Archive for the ‘globalization’ Category

Hillary, give it up

March 31, 2008

Now, I’m neither the youngest nor the brightest lightbulb in the fixture, but I do want to make it clear that I know my subject line isn’t the same as “Give it up for Hillary.” Nor do I mean it to be.

There’s a terrific Jimmy Margulies cartoon in today’s “Week In Review,” the op-ed section of the Sunday NY Times. The interviewer/commentator says: “The math is against you in delegates needed for the nomination. . .” and Hillary responds: “I didn’t give up at Valley Forge. . .I didn’t give up at Gettysburg. . .I didn’t give up at D-Day. . .and I’m not giving up now.”

Hillary, you have proven yourself a prevaricator without even the sense to understand when your untruths have been detected. I know you haven’t claimed to have invented the Internet or saved the free world single-handedly. But you have demonstrated the one characteristic that sends me running to the bathroom in case of projectile vomiting. You are the ultimate politician.

Sweetie, I’m your target demographic, an over-50 woman with a couple of college degrees, a lifetime in business, and a strong belief that a woman in the Presidency would bring something that’s badly needed.

But not you. Not now, not ever.

I’m old enough to have voted for both John Anderson and Ross Perot, knowing in each case that I was probably wasting my vote but hoping for something other than business-as-usual. I can honestly say I never even contemplated voting for Ralph Nader, however.

I’m of that rare breed called the “truly independent.” I was a registered Democrat for an extended period of time until I decided that the Democratic Party had lost its marbles. So then I became a registered Republican. Ditto with that party. For some time now, I’ve been registered without party affiliation.

I pay a price for that. I can’t vote (in Oregon, anyway) in any of the party primaries. I contemplated registering again as a Democrat just so I could vote against you in May, but then I realized how many fund-raising and ideological mailings I’d get and decided against it. I think my fellow Oregonians will take care of you here. Many of them actually have some sense.

But if you are banking on calling in chits with the “superdelegates” (and what a crock that is–a group of party “elite” in place to override the will of the voters in case they aren’t smart enough to choose the right candidate–this is democracy?), I hope you will think again. A candidate who gets there by such means will have no more credibility than a President elected by the Supreme Court, to quote someone else’s recent example.

So give it up. Now. Let’s get on with a race between two people who arguably are outsiders from the political establishment, let them present their views, and let the people choose. At this point you are merely a spoiler.

And while I’m busy ranting on this topic I almost never comment on, I have a few words for the other major candidates in this race:

Barack: The Jeremiah Wright thing told me a great deal more about your character than almost anything else you’ve done. I congratulate you for being forthright. I have lots of “sparring partners” with whom I don’t agree (otherwise, we wouldn’t be sparring now, would we?). In fact, if people evaluated my character by the folks that I tolerate and even like to argue with, they’d be way off the mark. Your response to these attacks told me you are really a grownup with a well-developed sense of a diverse world.

I don’t have the background to know the things that you “know” about racism. But I congratulate you on your ability to articulate your position without blowing in the wind.

John: I’m a long-time admirer of yours, but I frankly liked you a great deal better before the GOP apparently started coaching you on what was required to get elected. You’re sounding like a politician, and that isn’t one of your strengths.

I have a certain amount of faith in your common sense and straight talk. Don’t waffle now. Stay who you are, and I might even vote for you. Unlike many of my acquaintance, I don’t think foreign policy is going to be made in the campaign speeches. I just want to elect someone I feel comfortable can make it. No matter who is President, we don’t be out of Iraq tomorrow. But you buy yourself nothing by being so belligerent about it.

Now a few words for “my fellow Americans”: Hey, guys, if you haven’t noticed, the world is changing. It’s not just global warming, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the devalued dollar, and the globalized economy. It’s a comeuppance to the sort of economic colonialization that the U.S.A., as an economically powerful superpower, has been able to indulge in for decades.

If one definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and hoping for different results, then go toe your favorite party line and vote accordingly.

But if you are concerned about a viable (not necessarily wealthy or over-consuming, just viable) future for yourself and your childen, then take some time to look beyond the heirs apparent for a leader who can actually think. And vote accordingly.

Whoever is elected this fall steps into a mess. He/she will need all of our good wishes and help, so vote for someone you want to help advance “in the direction of your dreams” (to paraphrase Thoreau), not someone you think can fix all your problems.

That person doesn’t exist.

