Monday, September 29, 2008

Whose Reality Is It?

A few weeks ago, noting the two sharply different reactions to Sarah Palin's VP nomination, I posted about the particular gap in values in the US that has been widened and exploited by the Culture Wars. But today I'm reminded of another gap, the one that every now and then pops out and frustrates actors in the public sphere. Today the US House of Representatives voted down the proposed bail-out bill being pushed by leaders of both parties as well as by the mainstream media. In an Associated Press article, Julie Hirschfeld Davis writes

"We're all worried about losing our jobs," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declared in an impassioned speech in support of the bill before the vote. "Most of us say, 'I want this thing to pass, but I want you to vote for it — not me.'"

Said Boehner, after the vote: "Americans are angry, and so are my colleagues. They don't want to have to vote for a bill like this. But I have concerns about what this means for the American people, what it means for our economy, and what it means for people's jobs. I think that we need to renew our efforts to find a solution that Congress can support."

In the wake of the vote, the Dow Jones index fell nearly 800 points. The AP headline declares that the vote "shocked the capital and worldwide markets." Apparently it does not occur to these folks in Washington, on Wall Street, or in the media that there might be an alternative to the non-solution of this "bailout." (Economists of every stripe seem to think that such a bailout will not solve the difficulties that both the economy and the economy's sector are in.) It's their way or no way, they're telling themselves. The thing is, though, that people who have no power to act in the public sphere, people who are generally ignored, don't share their mindset. Maybe we don't get all the complexities of a system gamed with the help of mathematicians and physicists (unable to get academic or research jobs), but we do have a certain distance that enlarges our perspective (and considerably greater emotional cool). I can't help but recall how shocked and stunned and frustrated the pundits were when a large majority of the US public refused to buy into the supposed necessity to impeach President Clinton. The pundits kept wringing their hands and moaning. They just don't get it! The ordinary person just doesn't understand what we've been telling them. What can we do to educate them? (Meaning: people are so stupid. If they weren't stupid, they'd listen to us and share our insanity.) According to Davis's article, Bush lobbied as hard for this as he's ever lobbied Congress for anything. And you can bet the paid lobbyists have been busy night and day. But for some reason, the anger of the public (which isn't allowed into the public sphere) carried the day with most members of Congress...

Yesterday I read a piece in the Observer that resonated with a conversation I'd had with Tom on Saturday afternoon. Tom said, "Osama bin Laden must be laughing his ass off. The US with all its imperial ambitions is sliding into bankruptcy, just as the Soviet Union bankrupted itself fighting the Cold War." Well, John Gray's A Sattering Moment in America's Fall from Power suggests that

The fate of empires is very often sealed by the interaction of war and debt. That was true of the British Empire, whose finances deteriorated from the First World War onwards, and of the Soviet Union. Defeat in Afghanistan and the economic burden of trying to respond to Reagan's technically flawed but politically extremely effective Star Wars programme were vital factors in triggering the Soviet collapse. Despite its insistent exceptionalism, America is no different. The Iraq War and the credit bubble have fatally undermined America's economic primacy. The US will continue to be the world's largest economy for a while longer, but it will be the new rising powers that, once the crisis is over, buy up what remains intact in the wreckage of America's financial system.

. . . .

The irony of the post-Cold War period is that the fall of communism was followed by the rise of another utopian ideology. In American and Britain, and to a lesser extent other Western countries, a type of market fundamentalism became the guiding philosophy. The collapse of American power that is underway is the predictable upshot. Like the Soviet collapse, it will have large geopolitical repercussions. An enfeebled economy cannot support America's over-extended military commitments for much longer. Retrenchment is inevitable and it is unlikely to be gradual or well planned.

Meltdowns on the scale we are seeing are not slow-motion events. They are swift and chaotic, with rapidly spreading side-effects. Consider Iraq. The success of the surge, which has been achieved by bribing the Sunnis, while acquiescing in ongoing ethnic cleansing, has produced a condition of relative peace in parts of the country. How long will this last, given that America's current level of expenditure on the war can no longer be sustained?

An American retreat from Iraq will leave Iran the regional victor. How will Saudi Arabia respond? Will military action to forestall Iran acquiring nuclear weapons be less or more likely? China's rulers have so far been silent during the unfolding crisis. Will America's weakness embolden them to assert China's power or will China continue its cautious policy of 'peaceful rise'? At present, none of these questions can be answered with any confidence. What is evident is that power is leaking from the US at an accelerating rate. Georgia showed Russia redrawing the geopolitical map, with America an impotent spectator.

