Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Outgrown "Growth"?

"Growth" has been one of the biggest American political cliches of the last fifty years. It political discourse it has gone unquestioned as a positive term, as a glittering generality you utter to score points from an uncritical audience, in fine company with such complex philosophical terms as "freedom" and "democracy." For awhile now, only the whacko far left dared question those who asserted the eternal goodness of economic growth. Now, the scientists (could they possibly have been brainwashed by the last commies thought to have died in the rubble of the Berlin wall?) are questioning this mantra of global socio-economic policy. While "growth" is good within the logic of the market economy and global consumer society, if it continues on the same model, say goodbye to planet earth and its hubristic hominids.
Now the challenge is "sustainable" economics and social life. We're on the verge of a seachange in the everyday life of the planet. But in what direction...?
Here's the news today.

Scientist: Emissions levels accelerating

By MERAIAH FOLEY, Associated Press Writer 45 minutes ago

Worldwide economic growth has accelerated the level of greenhouse gas emissions to a dangerous threshold scientists had not expected for another decade, according to a leading Australian climate change expert.

Tim Flannery told Australian Broadcasting Corp. that an upcoming report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will contain new data showing that the level of climate-changing gases in the atmosphere has already reached critical levels.

Flannery is not a member of the IPCC, but said he based his comments on a thorough review of the technical data included in the panel's three working group reports published earlier this year.

Carola Traverso Saibante, spokeswoman for IPCC headquarters is in Geneva, said she was unable to disclose what would be in the final report synthesizing the data before it is released in November.

"What the report establishes is that the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that can potentially cause dangerous climate change," Flannery told the broadcaster late Monday. "We are already at great risk of dangerous climate change, that's what these figures say. It's not next year or next decade, it's now."

Flannery, whose recent book "The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth," made best-seller lists worldwide, said the data showed that the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions had reached about 455 parts per million by mid-2005, well ahead of scientists' previous calculations.

"We thought we'd be at that threshold within about a decade, that we had that much time," Flannery said. "I mean, that's beyond the limits of projection, beyond the worst-case scenario as we thought of it in 2001," when the last major IPCC report was issued.

The new data could add urgency to the next round of U.N. climate change talks on the Indonesian island of Bali in December, which will aim to start negotiations on a replacement for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel called Tuesday for an international system of global emissions trading to be adopted as part of an agreement to flight climate change from 2012 onward.

Speaking at a symposium of Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, Merkel insisted that only by establishing limits on carbon dioxide output per individual around the world — suggesting about 2 tons per head — could the fight to stop global warming be effective.

"Our long-term goal can only be the assimilation of worldwide per capita emissions," Merkel told the conference.

Her suggestion would mean drastic cuts: Germany currently has a carbon dioxide output of some 11 tons per person per year, while the U.S. is at around 20 tons per person.

Flannery said that the recent economic boom in China and India has helped to accelerate the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but strong growth in the developed world has also exacerbated the problem.

"It's a worldwide issue. We've had growing economies everywhere, we're still basing that economic activity on fossil fuels," he said. "The metabolism of that economy is now on a collision course clearly with the metabolism of our planet."

A spokesman for Australia's IPCC delegate, Ian Carruthers, said he was not available to comment on the report because it was still in draft form.

[See the video here. Interesting comment by Pres. Bush:

Climate Report: World at risk now
http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/ver/246/popup/index.php?cl=4432194
]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hello! I'm killing your planet (and your children)...and with great insouciance!

Ever wonder how those poor slobs of the old days managed to survive, what without airconditioning in the home, not to mention the car, not to mention having a friggin car! How soft we've become. And at what cost to our children, the planet, and the future of the human race?

Impressive that the propagandists have managed to sway some people into a knee-jerk response to topics and writing like this: just that hippie bullshit! Shame on you, clergy. You should be leading the charge! Things will not change fast enough without the leaders in every community publicizing the importance of this issue.

I honestly think people have no idea where energy comes from and what the consequences are of its production and expenditure. Of all the crap we see and, to a lesser degree, read about Paris Hilton or Brittney Spears, how often are we forced to confront these realties about energy? I'd say not very often if you're not already a singer in the global warming church choir. This is a structural flaw of our market-driven media system. People consume tabloids. Give them what they want if you want your media business to make money. Ah, oh yes, but media is not toasters. This kind of media culture has effects. It sets agendas, it gives us certain things to think about or be distracted by, while others disappear from our radars.

No need for me to repeat the hard work of others here. Please go to the Environmental Defense Fund and learn about the often unseen costs of our electricity use and its production. The EDF are an environmental public interest group founded in 1967, who work for you and your health. Their founding issue was the banning of the DDT pesticide. Right, lunatics, they're some left-wing nutjobs who just want to derail our excellent economy and standard of living! And they want to do it for fun! Plleeaaaaase. If you can't trust groups like this, it's over. I'll become a nihilist.

I also highly recommend some other books and sites.

Heat, by George Monbiot. I'm reading this book right now. It rocks. Not just another book reciting statistic after statisitic, study after study, to show that global warming is a problem. No, this guy is one of the premiere environmental journalists in the world, and has spent loads of time researching how WE CAN CHANGE without completely destroying our standard of living ("our" meaning the post-industrial WEST). Get this book now. Live it.
A couple of serious, critical reviews of this book: here, and here
I will try and review this book when I'm finished with it.


Going Green: A Step-by-step program for lazy asses like you and me who are sticking their heads in the ground to the detriment of their own children and the future of the human race.

Oh, but forget it. Let's skip merrily down the primrose path. I hate gray weather. This sounds cool!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"The American People Stand Mute..."

It's been awhile mes amis. I've actually had to take a break from political commentary on my blog here. I've been frankly too frustrated. I used to get sick of academic hacks in their ivory tower talking to each other about how well controlled the American people are. These days I don't know what to say to them. After the last election, with so much evidence under our noses that this "regime" is dirty (yes, they all are, but not THIS dirty!), is criminal, is a cum stain on the flag of the U.S.A. And what do people do? Well, the polls show some dissatisfaction. But hey, let's get back to shopping, drinking, reality TV and what Paris Hilton is up (or down) to.Excuse me while I grit my teeth down to the nub...

