Mar 27, 2007

What Ancient Athens Can Teach Modern Americans Today: The Health of Democracy Depends on its Citizens.

What are the responsibilities of a citizen? Or, can you be a tourist in your own country?

In 507 & 508 B.C.E. [Before the Common Era] a populist revolution brought democracy in Athens. This experiment in government was the first of its kind. It was very radical. Ordinary citizens were given rights of participation in the affairs of their city-state. Most of them would hold public office sometime or other. One of the city's leader, Pericles, argued that this new regime produced far greater achievements that any other regime. Its success was due to the openness, tolerance and cosmopolitanism; and, to the fact that its citizens were active participants, not idiots [from idiotes: a private, selfish person who doesn't care about the common good].

It's no accident that open societies tend to be more successful, and to produce the most benefits for the greatest number of people. I know that no society or any political system are perfect--and democracy is a very flawed system of governance, but it's the best system we've got. I realize that this statement is a value judgment, and, perhaps, meaningless to a person who has chosen a monastic life, or one who wants to kill others in the name of his god(s). But, for most people who don't want to impose a theocracy or an authoritarian regime, democracy is a system that can allow the greatest freedom for the individual to pursue his/her own bliss, and for the greatest opportunity for a person to fulfill his/her own potential.

Anyway, that Athenian democracy grew into an empire. This made the rest of Greece and its neighbors nervous, especially since the rest of the world was not democratic. But, it was not the enemies that destroyed Athens. The destruction came from within. Even though Athenians were confident of their superiority and confident in themselves to make the right decisions, it was arrogance that doomed the city. Athens, as an imperial power, picked many fights that resulted in massive casualties, famine and diseases.

This crisis not only brought the horrors of physical disasters but it changed the Athenians themselves. The great historian Thucydides described the 27-year long Peloponnesian War (between Athens and Sparta). He recorded the various battles, the effects of war, and what became of human relations during this time of crisis. Reasonable, educated, cultured people changed their behavior and became distrustful, vindictive, intolerant, criminals, shedding all sorts of allegiance to the ideals of a democracy and to all those qualities that had made their city great.

Thucydides himself was a critic of democracy and he believed that it would crack under pressure--as it did during the Peloponnesian War and its end, civil war in Athens. Perhaps he though that human nature is not best suited for a democratic government. Others have argued that barbarians don't know what to do with democracy. Indeed, democracy is a work in progress; it takes a long time to take hold, and it's not just a way of governing but a way of life as well.

External pressures brought on by the choices democratic people make can have a deleterious effect on democracy. But a lot depends on how people handle a crisis, like 9-11 for example. If they have been active, informed and engaged citizens, then it's easier to handle a crisis because no national paralysis takes place. Yet, when people don't know much and allow their fears to take over, a paralysis occurs. Thucydides called this, stasis--inaction, confusion, death. The more a person, or a nation, falls into this category the harder it is to get out of it.

People have a habit of complaining about outcomes--like the war in Iraq--but who owns the war really? Where were the people (and the media) to seriously challenge the claims of their administration before it committed the nation's precious resources into this ill-fated expedition?

In a state of stasis, the passive people look to their leaders to explain what's going on, because the former don't have the ability to analyze the situation, and they fall prey to the politics of fear. After 9-11, the Bush administration exploited the feelings of the American people who were afraid, wanted revenge, and were willing to believe anything. Further, they kept believing or ignoring the facts for too long. They voted for Bush in 2004 too, only to repudiate his Iraq policies within months after his reelection when the situation went from bad to worse. However, what the majority of the American people discovered in 2005 and 2006 was known before the election--but most people didn't pay attention. It was very frustrating for me to talk to voters in the few days before the 2004 election and find out that they, by large majorities, held serious misconceptions [had bought the pack of lies] about the war, ie, that Osama had been helped by Saddam to attack NYC on 9-11!

A healthy democracy requires attention from its citizens, and the power of education cannot be understimated. The question remains, why do democratic people in times of crisis come to see their freedoms as luxuries rather as basic necessities and the true sources of their country's success?

I think there's a proportional relationship between rigid structure/authoritarianism on one hadn and the degree of freedom on the other. The mediating factor is maturity. The less mature the people are, the more structure they need; conversely, the more mature people are the more responsibly can exercise their freedoms.