Politics, pragmatism, and probity

February 12, 2008

I confess that for many years I’ve wondered how anyone could seriously want to be President of the United States. This comes from my experience of JFK.

He was the youngest President ever elected. He didn’t serve a full term. By his third year in office, he had transformed from a young, vital man into an aging man in pain with bags under his eyes and a deep note of sadness. This was a sobering lesson.

I started watching how other Presidents aged in office. It seemed to me that no one would seriously want that job. It made anyone who did suspect in my eyes, driven by ego at the very least.

I am a great fan of pragmatism. The philosophy of pragmatism dictates that actions be judged by the results they produce. This isn’t a case of “the end justifies the means” but rather an acknowledgment that a diverse society requires compromise and an understanding of “the Other.”

Our polarized and fragmented social structures seem to be missing both of those elements.

I think it is possible to be pragmatic without relinquishing probity. I also want someone leading me whose moral position is unequivocal. I suppose from a political standpoint I’d like to feel good again about waving the flag. It’s been a long time.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to agree with each and every belief of a candidate. If I had that sort of sure lock on right/wrong, perhaps I would be running for office.

But I don’t. I muddle along making the best decisions I can with the information I have. I don’t want to invest what limited physical and mental resources I have in knowing everything there is to know that’s important about our world today. I’d rather, frankly, write poetry and try to make sense of what I perceive as “the big issues.” And those have NOTHING to do with politics, or government, or status, or financial gain.

They have a lot to do with kindness, social justice, grace, and fiscal responsibility, pretty much in that order.

I’d like to know that the people I’m voting for value those things as well.

I see evidence of those qualities in McCain and Obama. The rest of them are just politicians. They may be “pragmatic” (do anything to get elected), but their values are different from mine.

Obama, the legacy of Vietnam, the future

November 10, 2007

The new Atlantic Monthly has a marvelous piece by Andrew Sullivan titled “Goodbye to All That.” But the cover plug identifies it as “Why Obama Matters.” Both are a good description.

One of the things that disturbs me the most about the current political and social scenes is the absolute polarization of the discourse. Once upon a time, it seems to me, it was possible to have “civil discourse,” with the emphasis on civil in both meanings of the word. Now it seems it takes only an expressed opinion to cause the opposite view to rear an ugly head screaming and shouting.

The last “inexperienced” President we had was JFK. He changed the way Americans felt about themselves and about the world. We can never know what his legacy would truly have been, because his presidency was abruptly terminated by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas, only three years into his term. The legacy he left us with in his abrupt departure was the quagmire of Vietnam. Sullivan identifies this as the tainting factor of all politics since.

Sullivan’s main point is that all of the movers and shakers of the political establishment are colored by the divisive attitudes that emerged in the late 1960s as a result of the Vietnam conflict. He suggests that perhaps it’s time for another generation to take over and change the discourse. The obvious candidate is Barack Obama.

Is Obama up to the task? I don’t know. I do know that for me, even as a member of the Vietnam generation, the alternatives are all unattractive.

40% of Americans have never known a President who was not a Bush or a Clinton. This is scary.

I spoke at length tonight with one of my sisters with whom I haven’t spoken in a couple of years. There’s no animus here. We just have very different lives and very different priorities, so we have little reason to speak except at weddings and funerals. And she missed the last family wedding, so I haven’t seen her since our father’s funeral.

But she related an epiphany she had recently. Her husband goes to work about 2:30 a.m. On a recent evening, he left for work and she was wakeful (translated: insomniac), so she got up and turned on the TV. On screen was Al Pacino sitting across a table from a “younger man.” And Al says, “If you just keep looking backward, you give up your entire life.”

“Why didn’t someone tell me that 20 years or more ago?” she asked me.

Maybe it is time for those of us whose values were forged by the conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s to step aside and pass the torch to people untainted by them. It may be time for a changing of the guard.

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know that what we’re doing with grooming politicians for decades to keep up the status quo isn’t working. It shouldn’t be a question of “It’s my turn now.” It should be a question of leadership, and forward movement, and an acknowledgement that our world is changing.

We can’t keep looking at the past, or we risk losing the present.

The angina monologues

May 8, 2007

Before you start sending me sympathy cards, let me state at the outset that the title of this post is intended as a joke, a play on words based on a current theatrical production, rather than a statement of my health. I’m fine, and today proved it.

