Monday, December 6, 2010

Dear Jon Stewart

Dear Jon Stewart,

I’ve had to think a long time about my reaction to your Rally to Restore Sanity back on Oct. 30. Don’t be bothered by the long pause; I’m a slow thinker. I hadn’t really been able to sort through my feelings over it, because I knew I was disappointed, but didn’t WANT to have been disappointed. This rally had so many people counting on it, me with them, maybe more than most. When you announced the Rally, my first reaction was, “When and where? I’m there.” I had a lot of faith that this was going to be the defining moment of my generation. We had the primary satirist in the country telling us about ourselves straight up, and we needed to hear ALL about ourselves. You could feel the hunger for direction. My guess is that you knew how keenly disappointed America has been for the last year or so. Like Michael J. Fox said in “The American President,” we’ll cross the desert looking for leadership, and if we don’t find it, we’ll drink the sand. Here’s where we come to the problem.

Mr. Stewart, you raised our hopes without a plan for how to fulfill them. Perhaps you didn’t realize it, much less expect it, but for the people who miss a sane America, you became our stand-in for Obama. When we elected him, we thought we were getting Teddy Roosevelt. Instead, we got Stuart Smalley. The surge of hope we felt when you announced that we were all going to take a stand for sanity was the last scraps we had after watching a Dem majority go soft and squishy, un-led by our new President. Yeah, he got things done, but he didn’t lead, he didn’t challenge his critics, and because of his Hamletphilia, he left a power vacuum that the GOP stepped into. We were losing hope, and you reminded us what we loved about our country, our votes, and that election. So expectations were pretty high.

I’m cutting to the chase. What we got was a one and a half hour Daily Show/Colbert mash-up with a 25-minute plea for sanity. I don’t know what others expected, but me, I expected a little more direction…and a lot more seriousness. I dunno, being summoned en masse to the heart of our nation to rally for the sanity and unity of our country demanded a little more than skits, music, and Mythbusters. It demanded direction, not a reinforcement that we all were really hip and creative. I expected something tangible, something intrinsically valuable, with laughs thrown in.

You ARE comedians, after all. I expected comedy. But you don’t drag a quarter-million people from all parts of this nation together unless you can deliver more than a show. This wasn’t just a road version of your everyday comedy. We expected fun, but we expected substance. What we got was a big rally that celebrated us for being at a rally. We congratulated ourselves for being so devoted that we would travel across the country to prove it. That was the extent of it. We accomplished nothing.

What took me this long to want to write this, though, was the little gnawing bit I couldn’t put my finger on. We heard the message just fine, criticizing the media for dividing us, and so on. Yeah. But here’s this: Mr. Stewart, you and Mr. Colbert are part of the problem.

It has nothing to do with the direction of your politics. Your fans know you’ll go after Dems just as much as the GOP. (The GOP just happens to provide you with more material.) It’s the polarizing nature of satire. What you do, the satire you make, hitting the media 4 nights a week and approximately every other hour on Comedy Central, allows the side not being skewered to feel vindicated. It’s meant to create sharp emotions, as satire always has. But you can’t be satirical without being divisive. Satire hits extremes, else it’s not good satire, and seeing your sacred cows gored creates resentment. Unless you’re perceived as fair to all sides, you’re going to fail, and the positions you’ve taken on the show are contrary to conservatives. You make fun of conservative people, roles, stereotypes, politics, and so on. No matter what you say about the media or the left, you are the guy who goes after conservatives. Want to know why?

Because you don’t make fun of liberals in the way conservatives want.

They don’t want to hear the jokes that make liberals laugh at themselves, so they don’t. They want to hear about why liberals are the enemy. I think that goes both ways. I don’t think liberals are necessarily interested in what conservatives think makes them funny. And in this polarized climate, the perception is what counts. You’re liberal because even your self-deprecation is liberal. You’re the enemy.

So right now, you’re contributing to the problem. And by coming on at the time the divisiveness was starting to grow, and by taking on the establishment, you earned yourself their enmity almost immediately. Not all the pious kumbaya-spoofing self-referential ironic humor in the world makes up for helping maintain the divide. You might have had a chance with the rally, you might have gotten something started, but like this Administration, there was almost no substance underneath. It was hollow, it was presumptuous, and really, Mr. Stewart, you set us up for disappointment. We didn’t come together for just a laugh, you and me and a quarter-million people. You know that speech at the end? We needed an hour of that. Or maybe we needed a whole weekend of the whole thing. We came to belong; we needed to be challenged. Instead, we got a benediction and thank-you-for-coming.

Why did we do this? What did we accomplish? So what?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Okay, fellow babies, here’s the long and short of it: this is the most important election in our history. Not 2012. Now. Listen:

The Citizens United decision recently gave corporations the ability to spend unlimited amounts on campaigns, and groups no longer have to disclose donors. Already they are funneling at least three times as many dollars into these campaigns, almost all for Republicans. Corporations are now baldly buying candidates. This is the last moment before the corporate takeover of America. Who do you think is going to vote for campaign reform? Republicans? After they just had their election bought for them? Three billionaires have pumped most of the money into this election cycle, and a lot of that has gone to fund Tea Party operations, whether Tea Partiers believe that or not.

Now, where do you think the Tea Party is going to be in all this? Do you think you’re really going to be power players? Do you really think your “citizen’s uprising” is going to be the first step to dismantling government? Dream on. Once the Republicans have a majority, they’ll freeze you out quicker than a spurned lover. Because…where are you gonna go? Who else are you going to caucus with? Democrats? So once the GOP has the majority, you can kiss campaign finance reform and the “citizen’s uprising” goodbye…and welcome to the oligarchy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Get this party started

IIIIII’m comin’ out, so you better get this party started…

I suppose this is one of those things where you wonder, “Okay, now what?” I’m not even how to address the situation. On the one hand, I am definitely a drama queen, and I think everyone who knows me knows that. But on the other hand, I have no idea how many who know me have ever wondered if I am gay. Technically I’m bisexual; I just don’t like the focus on “sex” as an identifier. I’m going to go with “two-spirited,” because that describes where I am best. It’s not just a matter of preferring one or the other, or being open to both; it’s that there are some things I like about men, some things I like about women, and a great big muddle in the middle of the Venn globes where these things blend.