Oh, yes, it's possible to have adults in perpetual immaturity, acting like little children, needing the disciplinarian father figure, and letting others doing the hard thinking and telling them what to do. [The philosopher Immanual Kant wrote extensively about this condition]

The good news is that as Americans we still have choices....

Mar 21, 2007

Welcome Spring & the Change of the Seasons. Just a Reminder Though: Our Lonely Planet is the Only Home We've Got!

Ah, Spring, it has arrived in the northern hemisphere! It’s eternal, they say. I say, it’s also internal; it depends on the outlook. Anyway, we have seasons because of the Earth’s 23.5ยบ tilt. Life, as we know it, emerged because our planet happens to be in the right distance from a main sequence star! It took several billion years for Earth to become the planet we all recognize today; and it will be more-or-less the same for a couple billion years more, until our sun passes from its present middle age to old age when it’ll become cranky enough to destroy all life on Earth.

So, what’s the outlook for our lonely blue dot in a hostile solar system? Let's put some things into perspective. Our planet has been around for over 4 billion years. Most of this time, it was inhospitable to life as we know it today. A couple billion years ago, some blue-green algae—also known as cyanobacteria—began to produce their own “pollution” and helped create the atmosphere we’re familiar with today. Lucky for us, a few celestial renegades hit Earth, some of them really hard, and they changed life, including the extinction of the dinosaurs and the eventual rise of the mammals (like us).

Yes, many species can adapt to the conditions, some better than others. Nevertheless, most, including humans, can exist within a very tiny band of temperatures. The absolute zero (0 Kelvin) is -273 C, or -460 F. The hottest known temperatures are in the millions. In other words, we live in a fragile ecosystem, in a hostile universe, and we’re stuck here for the foreseeable future.

Some Common Sense is Needed

Since the industrial revolution, humans have been dumping huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The oceans have been absorbing as well resulting in increased acidity, which influences sea life, currents, temperature, etc. This is not a natural product, not part of any cycle. To me it’s a no-brainer. The smog over cities, the acid rain are all man-made. I’ve seen the effects of acid rain that has destroyed forests and has polluted lakes and streams, right here in my backyard—my beloved Adirondack park where I visit often.

If 98 doctors told you that you had to stop smoking because you could die of lung cancer (among other terrible diseases smoking promotes), and 2 doctors, who work for the tobacco companies, told you smoking is harmless, what would you do? Would you stop smoking, even err on the side of caution? Or, would you ask the 98 doctors to tell you exactly when you’d die and if they were absolutely certain you’d die because of smoking?

There is a consensus in the scientific community about global warming and that humans are responsible for it. Whatever natural cycle of ice-hot ages takes place, we humans are able to kick the pendulum so hard into one direction that we can break this normal cycle with catastrophic consequences.

Stupidity Can Be Deadly

For all of our advances in science and education, it’s amazing how many stupid people we have in positions of power. I do like a good debate, because I want to find the truth. It’s important for me to know. The more serious the issue, the greater the need to know. So, let’s have a rational debate about the environment, but we can’t waist our time with stupidity. Science is one thing only—the best tool we’ve got to understand the world around us. Not every idea, every claim has equal weight. It’d be a waste of time to debate the views of the Flat Earth Society for example. And, their views can not be brought into the classroom as an ..alternative scientific theory. [Similarly with other fictional theories of creationism, intelligent design, etc. There’s room for such “theories” in places like this.]

Al Gore testified in Congress about climate change, but I doubt he reached most Republicans there. Do you know that only 13% of Congressional Republicans agree with the scientists about a man-made global warming? Of course, you know that several past members of the Bush administration, NASA scientists and so many others have admitted to distorting or were pressured to distort evidence regarding global warming. No surprises here. It’s worth listening to what Gore had to say. This man makes sense to me.

20 of the 21 hottest years ever measured in the human record have been in the last 25 years. The 10 hottest have been since 1990. The hottest was 2005. The hottest in the United States of America was 2006. The hottest winter ever measured globally was December of last year.”
Al Gore, 3/21/07 in his Congressional testimony

Need for Information & Action

Go out, take a nice breath of clean, crisp air and appreciate what we've got. Much of humanity isn't as lucky. The majority of people in the 21st century doesn’t have access to clean water! The environmental problems won’t always be confined only to the underdeveloped world. Bad climate affects everyone. Remember that our lonely planet is the only home we’ve got. Our children and future generations will also live here.