The official first day of summer may be more than a month away yet, but we had ours today. At 5 p.m., it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the back porch in the shade. That’s where we keep the big thermometer to try to actually measure air temperature rather than reflections and so forth. For those of you on the “other” temperature scale, I think that’s nearly 27 degrees Celsius, which I hope you’ll agree is warm enough for anyone and too warm for some of us.

The new issue (May 5-11) of The Economist arrived with the mail just after noon, so I took part of the midday off to read their special report on cities, a topic near and dear to my heart. I love this British magazine. If I had to choose between it and The New Yorker, I’m not sure how I would choose. The NYer is generally more entertaining, but The Big E often talks about things that I really need to know about with a perspective somewhat wider than you usually get in the U.S., even on NPR.

Each issue they include a special report, generally just about 20 pages on some burning topic. This issue noted that sometime this year (if it hasn’t already happened), more than half the world’s population will have migrated to cities for the first time ever (I think I noted this fact in a previous blog post, but I have no idea where). This one was fascinating. And it’s happening so quickly. Bear in mind that by the mid-19th century, 95% of the world’s population still lived in a rural setting.

This issue explored migrant expectations, slums, developing-country issues, downtown city revitalization, suburbs and exurbs, and a host of things. If you can get your hands on a copy, do so. You will be wiser for doing so. One of the things I like best about this magazine is its ability to examine a host of claims critically without taking a noticeably biased position.

I completed an M.F.A. program in writing last year, and I wrote my critical essay on Italo Calvino’s wonderful book Invisible Cities. Sandwiched between a series of imagined dialogues between Marco Polo and the Kubla Khan are Polo’s descriptions of the places he has seen on his travels.

The book is a bit surreal, but it sneaks up on you with a big dope slap along side the head when you realize what’s going on. After a first reading I immediately added Calvino to my list of authors I would give at least part of my teeth to be able to sit down and talk with. Unfortunately, to date they are all dead, so this is more difficult.

But I digress (aren’t you surprised?).

Near the end of the book, the text refers to an atlas that the Khan owns that shows not only all the cities that are but all of the cities that will be. Khan notes rather despondently that new cities will continue to form until the whole world looks like–are you ready?–Los Angeles. This is one of the possibilities that The Economist explores.

By the end of this century, the world’s rural population, including all of those folks who grow the food the rest of us eat, is estimated to be at something like 20% of the total. I’m not sure I would like this world very much.

In other areas, and somewhat responsible for the title of this post, is how I spent today.

I had a rather leisurely but active morning digging up hundreds of bulbs in back of the house that have naturalized themselves over a couple of decades and were frankly choking each other out. I have a good home elsewhere for about 10% of them. The rest will have to be replanted. . .

I watered the garden.

Then I took that long midday break to read the report on cities.

Then I looked at the temperature on the back porch and said, “Oh, no! My seedlings!”

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been sneaking seeds into the garden a few at a time. This is in addition to some bedding plants and to the vegetable starts I described yesterday. One of the things seeds really hate is to dry out while they’re sprouting. Mortality rates skyrocket.

I watered them this morning and complained to Ben that there wasn’t much water pressure in the garden system. So he went up the hill and cleaned the spring out, returning drenched in sweat (this little trip is about a quarter of a mile, mostly straight up, climbing over fallen trees and the like. Lots of pressure.

But when I saw the temperature approaching 80 degrees, I knew my wimp little morning watering was not going to suffice. The cauliflower and lettuce looked forlorn; the seed rows were borderline; the fruit trees and bushes were forming crops and needed lots of moisture.

I got there in time, I know, and after a cooler evening things will look better tomorrow. Heck, I will look better tomorrow. The only reason I’m still vertical is that my wonderful guy showed up halfway through this process with a huge glass of icewater and a hug. Both were revitalizing.

It takes a village

April 30, 2007

I was going to finally post about trees tonight, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I drove to town today and among the things I picked up was the Sunday NY Times. What kind of pathetic person spends $5 for a Sunday paper just because the puzzles are really interesting? The answer of course is me. I’m addicted to good puzzles. I love the NY Times Sunday crossword, but I can get that only a week or two late in the Oregonian. But they always have a bonus puzzle as well, and I can’t get those anywhere else.

But that’s truly a digression from the topic of this post.

There were two articles that I couldn’t help seeing as an interesting juxtaposition. The first, in the opinion section if I’m not mistaken, was about the walls various governments have built over the centuries–the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the walls our armies are now building in Iraq and the Israelis are building around Palestinians, and so on. It’s hard to see these and not make the leap to gated communities in this country, to those who would wall themselves off from the hoi-polloi.