I’m like that, too. Some things about me are fairly feminine--like being a good listener, or being nurturing, or being in touch with my feelings, about not liking to see people get hurt. Underneath a lot of it, I’m gentle. But there’s also the part everyone sees, with sarcastic humor, sloppy upkeep, a good amount of gruffness, and (developing late in life) a linear, no-frills, no-bullshit perception of issues. Somewhere along the line I decided to be more male than female, since my feminine side has gotten my ass kicked in many ways most of my life. Now that I’m in a much better emotional place, I’m going to start letting that feminine side flourish more. It’s weird being two-spirited, you know. I like power tools, and I cry at movies. I like cuddling, and I watch football. I’ve been trying to reconcile this all my life.

For years, and this is the biggest obstacle I had to coming out, I struggled with the idea that I had to be one or the other. Something that still sticks in my mind was reading an interview with a British celebrity who denounced bisexuality in no uncertain terms, saying you had to choose--you couldn’t be a little bit pregnant, was the analogy he used. I heard that a few times. Society doesn’t like you to inhabit the gray areas, either. They want you to fit in easily referable labels. That’s not an American thing, but a human thing, and everyone does it. People like mental shorthand, which is what labels are, because their heads are already full of problems and trying to figure a new one out is annoying. So I understand that. It’s just that when I grew up, bisexuality was seen as indecisiveness, or guilt, or any number of other things that are wrong with you…the one thing it never, ever was is “healthy.” Even among people who considered being gay normal, being bi is suspect. There’s something WRONG with you! Choose a label and stick with it!

So for all my years growing up, I was terrified. I tried desperately to make myself one or the other. All I wanted was to be settled, to be identified. I hated being confused, and believe me, I was one confused puppy. I can’t count the number of crushes I had on boys growing up, but I had more crushes on girls. There was an imbalance, so I figured the gay side of me was just…wrong. I thought that I had to have started with one and begun to change to the other, and I couldn't decide which was the "real" me. It’s been over forty years and I still struggle with it. But a thought occurred to me the other day, while I was thinking over when (if ever) I would come out, and all the fear I feel about my gay side, and memories of desperate yearning to be mainstream. It was simple, because I was thinking deeply on how I respond to men and how I respond to women. The underlying emotion about men, though, was fear. Tons and tons of fear. But I know that fear is what has been hammered into me since I was a child, and it doesn’t reflect what’s in me. It’s what’s been constructed around me. I know now I was born to be both. It's just me. So I thought: Why can’t I be as enthusiastic about men as I am about women?

I love women. I love all kinds of women, feminine or glamorous or nerdy or tomboyish. My tastes are pretty wide. Now, my tastes in men are much narrower, but I’ve never been happy about it. I’ve never felt free enough to say in public, “Wow, look at HIM!” the way I might about a woman. Fear of being revealed made me hate that part of myself. But I do have friends who’ve known about me, and the beautiful relief and freedom at being able to be open to them tantalized me. Just a couple of weeks ago I visited a friend for the first time, and though the subject had never come up in any way, I felt so free with her that I tossed in a couple of catty comments about men we talked about that I thought were cute. I like that energy. I missed out on it growing up. I would have loved to have sat up nights with a friend, painting our toenails and talking about boys. But this was Indiana and Michigan we’re talking about, not exactly liberal hotspots. Being out was like signing a death warrant.

Not that that mattered. When I was young, I was not effeminate, but I got bullied. A lot of what I got was savage homophobic language. Thinking of it makes me cringe now. It was pretty bad. I’m surprised I survived, as are a lot of gay people who dealt with the hostility of society. Making it through really was a miracle. Those of you who’ve known me for many years, I want you to think about this. How many times, in my presence, did you make fag jokes? How many times did you use the word, “faggot,” or “queer,” or “nancy boy,” or “pantywaist,” or “sissy,” and never know that you were talking about me? How many times did you cut down gays, insult gay people, put gays into nasty categories, and say ignorant things, not knowing you were talking about me to my face? How many times did you argue that I don’t have the same fundamental human right to marry who I want? How many times do you think I died when I heard someone I loved and cared about rip to shreds something that was essential to me?

There’s prejudice on the other side, too. I’ve heard of bisexuals called straddlers, indecisive, dilettantes, posers, fakers, dabblers, and the like. I’ve had it said to my face, and it’s come from gay men and women. I’ve seen the bigotry among people who should know better than to look down on others. I understand it, though, because I’ve known the anger that comes with having been put down all your life and looking for an outlet for it. That doesn’t excuse it, though, no more than it did me when I looked for outlets for my inner anger, either. But it hurts almost as much as knowing your family hates people like you when the people who are supposed to be your community don’t like you much, either. It’s very tough being alone when all you want is to belong.

So I had my moment of clarity. As soon as I thought, “Why can’t I be as happy about being gay as I am about being straight?” I knew I was coming out. Now I understand the “pride” business more than I did before. It’s more than being proud of who you are. It’s accepting yourself and casting away society’s bigotry. It’s making emotional choices for yourself, not letting the history of outside hatred shove you into a corner and make you sorry for existing. It’s saying, “I ENJOY this part of myself! I can have FUN with this! This can actually bring me some happiness, and I can feel free!” Why can’t I be as free about being gay as I am about being straight? That did it for me. Finally, this voyager found a path that leads to stating who I am and that I am going to live and enjoy my life, and for anyone who wants to hate me for it, I’m sorry you’ll be deprived of what I can bring to your day.

So the closet is behind me. I don’t know if this is brave, but it’s certainly essential. Now, expect me to be a drama queen about this for quite some time. I know it’s coming, and it’s fair to warn you. I’ll probably go overboard with freedom, too, and it will probably make you uncomfortable. Sorry about that. I’ll try not to be too militant about it, but if you tell a foul gay joke in my presence, expect to get hammered. It’s like the N-word. If you’re an insider, you get to use it and joke about it, and if you know me well enough and are okay with me being two-spirited, so can you. But no fag jokes.

Other than this, I’m not going to try to make too big a deal of it. Some people have coming-out galas. (That’s where “coming out” comes from; it doesn’t mean coming out of the closet, it means coming out to society, like a debutante. The term originated in the early 20th century among the very lively gay societies in urban America, according to Wikipedia.) I think it’s fun that I came to this decision a mere 5 days before Coming Out Day. I’m not sure what the repercussions (“blowback,” ahuhuhuh) will be. I just know I owe it to myself to enjoy this part of my life as much as I can.

(I waited until today to post this. Surprise!)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

You kids get off my lawn!

