of old candidates, how do they think they will beat a great candidate like Mitt Romney?

Bill and the Deep South cartel (featuring James Carville) are attempting to rescript Hillary, and the results resound with humorous inauthenticity. She has always been scripted, but this is ridiculous. Hillary we are told is a regular Methodist from the Mid-West, prodigy of John Wesley. A regular bible-thumper. Do they really think this will play in Nebraska?

Recently, they’ve got her pitching an anti-flag burning amendment and its freaking out the Howard Dean crowd up here in the mountains in New England. Now she’s the anti-Sixties candidate. A regular Okie from Muskogee, just kickin’ hippies asses and raising hell.

This is absurd. Each time they attempt to send her forth as a Bible Belter from Middle America they lose their generational constituents. And at each new reconstruction of Hillary and themselves, the Democrats lose more credibility.

Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich both admitted to shock when the Democrats sent Howard Dean up to run the party. Gingrich said he thought the Democrats had a death wish.

In fact, “the Clintons” (Bill, Hillary, James Carville) were pushing Wes Clark for the job and I think he would have been great for the job and might have begun to restore the Democrats to public health.

Bill’s vision has always been greater than his generation’s, but his generation only wants him as a generational figure, like Hunter Thompson or his buddy Mick Jagger. That’s the problem he faces. He is not really one of them/one of us. But that’s what they want of him. And Bill’s vision now regarding Iraq, for example (and Hillary’s later) is essentially the wise and practical solution hatched in the most creative and versatile mind of Wes Clark.

But if that message is delivered by Hillary, no one will buy it. The Democrats have already had a wide-open opportunity to choose Wes Clark and they chose instead Howard Dean. Hillary is essentially a career extender for a husband who refuses to leave the building. She cannot be both built as a new centrist from the heartland and a generational figure.

The appointment of Dean as party chief points in the direction of a fatal journey for the Democrats and Hillary stands at the bow of the boat. Twice in the last 30 years the Democrats have mindlessly placed themselves in positions that made them feel superior and sent candidates forth to certain death, satisfied by smugness. In essence, this is Magic Mountain politics. That is, it is a retreat from social responsibility.

They bring to mind a little lyric by the bittersweet and popular poet from the Sixties, Jean Sheppard: Mindless we laughed, mindless we loved and mindless at last we died.

If the Democrats don’t let go of the Clintons and move on, it will be their epitaph.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

From Freedom to Torture – Not in My Back Yard

Up here in the mountains, freedom is a fetish. It is a talisman. We practice it conspicuously and have endless discussions about it. If you turn on local access TV you will see large and bearded men – some quite colorful – reading Tom Paine or Jefferson, discussing Iraq and taxes and compulsively practicing their first-amendment rights. Wearing their liberty conspicuously on their sleeve.

I sometimes think we overdo it. Maybe quiet contemplation would make us better people and more free as it did Ralph Waldo Emerson. The endless seminars in the corner store and at town meetings don’t seem to make us any better than anybody else.

But they do tell us who we are. Go deep into the South and turn on public access TV and you see a lot of local religious programs, which I find very interesting, engaging and exotic. It makes the South richer in the heart perhaps than we are up here and it makes our country a rich and colorful patchwork. But here we talk about taxes, government and freedom as if it is our religion.

One of my out-of-town neighbors made a big mistake a few years back when he said you’re not going to put one of those big campaign signs on your lawn, are you? Maybe there should be a little handbook for the new people who come up here. This is what we do. Freedom is our Core Value and our Creation Myth. It is our Original Tribal Story. The discussion of freedom is our Ritual Tribal Practice.

Once the discussion opens it is taken for granted that there will be freedom. To discuss freedom is in itself to be free. The question then will be how much or how little freedom.

But this week something else happened. My local paper here in the mountains has opened a discussion about torture. This is not and never has been a Yankeeland topic of discussion. Torture is anathema to freedom. And as it is with freedom, once the torture discussion opens, the question is not about torture per se, but how much torture should there be?

Let them discuss torture at the trial of Saddam Hussein or the trial of Communist mass murderer Pol Pot or Ugandan dictator Idi Armin. Not in my backyard.