Outside the US, most people have long accepted that the development of new economies that goes with globalisation will undermine America's central position in the world. They imagined that this would be a change in America's comparative standing, taking place incrementally over several decades or generations. Today, that looks an increasingly unrealistic assumption.

Having created the conditions that produced history's biggest bubble, America's political leaders appear unable to grasp the magnitude of the dangers the country now faces. Mired in their rancorous culture wars and squabbling among themselves, they seem oblivious to the fact that American global leadership is fast ebbing away. A new world is coming into being almost unnoticed, where America is only one of several great powers, facing an uncertain future it can no longer shape.

The Bush Administration, of course, has always claimed that it makes-- rather than submits to-- reality. At the same time, they (and just about every other person and institution in the public sphere) do their best to convince the public (i.e., everyone not in the public sphere) that late capitalism is the only reality possible for the 21st century. What I think? We live in "interesting times." "Interesting times," of course, are never exactly fun.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sun on Dragonfly

Nicola Griffith has posted a fan vid based on her story "Touching Fire" (which can be found in With Her Body, Volume 2 in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces Series) on her blog, in the entry titled Murder music, heat and sex music. The vid, "Sun on Dragonfly," is by Karina, who has also made a vid in response to Kelley Eskridge's " Strings."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quote of the Day

If we look at writers through the ages we see that they have always been political. Greek poets were political, they championed democracy or defended oligarchs and tyrants according to their sentiment. Pindar was political as were Aeschylus and Euripides, Plato and Aristotle, Catullus and Cicero, Virgil and Horace. Dante was engrossed in politics as were most of the artists of the Renaissance. Nobody told Byron he would be a better writer if he did not attempt the Vision of Judgment or Wordsworth not to bother with Toussaint l'Ouverture; Swift was not considered to have cheapened himself by The Drapier Letters or The Conduct of the Allies, nor Dryden to have let down poetry by Absalom and Achitophel. To deny politics to a writer is to deny him part of his humanity. But even from a list of political writers we can deduce that there are periods in the history of a country when writers are more political, or more writers are political than at others. They are not the periods of greatest political tension, they are those in which authors can do most, can be listened to, can be important, can influence people, and get their own way. Thus Roman poets ceased to be political after the Empire because they were powerless. A writer during the age of Augustus could not play the part of Catullus or Cicero. Writers flourish in a state of political flux, on the eve of the crisis, rather than in the crisis itself; it is before a war or a revolution that they are listened to and come into their own and it was because they were disillusioned at their impotence during the war that so many became indifferent to political issues after the peace.

It is clear that we are living now in a transition period as suited to political writing as were the days of Ship Money or the reign of Queen Anne. Writers can still change history by their pleading, and one who is not political neglects the vital intellectual issues of his time and disdains his material. He is not powerless, like the Symbolists of 1870, the aesthetes of the eighties and nineties, the beer-and-chivalry addicts of the nineteen hundreds or the demobilized Georgian poet on his chicken farm. He is not a victim of his time but a person who can alter it, though if he does not,he may soon find himself victimized. By ignoring the present he condones the future. He has to be political to integrate himself and he must go on being political to protect himself. To-day the forces of life and progress are ranging on one side, those of reaction and death on the other. We are having to choose between democracy and fascism, and fascism is the enemy of art. It is not a question of relative freedom; there are no artists in Fascist countries....Stagnation, fear, violence, and opportunism the characteristics of capitalism preparing for the fray, are no background for a writer and there is a seediness, an ebb of life, a philosophy of taking rather than giving, a bitterness and brutality about right-wing writers now which was absent in those of other days, in seventeenth-century Churchmen or eighteenth-century Tories...
--Cyril Connolly, The Enemies of Promise (1938)

Addendum: The top news stories in the US today? On the domestic front: the US Congress, in its ongoing savaging of the US Constitution, is preparing to hand over absolute power to the plutocrats running the Bush Administration, under the guise of fixing the mess those same plutocrats created (and note, please, that the mainstream media is studiously avoiding asking economists their opinions on the proposed "fix"). On the international front: the US is expanding the "Bush Doctrine" to include Pakistan as the next front for its endless, destructive war fronting its endless, destructive corruption. All this via a "secret" presidential order, made without reference to Congress. In short: a really, really Bad Situation just got really, really dangerous. Is no one really concerned about this? For it certainly looks to the casual eye that as far as the US public goes, it's all just Business As Usual.

