Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Weak Tea, part five, addendum

Thomas L. Friedman's column today in the Times is worth a read.  It relates to an idea I was trying to develop in yesterday's post: the people as a unity, not just an aggregation.

Toward the end, he lists a number of factors that have changed American politics, allowing noisy and unthinking fringe groups on all sides to overwhelm the ingenious checks and balances of the system set down in the Constitution and make it difficult, if not impossible, to do anything at all for the common good:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Weak Tea, part five

Here, at last, is the ninth principle of Glenn Beck's "912 Project": 

9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me. 
Who works for whom? “I consider the people who constitute a society or a nation as the source of all authority in that nation.” Thomas Jefferson

Yet again, the principle as stated obscures and distorts some genuinely interesting and important questions.  And, again, it openly contradicts the fifth principle, that no one is above the rule of law.   How is the rule of law carried out, except that executive power is entrusted to a government, and each of us thinks of ourselves, in this respect at least, as answerable to the government?  There seems to be a muddle here, which can only be sorted out by going back to the basics of democratic theory.

I would note in passing that the quotation from Jefferson is a bit ambiguous.  What does he mean by “the people”?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Weak Tea: A Side Show

My brother sent me a link to the following video, with a note that it "speaks for itself."

This is outrageous!  I mean, what a terrible, terrible song!

If I were Mr. Obama, I'd be mortified.

Competing Images of Democracy

A comparison.

First, some images of recent "town hall" outbursts (photos from Charles Dharapak/AP Photo and Commercial Appeal/Landov):

. . . and one image of protests around the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh (photo from AP):

Now, some images of yesterday's World Wide Views project meeting in Atlanta:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Weak Tea, part four

Just one principle from the 912 Project, this time. I'll finish up in a day or two.
8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
On your right to disagree “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude; every man will speak as he thinks, or more properly without thinking.” George Washington
Again, it’s hard to disagree with this, at least on its face.

And again, where were these people during the Bush administration, when we were told that dissent was all but tantamount to treason, weakening our resolve and giving "aid and comfort" to our enemies? That was the line from Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Cheney, and the rest from 9/11 on down.

Copenhagen: A Memento

Here's something I discovered on my trip to Copenhagen last March.

First, my version of the standard postcard view of a famous (though not so very significant) landmark:

Now, with a slight change of angle, we can see what she's really looking at:

Friday, September 25, 2009

World Wide Views on Global Warming

Tomorrow I serve as Head Facilitator of the Atlanta Meeting of the World Wide Views project. This was the reason for my trip to Copenhagen in March (see this, and this).

Now that it comes down to it, I'm actually really excited to be participating in the project. The first meetings have already begun, way over by the International Date Line, and the last meeting, in southern California, will wrap up about 22 hours from now.

And the results are already starting to come in, though only on the first, rather bland questions.  It's the later questions on which it will be most interesting to see the results, most especially the recommendations from the assembled citizens that will be gathered at the end.

You can follow the results at

I'll have more to say about this afterward, though probably not immediately. I need to be careful not to step on the toes of those carrying out research on the effects and the effectiveness of citizen consultation carried out by this method at this scale.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weak Tea, part three

I seem to be on a roll. Here we go, deeper into the principles of the 912 Project . . .
6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness “Everyone has a natural right to choose that vocation in life which he thinks most likely to give him comfortable subsistence.” Thomas Jefferson
Most of the first part of principle is itself a direct quotation from the Declaration of Independence. To question that would be tantamount to blasphemy.

The second half of the principle also seems fairly uncontroversial . . . in part because strict equality of outcome is all but incoherent as a goal for any economic and political system that involves human beings. Does anyone seriously propose this any more?

Weak Tea, part two

Moving along . . .
4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.
Marriage/Family “It is in the love of one’s family only that heartfelt happiness is known. By a law of our nature, we cannot be happy without the endearing connections of a family.” Thomas Jefferson
Now the principles of the 912 Project start to get a little more serious, and my responses will, too.

This one is very curious. On the one hand, there is an issue of real substance here regarding the proper relationship between public and private, and regarding the kinds of decisions appropriately left to each realm.

But the way the principle is stated begins to reveal a pattern that bedevils this and most of the principles that follow: a substantive issue about which there may be reasonable disagreement is entirely obscured by a provocative exaggeration, one that both misses the point and poisons the well.

Weak Tea, part one, addenda

Two further thoughts on the first three principles of the 912 Project:

First, it now occurs to me that there is good reason why there is no quotation from the Founding Fathers to accompany the first principle: Beck or his ghost-writers couldn’t find one.

The Founders didn’t really go in for mindless jingoism, you see. That would come later.

Second, it has also occurred to me that there may be a still more insidious meaning behind the third principle.  It is worded very carefully so that it does not actually commit adherents to being fully Honest today, so long as they are more Honest than they were yesterday and they make an earnest promise to be still more Honest tomorrow.

So, some of these folks may be a lying gasbags today but, hey! You shoulda heard ‘em yesterday!

In fact, the principle can be seen as positively forbidding adherents to be fully Honest today. If they were, how could they be still more Honest tomorrow?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Weak Tea, part one

My recent - now, mercifully, terminated - email exchange with my brother did serve the function of piquing my curiosity about the September 12 rally in Washington and the intentions of its organizers. Most especially, I'm interested in Glenn Beck's so-called "912 Project."

Built on 9 Principles and 12 Values, it seems intended to provide a common platform for the protesters, talking points, a rallying cry, a unifying vision . . . whatever.

Oh, please. 9 Principles and 12 Values? It sounds like a hastily written self-help book. What's next, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Wingnuts? (With profound apologies to Steven R. Covey.)

Still, I will suppress my rising gorge long enough to take a look at these principles, one by one, over the next couple of posts.  As presented on the website of the 912 Project, each principle is followed by a quotation, cherry-picked from the writings and speeches of the Founding Fathers.

Let's take a look.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tea Party!

I've fallen into a heated email exchange with my brother. It began when he sent me a link to a YouTube video in which scenes of the September 12 "Tea Party" rally in DC are strung together with the apparently revolutionary (but secretly reactionary?) song by The Who, "We Won't Get Fooled Again". The images, one after the other, display the shoddy propaganda and misguided hysteria of the crowd.

My brother avowed that he was moved by the actions of "those patriots" at the rally.

Well, I couldn't take this sitting down, so I wrote: