Wednesday, July 27, 2005

On the book front

Final preparations are being made for the printing of When Towns Had Teams. As most of you have noticed, I’ve been posting less on my blog (s). Much of that has had to do with the inordinate amount of things required of me as an independent publisher.

In forming RiverVision Press, my goal was to create a small press that has the capability to produce and distribute books about Maine that other presses might be apt to pass over. The story of town team and semi-pro baseball in Maine and the players and towns represented is one such project. There are many other similar stories that need telling. I’m in the early stages of planning my next book, which will be the big release of 2006 by RiverVision, as well as exploring releasing a nonfiction book by another Maine-based writer. I have a few ideas and will probably call for manuscripts later in the year.

Having said all of that, it is absolutely overwhelming taking on the role of publisher, in addition to being a writer. I recognize why others shy away from it. Not only do you have the manuscript to polish and get ready for the printer, you have all the other responsibilities from marketing to distribution and the other endless tasks that running a small enterprise requires.

I’m quite pleased that I’m nearing an agreement with a printer (a Maine-based company, btw) and I am confident that the book will actually be available in September (hopefully the first week) for shipping.

I’ve already received several pre-orders of the book, which qualifies the buyer to a hand-numbered and personalized copies of When Towns Had Teams. I have completed a mailing to many of the former players and others that I interviewed. From that mailing, two mail orders were sitting in my mail yesterday.

I made several phone calls to book sellers around the state and most independent book stores are eager to carry my book. Some, like L.L. Bean, require that I have my book carried by a large wholesale distributor like Ingram. There is a smaller Maine-based distribution network that I was given the name of that I’ll need to check out.

As you can see, I often end up with more tasks then there are hours in the day. If I didn’t need to grab four of five hours of sleep, I know I could get more done, but being the weak creature that I am, I do require some sack time. Oh, and did I mention my responsibilities to the Twilight League? Needless to say, I’m a bit busy of late, but I’m very encouraged by where I’m at project-wise. Finally, I can see a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel and When Towns Had Teams is going to be a book that I’m proud of and I think others are really going to enjoy. BTW, it’s bigger than I thought it would be. I haven’t done my final layout, but my calculations based on the technical support provided by the printer have the estimates of a book that will be around 300 to 310 pages. With the original photos that I’ll include and the wealth of historical details, as well as the great stories of a wonderful group representing the last great generation, I think it’s certainly a value at the current price of $17.95.

I’ll continue to provide details as they unfold, both here and at the RiverVision website.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

My full social calendar

I've gotten out in a social setting for two days in a row! My workaholic ways have enjoyed a brief respite over the past two evenings.

Friday night, it was at teammate John Carriero's place for burgers, brats and beer, after our doubleheader was rained out. Last night, it was Mary and I stepping out and heading up the road to the Winthrop/Monmouth town line for some BBQ.

Granted, I had put in a full Saturday at that point and was ready to leave the crib and not have to cook. In the morning, I headed down to Portland to cover an all-star game for 14-year-old Babe Ruth players. The game took place at Haverty Field. This ballpark had been a staple of Twilight League baseball in the 1960's, when John Haverty had built it behind his stately home on Washington Avenue, for use by his Haverty Buick Wildcats, as well as other local teams. Over the years, the field has fallen into disuse and it wasn't maintained any longer for baseball. Frank Watson, local businessman and owner of Lender's Network, as well as an avid baseball fan, former Twilight player (and current sponsor and GM), and a great supporter of local baseball, bought Haverty's home and has been involved since April in restoring the field. His son's Babe Ruth team of 14-year-old all-stars are currently using the field. I was there to write an article for next weeks Forecaster on the league.

Speaking of The Forecaster, I had an article this week on a former Twilight League player, Leif Ekelund, now playing professionally in Arizona in the new professional, independent, Golden Baseball League. I enjoyed doing the article and I especially enjoyed beating the Portland Press Herald to the punch. Ekelund hails from Cape Elizabeth and his story is an interesting one. Here's a young man who headed to the west coast to go to grad school and he attends a two-day tryout camp and is offered a professional contract. Seems to me that it was an interesting feature, but then again, that would mean some of the hacks at the Press Herald might have to do a bit of work.