More on Connolly's book on the writing life: soon.

ETA: Tom tells me that finally the News Hour (formerly Mc-Neill-Lehrer) has had three economists on. One of them, he said, was even more scathing in his denunciation of the "bail-out" than Paul Krugman.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Take Note!

Cat Rambo is guest-blogging this week at Ecstatic Days.

Nisi Shawl to read in Moscow, Idaho

Nisi Shawl will be read and sign at The Book People, in Moscow, Idaho, on Saturday, October 4, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Book People is located at 521 South Main in downtown Moscow, Idaho. Call (208) 882-7957 for directions, or email

Although I won't be able to make the reading, if you live in Eastern Washington or Western Idaho, you won't want to miss it. Not only is it a treat to hear Nisi read, but I've browsed in that bookstore myself a few times, when visiting friends in Moscow (and spent freely) and can assure you it's got all the charm you expect of a small independent bookstore.

* * *

This exquisitely rendered debut collection of 11 reprints and three originals ranges into the past and future to explore identity and belief in a dazzling variety of settings. “At the Huts of Ajala,” a folktale concerning a girl wrestling with a trickster god before her birth, is full of urgent and delightful imagery, while “Wallamelon” is an elegiac, sophisticated exploration of the Blue Lady myth. Of the several science fiction stories included, the strongest are “Good Boy,” an engrossing experiment in computer psychology, African gods and postcolonial anxiety, and “Shiomah’s Land,” a cross-genre bildungsroman involving a girl who becomes the wife of a goddess. The concluding tale, “The Beads of Ku,” is an utterly arresting, authoritatively delivered tale concerning the diplomacy of marriage and the economy of the land of the dead. The threads of folklore, religious magic, family and the search for a cohesive self are woven with power and lucidity throughout this panorama of race, magic and the body. ---Publishers Weekly, starred review

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What's Behind Us

Bitch Magazine is offering a retrospective of six works of feminist literature from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s--Paging Through Feminism's Lost & Found Classics-- that includes classic tests like Joanna Russ's We Who Are About To and Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School as well as the not-so-classic Up Your Ass by Valerie Solanas, the best-selling The Women's Room by Marilyn French, the primer on the Women's Liberation movement by Cellestine Ware, Woman Power: The Movement for Women's Liberation, and the anthology The Black Woman, edited by Toni Cade [Bambara] and featuring wriers like Nikki Giovanni, Paule Marshall, Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker, "about what it means to be a woman in the civil rights/ black power movement and black in the women's liberation movement."

In the 1976 cross-country race film The Gumball Rally, the late, great Raul Julia rips off his rearview mirror and tosses it over his shoulder, saying “What’s behind me is not important.” 

He didn’t win the race. 

Maybe that’s because what’s behind us actually is important. Feminist literature and history did not spring fully formed from Betty Friedan’s and Naomi Wolf’s pens and word processors; they have had long, complex, and often buried lives. The six works profiled here, ranging from once-famous titles to all-but-unknown works, were dead-on portraits of the state of women when they were written in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, but they still resonate with readers today. Themes like race and the women’s movement, gender and identity, and body politics are evergreen; discussions of these topics still roil in books, on blogs, and in person. And while mainstream feminism may not be grappling with issues like separatism these days, the passion, politics, anger, and truth contained in these books can inspire us to burn as brightly as these authors did. 

