Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What Ike left behind

Here are some pictures of my street, Rice, and the area. Fortunately, the uprooted trees were ONE block over from my house! Still no electricity, although Rice's generator is supplying me with a daily chance to charge my phone and check the news. I have to say my 1990 Walkman tape player/radio has served me well.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I like Ike? (yeah, cause that's not getting old . . .)

As I've spent the day running around, getting batteries, securing garbage cans, and preparing food to eat if the electricity goes out for several days, I've been in and out of the media coverage of the storm. I've been listening to NPR, which breaks into the mournful music of the day (since it's 9/11, of course, we have a lot of requiem action) to air press conferences from the mayor, the county judge in charge of Harris County's issues, and then, just now, a press conference with national FEMA reps.

I wasn't scared until this press conference: Will my windows break and shatter? Will my roof come off? Is a tree coming through my front wall? Let's hope not, but Michael Chertoff seems to think it's a distinct possibility.

In a moment of analytical clarity, I thought: maybe in our post-Katrina world, it's so politically damaging to preach calm before a potentially devastating hurricane, the officials opt in the other direction. Yet in Houston, after the Rita evacuation debacle (6 hours, 35 miles, no AC and a really hot and angry cat in my relatively mild case), there's also a strong sentiment to encourage people to shelter-in-place. Located between these two very different situations of mass chaos of the 2005 hurricane season, local and national officials understandably hedge their bets. I'm skeptical, though, of what this means for us on the ground. Who do you believe: the "this is not a Gustav; this is a serious storm" line from Chertoff, who as we know cannot appear anything less than 100% alert and concerned, or the "use common sense, we'll all be okay" message coming from Bill White who, Lord knows, can't deal with another 2 day traffic jam between Houston and points West.

Well, I shelter in place, with some friends, probably several gin and tonics, and our flashlights and candles.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama, or re-incarnation of W. E. B. Dubois

Many thanks to everyone for keeping up the passion and interest in American politics and the upcoming election in this time of autumn melancoly and désoeuvrement.

In response to that article by Jeff Sharlet on the supposed failure of Obama to live up to the liberational theology modeled after Martin Luther King Jr.'s "dream," I feel like something was missed in measuring Obama against the criteria of the Civil Rights movement only. As someone interested in the history of black radical thought, I feel like Obama has many more compatriots to whom he can be equally contextualized. I am thinking in particular of the early W. E. B. Dubois (before he started entertaining the idea of a separate black existence in white America as the condition of the genuine advancement of blacks). Obama resembles Dubois not only in his background (black-white métisse, raised by white mother) and life experiences (stellar student who made a splash in a mainly white elite university, socially involved in black communities and interested in promoting grass-root forms of self-embetterment). I don't know if Obama has the culture of a Dubois (in ancient philosophy, Shakespearean sonnets, Negro spirituals, German music, etc.), but I do find that his philosophy bears many resemblances to Dubois's vision of a black elite, particularly in the essay "Of the Training of Black Men." In this essay, Dubois makes clear his distaste for the (white) notion that black folks should mainly be trained for vocational purposes and not be expected to attain the lofty ideals of higher eduction. Dubois recognizes that the idea that black students ought not read Aristotle and instead should concentrate a technical eduction is deeply racist. As someone who had graciously received "the gift of New England to the freed Negro," which was not money "but character," he could not tolerate the idea that blacks should be excluded the rights of all human beings with spiritual aspirations and be urged to content with being "an ignorant, turbulent proletariat."

When Dubois demands for the right of black folks to ask, like all dignified human beings, "Is not life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?" he is recognizing that "liberation" from material depravity MUST be accompanied by an inner, psychological, spiritual sense of self-worth. The emancipation of the Negro must be understood as both material as well as spiritual, and this cannot be done without a projectile, as it were. That is to say, there needs to be some kind of materializatio (incarnation) of a spiritual ideal, not of what is but what is possible. Here I quote Dubois:

"Progress in human affairs is more often a pull than a push, surging forward of the exceptional man, and the lifting of his duller brethren slowly and painfully to his vantage-ground. Thus it was no accident that gave birth to universities centuries before the common schools, that made fair Harvard the first flower of our wilderness."

Is this elitist? No, I think it is realistic and historically accurate. It is not in any way contradictory to the egalitarian ideal of Christianity, since we all know from the history of Christianity itself that the idea of absolute equality of men and women, slaves and masters, whores and emperors had to stick around for more than 2,000 years before we ever saw something resembling like an institutionalized form of that equality in modern democracy. This goes to show that ideal is important, because it paves the blue-print for future change. There is nothing un-American nor un-Christian about the notion of a responsible elite: in fact, we in this country even have a rather glorious tradition of patrician philanthropy. I am getting off-track, but I just don't agree with the view of Obama as a failed or compromised liberationist. I believe Obama to be a true American, a re-incarnation of the possibility of material and spiritual liberation of not only the black folk but all folks. In that sense, he is also a true Christian, despite the fact that he might not practice the form of Christianity that I myself identify with.