Don’t you think we should seek the truth about climate change and do something about it? At least 100 new people per second (3/20-3/21), over 550,00 (as of this moment), have signed Gore's petition that accompanied his testimony to the US Congress. We need more activists, we need more action. Politics is local and global. Vote, engage, participate, be vigilant.

photo credit: GP

Mar 16, 2007

Why the American People Need to Know the Truth & Nothing but the Truth, So Help Us..Congress with Subpoena Power

Some Lies Can Kill People!

Isn't interesting to see politicians fight? Many Americans don't like politics but they love watching a fight. The country was mesmerized with the Clinton sex & lying scandal. That was also very easy to understand, wasn't it? So, yes, that Congress was investigating the President for all sorts of things. That Republican Congress held 7 or 10 days worth of hearings regarding the use of the White House xmas list by the Clintons. It was a big concern whether the presidential couple had abused their privileges and used our House for political gain, or, worse, to their financial benefit! OK, nothing was found there, but the principle of checks & balances was preserved with a fig leaf.

With the war and all other catastrophes, you'd think that Congress would also have done some other serious digging. Nope, it didn't. Only the silence of the crickets was heard when it became known that some $ 9 billion dollars [today we know it was much higher than that, close to $12 b] was lost during Bremer's provisional government in Iraq. Lost, as in, we don't have a freakin clue where those "footballs" of bundled cash [in $100 bills] went! At least, those who took the money aren't talking.
Let's not give comfort to the enemy by criticizing our leaders and their policies, we're told with a scolding attitude. We have to show resolve, like good knuckle-heads and simpletons, yeah, like those who are fighting us. But, should we bow our heads as we obey an almighty deity? What, are we that immature? Shouldn't we ask tough questions--heck, even get really mad when we see such a level of gross incompetence and possibly a criminal behavior?
Some serious violations cannot be washed off with an apology, or with a pompous but empty statement, "I take full responsibility," when such an admission is not followed by any consequences! Has anyone, anyone in this BushCo, been held accountable for their miserable failures? No! As long as they are loyal to El Presidente and his cabal, they get promoted and get medals--not to mention a plush job in the corporate world.

Why should we care? Oh, I don't know, maybe because it's our money, our country, and our lives at stake! If we are patriots, we have to care. We have to be smart too, because often the worst treatments come from within our country not from our enemies. Where was the government with the most powerful military, a huge intelligence network, etc, on 9-11? We know the President was paralyzed with indecision--he stayed in that Florida classroom reading My Pet Goat after the second airplane hit the second tower in NYC. Who ignored the warnings by Richard Clarke and other counter-terrorism experts when they told Bush and his government that al Qaeda was determined to strike in the US by using airplanes? Condie--another utterly incompetent person--was to give a speech on 9-11 on security threats and her transcript had no reference to al Qaeda but to some "star wars" defense system the administration wanted to deploy!

Who were those who falsified documents, suppressed evidence, lied to the American people and the Congress, in order to attack Iraq? Who were those who revealed the identity of a CIA secret agent for political revenge? Are those people stupid, criminals, or both? We must find out. As we must find out and punish those who were put in charge of FEMA and those who failed to react to save Americans dying in the Gulf states after Katrina because of neglect and bad policies. [watch Valerie Plame's Congressional testimony; it's an eye opener; more highlights here] Did I mention that Condie went shoe shopping in Manhattan while people were dying in New Orleans? Oh, sorry, this wasn't a national security issue, and, therefore, her concern. We may have started a war and an invasion on made-up evidence, but it's OK when Americans die needlessly because of their government's neglect.

American soldiers are kept in horrible and often abusing conditions, not in a prison cell in a hostile country, but here in the US. These are the same people who volunteered to fight for America and were sent to battle without the proper body armor and equipment. Not to mention the stupendous lack of planning for the occupation, and all the other ill-conceived plans that have resulted in thousands of deaths and tens of thousands seriously injured troops. And, the chicken hawks want more bloodshed. Haven't you heard, already, the cries of those who could never face reality that say, "only if we had more time," "only if we had more troops," "only if we had spent more money," and whatever else...