The second article was in the “Style” section. It was about new condominium buildings that featured common areas designed to maximize the interaction of residents, to create, if you will, a “village” of the condo owners. And these New Yorkers were talking about the wonder of actually getting to know other residents in their own buildings. Of course, these communities were somewhat self-selecting, since the condos atart at something approaching a million dollars each.

A couple of postings or so ago, I responded to Barbara in a comment about something I’d read on the impact of cities. I found the piece again today. It’s in a magazine called “The American Interest.” I have no idea where this magazine came from. I don’t remember ordering it. It arrived in my mailbox one day, but it’s interesting enough that I probably will subscribe.

The point of the article in question, however, was that for the first time ever, more of the world’s population lives in cities than live in rural settings. And cities have never been able to sustain themselves. When people move to cities, they stop having babies, at least in the quantity in which they’ve previously had them.

There was a lot more in the article than that, obviously, but this stuff has all started jiggling around in my brain and I need to think about the various ramifications for awhile.

I’ve read other stuff lately about the loss of the support system that a village provided. So I find it interesting that urban, standoffish New Yorkers (I’m not being rude, this is how they characterize themselves) are finding it necessary to recreate the culture of a village.

Lots of change, and I’m not quite sure what to think about it, but it’s fascinating.

A bad year for the neocons. . .

April 29, 2007

A couple of years ago an acquaintance of mine whose political leanings are far, far to the left of mine (I don’t discriminate against people for their political beliefs–I have so few it seems silly) pointed me at a Web site for the “Project for a New American Century.”

When I got over the arrogance of it (what are these people smoking, anyway?), I frankly just sort of blew it off. It seemed like total idiocy to be spouting a “new American century” in a world becoming “globalized” at lightning speed. There is no longer any place for jingoism. We can only hope that humanism (people for people, regardless) gets a fair hearing.

If you look at the folks who signed the statement of principles on this Web site, you’ll find the names Scooter Libby (although he’s identified as I. Lewis Libby, apparently to give the weight of seriousness to his participation), Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Dick Cheney. “You can fool some of the people some of the time. . .”

I actually feel a little sorry for George W. Bush. He is a dumb little banty rooster of a boy who is so far out of his league that it is laughable. And he picked the wrong companions, a circumstance that has done in others a lot smarter than he is.

Globalization, global warming, Toqueville, and democracy as we know it, part 2

March 28, 2007

I’m going to try to take these topics one at a time now and elaborate on them a bit. Jeff M. taught me with his wonderful “Lord of the Reorg” posts that you can address complex and difficult topics in a blog if you break them into something resembling bite-sized pieces. I’d link his series, but they’re behind a firewall I can no longer access the door to.

I’ll start with globalization, but I have to bring in a bit of Toqueville, too.

One of Toqueville’s conclusions after keenly observing U. S. culture for ten months was that financial well-being was an integral part of the American philosophy. I doubt that anyone would argue with that. We talk repeatedly of “the American dream,” that fantasy of a house for every family, two cars (or sometimes many more) in every garage, Roosevelt’s “chicken in every pot,” and so on.

For more than 200 years this has been a staple of the American way of life. If you asked a parent what he wanted for his children, his reply would likely be, “For them to have an even better life than I do.” And that “better” was most likely measured in financial terms.

For a very long time, this approach has succeeded. But the cost to the planet has been tremendous.

It’s common to hear this self-aggrandizing statement: “The U.S. has never been a colonial country.” Politically, that may be for the most part true. But the particular form of economic colonialism that the U.S. has practiced for most of its history is in some ways far worse than the more traditional colonization practiced by other “developed” countries.

With a small (and getting smaller every year) percentage of the world’s population, citizens of the U.S. manage to consume approximately 25% of the natural resources used in the world each year. This is necessary because of our philosophy of consumerism. Our spending, yours and mine, is what keeps our economy rolling and our economic welfare improving. Sort of.

We could get away with this sort of behavior as long as the rest of the world couldn’t see what we were doing. But with instant global communications a reality, people around the world can see the way we live and the excesses with which we indulge ourselves. Naturally, they all want a piece of the action. And perhaps just as naturally, many of them hate us for what they envy.

Here is sad fact number 1: The planet will not support the lifestyle currently enjoyed in the U.S. for the number of people living on the earth.