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Future is Unwritten: Joe STrummer



Opened last week in the UK. Coming soon elsewhere.
"I'd like to say that people... people can change anything they want to;
and that means everything in the world. Show me any country and
there'll be people in it. And it's the people that make the country.
People have got to stop pretending they're not in the world.
People are running about following their own tracks. I am one of them.
But we've all gotta stop... just stop following our own little mouse trails.
People can do anything; this is something that I'm beginning to learn.
People are out there doing bad things to each other; it's because
they've been dehumanized. It's time to take humanity back into
the center of the ring and follow that for a time.
Greed... it ain't going anywhere; the richest person
in the world is the most unhappy one. They should have that
on a big billboard in Times Square. Think on that. Without people you're nothing."

-Joe Strummer
Okay, so he sounds a little bit cheesy-utopian at times in this quote. Yet, his explanation of oppression and violence coming from dehumanized people strikes home with me. So does his call to pull our heads out and get involved in change. Often, politics and music suck together. Joe Strummer and the Clash proved that it can be done with class (no pun).
jh
p.s. If you click on the poster and go to the official site for the movie/or myspace, you'll hear his eerie voice uttering the quote above. If you ever liked the Clash, it will give you goose bumps.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Sarkozy Triumphant! Violent Reactions Across France

It is official: Nicolas Sarkozy is the heir apparent to France's Elysee Palace. Sarkozy's victory came after the second highest voter turnout in the history of the V Republic (since 1958) at nearly 86%, slightly short of the 87% record in 1974. It was the highest voter turnout in four decades. Nicolas Sarkozy of the UMP party, son of a Hungarian immigrant, received the majority vote at 53% to Socialist challenger Segolene Royal's 47% .

Who voted Sarkozy, Royal?
IPSOS' telephone poll showed that 58% of the youngest voters (18-24) supported Royal,while Sarkozy took the next age bracket (25-34) with 57%. Sarkozy's strongest voting bloc was the over 60. Small business owners and rural voters leaned toward Sarkozy, while urbanites were divided.

Senior citizens don't have much to gain themselves from Sarkozy's plan to change the 35-hour work week and offer more deregulation of the economy. He isn't promising them any great social security increases. However, he has proposed to exempt 95 % of his countrymen from the inheritance tax.

The highly coveted votes from centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round were split, slightly favoring Sarkozy by 40% to Royal's 38% with a significant 15% of Bayrou supporters abstaining.

Despite far-right Front National candidate Jean Marie Le Pen's plea to his supporters to abstain, most of them voted for Sarkozy (63%), with 15% going to Royal and just over 20% abstaining.

Sarkozy rode to victory on these votes he picked up from the center and the far right.

Paris voting patterns
The breakdown of votes in Paris seems to suggest a class and generational bias:

Paris: Nicolas Sarkozy 50.19%, Ségolène Royal 49.81%
(See appendix below for complete breakdown of votes by arrondissement)
The poshest arrondissement (district or borough) in Paris, also not particularly young, is the 16th where Sarkozy received a whopping 80% of the vote. Almost as impressively, he scored in the mid-70th percentile in the 7th and 8th arrondissements, which are also known to be quite expensive, middle-aged to seniors, and conservative. Sarkozy took other major French cities, such as Lyon, Marseille, Nice, and Strasbourg. Royal's only major geographical strength was the West and Southwest, where she received the support of cities such as Montpellier and Toulouse.

Violent Clashes in Response
Over 3,000 police were deployed in Paris and the "potentially difficult" suburban areas that were marked by riots in 2005. Major anti-Sarkozy demonstrations occurred across the country, some turning violent. In Paris around the Bastille in the 11th arrondissement, around 2,000 especially young adults had gathered to hear the results as the polls closed. When they received the results, the crowd became animated and confrontations with police followed. Some shouted, "Police everywhere, Justice Nowhere!" and burned an effigy of Sarkozy. Several hundred people clashed with the police and smashed windows. By midnight, the police were firing tear gas as members of the crowd hurled stones at them. The police then turned a water cannon on the crowd. On the base of the Bastille centerpiece column was graffitied: “Sarko 2007 = Hitler 1933.”

Clashes with police also occurred in France's second largest city, Lyon, where police again fired tear gas into the crowd to disperse it. Protests and clashes also occurred in Grenoble, Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Metz and Marseille.

Some French citizens commented that they could not recall an election outcome in their lifetimes that had been met with similar outrage and violence.

According to the National Police, 730 cars were burned in metropolitan France Sunday night and early Monday morning following the election. Some 592 people were arrested for questioning. So far the French media have not referred to this violence as "riots."

Mr. Law and Order
Part of the high turnout and subsequent violence is due to Sarkozy's extremely polarizing rhetoric over the past three years. He has made security and immigration, work and authority his slogans ever since taking over the position of Ministry of the Interior in May 2005. He received constant public attention for his provocative comments about crime and the immigrant populations, most notably when he called suburban delinquents "scum" that he would remove from their streets with a power hose. Since those suburbs are populated by large numbers of Arabs and black Africans, many interpreted his comment as racist, though he has several times tried to repudiate the label.

During the November 2005 riots he blamed the violence on unemployment (due to socialist economic policies he alleged), different cultural values (such as polygamy) and lack of respect for the Republic on the part of the immigrant population. For him, the suburbs were divided between hard-working French citizens and lazy, violent criminals making illegal money through an underground drug economy. He spoke of the latter as mafias and gangs that had occupied territory belonging to the Republic , which he vowed to reclaim with more national police on site and stronger sentences for "hooligans."

Sarkozy has also favored liberal economic policies, calling for an end to the 35 hour work week in the name of citizens' freedom to work as much as they like. Other major policy proposals include making more use of nuclear energy, lowering the income tax by 4%, and abolishing the estate tax for all but 5% of the population. But to many citizens, he is known as the man who will re-establish law and order.

A recent controversy came in an interview Sarkozy did with philosopher Michel Onfray where he was accused of supporting a racist eugenics to explain an individual's behavior. In that interview he was of the view that "one is born a pedophile." The same for those who commit suicide or get cancer. "Circumstances don't do everything. The role of the innate is immense--genetically."

Critics have then taken such quotations as a context for his opposition to Turkey entering the European Union. In a recent debate, he claimed, "It's not about democracy, it's not about muslims. It's that if Turkey becomes Europe Europe's borders will be Iraq and Syria." It's simply about geography, he concluded.

However, Sarkozy has been on record making more than an argument about geography. Last fall he permitted an interview to a new neo-conservative magazine Le Meilleur des Mondes, which has a very small circulation. "We have a problem of integration of Muslims that raises the issue of Islam in Europe." he said. "To say it is not a problem is to hide from reality. If you let 100 million Turkish Muslims come in, what will come of it?" He went on to make the same comment about Iraq and Syria as the outrageous borders of Europe in such a scenario.

His critics have accused him of deviously exploiting the fears of racists, islamophobes, and generally uninformed citizens. But Sarkozy was able to accuse his opponent of similar fearmongering last week when Madame Royal publicly warned of possible riots if Sarkozy won.

In a victory speech Sarkozy addressed the nation last night, reminding it of his campaign slogans, his brand: "[Voters] have chosen to break with the habits and the ideals of the past so I will rehabilitate work, authority, morality, respect, merit!"

When he finished speaking, giddy supporters feted their hero to a rendition of the French national anthem. Some 30,000 supporters gathered Sunday night at the Place de la Concorde to celebrate Sarkozy's victory. Police closed down the metro stop there and several others nearby, anticipating possible clashes near the seat of government.

Sarkozy's defeated opponent Segolene Royal vowed to keep on fighting. She claimed something powerful had been "set in motion which will not be stopped [by this election outcome]," and that "You can count on me to continue building a renewed left."

Mr. Sarkozy will assume the presidency May 17 to the tune of the Marseillaise and a 21-gun salute. Bang, bang.

Appendix: Paris vote by Arrondissement

Paris 10ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 62.99%, Nicolas Sarkozy 37.01%

Paris 11ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 61.68%, Nicolas Sarkozy 38.32%

Paris 12ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 51.86%, Nicolas Sarkozy 48.14%

Paris 13ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 58.8%, Nicolas Sarkozy 41.2%

Paris 14ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 53.86%, Nicolas Sarkozy 46.14%

Paris 15ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 59.82%, Ségolène Royal 40.18%

Paris 16ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 80.81%, Ségolène Royal 19.19%

Paris 17ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 62.8%, Ségolène Royal 37.2%

Paris 18ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 63.62%, Nicolas Sarkozy 36.38%

Paris 19ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 60.15%, Nicolas Sarkozy 39.85%

Paris 1er arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 56.34%, Ségolène Royal 43.66%

Paris 20ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 64.63%, Nicolas Sarkozy 35.37%

Paris 2ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 54.08%, Nicolas Sarkozy 45.92%

Paris 3ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 57.06%, Nicolas Sarkozy 42.94%

Paris 4ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 50.24%, Ségolène Royal 49.76%

Paris 5ème arrondissement

Ségolène Royal 50.89%, Nicolas Sarkozy 49.11%

Paris 6ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 61.27%, Ségolène Royal 38.73%

Paris 7ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 74.75%, Ségolène Royal 25.25%

Paris 8ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 76.27%, Ségolène Royal 23.73%

Paris 9ème arrondissement

Nicolas Sarkozy 50.65%, Ségolène Royal 49.35%
(source: Liberation)

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day: To the Folks Who Brought Us The Weekend


I used to think "May Day" was a distress signal uniquely reserved for hapless pilots and captains. In fact, it wasn't until graduate school while taking an American rhetorical history course that I learned about the Haymarket Riots/Massacre and that Labor Day for many people around the world (International Workers Day), except for Americans, is May 1, in memory of those who died in Chicago on May 3 and 4, 1886 and in celebration of the humanist accomplishments of the international labor movement.

On May 1, labor unions had organized a strike there for the eight-hour day, better working conditions ("The Jungle" is hard to beat on this), for an ideal of international proportions: that one's labor and the person from whom it issues must be respected. For some people such respect meant that laborers deserved certain rights of negotiation and safety to avoid a new feudalism in the age of mass production.

On May3, they organized a strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co., where a fight broke out on the picket line; police intervened, killing two workers and wounding several others. Workers across the city were enraged. Anarchists then distributed flyers for a labor rally at Haymarket Square the following day. Reports vary in this highly politicized event, but many note that people listened peacefully to anarchist leader August Spies's address. Then apparently someone threw a bomb over the crowd, which landed on the police line killing a police officer and wounding other policeman who died later. Policeman fired into the crowd killing a number of people (there are no uncontested counts). Eight German immigrants associated with anarchism were rounded up and convicted on no evidence. The motive was that they were anarchists. Seven of them were sentenced to death. One committed suicide. One's sentence was commuted to life in prison. And five were hanged publicly.

The trial produced some of the most eloquent criticisms of American industrial society and its political butresses. Some, such as George Engel's, even provide an explanation/argument for how one came to be a socialist/anarchist. Here is an excerpt from George Englel's address to the jury, which I recommend reading in its entirety by clicking on this link.

[...]On the occasion of my arrival at Philadelphia, on the 8th of January, 1873, my heart swelled with joy in the hope and in the belief that in the future I would live
AMONG FREE MEN,
and in a free country. I made up my mind to become a good citizen of this country, and congratulated myself on having left Germany, and landed in this glorious republic. And I believe my past history will bear witness that I have ever striven to be a good citizen of this country. This is the first occasion of my standing before an American court, and on this occasion it is murder of which I am accused. And for what reasons do I stand here? For what reasons am I accused of murder? The same that caused me to leave Germany-
THE POVERTY-THE MISERY
of the working classes.
And here, too, in this "free republic," in the richest country of the world, there are numerous proletarians for whom no table is set; who, as outcasts of society, stray joylessly through life. I have seen human beings gather their daily food from the garbage heaps of the streets, to quiet therewith their knawing hunger.
I have read of occurrences in the daily papers which proves to me that here, too, in this great "free land," people are doomed to die of starvation. This brought me to reflection, and to the question: What are the peculiar causes that could bring about such a condition of society? I then began to give our political institutions more attention than formerly. [...]

"I came to the opinion that as long as workingmen are economically enslaved they cannot be politically free. [...]
Of what does my crime consist?
That I have labored to bring about a system of society by which it is impossible for one to hoard millions, through the improvements in machinery, while the great masses sink to degradation and misery. As water and air are free to all, so should the inventions of scientific men be applied for the benefit of all. The statute laws we have are
IN OPPOSITION TO THE LAWS OF NATURE,
in that they rob the great masses of their rights "to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I am too much a man of feeling not to battle against the societary conditions of today. Every considerate person must combat a system which makes it possible for the individual to rake and hoard millions in a few years, while, on the other side, thousands become tramps and beggars.
Is it to be wondered at that under such circumstances men arise, who strive and struggle to create other conditions,
WHERE THE HUMANE HUMANITY SHALL TAKE PRECEDENCE
over all other considerations? [...]

This speech is an interesting argument (well there are at least a couple of big arguments in it) about freedom in a materialist positive, not negative, economic sense (or positive rights). My dissertation analyzed the story of this rhetorical struggle (positive/negative economic rights with regard to understandings of democracy) in U.S. history, which is more or less erased from popular memory (for more on that, scroll down to the bottom of the blog's page to the last entry).

As this article demonstrates, the radical democratic history of May Day has been coopted in a few places in the world (in an attempt to rob it of its radical history as a resource for current politics), namely the U.S. Like other rights and practices many people hold to be sacred today, the eight-hour day was the result of social struggle and bloodshed (I'm just testifying about it; don't try this at home). Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were radicals, revolutionaries. Moreover, when a gang of patriots doing Native American minstrelsy snuck aboard a tea-heavy ship in Boston harbor and started throwing bags of Earl Grey overboard, they were breaking the law. Other patriots tarred and feathered Tories. Less delicate fates met others loyal to King and country. Radicals, revolutionaries. So was Jesus, as his fellow radical Martin Luther King observed:

"But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist -- "Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice--or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

Why would one resist these analogies about radicals and the progress of justice? If one finds the elision of King, Jesus, Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, Debs, Parsons, Spies, Engel (Haymarket convicts et al.), it must be due to an ideological resistance, a resistance toward their understandings of justice. Jesus resisted in the name of love and to make earth as heaven. King claimed to be following Jesus, Socrates, Jefferson and just about every other positive Western icon that ever lived. Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton justified their rebellion on natural rights that the Creator intended for everyone. The labor movement justified their protest of the 8-hour day in "real" democracy, natural rights, the bible ("Am I not my brother's Keeper?"), and a variety of critiques of capitalism as selfish human exploitation. People will resist that there's an equivocation of "justice" in this set of equations. Really?

I don't have the time-space to defend the thread of justice that runs through these "extremists," and I'm aware of how perilous such discussions are in a post-9/11 and -Oklahoma City era. I'll stick with the Christian tensions for a moment, if for no reason than that many of the extremists who use violence in the U.S. do so in the name of God, but none for economic justice today. Here are some lines that speak to the idea of justice for which the Haymarket protestors died.

Leviticus 25:23: "But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me."

Deuteronomy 24:6 "A handmill or an upper millstone shall not be taken in pawn, for that will be taking someone's life in pawn."

Acts 4: 34-5: "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of land and houses, sold them and brought the prices of these things that were sold. And laid them down at the apostle's feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."

Leviticus 25:36 "Do not exact from him advance or accrued interest, but fear your God."

Jeremiah 5:27-29 "As a cage full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen rich. They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked; they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy they do not judge. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?"

There are many more like this in that Book. But just as the contents of May Day are systematically emptied out into a day merely to splurge at the florist (and Labor Day's date is shifted), so the Bible's fuller contents and tensions have been emptied by those in charge of preaching it. No wonder people become cynical about such religions when they actually read the holy texts on which they are based.

In that same graduate school class where I learned about the history of May Day, a Polish student who had grown up in the last days of the Soviet Empire told an interesting story. Apparently on May Day, a Polish TV news correspondent was sent to Chicago to report on May Day. He went to the site of the Hay Market, where a monument to the police had been constructed then vandalized. (Only in 2004 was one constructed to acknowledge the workers who died there too. The politics of memorializing this event is quite a story in itself--see "Haymarket Square in the Aftermath"). The Polish reporter went around Chicago asking citizens if they knew that May Day was an international holiday in memory of the Haymarket riots and massacre. No one knew what he was talking about. He responded on their Communist state-run TV broadcast, "This is how capitalism perpetuates itself. Citizens here are robbed of their own history and live in a dreamworld." You don't have to like the Soviet Union to find truth in his observation. (and please, neo-liberals, don't be so cynical as to characterize this memorial as an extreme argument for state ownership of property;it's rather about some redistribution for equal opportunity and the basis for participation in civic life, and limitation of the most powerful who set the terms for the labor market)

The testimony of Engel and others at their fateful trial is also a causal argument about what desperate human beings will do when they suffer political exclusion to work out conflict peacefully. The fact that this event is largely a ghost in American history speaks to how unwilling some people are to look at the ugliness of our history (not that forgetting isn't best in some situations from a certain point of view), the struggles of citizen against citizen because such knowledge is threatening to myths of nation and its tenuous coherence. It's also threatening to those whose interests invested in criminalizing critiques of a consumer society that is killing our planet, not just its people. Part of the reason why it may continue is the suppression of other knowledges of the past and critiques of the present. Just as many wounded laborers were afraid to go to the hospital for fear of being arrested when police opened fire on the crowd on May 4, 1886 (after the bomb exploded) , so today one faces being branded an extremist, a radical, a revolutionary, merely for remembering this past.

Today (yesterday for some people reading this) is May Day. Today, let us remember these people who brought us the weekend.

JH

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Struggle for France

"I am France," the Sun King Louis XIV famously said. Several candidates in an unprecedented Sun King-Reaganesque style struggled to claim consubstantiation with the nation on Sunday in a first round electoral showdown that winner Nikolas Sarkozy and others called a victory for democracy.

What lies beneath the "victory for democracy" evidenced in the record voter turnouts for the French presidential election on Sunday? Some say a new kind of crypto-fascism and a resurgent populism based on glossy, strategically ambiguous political branding. But American readers will recall: this comes most effectively from candidate Nikolas Sarkozy, a man whose smooth politicking has been described as "American," of which he claims to be quite proud.

The poll projections for the first round of the French presidential election are crunched and unlike the last election (in 2002) when Jean-Marie Le Pen freaked out the world by showing that a neo-fascist could win 17% of the votePublish, this time there were few surprises. Uh-huh, this time the savvy right-of-center Nikolas Sarkozy (of the Union Mouvement Populaire party) headed the pack with over 30 % of the vote, showing how a right of center candidate can poach the slogans of the extreme wing of his ideological sphere (as the Republicans in the U.S. have done so well at least since Nixon began the Southern strategy), speak in code about race, and try to scare or seduce undecided centrists into voting for him on hot button issues--especially islamophia coded as immigration, law and order, and the candidacy of Turkey to enter the EU. The Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal received just over 25% of the vote, placing her in the second and final run-off for the French presidency in early May. Francois Bayrou, the self-appointed bridge of right and left, ended up with a strong but still inadequate showing of almost 19%, while the right-wing surprise of 2002 Jean-Marie Le Pen garnered just over 10% this time (largely because Sarkozy stole his fire).

The ministry of the interior at noon Sunday reported a record turnout thus far with over 30% already recorded. By eight Sunday evening news organizations reported it was a record turnout in French election history with 85.5% of eligible voters heading to the polls.

Here's what it looked like when you slice the French block of voting cheese into 12 qualifying pieces.

SARKOZY Nicolas : 31.09%

ROYAL Ségolène : 25.78%

BAYROU François : 18.53%

LE PEN Jean-Marie : 10.55%

BESANCENOT Olivier : 4.12%

DE VILLIERS Philippe : 2.25%

BUFFET Marie-George : 1.94%

VOYNET Dominique : 1.57%

LAGUILLER Arlette : 1.34%

BOVÉ José : 1.32%

NIHOUS Frédéric : 1.17%

Source: France2 TV

The major issues were said to be government corruption, the economy, and crime/security/immigration. Aside from government corruption, these issues are heavily racially coded. And yet none of the forms of communication these candidates used made any honest attempt to deal with the open wound of race in a France plagued with a post-colonial identity crisis. Au contraire, they appealed to nationalism in a way hitherto only reserved for the extreme right, residual supporters of Tyrannosaurus De Gaulle, and 30s fascists whose necks were spared after World War II (such as Le Pen).

It’s not clear how many people base their vote on posters, TV blurbs, books, internet sites, and influence from local opinion leaders and/or friends. But scholars tell us we’re living in a time of short attention spans and political campaign games that are more about catchy slogans and image than about policy debate.

It’s interesting to note then the form of consciousness-raising the majority of people in France encounter most—the political poster. These things are all over Paris: on official city-designated campaign displays, in the metro, on mailboxes and utility stands, and especially on construction barriers near road or sidewalk work. Remember that the Paris region, the city and its suburbs, is over nine million people. Let’s take a look at the slogans and images they have been bombarded with.


While leading candidate Sarkozy has chanted “law and order” and “respect for the Republic” incessantly since he became Minister of the Interior in 2002, his 2007 campaign poster and slogan doesn’t seem to draw attention to the fear and division on which he has built his identity. With a nearly obscene irony for his opponents, his poster reads, “Together everything becomes possible.” (Ensemble tout devient possible). Of course, his critics say, that is precisely the problem To them, the seduction of a majority of citizens is a softer fascism, harder to detect without the violent gesticulations, and oral paroxysms of the 1930s political style.

In some areas of Paris Sarkozy’s posters have been de-faced, literally, with the notorious Hitler mustache. On the other hand, the far left candidate Olivier Besancenot’s brand is “Our lives are worth more than their profits,” while the Green candidate calls for an “Ecological Revolution,” whatever that would mean. But none of them mentions any clear policy initiatives, except for the old-school “Worker’s Fight” Party and its candidate Arlette Laguiller (in yellow above). Her poster’s outline of detailed positions seems to be completely ignorant of or outright rejects the common wisdom of the Power Point Generation. The anti-Sarkozy skull and crossbones poster has a fair amount of text with it, though it’s not much about policy as about the doomsday civil war that will follow should Sarko be elected. In other words, it’s all branding where the function of the product has nothing to do with the ad and its appeals to patriotism mainly, and human value/class inequality and exploitation on the far left. That is the genre of the poster. The problem is it is also the genre of the campaign ad on TV, and in some newspapers, which many people will not read any way.

The "American" Sarkozy's coded appeals

Last night, Sarkozy spoke to a roaring crowd of admirers, claiming that the high rate of participation was a victory for democracy and that he and Madame Royal have a responsibility to conduct a debate with sincerity and dignity, a true debate of ideas. Cleverly, Sarkozy framed the election results around a great showdown (reverberating with other dramatic claims of other great clashes between civilizations) between two competing ideas of nation, politics, and values.

Sarko has made Law and Order, Authority, economy, and the family the keystones of his campaign and political image. In a speech in the southwestern city of Perpignan in late February he fashioned himself in opposition to the socialist legacy of 1968, reduced to its alleged disrespect for authority. “Down with authority! That was the platform of 1968!” he cried. According to him, lack of respect for authority is responsible for children’s disobedience to their parents and teachers; to the law; to the police; to the flag; to the nation.

At times, he harangues against what he alleges are residual doctrines of the post-68 left, and at others he ascribes causality for social instability, criminality, and violence to socialist economic policies—that is, no work is producing delinquents, an argument that allows him to argue for cutting taxes by 4%, exempting more people from an inheritance tax, cutting civil service costs, cracking down on illegal immigration, and cracking down on crime with minimum sentences for repeat offenders and more severe punishments for juveniles. At still other times, he suggests that Islam and its values of polygamy are responsible for single-parent households with no father figure to discipline children, the latter who become active in underground drug economies and theft.

Sarko’s law and order, family values, and security rhetoric is in some ways a bit of bad American political breath blown into contemporary post-colonial French culture and politics. Like conservative American presidential contenders George Wallace and then Nixon in 1968 who reacted to consecutive summers of African-American riots during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency by dividing white voters with code words for race alarm such as “busing” and “law and order,” Sarkozy’s codes of “law and order,” “respect,” “youth,” and “authority” and “crime” play to fears of many white French citizens who gave racist Jean-Marie Le Pen the second place vote in the first round of the Presidential election of 2002 with nearly 17% of the vote.

There has been talk that Sarkozy has also tried to soften his image in the last two or three months. But on his last day of official campaigning, he spoke to an audience in Marseille, claiming he would be France’s “protector” and calling for renewed faith in a France that has been victim of self-doubt recently. "I hate this fashion for repentance that says France hates itself and its history," he said. Almost perversely to an American observer, he appropriated the form and words of Martin Luther King, repeating “I have a dream,” but the dream is about demanding respect for authority all the while shirking any hard discussion of race. He went on to claim that while colonialism was perhaps “an unfair system,” there is a debt owed to those “decent and hardworking French families” who were driven out of Africa (in the movements for independence, such as the Algerian War). He refused to apologize for that “system.”

In fact, in the campaign Sarko has dealt with the racial problems issuing from colonialism and the French national identity crisis in the same way he did in the midst of the 2005 riots. He completely de-historicized them and treated their causes as cultural (bad parenting, not respecting true French culture, i.e. non-Muslim), economic (being lazy or, alternately, active in an illicit drug economy), and pathological (bad eggs are bad eggs; put them away for good), suggesting cultural solutions (respect) to the problems he defined so facilely. Thus he avoided the well-documented problems of race in everyday French life—in housing, schooling, job hiring, political and media representation, and general social life. Many white French people don’t want to live, work , go to school, or hang out with African-French, which in practice becomes a race problem. But that is precisely what can not be talked about in Sarkozy’s "republican" discourse. For what it’s worth, Royal is happy to tiptoe around it too, with her own codes like “A juster France is a stronger France.”

Sarkozy has cleverly if not diabolically claimed solidarity and the nation for himself by identifying as non-patriotic those who talk of particular identities instead of France as a whole, those who criticize France’s past, its values, and traditions. In fact, he claims they threaten “our capacity to live together!” His attacks on multiculturalism and his calls for a unified and proud France belie the fact that millions of Arab and black French citizens are systematically excluded from the “big tent” France that Sarkozy carries on about in complete mauvaise foi. He tries to set up a farcical debate where his opponents are on the defensive. They can’t talk about racism, difference, and inequalities based therein and their historical origins because that is un-patriotic from the get-go. The French Republic does not recognize race or religion, only laws. So the republican discourse effaces the actual racial practices that are everywhere in French everyday life.

I am France. No I am!

Segolene Royal has tried to combat Sarko’s rhetorical strategies to claim justice and patriotism by herself claiming them. Her slogan is “La France Presidente” ("France (for) President" and “Plus juste la France sera plus forte" ("A Juster France will be a Stronger France."). Her posters are usually blue and white with some red lettering. She encouraged audiences to join her in singing the French national anthem and to buy themselves a French flag to proudly wave. Francois Bayrou, the candidate who claimed he would unite right and left branded himself “La France de toutes nos forces” (“With All Our Strength for France”). All of these suggest that France is some how divided and weak. And it has mostly been poached from the far Right, about which Jean Marie Le Pen, its 79-year old outspoken and enduring figure has at times vigorously complained. His slogans have long been "Défendre les Français avec les Français" and "La France et les Français d'abord" ( "Defend France for the French" and "France and the French First"). Phillipe De Villiers, candidate of the far right “Mouvement Pour la France” (Movement for France) has similarly claimed the slogan “La Fierte’ d’etre Francais” (“The Pride of Being French”). Le Pen and Phillipe De Villier’s anti-immigrant and pro-nationalist rhetoric has now become mainstream.

Behind the brand: some real policy proposals?

When one gets past their strategically ambiguous but patriotic slogans, is the policy program obvious? You have to go to his website for starters. There you find that Sarkozy claims 15 points.

  1. Put an end to Public Weakness/Impotence (strong government, willing to act and take responsibility)
  2. An irreproachable Democracy (speaking to the theme of corruption that has haunted Chirac and the Clearstream affair).
  3. Conquer unemployment.
  4. Rehabilitate Work (Sarko claims the 35 hour work week, installed by the socialists has resulted in a culture where people don’t have “a taste for risk” and work has become devalued.).
  5. Increase Buying Power (which means there shouldn’t be laws limiting the amount of time one wants to work).
  6. Europe must protect itself from globalization (fine print:preserve the “values of civilization” and thus oppose Turkey’s entry into the EU).
  7. Respond to the urgency of Sustainable Development
  8. Allow All the French to be homeowners.
  9. Spread the principles of authority, respect and merit. (Know your place! Don’t talk back! No rioting.).
  10. Schools that guarantee the success of all students (Of course, the problem with schools currently is an authority problem).
  11. Make higher education and research at a globally competitive level.
  12. Rid “difficult neighborhoods” of violence.
  13. Take control of Immigration.
  14. Major political efforts
  15. Proud to be French (apologies to the Far Right).

Segolene Royal offers a short program for the majority of Attention Deficients and for the professional citizens a 100 point program.

The seven-pointer she calls “7 Pillars.”

  1. Re-launch growth so everyone can work. (Sounds good--how? Her predecessors argued that limiting the hours of the work week would help it, and besides, what kind of growth seems to be increasingly important under the threat of global warming and the twilight of the throwaway society)
  2. Improve buying power. (Noble aim)
  3. Promote education. (That's seriously a "pillar?")
  4. Guarantee the social protection of families. (Fine, and what exactly does that mean?)
  5. Realize Environmental Excellence. (Again: great! But how is the question)
  6. Struggle Against All Forms of Violence (at least here she clearly acknowledges that teenagers burning cars in the suburbs is not the only form of violence in France).
  7. Act for a Stronger France. (Um, whatever that means. I suppose this is to counter any accusation that she is "weak" on anything at all).

Both of these plans have hyperlinks to deeper explanations. But most people are probably not likely to have time or patience to go that far (the important qualification to utopian cheerleading about the internet as the revival of alt.news and robust democracy). On the surface these can each be deceptively ambiguous and even look similar on a few points.

Again, this is hardly different from glittering generalities shoveled to the American public for some time now during campaigns and in between them. And patently American are many of the strategies: playing to extreme wings of a party and undecideds with code and ambiguous claims whose conclusions anyone can supply; also having something to reel in every other single-issue citizen or group in an era where political parties are increasingly weaker in many Western countries with large groups of undecideds.

So, the people have spoken in round one, as Sarkozy gleefully pointed out this evening. But exactly what they said and why is work for an interpreter.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Kirk Rundstrom, 1968-2007: Thank you.

Also published by Blogcritics Magazine
Like a lot of people in this world, I have a million things I’m supposed to be doing today. But it’s gray again in Paris, my beautiful old dog is an old dog, I’m sitting in a room full of furniture that’s been sold on-line as a major symbolic step in a harrowing divorce process, and it’s Sunday. That there are other puppies that will be born, that people can fall in love again—it all just makes me sadder; seems more just if they could not. But most of all, I can’t justify going one more goddamned day without talking about Kirk Rundstrom. New puppies and loves? Maybe. Another Kirk Rundstrom? No fucking way.

Kirk Rundstrom of the ever-beloved insurgent country groups Split Lip Rayfield and Scroat Belly was taken by cancer on February 22. I’m disgusted with myself for having deferred my memorial ‘til now. His passing has had a considerable impact on me, and it's not only because we were the same age.