Matt Taibbi, in his latest Rolling Stone article on the Tea Party, makes a poignant observation. Paraphrasing, he said that in the Tea Party there is such a yearning for a simpler, more honest time that is forever lost that it almost breaks the heart. Someone, in a private correspondence, said that what we’re seeing is the last throes of white male dominance in this country. Times, they are a-changing.

Put into that perspective, it’s easy to understand. I’m old eniough to start yearning for the simpler, more honest which the old generation used to yearn for the simpler, more honest which THAT old generation used to yearn for the simpler, more honest days. It’s part of the cultural fabric now, seeing change rushing toward us like an oncoming train and wishing for our childhoods, when truths were clearer and people were less harsh and more of a community.

Not all the wishing and protesting in the world is going to bring it back, though. Not unless we face some sort of Mad Max technology-destroying apocalypse, that is. We’ve entered a world we’ve made without the vision of the consequences--isn’t that the way it always is? We celebrated the ubiquity of cars way back when, but smog and global warming wasn’t a concern. We love labor-saving machines but regret the lost employment. We like our cheap goods but pay lip service to regretting the poverty in which we place workers. We love the internet but complain about how isolated we’ve become.

Like most old cranks, I don’t like where we’re going. The ages-long era of privacy is over. We never predicted that when information technology got to this point that it would bite us in the ass. We didn’t see that when all the world’s information was at our fingertips, our personal and private information would be there too. Just as, when little bitty cameras were invented, we never predicted that our every move could be recorded and put on the web for all to see.

I saw this morning where a college student killed himself because his roommate set up a webcam in their dorm room and caught him having sex with another man, then broadcast it on the internet. Then I read--this same day--that many apps in the Google Android app store collect your information and sell it to others. Sure, they tell you they will in the 30-page license agreements for the software, but who has the patience and expertise in legalese to plow through all the garbage they put up to purposely drive you away from learning their purposes?

We are starting to shrug now. Loss of privacy is just another price we pay for constant connectivity. We’re finding out that we can live with everyone knowing what we do. What would be nice is if this had a positive effect, like turning everyone tolerant of the common activities they now think are deviant (i.e. gay). What is more likely is, as our culture becomes angrier, hastier, and more prone to attack pre-emptively, this knowledge will turn into bludgeons. The generation enraged over the rise of a black man to the Presidency is teaching the younger generation that rage is the path to coercion and dominance. We’re teaching the next generation that hate is the answer.

I wish for the wistful days when kids could play outside forever and we didn’t worry about strangers; for the days when communities held pot lucks; for the days when you could sit outside without listening to people scream at each other, and for the days when you could leave your door open during the day and not worry about random intruders. But raging against your own common good is not the answer. Screaming that the world isn’t the way it used to be isn’t going to accomplish anything positive. The answer is to fix the current model, not trade it in for an Edsel. Trying to force a 19th-century decentralizing political system onto a 21st-century technological giant is a recipe for the death of a country.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I'm sure that if you're a lefty, you've demanded that the rich pay higher taxes than the middle class. If you've tried to get that past a libertarian, they probably have countered with arguments about equality and fairness that mask the true issue (they want to be as rich as possible, even if only vicariously through their heroes). Somehow, you knew there was an argument against that. You knew you had the moral upper ground, but perhaps were stymied by the arguments about generating jobs, keeping what they rightfully earn, and such. Perhaps you found yourself caught between wanting to be a good lefty and trying to be understanding of the capitalist ideal, and you couldn't find your argument. Here it is.

There are no figures or citations in this because, if challenged, I can find them; and chances are, the righties would pull out some industry-funded astroturfed study from a no-name university that supports everything they say. So let's just stick with the plain, moral facts: American-style capitalism is in the process of destroying this country, and it is morally right for us to expect them to pay the tab for their decades of misdeeds.

Look. Things were bad in the 70s, and we were losing out to overseas cars, overseas steel, and other products. The Japanese were undercutting us. Our companies here had never had to worry about efficiency before, and it was a concept that rocked them to their core. While paying lip service to the idea of adopting Japanese ideas and efficiency to make our home-grown companies competitive, they attacked employees. They slashed benefits, slashed wages, slashed employees, and finally, when American workers refused to work for less money than it takes to live on in America, the manufacturers up and left. Little by little, at first, they picked up their companies and moved to places like Mexico. Then they discovered just how profitable it was to manufacture in the Third World, so they started building plants in China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, and American Saipan, among others. They paid wages that wouldn't buy you a hamburger in this country, then charged Americans higher prices for the privilege.

So far, you're agreeing that happened, but you're wondering why this is a moral, and not a business, issue. Here's the deal. Those companies had social contracts. What? I hear you cry. A social contract isn't legally binding! Well, yes it is. As many a tort has shown us, a non-verbal contract can be just as binding as a signed contract. And here's the contract: the companies agreed, when they built their plants, that they would support entire communities, and the communities, in turn, agreed to provide all the necessities that made a company viable in America. The community agreed to provide a workforce that was able, willing, and ready to work; they would provide safe neighborhoods for the company to operate in; they would provide streets, lighting, sanitation, police, firehouses, and cleanliness. The community would also provide all the local ancillary needs a company might have that you'd never think of, like pharmacies, groceries, doctors, dentists, lawyers, banks. Now here's the kicker: we kept our part of the bargain. We invited businesses in to our community because they promised us livelihoods in exchange for their presence. It was a symbiotic relationship, and it worked.

Then they were suddenly lost. They couldn't cope with modernization (at first) or efficiency. They were losing money on outdated, rusty supply and delivery systems that had never been challenged because there was no need. America was its own ecosystem. Then those companies abandoned America for profits. For those of you who might argue that a business has no responsibility other than to its shareholders or owners, you are wrong. When a business establishes itself in a community, indeed is the primary support for a community, you've accepted responsibility for that community. And they abdicated it. Left it, abandoned it, threw it down the well. Companies discovered that, overseas, desperately poor people were willing to work for pennies (or sometimes nothing, in the case of Chinese slave labor), and with dollar signs in their eyes, they breached their social contract.

Now look at what we have. The disparity between rich and poor has increased dramatically since 1980. Entire neighborhoods and towns, almost entire states, have fallen into decay, poverty, crime, and violence. Little businesses that those companies supported died. The taxes those companies would have paid to maintain the streets, lights, police, and so on, were gone. The companies asked communities to build them an infrastructure, and the communities gladly responded. Then the companies up and left, so suddenly that many communities had no chance to recover. They offered little to no assistance for the now-unemployed, and they didn't even clean up their own toxic messes when they left, leaving yet more liabilities that they expected others to clean up. They promised capitalism, but capitalism involves reinvestment of the profits (the capital) into the company and its community.