It's time we take our country back. Except the 30% of the population that, no matter what, will stick behind Bush and any other authoritarian figure who professes conservative social values, most Americans couldn't possibly like what's happening to our country. Corruption is bad regardless of who's doing it. US Attorneys--like the Attorney General (that scum, Alberto Gonzales)--supposedly act on our behalf; to protect the public's interests, not being servants to the Republican establishment. And, yet, they were told to go after Democrats or face dismissal. Paul Krugman of the NY Times quoting the late Moly Ivins said that this was classic Rovian strategy to investigate Democrats [or announce (leak) a case against a Democrat] before the election only to have the case dismissed after the election. Is Carl Rove behind the treasonous Plame leak?

Can you imagine the noise and the indignation by the conservatives had the roles been reversed? They'd be asking for public hangings! I'm keeping tabs on who's putting their petty party politics above the national interest. I would never defend anyone who intentionally harms my country, and it doesn't matter if he's a liberal or a conservative. We know that despite all the Bush rhetoric about punishing the Plame identity leaker, these people don't really care. Bush would not promote and give medals to people whose main qualification was to kiss his ass. We heard today that no internal investigation was launched in the White House, not about Plame, not about anything else as long as it didn't challenge the orthodoxy. This is not surprising though.

We're coming up on the 4th anniversary of the Iraq war(3/19). I don't know how you feel about it, but remember that a war is paid for with human suffering; we deal with human beings who either don't get to live a full life, or will be forever scared.... and, their families suffer too. The cost is immense. The ultimate support for the troops is to protect them as much as we can before we send them to die to protect us when it's absolutely necessary.

"This was a child that every parent would be very, very proud of. Every parent should have the relationship that I have with my son. He was my right hand. He was my friend, my son, my confidant. And to lose somebody such as Seth is a tremendous lost to me as a mother. I've lost what I felt was going to be a young man with a phenomenal future that would have everything that he needed or wanted …"Sue Niederer talking about her son Army 2nd Lt. Seth J. Dvorin of East Brunswick NJ, killed in Iskandariyah, Iraq at age 24

There's a very well made documentary that I think you should watch. If you can't bear watching it, at least pay a visit to the Iraq Memorial site. We cannot afford to look the other way; I know it's horrific, but we, the whole nation, must be exposed to this painful reality. And, then demand answers, demand an end to this war. Unless we're willing to face the harsh truth, we won't learn anything from this experience, and we'll keep repeating the same mistakes. We've got to be smarter than that, for our children's sake, and for a better world.

Mar 10, 2007

Rhetoric Aside, The Conservatives Created a Monster of a Government Not Limited by Law or Oversight

"The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution. Its power and authority have no other source." Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black (1957)

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Fourth Amendment, US Constitution [still on paper, but not always in effect]

It's interesting that the conservative intellectuals talk about the "Constitution in exile," and the liberal courts that have been ..broad constructionist, while most of the conservatives have already shredded the constitution in favor of a political expedience that has given them the benefits of power via the Executive branch. When this country was established, it was decided that it would not be a country of and by god, aristocratic privilege, or ascribed status, but a country of laws. Of course there are laws that are not good, or may be disliked by a sizable segment of the population, but improving the law means that, before we have a rational debate, we have to agree on the rules of contact. Oh, and, at the very least, our elected representatives should read a legislation before they vote for it to become law! Did you know that many (if not most) in Congress hadn't read the PATRIOT ACT before they voted on it? Yes, that was the practice under the Republican leadership--legislation without review, amendment, and on the backs of the majority of the majority!

Fortunately, there was a change in the last election. Congress can exercise its constitutional duty of review and investigation. Subpoena power will be a familiar term in the next few years, I'm betting. Many of the known scandals will be investigated and many others will surely surface. The latest scandal is the firing of US Attorneys who dared to go after Republicans and refused to persecute Democrats on orders from the White House and other high-level Republicans. How about the FBI abuse of the PATRIOT ACT? At least Director Muller was man enough to accept the blame and say that the inquiry that led to unearthing was "a proper Congressional oversight."