It is startling to read an apologist for torture lobbying his special agenda in a New England newspaper. We have never experienced this climate before in New England. Perhaps the editors are from elsewhere. They seem to be. Maybe they are from Los Angeles. Perhaps they have become disassociated by not being from anywhere at all and live a life of genre and generational politics without any of the traditional moral bearings linked to regional life and provincial tradition. This is the curse of Hamiltonian federalism. The country becomes a series of special interests vying for power. No one is from anyplace. Jefferson’s federalism develops the whole man and woman – mind, body, spirit, culture, region and religion. But Hamilton is all about influence and lobbying influence with money. States lose their influence, regions lose their character and identity and so do the people in them. Torture is just another unpleasant fish stall in the marketplace of ideas.

The article actually came from the Los Angeles Times. I read this week that Barbara Streisand was dropping her subscription to the LA Times and I could not for my life understand why that or anything else about Barbara Streisand would be of interest to the general public.

Wasn’t she a singer about 40 years ago? I think I remember her in a movie with Kris Kristofferson when I was about 12. I also read somewhere that she is friends with Bill Clinton. But why do I always read about her when she does the most trivial thing, like canceling her subscription to the LA Times?

I don’t even think of Los Angeles as being a real place except for Mexicans working for peanuts illegally outside their own country. Everyone else there is really from New York. But I’m beginning to see now that in a country with spiraling ethical, managment and credibility crises that pervade the press as well as the Bush administration, Barbara Streisand is important. Barbra Streisand gives embedded newspaper and TV people shilling for the government a way to make abominable things appear credible.

Barbara Streisand opposes torture. Surely opposing torture then is a frivolous, silly and lightweight affectation like eating Tofu or sniffing crack cocaine or practicing Transcendental Meditation and only Hollywood Friends-of-Bill, oppose it. So torture must be a good idea, if these nillies oppose it. It is the media’s way of promoting torture.

The op-ed page of the LA Times does have more than its share of nut jobs, propagandists and apparatchiks. I’d drop my subscription too if I didn’t get it free on-line. It’s almost as bad as The Washington Post. (Was anyone really surprised to learn that Bob Woodward’s source for his prize-winning Watergate investigation turned out to be an FBI agent?)

In the LA Times article reprinted in my local paper, Jonah Goldberg, a contributing editor of the National Review asks “What does Hollywood think about torture?” He goes on to cite a variety of Hollywood movie and TV scenes like NYPD, Rules of Engagement and Patriots Game in which cops or soldiers whoop someone and he calls it torture, to illustrate what he sees as a Hollywood point of view as supporting torture.

Therefore, to oppose torture is hypocritical. This cannot be called journalism by any stretch of the imagination.

Hollywood plays a role in shaping culture, but it also reflects it,” he writes. “It affirms and reflects our basic moral sense.”

What utter nonsense. He goes on to say that a recent AP-Ipsos poll showed that about 61 percent of Americans believed torture can be justified in some cases. And not only Americans, but those morally superior Canadians and a huge majority of South Koreans and even – Alors! – those effeminate Frenchmen. Surely it is only Barbara Streisand and Bill Clinton’s hair stylist one or two other Hollywood key grips who oppose it.

So, you see, the discussion as it has entered into the mountains here in New Hampshire is not about torture, but about how much torture.

I can think of nothing that has disgraced Lady Liberty in New York Harbor and the flame of light which America has held cupped in her hands and carried into the world to this new millennium than the allegations of torture and the Bush administration’s desired torture policy. This discussion started with Dick Cheney, who famously took five deferments to dodge the draft when he was called to service. When I was called by the draft at the same time Cheney was, many of my friends took deferments and some outright – like Cheney – dodged the draft. But most of them opposed the war. Cheney is a stranger case, taking deferments into well beyond draft age. I remember a shadow thinking that if I avoided the draft when I was called it would poison my life thereafter. Watching Cheney and the rest of his men, none of whom have ever donned a military uniform when they were called to duty, I think I was right.

It is a shameful, ridiculous and anomalous issue which the Bush administration is pushing. But almost every decent man and woman in Congress is opposing it, following the cue of John McCain and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both former military officers.

The United States will never be a nation which condones or promotes torture. Those in the current administration who support it will rise to history in disgrace.

But just in case, through Christmas we in New Hampshire and everywhere in America should recall Jefferson and begin to consider the words of America’s greatest ambassador since Franklin, who in his last days on earth endorsed the idea that the New England states should begin to form their own foreign policy thinking in opposition to the war on Iraq.