For each book, the article provides a paragraph on "What it's about," another on "When it was published" (i.e., how it was received when first published), and "These days," which includes a paragraph on "why you should track it down."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Mystery of the Disappearing Comments

I've heard from several people lately that some comments posted to the blog are not appearing. Comments do come to us first for moderation (handled chiefly by Cat Rambo and occasionally by me), but unless they're spam or Beyond Obnoxious, we invariably approve them for posting. The comments that are getting lost in the ether never make it to the moderation stage. (Which is why I don't know how exactly often this has happened.) So I thought I'd better offer two pieces of advice to people wanting to post comments. First, make a copy of your post. (A hassle, I know, but it's even more of a hassle if you decide to go to the trouble of writing it a second time.) Second, if your comment doesn't appear within 8 hours of your having posted it, assume it's lost and either re-post, or drop me (or Cat) a line to confirm and then re-post.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Software, as you may have gathered by now, is something I swear at when it impinges on my consciousness. I've no idea what is up with the comments software.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stuff of Interest

I'm back in Seattle, wishing my two nights away had been three. Yesterday we had Jeanne Gomoll's interview; today we have a couple of interesting posts by Aqueduct authors Sue Lange and Kelley Eskridge. Sue has a guest post-- The Singularity Trap-- today at the Mumpsimus; while Kelley has posted Just Say No To Gender Stability on her blog. Also, I've just seen a lengthy review of the Marq'ssan Cycle by Frann Michel (who gave an interesting paper on Octavia Butler's work at WisCon 32) on her KBOO Radio blog. Check them out!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jeanne Gomoll

I'm away from home, briefly, visiting the Columbia Gorge, staying in Hood River, OR. It's a beautiful area, but (for me) a bit hot for September.

I see that Strange Horizons has posted an interview with Jeanne Gomoll on Feminist SF, the Tiptree Award, and WisCon, complete with the image of Space Babe (which Jeanne designed). Check it out!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sentence of the Day

More damaging to the common weal than internecine brawling is the sheer amount of pontificating ("America loves a winner," "America loves the underdog") and prognosticating and chest puffing that is engaged in by the cast of dubious characters who are given a forum on cable-news programs and run around from network to network like free-range chickens.--Nancy Franklin "Convention Wisdom: Cable news at the gathering of the clans" (in the Sept 15. issue of The New Yorker)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Civil Disobedience and Juries

I'm always interested in seeing how juries react in cases where criminal charges are the result of civil disobedience. The primary aim of activists on trial is usually to bring obscure but shocking facts and circumstances into public space (which is, of course, what acts of civil disobedience are most often intended to do) and public discourse. (In case you hadn't realized it, a courtroom, unless it has been closed to the public, is a public space par excellence.) One generally hopes to have an impact on the jury---not necessarily to win an acquittal, but more importantly to bring a part of reality into their thinking that they've previously been unaware of. Acquittal (or dismissal of the charges by the judge) is simply icing on the cake.

In some cases, though, an acquittal can be more than that. Today's Independent/UK reports that six Greenpeace activists put on trial for painting the name of Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the chimney of a power station in order to protest a plan to build a new generation of coal-fired plants were acquitted by a jury on the grounds of "lawful excuse." NASA scientist James Hansen testified on behalf of the defendants, asserting

that emissions of CO2 from Kings-north would damage property through the effects of the climate change they would help to cause.

He was one of several leading public figures who gave evidence for the defence, including Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Richmond Park and director of the Ecologist magazine, who similarly told the jury that in his opinion, direct action could be justified in the minds of many people if it was intended to prevent larger crimes being committed.

The acquittal was the second time in a decade that the "lawful excuse" defence has been successfully used by Greenpeace activists. In 1999, 28 Greenpeace campaigners led Lord Melchett, who was director at the time, were cleared of criminal damage after trashing an experimental field of GM crops in Norfolk. In each case the damage was not disputed - the point at issue was the motive.

Here's a bit more from the article:

The court heard how, dressed in orange boiler suits and white hard hats bearing the Greenpeace logo, the six-strong group arrived at the site at 6.30am on 8 October. Armed with bags containing abseiling gear, five of them scaled the chimney while Mr Hewke waited below to liaise between the climbers and police.

The climbers had planned to paint "Gordon, bin it" in huge letters on the side of the chimney, but although they succeeded in temporarily shutting the station, they only got as far as painting the word "Gordon" on the chimney before they descended, having been threatened with a High Court injunction. Removing the graffiti cost E.ON £35,000, the court heard.

During the trial the defendants said they had acted lawfully, owing to an honestly held belief that their attempt to stop emissions from Kingsnorth would prevent further damage to properties worldwide caused by global warming. Their aim, they said, was to rein back CO2 emissions and bring urgent pressure to bear on the Government and E.ON to changes policies. They insisted their action had caused the minimum amount of damage necessary to close the plant down and constituted a "proportionate response" to the increasing environmental threat.