They broke the contract, and argued that it was the American Way. They abandoned capitalism for sheer greed, but asked the government to protect their profits. The madness of the Reagan and Bush and Bush II years (and, yes, the Clinton years) somehow bought into this supply-side malarkey. They even abandoned the supposed ideals of supply-side (trickle-down) economics, in which a company makes more revenue by not being taxed heavily and reinvests that into their companies, their workers, their communities. Instead, they kicked capitalism to the curb for good old feudalism. We paid the price.

So screw them. We are now on the verge of seeing the country crumble. Hundreds of billions of dollars will have to be spent to get this country back to the state it was in, and I don't think that's going to happen unless these companies—which are still in America—are compelled to clean up their vast ruin via taxes and other assessments. They abandoned loyal workers who gave their entire lives, they bankrupted pensions, and they never looked back. They broke the promise they made, and that broken promise has cost America countless lives, a healthy and prosperous future, safe neighborhoods, broken families, and a chance at better lives. They broke a contract, and the consequences run in the trillions of dollars. We have every right, nay, a moral imperative, to make them pay for the damage they've done. In a court of law, my feeling is they'd be put into receiverships. Instead, we give them tax breaks.

I'm trying to remember if I've ever defended a company's right to keep all its profits. I might've, in an insane time in an economics class. If I did, you'll never hear it from me again. All those companies, the appliance makers and car makers and TV makers who kept their business operations here but moved their manufacturing operations to desperate countries willing to work in fiefdom-like conditions, all of them, they owe us. They sustained this country and turned their backs on us when it we needed them most. And now they argue they deserve even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy.

Screw them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why the Quran book burning can be stopped

In short, and very quickly: because it is a terrorist act.

Terrorism is violent acts done to intimidate people, particularly an identifiable group of people, into submission to a political entity. Al Qaeda is political: they want Westerners out of their countries. (We'll leave aside the argument that they are turning every country into "their" country.) The IRA was political. The Palestinians are political. And this Terry Jones is political. He's not doing this for God: he's doing this to protest the community center near Ground Zero. He's doing this to intimidate Muslims. He's doing this to spread fear.

He's using violence to deprive Muslims of their equal enjoyment of American freedoms. That is terrorism.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Short one: How a Republican '10 victory works out for Dems in '12

I was just reading a Media Matters post that said Republicans are looking forward to gaining the House in 2010 and bringing the government to a screeching halt. They are apparently nostalgic about the '95-96 shutdowns. They apparently don't remember that this handed the 1996 Presidential victory to Clinton, who came through this looking Presidential. People didn't like the obstructionism then.

There are very different times, though, than fourteen years ago. Obstructionism now gets enthusiastic approval from an increasingly paranoid and stringent GOP that feels its purpose in life is to do anything, anything, to stop the evil commie socialist Muslim jihadist President. This year, they are on a mission, and that mission is to rid America of any sort of compassion and charity, along with fire departments, police departments, roads, water, and anything else that involves paying taxes. I am not the first to point out that the original Boston Tea Party was to protest taxation without representation, not taxation as an idea. To many on the right, opposing Obama and ending all taxation are the same goal.

That's where I think they'll fail. (Don't mind that my prognostications are never right.) Defeatedly, I'm on the verge of accepting that we may lose the House this year. I've been hopeful all year that Teh Crazee would turn the independents out to vote against the ideologues this year, but Dems have the amazing ability to not capitalize on anything their opponents do, no matter how mad. So with three months yet to go before the midterms, and no organized anti-GOP strategy on the horizon, it begins to look like a White Sox game in the 9th inning when they're ahead by several runs. It's doomed to fail.

But this, I think, will be the Dems' salvation, and may be the last hurrah for the GOP. Yes, if they win in '10, the next two years will be excruciating. We won't see anything getting done. (And may I take a moment to say that what Obama has accomplished in a little over a year and a half is pretty amazing? It's not enough to satisfy us lefties, but it's more than any president since...I dunno...Lyndon Johnson? Maybe even FDR?) Not only won't things get done, but the drama queens who infest the Right will spend the next two years clamoring, posturing, making futil assaults on the Washington hierarchy, and eventually being sucked into the giant swamp that is Washington, DC. They'll have their hurrah, but when it becomes clear that they have no actual agenda beyond stopping the government from working, the independents will turn against them.

It's a little pie in the sky to hope for this, and maybe it's just a rationalization. Maybe I'm trying to find the bright spot in what may be a bleak November. My prediction, though (and take this with a small Siberian salt mine), is that if the GOP and Tea Partiers take back the House, and if they are able to effectively stop the Dems from accomplishing anything for the next two years, they'll be hoisting themselves on their own petard. (Look up "petard." It probably doesn't mean what you think it means. This is the voice of experience.) Just as we had to go through 8 years of GOP Hell to find out how evil they could be, we may have to go through 2 years of Tea Party Hell to find out how incompetent and truly crazy they are. I'm not saying we should give up on '10. I'm saying that if the Tea Partiers take seats and we lose the House, we may be given a great big lemon with a solid gold center.

Except the Dems will do anything they can to screw it up. It's in their nature.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dear Illness

Dear Illness,

I've been wanting to write you for a while. Not that we don't see each other often come by every day, sometimes several times a day, to let me know you're still thinking of me. Don't think I don't appreciate it! But I never really get to ask you the questions that bug me about you so much, and we never get anything really resolved. Don't take it personally, please.

For instance, I wonder what makes you so persistent. You know very well that I've tried to keep you away. It wasn't always like this. In the beginning, I thought we could have sort of a relationship. In hindsight, I guess I really knew it wasn't going to work out. I had my life to live, and were just so needy. I didn't want to take you in, but I didn't have a choice. In fact, I didn't even know you had moved in permanently until you were already here for some time. There were early signs, but I ignored them. After all, I was pretty young then! Not young enough that I had no idea of my own mortality, but young enough that I thought I was going to be in good health pretty much forever. You know how it went, though. You orchestrated it. First, shrugging off the minor discomforts that tweaked me here and there for years. And who knows which flare of nerves, which muscle twitch, with flash of random pain was you, and which was just the usual unexplained nonsense that everyone's body does? I was young! I wasn't going to deteriorate!