Came home, spent three hours mowing my lawn at the compound and then, after a quick shower, Mary and I were off to find Little Dan's BBQ. We weren't disappointed. It is literally at the town line on the right heading towards Augusta on Route 202. It's easy to drive by, if not for the smoking train sitting out front. Non-descript and working class to the core, the barbecue was worth driving for. I had my usual pulled pork plate and Mary had half-a-rack of ribs. Both were tasty, with sauces available on the table to add to your own liking and taste. I had the corn bread and potato salad for sides. The potato salad was tasty, with just the right mix of seasoning and mayonnaise. The corn bread was sweeter than most and very moist.

I washed it down with a couple of PBR's and Miss Mary had a Sam Adams Summer Ale. They do have wine, but were out of the red variety. Knowing the rules of red with pork and other similar meats, Mary, not a big fan of beer, opted to be adventuresome on this visit.

I would recommend a trip to Little Dan's the next time you are in the vicinity of Monmouth/Winthrop. The barbecue is great, the prices reasonable and the area is worth exploring along the way.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Summer reading program

I finally got my hands on Jim Kunstler's, The Long Emergency. It comes to me courtesy of the Maine State Library's, Books-By-Mail Program (there are advantages to living in a town without a library).

While only 110 pages into the 268 page book, here a just a few observations that JK makes about imperial America during its summer of Reality TV.

On cheap oil:

Above all, and most immediately, we face the end of the cheap fossil fuel era. It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as a benefit of modern life. All the necessities, comforts, luxuries, and miracles of our time--central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lighting, cheap clothing, recorded music, movies, supermarkets, power tools, hip replacement surgery, the national defense, you name it--owe their origins or continued existence in one way or another to cheap fossil fuel.

On suburban sprawl:

America finds itself nearing the end of the cheap-oil age having invested its national wealth in a living arrangement--suburban sprawl--that has no future. When media commentators cast about struggling to explain what has happened in our country economically, they uniformly overlook the colossal misinvestment that suburbia represents--a prodigious, unparalleled misallocation of resources.

It's amazing to me, in our land of bread and circuses, how uninformed and in stone-cold denial the everyday citizen is about oil and its unsustainability as the foundation of all that we know in the coming years. As Neil Postman wrote about extensively, Americans have an irrational belief in technology's ability to save us. As Kunstler notes, neither technology, nor the promise of alternative fuels will be able to save us from the long emergency.

If there is one book that I wish more people would read during the remainder of 2005, it would be this one. I'm not holding my breath, waiting for that to happen, however.

I've found that despite the label of pessimism and "profit of doom" that so many would lob the way of someone writing a book like Kunstler's, I find it invigorating and in line with much of what I've thought about and observed during the past five years or so.

True reality has a freeing quality missing from so much of the manufactured faux reality that permeates most of our waking moments.

Monday, July 18, 2005

A random act of senseless sadness

Drummer Michael Dahlquist, longtime member of indie rock stalwarts, Silkworm, was killed (murdered) when a suicidal woman crashed her car into the car carrying Dahlquist and two other fellow musicians, in Chicago. As befitting a world without any justice, the crazy woman received only minor injuries.

For me, this has a bit of a personal connection because of the opportunity that I had back in 1995(?) to meet Dahlquist at one of Portland's great nightclubs from the past, Raoul's, on outer Forest Avenue. Silkworm was playing a Thursday night indie gig and I had headed into Portland for rock and $1.00 PBR's. The opening act, Engine Kid, were deafeningly loud and I had migrated to the steps outside to rest my eardrums. I met Dahlquist and Tim Midgett, Silkworm's guitar player. Truly nice guys, who were as much fans of rock, in addition to being talented musicians, we had a great conversation and went back inside for beers. I met bassist Andy Cohen and they invited me to their show the following night at the Port Hole, where they were playing. While I was unable to go, I just was struck by how down-to-earth and without pretensions all three were. It was always one of the characteristics that made me love the indie rock scene in general. For me, meeting the trio was special, as Silkworm's music has been a staple of my collection for over a decade. At the time I met them, I was totally in love with their L'ajre record. When I told them they were impressed and dedicated a song to "our fan Jim, one of the 10 people who owns L'ajre." Obviously, quite a few more own it than that, but the point is that they appreciated their fans.

My thoughts and sympathies go out to Michael's family and the other members of Silkworm, as well as the families of the other musicians, John Glick and Douglas Meis.