I first saw Kirk playing with Scroat Belly in Lawrence, Ks some time in 1995. Though I’m not precise on the date, I’ll never forget the impression that Kirk left on me. One word comes to mind: energy. The man was Shazzam on guitar. He beamed (smiled right back at the Grim fucking Reaper, I’d bet), he rocked, and yet tattooed, work-booted and capped by farm feed suppliers, the man never played the cocky rocker. When you watched him shred that acoustic (or electrified acoustic) guitar you witnessed an electrical storm on guitar strings. He and his comrades would play until they either couldn’t physically play any more or the club owner pulled the plug, as Kirk looked out disappointedly from a small pond of sweat he had generated over the last two hours of giving everything he had to an audience. He loved to share his energy. He forgave us our faults and welcomed us asking nothing in return save for our attention. Were Jesus to return as an alt.country rocker, Kirk Rundstrom would be an obvious form for him to take—what? You didn’t read that sermon: “Will preach for beer?”

After that first kiss, I henceforth slept with only one eye shut, the other ever looking for a new Scroat Belly or Split Lip Rayfield—in a word: Rundstrom—show to be announced, which I could not possibly miss, I said to myself and not overstating the matter all that much. I moved to Chicago in 1997 but had the good fortune of seeing Rundstrom perform often there, Chicago being the headquarters of Bloodshot Records, which boasted Rundstrom's bands on their impressive roster.

Like others, I was never ever disappointed by a Kirk Rundstrom performance. I never felt ripped off as if by one of these bands who appear to prefer playing to a wall and who are more than happy to be off stage in 30 minutes and no encore, no matter how much you paid for a ticket. On the contrary, Kirk would encore until the cows came home, and then some more.

In the late 90s I had the opportunity to meet the man personally when he came to Chicago, generously appearing with his band mates to record live for the alt. and classic country show on Chicago’s WNUR radio station, “Southbound Train,” which I hosted with Keith Cook. Not only was Kirk a fine musician and performer; he was also a fine human being by all standards. Talented, friendly, generous, an un-pretentious bon vivant who loved his beer, American gothic, and barbeque. His big tattooed forearms gave him the air of a scrappy farmer, even a man who had had his share of winning bar fights—until you saw that smile of his. There was nothing macho about it. He seemed to bridge waters, peoples, styles, classes, regions.

As others have also remarked, it is unsurprising that he would with his bandmates bridge what had seemed naturally gulfed audiences and styles of music: bluegrass, speed metal, punk, and hippy jam bands. There were elements of each in his music, his style, his way of being. Perhaps others had tried: they had failed where he succeeded, even if not enough people have been able to appreciate his talent for this bridging and hybridity.

"You put electricity and drums behind us and we're a rock band," he said in a well-circulated quote. "We play bluegrass instruments, but we don't do covers. We don't wear rouge or bolo ties. I don't know any traditionals. I couldn't play a flat-pickin' song to save my life. I'm a hack of a guitar player. Eric may be one of the best guitar players I've heard, but we forced him to play banjo. I don't know what Wayne is doing. He's just shredding his mandolin. I wouldn't even want to be associated with the state of bluegrass today. It's lounge music."

This approach to music made Scroat Belly’s one and only album on Bloodshot Records, Daddy’s Farm a cult classic. Each song seemed to be a tempest of twang, loud, hard and fast, preceded by a more traditional lull and followed by the same. There was always something rough and not really ironic about Kirk’s and Wayne’s vocals in the slower parts of the songs which kept them from sounding like straight duplicates or caricatures of a Louvin Brothers or Bill Monroe number; and always something twangy in voice, style and arrangement that kept them from ever being confused with Metallica or Agent Orange imitators.

An acoustic version of Scroat Belly (on some songs at least) lived on in Split Lip Rayfield also on Bloodshot, which produced a number of impressive albums in this unique genre, my favorite of which is perhaps the first and eponymous album in 1998. With Kirk, Eric Mardis joined on banjo, while Jeff Eaton strapped a lone cat-gut string to a truck fuel tank and bloodied his duct-taped hands on bass; Scroat Belly’s Wayne Gottstine returned later to “shred,” as Kirk said, a mandolin in the mix. Can you start to imagine what this looked like live, had you never tasted the sweet nectar of a Split Lip show? The syncopated beats and minor chords of “Outlaw” and barnburner; the auctioneer-ish vocals and sped up, even if often rudimentary, picking of “Long Haul Weekend”; a kind of truck-stop poetry to numbers like “Pinball Machine”; a necessary simplicity and celebrated naiveté of “Sunshine”; a vaguely Balkans-like pace and punchiness to some of them—they stuck with you all day and commanded your return to them, a command that has me often returning to this album almost ten years later.

Unlike with Heehaw and some of its alt.country descendants, it was never completely clear to what degree Split Lip/Scroat Belly embraced and lived the country motifs and clichés they rearranged, added to, and played with, which was probably a good thing. This complex relationship with the rural, the land, and its culture (like Faulkner’s with the South!) also emerged in their DIY streak, such as t-shirts they made with the montage of a well-nourished hog in silhouette, the name Split Rip Rayfield and the text “100% pure fat.” Funny, ironic, knowingly embracing what the mainstream South Beach Dieters feared in food, culture, music? Who knows? But it was good.



My ex- and I shared a lot of wonderful things together, perhaps the most powerful and satisfying being music, especially live music. For us, going to their shows was like the revivifying trip to the spa that our bourgeois counterparts swear is indispensable for getting out of bed in the morning and continuing this often perplexing daily cycle. From SxSW 1998 to various gigs in Chicago and Lawrence through 2004, we would leave Kirk’s shows re-charged, beaming, Kirk’s smile as contagious as the music he played. If I could change one of the many things I don’t like about myself, it might very well be to take Kirk’s smile and use it like an Evil Eye. It seemed to offer asylum and to ward off bad luck, even if its limit was death.

Kirk’s (his bands’) recordings of course must lack that visual zest. Yet, more than a little strangely, you can hear without much effort and concentration that missing sense. The sound evokes the image. Kirk was and will continue to be a spirit. You listen and you can see him behind those lifeless speakers and that grim faux-metallic stereo, his playful bulging eyes and unquenchable smile refusing to fade—ever. So thank God for recorded music, and despite Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, thank God for memory: Kirk’s spirit, his smile, lives on, and God knows I, like others, need it. Thank you, Kirk. You will not soon be forgotten.Tribute to Kirk Rundstrom

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Healthcare, Polls, and Bad News

In “top Yahoo news stories” this past week, a Reuters' wire article announced a poll just found that health care is the "top domestic concern" of a majority of Americans (Iraq being the top overall concern). This article is an example of serious problems with public opinion produced through polls, and its representation in the news.