Speaking outside court after being cleared yesterday, Mr Stewart said: "This is a huge blow for ministers and their plans for new coal-fired power stations. It wasn't only us in the dock, it was the coal-fired generation as well. After this verdict, the only people left in Britain who think new coal is a good idea are John Hutton and Malcolm Wicks. It's time the Prime Minister stepped in, showed some leadership and embraced the clean energy future for Britain."

He added: "This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change movement. When a jury of normal people say it is legitimate for a direct action group to shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to our planet, then where does that leave Government energy policy? We have the clean technologies at hand to power our economy. It's time we turned to them instead of coal."

Ms Hall said: "The jury heard from the most distinguished climate scientist in the world. How could they ignore his warnings and reject his leading scientific arguments?"

An acquittal in a high-profile case like this one may well have reverberations. Interesting, isn't it, that half a dozen letters on a chimney can be perceived as so threatening...

Buying a Book Because the Author is a Woman

At the now-obligatory panel on diversity issues in SF at ArmadilloCon a couple of weeks ago, Debbie Smith said, "I don't want people to buy my work just because I'm a woman." To which I responded from the audience, "I don't want people to not buy my work because I'm a woman, either."

-- Quote from a post by Nancy Jane Moore

Debbie Smith's line fascinates me. Why shouldn't people buy a book because the author is a woman? What is wrong with this? And why should an author ever object to selling a book? I can imagine someone buying one of my books by mistake -- thinking Ring of Swords is military SF or generic fantasy, for example -- and then being disappointed. Too bad. I have still made a sale. If an editor buys a book or story of mine for reasons that strike me as nuts, it's still a sale, though I may worry about how the story is going to be presented.

I am more concerned that someone might not buy something of mine for whatever reason.

Smith is taking the line about how sex and color should not matter, and everyone should be taken on their own merits -- said merits not including their gender or color or life experiences or who they are as people -- and applying it without thinking.

Do I read books by women authors, because they are women? You bet. Do I read books by Nalo and Nnedi, because they are women and come from cultures different than mine? Yes and yes.

I read books by other women because they often deal with issues that interest me because I am a woman. Women's issues, you might call these. I read books by people who are not like me, because I may learn something new.

Will I finish a badly written or boring story by anyone, because of the person's sex or color? Not likely, though I might stay with a book longer if it was about unfamiliar experiences.

The argument about essential merit is dangerous, because it mostly used by people opposed to affirmative action, who ignore the breaks that this society gives to men, white people, educated people and people of comfortable means. It's especially dangerous when applied to writers, because you cannot separate a writer from his or her history and experience. Shakespeare is a great writer. He is also a great male, white, middle class, English writer of the late 16th century. His art is rooted in his life, and his life is rooted in a specific place and time.

One of the things you buy with a book is a specific life experience: a Chinese scholar in the 16th century, a Russian aristocrat in the 19th century, a Japanese court lady, an English parson's daughter, a former riverboat pilot, a black civil rights activist...

Anyway, Smith's remark strikes me as weird on many levels.

Most likely I am overreacting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

L. Timmel Duchamp's De Secretis Mulierum: A Novella

The other book back from the printer is the twenty-second volume in the Conversation Pieces series, my own novella, De Secretis Mulierum. This was originally published by the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the May 1995 issue. Don't be fooled by the Latin title: this is one of my comedic stories (remember "Motherhood, Etc."?) and gave me a huge amount of pleasure to write. Following a brief frame, the narrative begins with these sentences:

If countless numbers of people throughout history have wished for an early menopause, probably no one wished more devoutly for it than Thomas Aquinas. No doubt he literally prayed for it morning, noon, and night. A picture comes to mind of him kneeling in his cell, pleading with the Virgin for release from a burden even Job hadn't been forced to bear.

The situation is this: according to the Pentagon-owned-and-operated Past-Scan Device, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Aquinas were both women in drag. Jane Pendler's advisor says that's impossible, that the technology must be bogus, and pulls the plug on Jane's dissertation research on Leonardo. What's a feminist graduate student to do? What else, but do the research behind her advisor's back, of course…

The few reviews the story got back then were lengthy & favorable. "A masterful exploration of sexual identity and sexual mastery …marvelously intricate…" said the reviewer for Tangent (Summer 1995). And Locus put it on its annual list of recommended readings for 1995.

You can purchase it now through Aqueduct's site for $9 (though it will be available in a few other places in the next month or two). Of course, if you have a subscription, they'll soon be arriving in your mailbox, since Tom mailed subscription copies out this morning...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lisa Tuttle's My Death: A Novella

Are you in the doldrums? Then perk up, for here's some exciting news: two new volumes in the Conversation Pieces series are back from the printer. Both of them are novellas, the kind you can dive into and read in a single sitting. The first of the pair, Volume 21, is a novella by Lisa Tuttle, My Death.

...all at once, as if another light had been switched on, I saw the hidden picture. Within the contours of the island was a woman. A woman, naked, on her back, her knees up and legs splayed open, her face hidden by a forearm flung across it and by the long hair -- greenish, grayish -- that flowed around her like the sea.

The center of the painting, what drew the eye and commanded the attention, was the woman's vulva: all the life of the painting was concentrated there. A slash of pink, startling against the mossy greens and browns, seemed to touch a nerve in my own groin.

In this creepy but delicious story, an early twenty-first-century novelist decides to write the biography of Helen Ralston, an all-but-forgotten twentieth-century novelist she has long admired. In the late 1920s, Helen studied painting with W.E. Logan. Logan painted her as Circe, and Helen painted herself as an island titled My Death. When they parted for good, both of them turned to writing. Willy became famous; Helen did not. The narrator of My Death intends to do something about that. But first she must solve the mystery of Helen's relationship with Willy and why Helen titled her self-portrait My Death.

PS Publishing published this a few years ago, but since it's hard to get hold of in the US and absolutely yummy, I decided Aqueduct would have to publish it, too. As an extra little treat, we've published it with an afterward by me, a brief essay titled "The Holding Tank of the Eternal Feminine---Not."

You can purchase it now through Aqueduct's site for $9 (though it will be available in a few other places in the next month or two). Of course, if you have a subscription, they'll soon be arriving in your mailbox...

Two Cultures?

Last week I read an opinion piece by George Lakoff The Palin Choice: The Reality of the Political Mind, taking note of what liberals commenting on the Sarah Palin nomination weren't getting about it. On the symbolic level, But not only did I find it hard to believe that anyone with even a modicum of intelligence would vote for Bush, I also found it hard to believe that though a longtime conservative, Sandra Day O'Connor, for instance, would be willing to trash the US Constitution in order to place him in the White House. Because of my (continued) incomprehension, I know that there's a lot I'm not "getting" about the thinking of voters who lack progressive morals and values. Here's the heart of Lakoff's argument:

But the Palin nomination changes the game. The initial response has been to try to keep the focus on external realities, the "issues," and differences on the issues. But the Palin nomination is not basically about external realities and what Democrats call "issues," but about the symbolic mechanisms of the political mind-the worldviews, frames, metaphors, cultural narratives, and stereotypes. The Republicans can't win on realities. Her job is to speak the language of conservatism, activate the conservative view of the world, and use the advantages that conservatives have in dominating political discourse.

Our national political dialogue is fundamentally metaphorical, with family values at the center of our discourse. There is a reason why Obama and Biden spoke so much about the family, the nurturant family, with caring fathers and the family values that Obama put front and center in his Father's day speech: empathy, responsibility and aspiration. Obama's reference in the nomination speech to "The American Family" was hardly accidental, nor were the references to the Obama and Biden families as living and fulfilling the American Dream. Real nurturance requires strength and toughness, which Obama displayed in body language and voice in his responses to McCain. The strength of the Obama campaign has been the seamless marriage of reality and symbolic thought.

The Republican strength has been mostly symbolic. The McCain campaign is well aware of how Reagan and W won-running on character: values, communication, (apparent) authenticity, trust, and identity - not issues and policies. That is how campaigns work, and symbolism is central.

Conservative family values are strict and apply via metaphorical thought to the nation: good vs. evil, authority, the use of force, toughness and discipline, individual (versus social) responsibility, and the tough love. Hence, social programs are immoral because they violate discipline and individual responsibility. Guns and the military show force and discipline. Man is above nature; hence no serious environmentalism. The market is the ultimate financial authority, requiring market discipline. In foreign policy, strength is use of the force. In fundamentalist religion, the Bible is the ultimate authority; hence no gay marriage. Such values are at the heart of radical conservatism. This is how John McCain was raised and how he plans to govern. And it is what he shares with Sarah Palin.