Liberation or Liberalism?

Jackie sent this short article by Jeff Sharlet, a journalist who covers the evangelicalism and politics beat.

He compares liberation theology and the origins of the Obama campaign, in contrast to the current more liberal and Social Gospel oriented message of recent days. I think Sharlet is right in his perception of this shift, but I also think that it is inevitable. Can a radical liberation ideology be contained within the limits of existing institutional structures, like the presidency or a presidential campaign, for that matter? I don't think it can. It is by nature an outside agitator.

I find Sharlet's description of the Social Gospel as paternalistic to be interesting as well. A combination of manly overseeing, racial uplift (elite blacks in the nineteenth century also invoked this kind of message), but Sharlet doesn't get to the many many women who did similar social work with less overbearing methods. Imperialism at home, imperialism abroad. I'm not sure what this means for the twenty-first century because I think that ultimately, the Obama-Social Gospel comparison starts to break down when we look at foreign policy points, among other things.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Restoring the Faith

In an effort to make me feel less despair-y, let's list optimistic things about the next 60 days . . .

1. The McCain people can't be THAT good when apparently they put up an image of Walter Reed Middle School instead of Walter Reed Hospital as a backdrop for McCain's speech on Thursday night. Is this their A-game? I think Obama might be okay.

2. The image's vast green lawn once again gave McCain a green-screen background so that Stephen Colbert might play.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

How do you like your media?

Politico's journalists apologize for their impolite and untoward behavior towards the new GOP nominee for Veep.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Can . . . Not . . . Compute . . .

This and this represent just one of the things that is working to convince me that 2008 will be a key turning point in women's history to come. Perhaps it's the true end of the feminist movement, as defined by the second wave.

2008 is the year when race and gender when mainstream with the Clinton/Obama campaign, requiring women's historians the world over to rub their eyes when they saw Elizabeth Cady Stanton facing off with Frederick Douglass on the front page of the New York Times' "Week in Review." Now we see a modern-day Phyllis Schlafly, a school board activist following a long line of politically active anti-feminists, becoming a candidate for VP. YET: it's no longer cool rally your female troops by hating feminists, as Schlafly notoriously did at the National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977.

So now the GOP embraces the Republican feminists who it slowly ejected from the party during the 1970s? All of a sudden, socially conservative women embrace Hillary Clinton and the idea of working mothers? At the same time that the Schlafly faction is loud and proud and fighting for even more socially conservative programs on the GOP platform?

David Brooks on Palin

So, I read this David Brooks column on Palin, thinking it would ruin my morning (because David Brooks usually does), but in fact it was quite interesting.  He buys the Palin-as-McCain's-soulmate line - "she seems to get up in the morning to root out corruption" - but he thinks this is exactly the problem with the choice.  Because they're too much alike, she doesn't make up for McCain's weaknesses - not in the political campaign, but as a governing president.

Brooks argues that McCain's "maverick" qualities come from a "tendency to substitute a moral philosophy for a political one."  Basically, McCain's a crusader.  He likes "to rally the armies of decency against the armies of corruption," but he lacks an overarching governing philosophy, which is why he's always jumping ship and failing to support Republican philosophical credos, like the need for small government.  

Brooks thinks McCain's years of experience have taught him to deal with complex issues that aren't black and white battles between decency and corruption (although, interestingly, Brooks classifies Putin as one issue that can in fact be dealt with as such a black and white battle, which, imho, is exactly the attitude that got us into this mess with Georgia).  But he still thinks McCain needs someone with a well-developed governing philosophy to rein in his free-wheeling moral intuitions.  Palin certainly isn't the person for that job, and Brooks doesn't like the thought of two unmoored moral souls guiding this country through troubled waters.

This is an interesting way to think of McCain, and I'm not sure I agree with it.  Any thoughts?

Monday, September 1, 2008

A thoughtful roundup

I think that the various posts and discussions here are quite good on the GOP VP front. I highly recommend a visit.

That said, I also think that the liberal bloggers and some major media outlets are spending an awful lot of time talking about how we shouldn't be talking about Palin's mothering skills, family-work decisions, etc. Are these meta conversations providing a sheen of acceptability for conversations that would otherwise be unacceptable? And I say this realizing that I am totally contributing to this phenomenon, on a much much smaller scale.

To continue the thought - I saw a GOP strategy session of sorts on CSPAN last night where GOP pollsters surveyed a group of delegates in St. Paul about Palin. Several of the women delegates were highly supportive, although others were not. One woman said patently - I don't think you can be a mother and work at the same time because you'll always make decisions thinking about your children first and the country second. The pollster (a man) was a bit flustered and didn't know quite how to respond.