After some time, though, I noticed patterns. Just little things that happened in sequences that came to be familiar. There were the muscle aches, but who wouldn't think I was just sore from exertion? I was pretty active then. The mental fogs would come and go, but they didn't worry me until I noticed they came along with the muscle aches. I still didn't really think they were connected, and as long as I could function most of the time, I figured I'd just soldier through. Plus, as you know, I've been battling depression my entire life. It was easy to think that my problems were caused by the depression. All in my head, that is. I was young, after all, and in my prime of life; surely an illness couldn't be settling in and putting a claim on my well-being, could it?

The more and more you stayed, the more I tolerated you, though. I don't know why. Maybe I thought I deserved you. I hadn't been the most careful or moral person out there, so I thought that you were sent here for a reason. Like I needed to be punished for being a depressed whiner. But the depression...that was you, too, wasn't it? Not all of it, but you were setting me up. You were the cause and the result. The arthritis-like pain in my joints and muscles, though, and the exhaustion were part of the same deal. So I tried avoiding you. You know how well that worked out: if I could just exercise more, if I could keep up my spirits, maybe you'd take pity on me or help me get better. Since it was all in my head, you know.

I still don't know how my drinking fit into this. The pain was part of the reason I started drinking, but the problem started getting worse after I started drinking. I'll never know if I exacerbated you. See? Here I am, still blaming myself for the awful things YOU do. But I know that after I stopped drinking things got a bit better, but they never went back to the way they were. By the time the rest of it settled in--the shakes, the sweats--I knew there was something bigger than just psychosomatic illness. So I saw a specialist and asked him about all the other signals you'd been sending, major and minor: the sniffles, the tremors, the indigestion, the failing memory, the waking stiffness that never seemed to go away, the tender points. He told me your name, finally: fibromyalgia.

By then you'd started hitting me. It wasn't too bad at first, just little swats here and there to keep me in line. Some pain flare-ups, some queasiness, some weakness. Bouts of shakiness and rampant pain came after. I'd thought it was some sort of hypoglycemia or something, but the doctor assured me that you were doing this to me. I don't know if I could have ever kept you away, but by then, it was too late. You'd settled in. The feeling of having been beaten was daily. You never left me alone. Sometimes you'd shake me like a rag doll and I couldn't do anything but take it, and then I'd be useless for the rest of the day. Boy, does all that hurt. I can't even express it, except to say that at an attack is sort of like having your muscles sanded with sandpaper while suffering from hot and cold flashes and shaking, unable to keep a coherent thought in your head. What else could I be after that but defeated?

So here you are. I don't have any way to make you leave. Everything I try, even the best things I try, put you off a little bit, but then you're right back. You've been kind of leaving me alone lately, and I'm grateful, but now you're back and just as vicious as before. I used to wonder if I deserved you. Now I know I didn't do anything wrong, that it's you, not me. But I still can't get rid of you, and no one can make you leave. I'm managing as best as I can, getting some things accomplished and taking steps to work around you. But I'd rather not have to. I know you won't listen to me--you've got too much invested in me--but I can't stand you anymore. You've cost me enough pain and tears.

Please. Just go. Go. Away.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why AA and I don't get along

Following is a letter written to friends about my feelings near the end of a class on drugs and behavior:

There are more chapters than one that address 12-stepping, but as with any time I try to focus on the 12 steps, I become frustrated and upset. How else can I put it? I just don't buy into the 12-step program. I think it works for a lot of people, but not for me, and probably for many others, too. In the book, though, are two pages of criticism of the AA model, and I read them eagerly (but, as much as I could, objectively).

I've been thinking much on some of the basic tenets, and come to the conclusion that the AA model is unnecessarily punitive and cult-like. It's Calvinistic, really, based more in Puritanism than in reality, and offers itself as the only solution that works. [I am advised by a respondent that it is actually Arminian, not Calvinist.] The problem is, it doesn't work very often. Yes, it works for those who make it work, and for those people, mazel tov. But it presumes much and accepts no deviation. I also don't like its tone: being in an AA meeting, for me, is a *trigger,* not a relief. Sitting around and hearing stories of use and redemption don't make me want to not drink, they make me want to drink so I don't have to listen to any more stories of use and redemption.

Some of the complaints in the text I have already made myself, though some I agree with were new to me with the reading. For instance, the insistence that newcomers must have come to this stage through desperation. True, AA is there if you are desperate...but why must you be in order to attend? I don't think that's an entirely valid complaint, though, from my own experience; as the preamble read at every meeting says, all you need to attend is the desire to stop drinking. That's really it. That's what it says, and that's true. But the real emphasis in meetings is of people who descended, and kept descending, until there was no other way out. If you admit to a problem with drinking but aren't desperate, chances are you will be told that you are in constant danger of the downward spiral into oblivion and must adopt the program in toto. It's a stark adaptation of Christianity, in which wretches who have no other place to turn finally give their lives up to God, and that makes AA religious in origin. That works for a great many people who lean towards Christianity to begin with, but for the atheist or the agnostic or the ambivalent, it can be oppressive and daunting. Telling addicts and alcoholics that the only way to health is through a quasi-religious "awakening" and surrendering to a Higher Power is indoctrinating. It also evokes the "all-or-nothing" personality trait of the addict, replacing the old addiction with the new. There can be, and are, other approaches to sobriety.

Which is another complaint. Just yesterday I read a quote that sobriety and abstinence are two different things. Sobriety, properly, is decision-making based on clear-headed reason; abstinence is the complete abandonment of a given substance. It's similar to the difference between chastity and celibacy. Some addicts--not many, I know, but SOME--are able to make the conscious, reasonable decision to imbibe and move on. (I don't believe this is true of cocaine, opiates, or their derivatives. They are simply too powerfully and chemically addictive. I don't think I've ever heard of someone who could go from addictive use of those drugs to casual use.) The important thing to address is, which approach is most appropriate for the particular addict. I would say that in most cases, as it is with me, that abstinence is the only safe path. I don't think I can ever have "just" a beer without triggering the landslide into oblivion again. For me, casual use of alcohol just doesn't work. But there are people who are alcohol-dependent but not addicted; they "need" a drink at the end of the day, or just before bed, or what have you, making them dependent on that ritual. That doesn't make them alcoholics, and even if the use is problematic in some way, that doesn't mean abstinence is the only answer. Learning different patterns of behavior and searching one's own self for answers are good approaches and may solve the problem without eternal meetings and self-flagellation.