Here is sad fact number 2: As long as someone somewhere is willing to do the work for less money per hour to improve his life, American companies will continue off-shoring jobs. They do this not to screw their workers but to keep their products competitive in a consumer economy.

Globalization of the workforce is a reality. The people who will suffer the most from this are the people who have become accustomed to a fairly fat way of life, one supported by debt, by working longer and longer hours to have more and more things and to maintain the payments on that debt. In short, dear American worker, you may be chasing a pot of gold at the end of a truly ephemeral rainbow.

Your unions can’t protect you, your government can’t protect you, and your companies can’t protect you, because if they do, some other company will simply eat them alive.

I can’t tell you how to fix this, because the truth of the matter is that I think there is no fix. Our world is changing, and we had each better be prepared for it. What does that mean?

To me it means learning to understand the difference between wants and needs. It means learning to insist on the things that are important to you. In my case, important things include, among other things, products that can be fixed rather than sent to the landfill, sensible packaging, and a good laugh each day. There are, of course, many others. You can make your own list. It will probably be different from mine.

You’ll probably notice that physical safety wasn’t listed there. I don’t think anyone or any entity can guarantee that. But the more I understand about my environment and my society, the better able I will be to help ensure my own safety and the safety of those I care about.

If my world collapsed tomorrow, I wouldn’t be very happy about it. But I think I am better prepared than most to survive it. I’d encourage you to think about what it might take to help you feel the same way.

And now, this post seems to be going somewhere I’m not prepared to deal with tonight and that you probably don’t need to read about. So I’m going to shut up. But let me just say this: The world is changing. You can’t stop it. I’m not even sure you can do much to mitigate it.

So I would ask that sometime soon, you have this conversation with yourself. See if you can answer these questions:

  • What is REALLY important to me?
  • What does it take to sustain this (these) thing(s)?
  • How can I make this happen?
  • If I can’t make it happen, then what?

Financial wellbeing is not a human right, no matter what we have been raised to believe. My parents and your parents or grandparents understood this. Think about it now.

Have a great day.

Globalization, global warming, Toqueville, and democracy as we know it, part 1

March 27, 2007

Whig and I have been having a somewhat lively discussion over at Cannablog in his “caveman” post. I want to expand it a little bit, and it feels too lengthy for a comment, so I’ll do the expansion here. I know I’m going to run out of time because today is writers’ groups day, but if I don’t get it started, it will never get written. Hence the “part 1.”

A lot of stuff has come my way recently about the current state of chaos in our American world (not to mention, which I probably will anyway, the rest of the world). Globalization, global warming, and the state of politics in the U.S. are major topics.

We (citizens of the U.S. more so than anywhere else, I think) are conditioned to the “quick fix” for everything. Want to buy something? Borrow the money. What? I should save for it? What an old-fashioned idea. Need to lose weight? Take a pill. Got health issues? Medicine will fix them with some new drug. Unhappy with government? Throw the bastards out and replace them.

Sorry, folks, but this approach doesn’t work for things that are systemic. And most of our problems are just that.

I think I mentioned before that in studying Alexis de Toqueville’s Democracy in America, I’ve been stunned by the accuracy of his predictions about where our society would founder. I’m going to throw three things out on the table and head off for the first of my writers’ groups. I’m hoping when I get back this evening to find some of your thoughts on the topic. These things are worth examining closely.

Community: Toqueville believed that community and association with people of like interests was essential to the health of a “free” country. Unfortunately, he notes, one of the results of “equal conditions for all” is that people tend to withdraw into their own worlds, where they feel special.

“Habits of the heart”: This is Toqueville’s phrase for those things that we do almost without thinking because we have learned to do them. They can be healthy or unhealthy. Healthy habits of the heart are needed, IMNHO, to do anything at all about preserving the planet and preserving the people on it. I will write more about global warming later, because I think this is a current concern where this is so very true, but it applies across the board. How healthy are your “habils of the heart”?

“The tyranny of the majority”: Toqueville saw this as a real problem with the two-party political system. There is always a winner-take-all result, and whatever majority is in power tends to arrange things to suit themsleves. Then they are ousted, the other party takes over, and everything changes again. This creates, he says, an undesireable level of instability in the law, among other things.

Now I must run. Let me know what you want to talk about.

(Updated 3/27 to fix a couple of typos. Someone linked to this and now I’m embarassed.)