The funny thing is that some Republicans are saying that the government is not competent enough to be an effective Big Brother. The National Review on Line (a very conservative outlet) puts it this way, "It is worth bearing in mind here that Inspector General found the FBI's mistakes here were based on incompetence, not malevolence; aside from not being disposed toward it, our government seems incapable of being Big Brother. Pffff, what a relief. I suppose they think it's OK for lots of power to rest with the incompetent! Not me. I want a smart, efficient, but limited government that respects our civil liberties and acts for the greater good of the greatest number of people!

The PATRIOT ACT must be reviewed and changed, starting with its name. We cannot violate all those principles of liberty and human rights that have made our country a beacon of freedom and tolerance as compared to the rest of the world. We are not the only liberal democracy but we should be an enlightened leader for more democracy and for an open, accountable system of government. Just a few years ago, if someone asked you to name a country that can do warrant less surveillance, imprison anyone without charging him, and, if deemed an "enemy of the state," he could disappear or sent to another country to be tortured, which country would come to mind? Cuba? China? North Korea? The old Soviet Union? Any other country closer than those?...

In which country the authorities can exercise any kind of spying without any supervision and without any recourse for the citizens to an appeal. Where can they pay you a visit and demand everything you've got, and tell you that you must comply, that you can't appeal to a court of law, and you can't even tell anyone about what happened?!!! This is very intimidating and indeed an element of Big Brother. How are we supposed to safeguard our rights and civil liberties? Or, is it OK to forgo those during times of crisis, like during a war on terror--a war that takes place everywhere and will last for ever...

Incompetence coupled with arrogance and power is a sure path to the destruction of the America we know. "A profoundly disturbing breach of public trust," said Sen. Schumer (Senate Judiciary Committee overseeing the FBI) of that federal agency's abuses. I would like Sen. Schumer and Congress to do a study to see whether most of those extra powers we so readily gave to the authorities [and even more foolishly elected chickenhawks to important positions in our government] have kept us safer.

As we've seen in the last few years, the intelligence & the evidence collected are useless if those in charge are incompetent and drunk with the arrogance of power. But, I think the goal is to keep spending lots of money supporting the military-industrial complex [read Eisenhower's address on this]; to prevent & deflect criticism of those in charge; to keep people in fear and, thus, easier to control; and to maintain one of the biggest disparities of a modern country today.

Mar 8, 2007

Women Should be Honored & Celebrated Every Day of the Year--With EQUAL RIGHTS--in a Humane & Free World

Domestic violence kills and injures more people in the developing world than war, cancer or traffic accidents

By looking at the condition of women in a given country, you can tell a great deal about that country--its economy, politics, and culture. On March 8th, some people observed the international Women's Day, I didn't, sort of. Any instance that brings attention to an important issue, I welcome, though I wonder if, on that day, there were any specific actions that may result in some positive change in the condition of women. I hope there were such actions, though I'm not sure. I have a problem when people become romantic just because it's Valentine's Day, or remember their mother because it's Mother's Day. I believe it has to be a way of life, an attitude to behave nicely, to be an enlightened person, to treat other human beings with respect and afford them dignity. Unfortunately, not every country is a liberal democracy [the only truly free society we know today], and many haven't arrived at the 21st century yet...

Even in the United States there are problems, not always limited to domestic violence against women, or job discrimination. There's human trafficking here too! Hard to believe, but it's true. [read more about it in this post on Pace Polity by Elizabeth]

UK's The Independent has a great article about the condition of women in the world today. The British government in cooperation with human rights groups have found some very disturbing facts:

  • Two-thirds of the world's 800 million illiterate adults are women as girls are not seen as worth the investment, or are busy collecting water or firewood or doing other domestic chores.

  • Two million girls aged from five to 15 join the commercial sex market every year.

  • Domestic violence kills and injures more people in the developing world than war, cancer or traffic accidents.

  • Seventy per cent of the world's poorest people are women.

  • Violence against women causes more deaths and disabilities among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war.

  • Women produce half the world's food, but own less than two per cent of the land.

  • Of the more than one billion people living in extreme poverty, 70 per cent are women.

  • Almost a third of the world's women are homeless or live in inadequate housing.

  • Half of all murdered women are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.

  • Every minute a woman dies as a result of pregnancy complications.

  • Women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, yet earn only a tenth of its income.