And there is another complaint. AA takes the position (even though it is contradicted, in passing, in "The Big Book") that meetings are requisites for the rest of your life. You are never recovered, according to AA, always recovering. Now, for a lot of people, that's as true as the sun rising in the East. Some sober alcoholics need the meetings and the fellowship because they know the disease is lying in wait for them to stumble. I wouldn't dare to tell someone that *everyone* can recover and move on. But some people can, and AA doesn't accept that. For some people, continuing in AA may exacerbate the problem (as it does for me), imposing on them fairly rigid standards of behavior in a one-size-fits-all model of discipline. Not only does it impose the discipline, it imposes a fundamentalist philosophy on its members. Trust me on this one! In many meetings I've related how I don't always have to pray, I don't have to read the Daily Reflections, I don't actively "work the program," but that the meetings have helped because I get to talk to some people and unload, and that saves me. When I say things like that, you can hear the intake of breath and watch the eyerolls and head-shakes. They won't tell you that you don't belong; what they'll tell you, though, is that you don't "get it," and that you have to keep attending meetings until you DO. They don't accept that there are alternate routes to sobriety. It's indoctrination, really.

One of the personality traits that can lead to alcoholism (in conjunction with others, natch) is the need for outside approval. People who have low self-esteem, whose identity is dependent on the opinions of others, are ripe fruit for the alcoholic demon. But in AA, you're just as dependent on the outside approval as you were before you started drinking. You're not solving the problem, you're just transferring it. In that very narrow way, AA is much like the Scientologists or any other cult: they find the desperate, offer them a plan of action, insist on rigid discipline, don't allow for diversion, and impose upon the individual an entire system of thought and behavior that leads to approval. They require regular, frequent reinforcement through phone number lists, sponsors, Daily Reflections, "working the steps," and dependence on the Big Book. They don't cast you out for not believing, as cults don't, but they will not fully accept you until you conform...which is what cults do. The only difference is that AA lets you leave, whereas cults don't.

What's interesting is that some of the cornerstones of AA aren't falsifiable. The most powerful one is that without AA (or some treatment), the alcoholic (and the disease) will necessarily get worse and worse until they either hit "rock bottom" and either find AA or die. Research doesn't bear that out. AA's insistence on this is based on its members who have hit rock bottom and either become sober or died. You can see that the methodology there is dangerously flawed. They don't accept as role models those who have abandoned drink on their own, or who have found a different path to sobriety. But as we all know, not everyone who follows the AA program becomes a successfully recovering alcoholic, and not everyone who recovers does so under a 12-step program. Research shows that very few alcoholics actually end up in the death spiral that AA warns you about, though of course it does happen...just not predictably or reliably so.

There are, for me, some conceptual problems with some of the steps. Step 5 tells you that you have to admit to God and another human being the exact nature of their wrongs. This comes directly after the command to "make a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves," and together, steps 4 and 5 are powerful and restorative. As they say, you're only as sick as your secrets, and self-avowal (saying your secrets aloud so that you come to accept and comprehend the extent of your addiction) is the strongest step you can take toward recovery. I've told you many of my secrets, and by telling them I've been able to heal them. But Step 6 says that we "were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character," and Step 7 is that we "humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings." I find this detestably crippling in that it sets the addict up for false hopes and self-reproachment. First, God (or your "Higher Power") is not going to remove your shortcomings. He, or you, may find paths to address them, to cope with them, to resolve them, and to carry on responsibly, but they're part of you. They're not going anywhere. No matter how good you become at becoming a better, more sober person, you're going to have a core that is the nuclear furnace of the abuse and trauma that led you to become an alcoholic in the first place. (With the caveat that it may be possible for some to reach that state...but it's not bloody likely.) Teaching the addict that God can "remove our shortcomings" while preaching that AA and recovery is forever is not only contradictory, it sets the addict up to relive one of the emotional states that led to the addiction. That is, the tendency to blame oneself for the failure of others.

I'll expound on that just a little, though I am sure my meaning is already obvious. Odds are, God is not going to remove your shortcomings. The reasons for that are debatable, metaphysically and organically, but you're not likely to go from self-loathing to happiness in this lifetime. If you do, mazel tov, God bless, good on ya, and all that, but it's an unrealistic, almost impossible, expectation, and when it fails--as it almost always will--you won't blame God. God is, after all, perfect and beyond reproach. Someone must be at fault, and if there are only two people involved (you and God), then that person must be you. That leads to the self-reproach that led to the drinking to begin with. To me, the sixth step is the make-or-break step: if God can't fix you, who will? Me? Might as well drink. That's reduction, but it's pretty accurate. It's a set-up to accept an article of faith that has very little chance of success. Like I said, I detest that step.

With the exception of the 3rd and 11th Steps--increasing our reliance on God--the rest of the steps are as valuable as gold. Yes, admit to others how you have wronged them, and ask for their forgiveness! (Unless doing so harms them or you or others.) Yes, take personal inventory! And especially the 12th step--reaching out to others. Nothing will help you, the individual, as much as helping others along the path you've successfully walked. It's generativity, it's the helper principle, it works. But there's one last complaint to be made.

AA is, at its heart, punitive and about powerlessness. It's not enough in AA to succeed: succeeding has to be painful and purgative, and that means no crutches (like Camprol, the anti-craving drug). The original goal was to obliterate the ego (that was Bill W's own belief) so that God can move in and heal. But the subtext of this is that when you succeed, you can't own it. It's God who did it for you. It doesn't give credit to the hard work the addict does to improve his or her life. Now, in treatment (hopefully, as it was for me), you will get a lot of support and reinforcement for the hard work of delving through your life and resolving the issues that made you an addict in the first place. It's tougher than just about anything you can do, and the addict needs to feel empowered, that he has made the success. But placing responsibility for your recovery on God takes it out of your hands. To me, that is more insidious than the unspoken idea that if you don't succeed, then God has abandoned you (or is ignoring you until you conform to AA's mindset). By giving the credit to the Higher Power, it's been taken away from the individual and left him or her weaker...which leads to the dependency on AA, thus reinforcing its cultishness.