The ramifications of this are extensive--certainly far beyond campaign politics. People usually think of the "Cutlure Wars" as contained to certain topics like sexuality, gender roles, and "diversity" issues (and many people think they were an artifact of the nineties and no longer in effect). But as many scientists and openly political academics can confirm, the Culture Wars impact constantly on pedagogical and on disciplinary knowledge bases. If you thought only the arts were subject to censorship, think again. Many, many researchers who depend on federal grant money have been challenged in what they study and how they frame their studies; those who work directly for government agencies sometimes have their data suppressed or misinterpreted. This is painful stuff to think about, but it's become a fact of life in the US. We can only guess at the long-term damage. But this is the reality of the "Culture War."

Today I read a piece by Ray McGovern, Trickle-Down Preemption: Baghdad on the Mississippi, attending to the St. Paul Pioneer Press's use of the word "preemptive" in describing police repression against groups who have committed no crime, simply on the suspicion that they intend to exercise their right to free speech or report on others' exercise of such rights.

What struck a bell was that this domestic application of the dubious doctrine of "preemption" was totally predictable-indeed, predicted by those courageous enough to speak out before the U.S. "preemptive" attack on Iraq. Ironically, it was FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley, living in the St. Paul area, who warned of precisely that in her hard-hitting letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller three weeks before the attack on Iraq. [Text of Feb. 26, 2003 Letter, published March 6, 2003 in NY Times]

Confronting Mueller on a number of key issues (like "What is the FBI's evidence with respect to the claimed connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq?"), Rowley warned of the trickle-down effect of "the administration's new policy of ‘preemptive strikes'":

"I believe it would be prudent to be on guard against the possibility that the looser ‘preemptive strike' rationale being applied to situations abroad could migrate back home, fostering a more permissive attitude on the part of law enforcement officers in this country."

Rowley called Mueller's attention to the abuses of civil rights that had already occurred since 9/11, and pointedly warned "particular vigilance may be required to head off undue pressure (including subtle encouragement) to detain or ‘round up' suspects."

It has been obvious for several years now that in the US the right of due process is going the way of the dodo bird, so in one sense I can imagine people responding, so what? And of course the police (federal as well as local) have long used agent provocateurs (though in the past they probably weren't Blackwater contractors) to give the public the impression that protestors are violent or out of control. But in light of my being reminded by Lakoff's piece of what I don't get about the way so many of those people who voted for George Bush perceive reality, I found his focusing in on Palin's attitude toward protests particularly relevant:

After speaking at a conference at Concordia University in St. Paul on Wednesday, I was more eager to watch the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, deliver her acceptance speech than to risk the tear gas and pepper spray.

The way she dissed community organizers was hard to take. But that would pale in significance, so to speak, compared to the way the governor of Alaska proceeded to ridicule the notion of reading people their rights. I had thought that despite the distance between Alaska and Washington, the reach of the U.S. Constitution and statutes extended that far.

Friends tell me I should not have been surprised. But, really! After the widespread kidnapping, torture, indefinite imprisonment, and our cowardly Congress' empowerment of the president to imprison sine die anyone he might designate an "enemy combatant" -- after all that...well, it seems to me that reading a person his/her rights takes on more, not less, importance.

Not to mention the massive repression then under way right outside the convention hall.

It was, it is, a scary juxtaposition. The following day Col. Ann Wright, other members of Code Pink, and I went to the jail to offer support to the young people who had been brutalized and then released. They had not been read their rights. Many were camped out on the sidewalk, refusing to leave until their friends still inside were also released.

Out of the jail came Jason, a well-built young man of about twenty years, who needed help in walking. We talked to Jason a while, and he showed us the seven, yes seven, taser wounds on his body. One, on his left buttock, had released considerable blood, creating a large stain on the seat of his pants.

I'm thinking that progressives' concern for due process and other constitutionally protected rights falls on deaf ears because that "symbolic" level that Lakoff talks of is operating here, too, to obscure what the rest of us see as the realities. The "symbolic" level, of course, was the strength, also, of Franco and Mussolini, who spoke the language of Family Values even as they wielded brutal, repressive force against dissenters.

Scary stuff, no?