  • One woman in three will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

  • 43 million girls are not able to go to school.

  • Last year, one million HIV-positive women died of AIDS-related illnesses because they could not get the drugs they needed.

  • Human Rights Watch, in reports on 15 countries including Afghanistan, Brazil, Morocco, Papua New Guinea, Togo and South Africa, has identified violence against schoolgirls, child domestic workers and those in conflict with the law as on the rise.

  • Women across the developing world are the victims of systematic abuse.
I know that, in my lifetime, I won't see a world where true humanism and enlightenment are universally practiced, but for every life we change today, we can affect thousands in the future. Yes, every person can make a positive difference, big or small. Oscar Schindler saved about 1,200 human beings, who went on to have families, children, grandchildren, and so forth, for generations. I think it's rather basic, it's respect for human life, in the here & now, when it actually matters!

Women are our mothers. They deserve everything, and more, than we--the children, the men--enjoy today. It makes sense, it's good for the world, it's humane!

Mar 6, 2007

Have You Noticed What the Conservatives Said at their Recent Political Action Conference (CPAC)? Let's Give Them More Exposure!

An icon of the Conservatives, Dick Cheney--most likely to be the most unpopular veep in modern US history--addressing CPAC.

I watched snippets of the Conservatives' Political Action Conference that took place a few days ago. It's where Ann Coulter was applauded for calling John Edwards "faggot." I don't know why C-SPAN covered such an event but I'm glad it did, because everyone in America should see what the conservatives talk about when they get together. Their presidential candidates attended and spoke at this CPAC along with other admired stars of the conservative universe. Of course, there are many shades of conservatism and GOPers, but, really, does that rhetoric (and advocated policies) represent the majority of the right wing and its voters?

As usually, the straw man--the biased liberal media that ..dominates everything--got a beating at this conference, but you should hear what the conservatives' brightest stars have been saying. Those views aren't limited to a private conference, but are peddled daily on talk radio (where conservatives dominate), mainstream radio and TV, cable channels, and newspapers. Actually, I do want to see the progressives exposing more of the garbage spewed by icons of the right, like Coulter, Malkin, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity, just to name a handful. Any public official, any candidate, any aspirant for elective office who shares these views must be exposed and must be made accountable. Why, we should give such talk more exposure, take it outside their conservative enclaves and present it to the rest of the country. Let's see whether such views are indeed accepted by most Americans.

We often don't want to deal with the ridiculous, but at times we should. I don't think most Americans realize what today's GOP stands for. These conservatives in control of the Republican party are indeed extremists. Of course they have to talk in a special language with buzz words, simplistic notions and plans, because that's why most of their activist base understands and needs to get motivated. But, this base of wingnuts is not enough to win elections; the independents and other mainstream voters have to be convinced too--usually not be reason, but by the politics of fear, and the "good guy" approach. That was the strategy of the folksy Dubya.

Ideological and some very ..practical reasons prevent me from being a Republican, but even if this weren't enough, I simply don't find their arguments all that good. Not all conservatives are stupid by any means. Some of them, like George Will, are smart and articulate... when they talk to us or the general public; but not when they talk to their base where a bumper-sticker mentality prevails. Yes, use the magnetic ribbon that says, "Support the Troops," on your SUV, but stop there. Don't bother to think further. Not only their arguments aren't sophisticated but purposefully are simplistic. I'd urge everybody to read the speeches (at least of the stars in the conservative camp) at that CPAC show and draw your own conclusions.

I'd also suggest that you pay attention to what the conservatives are saying today. Maybe you should subscribe to a couple newsletters. For example, I've been getting daily emails from This right wingnut outlet was a presenter at the CPAC (along with Just see what they're talking about; it'll be an educational experience, and, I hope, a reason for all progressives to be on the offensive and expose those people for what they are. Nothing more, nothing less.

Check this video from The Nation magazine's Max Blumenthal. It's from the recent CPAC. Do watch it, you may learn something about the cons.

PS. It's not about Ann Coulter's bigotry; she'd be irrelevant if no one were listening. Kos puts this succintly, "Ann Coulter exists because the conservative movement craves her brand of hatred, and she delivers the goods." I've said this many times before, all those wingnuts are relevant because they have many followers. No one would, for example, take Pat Robertson, Falwell, et al, seriously if they were just representing themselves. As a matter of fact whenever they say something incredibly stupid & inconsiderate, memberships & contributions in their organizations go up. They deliver the goods many theocons want to consume.