Finishing up, I have to say that one thing I will teach the addicts I will eventually meet is that your guard always has to be up. The price of sobriety, not only freedom, is eternal vigilance. You have to be educated, you have to be aware, you have to always be watchful for the time your addiction tries to sneak up on you...and it will. It WILL. It's a hungry beast that lives inside you. But that beast can be tamed, and you can come to lead a normal life in which you aren't mandated to attend meetings that reinforce a sense of impotence, conformity, and dependence. AA is not about independence, not at all. For some people it provides much--fellowship, family, relief, salvation--but more people drop out of it than stay in it, and it can be improved upon so that even more people can overcome their addictions reliably and healthily.

Friday, April 2, 2010

iCal it: the Kidder-in-Chief will win 2012

Prognosticators and pundits are looking to the November elections for big gains for Republicans. After all, they have everything on their side: indignation, rage, offense, fury, resentment, all the things that indicate a big voter turn-out. On the other hand, the Dems are, well, Dems. They don't do organization well, whereas the GOP? David Frum learned what happened when you cross the party line. He's been shunned. First rule of GOP Club: don't talk about GOP Club.

So they're a tight, focused, well-knit unit that only has to overcome the upcoming C-Street tax evasion scandal, militias, racism, threatened violence, several sex scandals, a lesbian-themed bondage club outing, a party leader who puts his foot in his mouth every time he opens it, ridiculous spending on party outings, a message that is limited to "less tax" and "less regulation," rescued-bank rapaciousness, hate radio, the unraveling James O'Keefe "journalism" fraud, and so on. That's a tight ship right there.

They're used to combating regular Dems, though, and not Obama. Don't get me wrong: I'm not 100% thrilled with Obama, if only because he wants more offshore drilling. He's got other Republican-leaning moves that annoy me. But he's ascendant again. In the primaries, when things looked worst, he boosted his sunny disposition and charged forward like a winner. It's not a stretch to say that, with health care, when things looked worst again, he pulled out an astounding victory and fulfilled his promise. Not in the way we all wanted--no public option, mandates--but we realize it's a start (that's our rationalization, anyway) and, given the GOP and Blue Dog Dems, was probably the best he could manage. That he got any health care reform at all accomplished is almost a miracle.

Now we can look back over the last year and nearly three months with a little perspective and realize that he's accomplished more than we've thought. Not just health care: the Lily Ledbetter act, the stimulus, student loan reform, reversal of the ban on stem cell research, a new START accord with Russia, returned the Dow to its level before he was president, and saved the economy from a much deeper depression than it might have been... Those, and more, would be enough to polish the CV of any president. Obama's administration accomplished this in *one year.* He's a winner. Even schlubs like the Dems rally around winners.

So now he's rallying supporters and straddlers around the new health care reform, and his sunniness is out for all to see. He's been joking about how the sky hasn't fallen, no asteroids have hit, the earth hasn't cracked, and people are still able to choose their doctors, and people respond well. His new line is to go after the media who are freaking out over his poll numbers, telling them, in essence, get *real,* people: it's only been a week. His winning joke now is that pundits are like farmers who plant one day, come out the next, see no plants, and announce there's been a crop failure. He chides, really, rather than mocks, and his lack of nastiness brings people to him. Remember the undauntable Obama of the campaigns? That's who we have now.

That this attitude will win him more legislative battles can be predicted from the latest responses of Congresspeople, both GOP and Dems. Some Goopers are not only backing off their calls for repeal, they're admitting some good things in the bill; and both they and Dems who opposed the bill are taking credit for it. This is significant: Obama's become more assured, more respected...more Presidential. When you can take your opponents down a peg with gentle humor, you're in charge. People like that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

None of the marbles

I read this last night and smiled. Reading it today makes me smile even more.

Follow me as I daydream. Is it possible the Republicans have done themselves more damage with this fiasco than it seems? While I'm no big fan of the final health care industry giveaway, it does do some good things and it is a foundation for further legislation. But as Frum said, this was all the marbles for the Republicans. They staked everything on this: reputation, power, authority. They were so arrogantly convinced that they could block any kind of health reform that they figured dealing was beneath them. The Republicans had lost their grip on power and it unsettled them to where they grasped for it at all costs. So, to be really vulgar about it: did they shoot their wad? Was this everything?

It's hard to imagine whipping up their supporters into this kind of tea-party frenzy again. With all the months, the energy, the focus, the rage, the organization, the indignation, and with the long, hard fight this was--leaving them with *nothing*--I find it hard to imagine that even the True Believers, the right wing rage zombies who made this such a torturous battle, summoning up the will for another year-long battle over something as dry as cap-and-trade legislation. It was easy to put health care into fighting terms: death panels, killing grandma, take away your Medicare, and so on. This issue was made for sound bites, and the sound bites failed. More arcane policy battles are not going to lend themselves to chants in the park.

This may have been *their* Waterloo. Worse than failing, they've embarrassed themselves. At the very end, they have almost nothing of consequence to show for all their sound and fury. They think this will turn into electoral rage. It might; I won't discount that. One thing we know is that they'll be flogging this horse all the way to November. But other than the core that would have voted their way anyway, and would have showed up to vote out any Democrats who dared challenge the right-wing lock on power, they're not going to get a lot of voters. Certainly they've lost a lot of the independent voters due to their viciousness and uncompromising fury. (That may have gained them a few votes, but I doubt it's balanced out.) My guess is that a number, probably small, of right-wing voters will stay home, resigned to second-tier status in the next Congress. Quite possibly a number of right-leaning independents will too, mollified by the benefits of the health care bill and by what is almost certain to be some improvement in the economy. (As Frum said.) But what they have lost is their cachet of power, their tough-guy take-no-prisoners M.O. that served them well in the Bush years. They went to the well for it and lost. They're not invulnerable anymore.

I just don't think they can manage the pitch of rage they've had during the health-care debate. Without that lightning rod, what will they do? Work themselves up into town hall meetings over immigration reform? Cautiously, hopefully, I'll venture that they're spent. I think they've been defeated and won't recover from it easily. But then, if there's one thing the right wing in this country has shown, they have an almost infinite supply of offense and righteous indignation. The left can celebrate over the biggest legislative victory in 45 years, but cautiously. You can't take your eyes off these guys.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Greed for something they'll never have

An excellent article in the Huffington Post the other day said a few things about the way conservatives think. It was a brilliant article ( in that it laid out how conservatism and liberalism are much more biological in nature. Specifically, conservatism is rooted in fear and reacts most strongly to external threats. (I oversimplify.)