First of all, the trouble with this Yahoo/Reuters article is the same a lot of news suffers from: lack of context. We need to know the history of this issue to understand whether this is a new concern, which many readers will likely infer. If the issue's been around for a long time, then how would that be news? ‘Course it wouldn't be; it’d be "olds." And if we dig a little in the mainstream press and public opinion research, we find in fact that health care and Americans' interest in universal health care has been a big concern for a long time. A Harris poll in 2005 surveyed Americans on a range of health issues. It found that 75% of Americans "strongly favored" universal health care in the U.S. Interesting finding. However, the poll doesn't tell readers how Americans think it should be funded. Would Americans be willing to pay a bit higher income tax for this coverage? Questionable, given the popularity of tax breaks. Americans are notorious for having their cake and eating it too. A poll last year, for example, found that nearly 60% of Americans think the U.S.
tax system is unfair.

Going back further, what do you know? In October 2003, an ABC News/Washington Post poll “found that Americans prefer universal health care to the current health system by a margin of two to one. Even more revealing is the fact that Americans favor guaranteeing health insurance for all, ‘even if it means raising taxes.’” Indeed, some sources claim that Kaiser Foundation polls from 1992 to the present have shown majorities of Americans favoring universal health care for Americans or “health care guaranteed for all Americans,” but it’s not always clear what respondents understand by these terms.

Questions that ask what is a "top concern" among a variety of issues handpicked by pollsters can also be misleading. No one asks, "Do you want your government to address your top concern only or several of your concerns?" So, first of all, the questions in public opinion studies can be skewed and misrepresent public opinion in its deeper sense, a public agenda, which would, in turn, supposedly influence a legislative agenda--how representatives are supposed to serve their constituents or be thrown out.

Yet the way questions are asked and the way issues are presented in the news without giving a history of an issue and opinion about it, legislators are free to press on with pet issues that they may have put on the polling agenda in the first place (such as immigration, for instance). Nor do such questions about "opinion" often measure how well citizens understand opposing arguments on such issues. This is the problem with democracy by opinion polls. As the late Christopher Lasch pointed out, American democracy does not just need information; it also direly needs public debate and citizens capable of critically evaluating it.

Indeed, opinions that have not passed through the filter of public debate and information-gathering was not the vision of the father of modern public opinion polling, George Gallup. In his Public Opinion in Democracy(1939), Gallup argued “the people, having heard the debate on both sides of every issue, can express their will” in public opinion polls. The result would be the nation as “one great room.”

What we have today is more like a million different rooms, which hardly arrive at opinion through debate. Indeed, as I've shown, it's not always clear how opinion is formed and how strong it is on a personal political agenda. Is there another way? Stay tuned for Part II of the problems with public opinion.
(also published by Blogcritics Magazine)
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Friday, February 23, 2007

As the world burns...

While the climate crisis worsens (and Americans among others skip merrily down the primrose path--yeah, keep telling yourself it's a hippie conspiracy theory), a report has ranked American cities for their overall ecological quality. Enjoy.
OVERALL

Overall Rank
(1 is best, 72 is worst)
City, State Overall Score
(1 is best, 10 is worst)
1 Fargo*, ND 2.73
2 Burlington*, VT 2.79
3 Portland, OR 2.81
3 Colorado Springs, CO 2.81
5 Sioux Falls*, SD 2.83
6 Boise*, ID 2.85
7 Seattle, WA 2.86
8 Portland*, ME 2.87
9 Minneapolis, MN 2.98
10 Anchorage, AK 3.03
11 Honolulu, HI 3.09
12 Cheyenne*, WY 3.17
13 Denver, CO 3.19
14 Billings*, MT 3.21
15 Des Moines*, IA 3.22
16 Mesa, AZ 3.24
17 Manchester*, NH 3.28
18 Albuquerque, NM 3.29
18 Lexington, KY 3.29
20 Virginia Beach, VA 3.31
21 Tucson, AZ 3.35
22 Omaha, NE 3.37
23 Columbia*, SC 3.42
23 Boston, MA 3.42
25 Charlotte, NC 3.46
26 Las Vegas, NV 3.49
27 Kansas City, MO 3.51
28 San Francisco, CA 3.54
28 Jacksonville, FL 3.54
30 Phoenix, AZ 3.56
31 San Diego, CA 3.57
32 Milwaukee, WI 3.65
33 Salt Lake City*, UT 3.66
34 San Jose, CA 3.67
35 Oklahoma City, OK 3.74
36 Sacramento, CA 3.76
37 Wilmington*, DE 3.77
37 Little Rock*, AR 3.77
39 Austin, TX 3.80
40 Arlington, TX 3.81
41 Tulsa, OK 3.83
42 Wichita, KS 3.84
43 Nashville-Davidson, TN 3.85
43 Charleston*, WV 3.85
45 Oakland, CA 3.98
45 Washington, DC 3.98
47 Long Beach, CA 4.03
48 Columbus, OH 4.04
49 Providence*, RI 4.11
50 Memphis, TN 4.16
51 Fort Worth, TX 4.20
52 Philadelphia, PA 4.21
53 Indianapolis, IN 4.22
54 New York City, NY 4.23
54 Fresno, CA 4.23
54 Bridgeport*, CT 4.23
57 Baltimore City, MD 4.29
58 Louisville-Jefferson County*, KY 4.30
59 Chicago, IL 4.31
60 San Antonio, TX 4.33
61 Birmingham*, AL 4.47
62 Los Angeles, CA 4.58
63 Dallas, TX 4.62
64 Atlanta, GA 4.67
65 Jackson*, MS 4.73
66 Newark, NJ 4.76
67 New Orleans, LA 4.95
68 Houston, TX 5.06
69 El Paso, TX 5.13
70 Cleveland, OH 5.20
71 Miami, FL 5.29
72 Detroit, MI 5.49

Note:

• All rank information is out of 72 cities, though not all cities may have scores/data in every category.
1 is the 'best' (least polluting, most educated, etc) and 72 is the 'worst'.

• Use of the asterisk (*) after the city name indicates year 2000 data was used in instances where
2005 or 2004 Census data was not available.