George Kennan, writing from his sick bed, told Salon magazine: " . . . the idea of the three American states' ultimate independence [Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine], whether separately or in union, I see nothing fanciful ... I see no other means of ultimate preservation of cultural and societal values that will not only be endangered but eventually destroyed by an endlessly prolonged association [with] the remainder of what is now the U.S.A."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Mark Warner and Wes Clark: A Fork in the Road for the Democrats?

It is a strange feeling of returning to your place of birth and finding that most everyone who lives here now is from somewhere else. Except for my hearty neighbors of extended families from Quebec who have worked their way south, that is the fate of northern New England. Liberals from somewhere else generally move to Vermont. Conservatives from somewhere else generally move to New Hampshire.

Most people from the deeper South still today can usually tell a Virginia Episcopalian from an eastern Kentucky Pentacostalist or a tar heel Baptist by language and manner – differences are still as rich and distinguishable as local flora and fauna in parts away from the cities. But when my dentist across from the Haverhill Common moves into retirement this spring there will be only two actual Yankees left up here on my count. And I believe my quiet and soft-spoken friend Burt, whose father and grandfather farmed the river banks here with teams of horses, is the only one today who still speaks proper mountain New England. (Which is quite a lot like the “high speech” of the mountain families, like the real Waltons, in western Virginia and West Virginia, but spoken in lower tones.)

Ulysses S. Grant wrote that prior to the Civil War the great mass of Americans were satisfied to remain near the scenes of their birth.

“So much was the country divided into small communities that localized idioms had grown up, so that you could almost tell what section a person was from by hearing him speak and studying his manner,” he wrote.

The sameness of people today is the great victory of federalism. But that is the price of federalism as well.

To a large extent we Americans have become people without places. What I find to be a sad phenomenon today is the current trend of people retiring in the towns where they went to college rather than where they or their families were born and reared. Such dislocation between generations contributes to the disintegration of family. An item in today’s paper tells of European legislators whose family ties go back to the days of Shakespeare. How many Americans today can even name their great grandparents? How many have no cousins or kin of any kind that they know of?

Instead of ties of blood, love and friendship, increasingly we have come to connect through ideas. And ideas, be they good or bad, are cold, calculating and contentious. And they don’t last.

So I was pleased to read a speech the other day by Mark Warner, Governor of Virginia, who seems to be considering the Presidency, when he spoke of the small-town America constituency which has drifted away from the Democratic Party in the last 30 or 40 years. Like my old town in North Carolina – Tobaccoville – where we raised our babies. Virtually everyone in Tobaccoville was born Baptist and Democrat. 80% has changed its voting registration in the last 30 years and a lot have changed their religion.

We can’t take a pass on region or religion, said Warner.

“We’ve never believed that some people count and some people don’t,” he said. “So we need to stop acting that way. That’s not who we are, and we’ve got to make that clear.”

The Democrats are particularly vulnerable to ideas and the vicissitudes of what I would call genre politics – identifying with a theme rather than with a place. Like my new neighbors here in the mountains, they seem to increasingly resemble the transitory direction of the English department, disconnected and disassociated in spirit, and held together in their opposition to power in a strange amalgam of lesbian, ethnic, gender and transgender studies. Increasingly identifying with the discontent of every stripe and at every turn, rather than with the civilization. But the will of the intentionally discontent only makes the power it opposes grow stronger.

The fate and failure of genre politics should be foremost on the mind of Democrats as a new and very critical Presidential race opens upon us. Warner correctly looks at the race in a 30 and 40 year framework. First and foremost, Democrats should recall that in the last 30-some years they have twice lost the Presidency by 49 states to one state. One more such a performance and the Democrats will have gone the way of their effete and self-righteous ancestors, the Whigs. And that is where I see them going.

Howard Dean has lead the way to Magic Mountain politics for the Democrats. Recall, The Magic Mountain was a novel written by Thomas Mann about the retreat of the middle clas in Germany from political responsibiliy. Dean's comments today set the benchmark. As he said to the San Antonio, Texas, radio station WOAI that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."