PS2. You may want to watch Mr. Bean's video (under Picture of the Moment on the right column)for laughs. He's addressing a Conservative party conference. Even if this is kinda old, it's still relevant--at least here with our own cons.

UPDATE 3/9/07
There has been some reaction from conservative blogs and others against Ann Coulter, because as they say, correctly, she's a distraction to the message the conservatives want to put forth. But, why do the conservatives keep giving Coulter such wide media exposure? Is she expressing a significant segment of their base? They may, now, deride her but is the anti-gay, anti-abortion, culture-war rhetoric what's left of GOP's platform? Well, they do believe that Darwin's theory of evolution is a ..liberal sham and should be replaced by creationsim (of a certain kind).
Here's a clip that caps the whole issue; it includes some great comments by Rachel Maddow.

Mar 1, 2007

Learning Through Participation & Teaching Others--Attending School & Citizenship Not All that Different!

In one of my classes this semester, I formed five groups and I asked the students to research, analyze and present their findings to the whole class. One great way to learn about an issue is to analyze it and then having to present it (or teach it) to others. It's an amazing process. I think most students today are not exposed to this way of learning and it's a shame. I do appreciate the value of a lecture, but this should not be the only method of teaching our younger generation. I've seen it too often, that students sit disinterested in a classroom where the professor delivers a lecture (usually in monotone) from his notes. I've seen too many disinterested or burnt-out teachers. Not good.

I let the students to pick whatever issue(s) they wanted to cover, research them in any depth or detail, and make any type of presentation they liked. So far, I've been pleasantly surprised. PowerPoint presentations, use of the Internet live, videos from Youtube, editorials, interviews, and students' own essays. Even if there was no consensus within a group [Dems and Repubs didn't see eye to eye!] the result was much better than many shows thrown at the American public by "respectable" mainstream media outlets! I'm not kidding. And, the tone was much more civilized than the venom and stupidity uttered by the likes of Coulter, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity, and the rest of the zoo of infotainment media.

I'm not saying that students didn't exhibit strong points of view, even the occasional emotional plea, but this added to the excitement, captured the attention of the audience, and we learned something! [I'm going to follow up on this shortly] I've seen this happening in many other settings as well. When people are moved from the chair of the passive listener to the activity of their own involvement, good things begin to happen. Magically things become to make more sense, because the individual (or the student) arrives at his/her own conclusion--this is a very exciting experience! Once a person works on an issue, a point of view emerges, and having to defend this issue with reasonable arguments exposes this person to the rational process! I can't over-emphasize the value of this experience and the kind of a person it creates.

Too many people have swallowed stuff without chewing it first. They hold beliefs, impressions, bias without much examination. It's no accident that sometimes we behave inappropriately for a mature and responsible nation. Of course, we all know the aftermath of 9-11 and the reaction of the American public. Enter an incompetent president, a collection of absolutist theocrats and a group of neoconservative aggressors, and the result was an unmitigated disaster for our country. Why? Because the country, its elected representatives, and the media all failed to exercise common sense. As a nation, we allowed ourselves to believe anything and do anything to be secure and get revenge. BushCo manipulated our insecurities, sat us down, and fed us a pack of lies--which was readily consumed. This is not good.

The Founding Fathers established a system of representative government, but they assumed that most people were not fit to participate in it. Back then, only white men with property (men of responsibility in society) could participate. Obviously, many things have changed since then, mostly for the better, but not all is well. As this blog's masthead says, democracy is as good as the people who participate in it. An informed and engaged citizen is essential in keeping a democracy healthy. Don't care, and this thingy will go away faster than you think....

I feel lucky I get to make a difference, though anyone can make a difference in their own way. Just think about it; everyone has something to contribute to make this world a better place to live in. No person achieves anything entirely on his/her own (unless they exist in the vacuum of space). The rest of us stand upon the shoulders of others, who stood upon the shoulders of others, etc. Having this perspective works wonders in "giving something back," like helping others stand up and developing a sense of responsibility that goes beyond one's nose.