Saturday, February 11, 2012

Words for Our Time

From The Essays of E.B. White,
..[D]istortion is inherent in partisan journalism, the same as it is in political rallies. I have yet to see a piece of writing, political or nonpolitical, that doesn't have a slant. All writing slants the way the writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular, although many are born upright. The beauty of the American free press is that the slants and the twists and the distortions come from so many directions, and the special intereste are so numerous, the reader must sift and sort and check an counter-check in order to find out what the score is. This he does. It is only when a press gets its twist from a single source, as in the case of government-controlled press systems, that the reader is licked.

--Bedfellows, 1956

"No man is born perpendicular" caught my eye when I first read this essay. It seemed a particularly clever statement of an immutable fact. A more contemporary writer would likely omit the "born upright" phrase that follows. Writing in 1956, White could plausibly acknowledge integrity in many partisans regardless of their slant. That is a more difficult task in 2012.

Integrity is in short supply these days but slant is plentiful. That's where the rest of the paragraph offers a cautionary tale. White extols the free flow of information--slanted and straight, dubious and dead on--from many sources and the diligent reader who sorts through it all to know the score. White also warns about a single-source press that deprives the diligent reader of the information needed to know the score.

The warning anticipates 21st century America. Rather than government control of media, we have corporate corporate control of media. And that media is primarily electronic. White's diligent reader has been replaced by a mostly passive consumer of a very limited diet.

Alternative information is available. The diligent reader (or listener, some electronic media are credible and informative) can still look beyond the limited corporate fare to find the information that will tell the score but generations accustomed to having news served to them are unlikely to look beyond the handouts.

Are we licked yet?

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Evergreen State Shines

Washington State Legislature passes same-sex marriage bill.

My adopted state is very different from my native state.

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Logical Progression

Steven Pearlstein's Modest Proposal.
[W]ith Citizens United, the Supreme Court...didn’t just remove the limits to what wealthy individuals or corporations could contribute to independent (wink-wink) front groups. The five-member majority also invited constitutional challenges to limits on direct contributions to campaigns or political parties and to those silly requirements that the source of every contribution be disclosed in a timely manner.

This is a great victory for those of us who believe in free markets and support the sacred constitutional principle that corporations are people and that money is speech. With the legal and political momentum now working in our favor, we must take this campaign to the next level.

After all, no matter how many billions of dollars we might invest in campaigns or independent (wink-wink) front groups, all we can really do is influence the outcome of campaigns. Given the risks associated with the performance of the candidates, however, we can never truly be certain of the electoral outcomes. And as you all know, what the markets and businesses hate most is uncertainty.

So, I propose that we finally give up the charade that we are not “buying” elections and, in fact, do exactly that — mount an all-out political and legal challenge to laws preventing us from buying votes directly.


The Root of All Evil

A thoughtful review of two memoirs of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 provides some very good context for understanding the events one year one. Reviewer Lee Smith clearly identifies the military establishment as the ruling authority in Egypt.

And their motive:
Those who dismiss the likelihood of renewed Israeli-Egyptian conflict assume that the Egyptian army does not dare forfeit the $1.3 billion that flows to it in U.S. military aid each year. However, the army’s priority is not to obtain American cash but simply to stay in power. Over the past half-century, international, regional and domestic dynamics have repeatedly driven Egypt’s rulers and its army to make war against Israel in spite of what would seem to be their better interests. A military that represses its people for the sake of its own wealth is liable to make any sort of mistake. (emphasis added)

To stay in power. That says it all.

The two books reviewed, Liberation Square by Ashraf Khalil and Revolution 2.0 by Wael Ghonim offer the reader differing perspectives on a cataclysmic national experience. As initiator of the Facebook site that launched the protests, Ghonim talks from the inside. Khalil gives the broader context. Reviewer Lee believes Ghonim’s "two understated chapters of his time in chains and blindfolded deserve to become part of the canon of classic prison literature... " which puts it in high company. Lee describes Khalil's work as "a solid journalistic account that places the Egyptian revolution in a regional context and details the events over the past decade that led to Mubarak’s downfall."

Both worth reading if you want some first-hand accounts of people demanding change.

And remember:
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

--Frederick Douglass

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