Iraq is pulling them down. It is pulling Bush down as well, but it is pulling the Democrats down even more drastically. And strangely enough, the descent started in a rumor I first heard expressed in the Legion Hall. Not my Legion Hall up here in New Hampshire, but at a Legion Hall in the News Hour report with Jim Lehrer report. One of their correspondents, Kwame Holman, went out to the heartland – Iowa, I believe it was - to check in and see how the war was going. He spoke to an old veteran who he’d spoken to during the first Gulf War, who was disillusioned about this war.

“We have already won this war,” he said. “Now we are losing the peace.” We should declare the war won, much as Bush did when he declared, “Mission Accomplished” all dressed up in a Commander-in-Chief flight suit on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and come home.

Now I’ve heard it again, the same phrasing repeated verbatim by Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who calls today for a removal of American troops from Iraq.

It sounds great, but it is not true. We have not won the war in Iraq. And if we follow Murtha’s initiative, we will indeed lose the war. But already, important and significant Democratic figures are echoing these phrases. Including the most influential Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco in the House of Representatives.

“We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make America safer, to make our military stronger, and to make Iraq more stable,” she said. “That is what the American people and our troops deserve.”

As far as I know, Warner has not made any major statements on the war on Iraq. If he wants to be President he must, and soon. His comments here in New Hampshire a few weeks back were thoughtful and responsible. With critical elections coming up in Iraq in the next few weeks, he said, now would not be the time for Congress to take any steps to dilute the efforts in Iraq.

It was markedly different from what I’ve been hearing from a sea of Democrats today. The Democratic Senators complaint that they were deceived by the President on their vote for invasion and duped by the neocons is hollow and inauthentic. Of course they were. But everyone inside the Beltway in Washington knew what was going on with the pending invasion of Iraq and the Senators fell into the impetuous state of war fever to please their constituents, who were understandably hungry for a quick fix in a complex situation. Yet everyone inside and outside the Beltway had the wise counsel of men like Brent Scowcroft, perhaps the best mind in foreign policy since George Kennon, and countless others, to tell them the truth.

Invariably, the situation in Iraq is being compared to Vietnam, but I see this as a false analogy in several ways. The war on Iraq was partly a deception on the part of the administration, but it was instigated by a massive attack on American soil and symbols – the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon. This was a great psychological hit on the country and will remain as a milestone for millennia. But here is the truth about war: In a major conflict there will always be two objectives, one stated and one unstated. The first need is to neutralize the situation – to remove the threat to society. The second need is the ugly fact of revenge. Revenge brought the price of Pearl Harbor to the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. Revenge brought the price of Southern secession to the burning of the South by William Tecumseh Sherman. Revenge brought the price of the death of he whom the Indians called the Long Hair, George Custer, to Wounded Knee. And revenge brought the price of the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers to the invasion and destruction of Iraq.

This is the ugly reality of warfare even in civilized nations. But in most cases, the revenge kill comes only after the situation has been neutralized, as a punishment to the enemy. That terrorist threat in case has not been stabilized and instead has become increasingly complicated because of the war on Iraq. Yet neutralization of the threat of terrorism still needs to be done.

Although it does not compare in scope and tragedy and historical consequences, there is one aspect of this war in Iraq which resembles the build up to the Civil War. After the election of President Lincoln, the North was ready to fight, you might say, but not prepared to fight. Just as in the build up to the invasion of Iraq, the neocons sent their apparatchiks, including Richard Perle and Charles Krauthammer, to propagandize at home and abroad, promising that the Iraqi people would welcome the invaders, so the North took the advise of sympathetic writers who convinced them that invasion of the South would be a quick ride and a cake walk, as the “poor white trash” were too drunk and too lazy to fight. Frederick Law Olmstead advanced this position and lesser lights followed up in popular accounts preceding the conflict. It brought a patriotic wave to the North and many volunteered, but years of tragic and unnecessary slaughter followed, costing tens of thousands of lives, and two years later, the Confederates were in Pennsylvania. The Army of the Potomac was then forced to fight with the most brutal strategies and bring in some of the hardest and sometimes the most degenerate of men as officers and as troops.

The point has been made that we were not prepared to fight this war and it is clear now that we were not. Still the situation persists and it must be dealt with.

But this war will not follow as Vietnam did – the situation will disappear if we just pack up and go away. We cannot pack up and leave the Middle East. More important, the dangerous situation which brought us there – rightfully or wrongfully – has not been neutralized. The headline today on my local paper reads: “9/11 Probe Chiefs See Grave Risks – They deplore failure to take advised steps.”