What does that mean for the Tea Party movement? I know they're reacting like spastic lemmings to the code words of "socialism" and so on, rending their figurative garments and figuratively gnashing their teeth over their perceived loss of freedom and the death of America. It's plain to see that there's a gripping fear underneath it, irrational though it is; modern conservatism needs an enemy, seems to thrive on having an enemy, really, and cannot justify its existence without one. They lost their dearest enemy when the Soviet Union fell, and searched for something to replace it. Well, they didn't so much replace it as transpose it to the Democrats. Their enemy is still there, it's still the Communists, only they've decided to rebrand the Democratic Party as Communists so that their worldview is still intact.

In order to make Democrats Communists, though, an elaborate and false scaffold has to be built on which to hang this. None of the Tea Party people (they're now offended by the name, "tea baggers," that they gave themselves at the outset) seem to be able to vocalize exactly what dire consequences await if the Democrats get their way, referring in generalities to "government control" and so on. They don't have an architecture for this accomplishment, in the same way the gun fanatics live in constant fear that the Gummint will try to take away their guns...not comprehending the logistical impossibility of such a task. They don't seem to be able to make the leap from, say, health care for all to Soviet-style (or, from some, Nazi-style) control without a structure of false beliefs and logical inconsistencies that beggar description. I feel sorry for them, in a way: how terrible it must be to live in constant terror, and to need to live in constant terror to constantly validate their beliefs.

That's the success of hate radio, by the way: its audience is in constant need of validation. This is why liberal talk radio doesn't succeed as well. Liberals and progressives don't need to be coached, 24/7, that something is out to take away everything they have, or ever will have. Liberals can go through their day without having their beliefs hysterically supported.

This leads me to an interesting feature about the Tea Party movement, and really most of conservatism, that defies logic. Many people have remarked in many places that a defining characteristic of Americans is that we like to believe that untold wealth and prestige live around the corner for any of us: be it the lottery, a timely invention, a fortuitous lawsuit, or an unforeseen inheritance, any one of us in America can suddenly find ourselves lifted from our mundane lives and launched into worry-free comfort. That's the American dream: not the Horatio Alger lifting-by-our-bootstraps rugged-individualism dream that with the right combination of pluck, determination, and work, we can succeed, but that at any time a bolt out of the blue will rescue us and make life a big, fluffy pillow.

So when you tell the teabaggers that, for instance, health care for all will not come out of their pockets--that they're going to get something very good on the backs of the very wealthy, to really simplify things--why do they react with fury that the American way of life, THEIR way of life, is threatened? I've become convinced that most of these people, who can't put together a plan that gets them from average life to stellar life, feel that the wealth they might have is threatened. Obama-style reforms don't threaten their way of life at all: they threaten the hazy dream of one day having everything they want at no effort at all.

So they don't want you to have something that they don't have, either. They want to keep to themselves all the wealth they don't, and won't ever, receive. There is in America a very real terror that people in the same economic strata might possibly get something without having earned it, even though they hope for the same thing themselves. They're afraid of being taxed to support the losers...once they become rich enough that the tax applies to them.

Like my earlier summary, this is a very strong oversimplification. Of course there's much more to the Tea Partiers than just the dread that someone, somewhere, might get a benefit they don't have. There's subtle racism behind a lot of it, a lot of media manipulation, a great amount of untruth, no small amount of gullibility, and a very great amount of uncertainty that comes from a roller-coaster economy. Factor into this the knowledge that our economy is supported on China's good graces, that we don't produce much of anything in this country anymore, that within one generation we've gone from the standard that even a high-school dropout could get a factory job and support a family to the frightening reality of most of those jobs being relocated to southeast Asia, and there's an understandable subcurrent of fear in every American's life. But to get Americans to reject their own best interests in favor of the wealthy took an amazing amount of trickery, orchestrated by the wealthy and their industries. And the Tea Party movement swallowed it like cherry-flavored arsenic.

It took a lot of doing to get Americans to think that something that will bring them a better life in reality is evil because it threatens the security of luxury they daydream of. But they did it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Step 1: admitting you have a problem

I'm forgetting where I read the comment over the last couple days of reading editorials and forwarded articles, but one of them contained the European observation that Americans are very self-satisfied. It may have been in the article about Chinese researchers returning to China out of patriotism, challenge, and the desire to make more of a difference than they can here in America. Not sure. But tonight my nephew and I were talking about the many things that America has become mediocre in--education, health care among them--that once we led, and I mentioned this observation. We joked about Americans having come to the idea that we're #1 in everything and deciding that it was time for us to relax.

That's not much of a joke, I'm afraid. Obviously Americans think we're #1 in everything. Like every other empire that became #1, we became complacent while making ourselves a target for derision and takeover. The uniquely American aspect to this is the angry denial and rationalization we've descended to. We've forgotten how to lead, I think, but we haven't forgotten the sense of entitlement in leading, so that instead of meeting challenges and renewing ourselves, we've simply become more angry and confrontational about our bruised egos. It's apparent in so many things from index finger-waving jingoism to wanting to kick butt worldwide. We're a people who know that our country is in decline but are so afraid to confront that truth that, instead of meeting the challenges of an emerging China and a potential India, we angrily denounce anyone who reveals our flaws as traitors and threaten (or attempt) to beat up anyone who challenges not our actual position in the world but our perceived position in the world. And for an angry, militaristic people, that means force, from the personal to the global.

Luckily we've gotten past the Bush Doctrine, but Obama doesn't seem to be much better. Rather than accept the obvious futility of our situation in Afghanistan, he's decided to meet it with more force. America has become the possessive boyfriend of the world: we don't know how insecure in ourselves we really are, but our only response to that is to threaten anyone who's perceived as taking away the object of our affection. At the heart of every bully is a deep insecurity, and we are a very insecure country. The anger and confrontation of the right wing, bordering on hysteria, in this country reveals much more about that insecurity than we want to admit.

All of this comes from the bloated self-satisfaction I mentioned earlier. If we'd never rested on our laurels, we might have met the challenges of the late 20th century, but we came to the belief that because we want to do it (whatever "it" is), it is therefore the right thing to do, and any suggestion contrary to that is treason. I know, this is really all boilerplate psycho-political musing, but what struck me on this was that at the base of most of the ills America suffers, and makes others suffer through, is that satisfaction with ourselves. Unless we, as a country, are able to admit that we are failing and that the future of representational democracy lies in confronting the failure rather than the critics, we're doomed to becoming a historical afterthought while repressive, China- (and Russia-) style oligarchy represents the wave of the future.