“The U.S. is at great risk for more terrorist attacks because Congress and the White House have failed to enact several strong security measures, members of the former Sept. 11 commission said yesterday,” reads the Associate Press report by Hope Yen.

It should have been the original work and the object in the war on terrorism. But like it or not, it is still work that needs to be done.

Warner and any other fledgling Presidential candidate should know that there is hope and there are other options. There are, in fact, two Democratic positions, but only the cry of retreat from Dean, Murtha and Pelosi, is heard loudest. And the call to cut and run comes increasingly from Republicans as well.

The other option is from Wesley Clark. There is much that would appear to bring these two men together, Warner and Clark, and perhaps there is here even a fork in the road for the Democrats.

General Clark’s position should be the Democratic Party’s position and it should be the country’s position. It took two years of chaotic fighting in random surges and retreats before the North truly faced the situation in the Civil War. It took several years of conflict abroad and a direct attack on Pearl Harbor before America faced its fate in World War II. We faced a difficult situation after 9/11 and again after the invasion of Iraq. We face a difficult situation today.

When he signed the register to enter the New Hampshire primary, Clark held a news conference for the few reporters present and told them that he would engage the Saudis and seek their help in going after Osama bin Laden. He opposed the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq at every turn, but accepted the new realities of America’s situation in the Middle East as the situation unfolded. Recently, he has been appearing on Sunday talk shows and has posted op-eds in The New York Times and The Washington Post, expressing his position very clearly.

“In the old, familiar fashion, mounting US casualties in Iraq have mobilized increasing public doubts about the war,” he writes. “Now, more than half the American people believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. They’re right. But it would also be a mistake now to pull out, start pulling out, or set a date to pull out. Instead we need a strategy to create a stable democratizing and peaceful state in Iraq – a strategy the administration has failed to develop and articulate.”

From the onset, he says, we needed a three-pronged strategy in Iraq - diplomatic, political and military. And we needed to engage Iraq’s neighbors to ensure that a stable, democratizing Iraq was not a threat to them. He gives a highly detailed approach to stabilizing Iraq, the kind of thing that often tested reporters looking for 30-second sound bites during his campaign in New Hampshire.

But as Iraq faces a descent into chaos if the Sunni’s fail to find appropriate representation, a notion upon which the Bush administration is staking its claim to victory, Clark takes a different approach.

“The U.S. should tone down its raw rhetoric for U.S-style democracy as an answer to all problems and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region,” he says.

Clark calls for a public U.S. declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq which would also be helpful in engaging both regional and Iraqi support at this point. And in addition, he says the U.S. needs a legal mandate from the government to provide additional civil assistance and advice - along with additional U.S. civilian personnel aimed at strengthening the institutions of government. There will be continuing need for assistance in institutional development, leadership training and international monitoring for years to come and all of this must be made palatable to Iraqi sovereignty.

Countries far away like Canada, France and Germany should be called in to assist and the Gulf States should also provide observers and technical assistance. Ten thousand Arab Americans with full language proficiency should be recruited to assist as interpreters and over time, American forces should be pulled back into reserve roles and phased out.

“The growing chorus of voices demanding a pull-out should seriously alarm the Bush Administration,” writes Clark. “For President Bush and his team are repeating the failure of Vietnam – failing to craft a realistic and effective policy, and in its place, simply demanding that the American people show resolve.”

General Clark literally came home from Vietnam a basket of near-fatal wounds and broken bones but, as he has shown in Vietnam and Kosovo, he is nothing if not tenacious. And the issues he presents will not go away. His reemergence in the press may be a sign that we are beginning to face the mess we created when more than 75% of voters in our country approved of this mind-boggling fiasco in Iraq. It has been my feeling from the beginning that when we are ready to face the music we will turn to Wesley Clark.

The Democratic Senators who voted for the war on Iraq and now want to pull out will not be convincing to the American public. In the next election the Democrats will look for a governor. Mark Warner may be the right choice.

Both Warner and Clark represent a new kind of politics for the Democrats, a politics that sees management solutions to problems and comes from the world of management. We live today in a descending quagmire of interacting crises and in a politics of denial and revenge, but in the end it comes down to a crisis of management.

It is only these two among the Democrats who propose a management solution.