A kind word

Writing is basically a solitary activity. It only involves others when you choose to release your writing via traditional avenues (books, articles in newspapers and magazines, newsletters, zines), or via electronic means (blogs, websites, online forums).

Once released to the public, unless you are read by the masses in the NY Times, or have a blog that's nationally known, you don't get alot of feedback. I'm very fortunate that I have some devoted readers and some of them post regularly. I am grateful for these people.

With the pending pre-release of When Towns Had Teams, I got a particularly nice response from a reader who has been reading my articles at and has come over to the blog(s). She apparently saw my post regarding the book and had this to offer:

"I've watched your writing mature for some time now. I first read your articles at MainelyKids and while I had some disagreement with you, you kindly answered my concerns. You were the first writer to ever do that.

I've read most of the articles that you've written and I'm really interested in your book about town team baseball. I'm not a big baseball fan, but I think it will be interesting to read about the period in Maine's history that you seem to be focusing on.

As someone who loves Maine and is concerned about some of the changes I see in my small town, I'm anxious to see what it was about towns in the past that made them special. Maybe I'll learn something I can use in some of my current issues in my town." Roz

These comments mean alot, as this reader (who is an educator) really took issue with some of my points about education in one of my articles for Rather than ignore her points, I emailed her and we had a spirited back-and-forth. While she never entirely came over to my point of view, she respected my points (as I did hers) and apparently, not alot of writers engage those who offer thoughtful critiques of their work.

Just this morning, I opened my email and found that I have received my first official online order (I had my first mailorder, Friday). This is exciting and I'm really getting anxious to get my manuscript to the printer and get my book back to begin shipping.

Despite the craziness of the past couple of months, I'm starting to see momentum begin to build and it's so encouraging.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Livin' what I write

For much of my life I’ve been intimately involved in one form of local baseball, or another. From my earliest experiences that I recall at the age of seven, going to Roberts 88’ers games, Lisbon Fall’s town team representative in the local Andy County League, baseball played a key role in forming a sense of who I am. Later, I played Little League, Senior Little League, High School ball and eventually, American Legion baseball. After a college career cut short by injury, I walked away from baseball in my early 20’s, only to return to the altar of the local game, with the birth of my own son.

Weaving its seemingly timeless thread around the relationship that would develop with my own son, baseball continues to occupy a central place for me with each passing summer. It is that thread that prompted me to reflect on the current state of local baseball and Portland’s Twilight League and the genesis of the seed that eventually became When Towns Had Teams.

This summer is my third season of being a head coach. As much as I grouse about my never-ending list of things to do regarding the league, I absolutely love to coach—always have. There’s something about pulling aside a 20-year-old pitcher and recommending some minor adjustment and seeing a light of understanding come on and observing him begin to have success. Or witnessing the personal development of players who you watched as skinny 15 year olds, blossom into 20 year old young men who you know are going to be successful as human beings. In a world where heroes and leaders are in short supply, trying to model respect for the game of baseball and being a mentor isn’t unimportant, even if I come up short of perfection more-times-than-not.

Having said all that, I’m concerned about how the brand of baseball I’m so firmly connected with continues to slide down society’s skewered list of priorities. While some of my friends aren’t as passionate about our nation’s pastime as I am, I stand by my frequent assertions that the loss of local baseball (and many other local, citizen-based activities) is not a good sign, and reflects our loss of community and our slide into the murky waters of the banal and boorish.

I could cite example-after-example of how our league (and not just our league but other types of locally-oriented activities) receive short shrift from our so-called local leaders and civic hierarchy, as well as fellow citizens (not to mention Portland's paper-of-record). A case in point was last night’s doubleheader that my club, Patriot Mutual Insurance, playing against Lewiston/Auburn. Due to our rainy summer, the league schedule over the next two weeks is rife with makeup games. Rather than play our usual nine inning single game, beginning at 7pm, we opted to play two seven inning games in order to makeup one of our rainouts with this club. We started a half our earlier than usual, beginning at 6:30pm.

Upon arriving at the St. Joseph’s College field in North Windham, we were told that we had to be off the field by 11pm. This meant that if both games had excessive hitting or other things that can prolong an amateur baseball game, we might be hindered by the clock. As it happened, we were done long before our imposed curfew, but once again, I looked into the face of a society that stumbles more-and-more into its “me-only” ghetto of self-absorption. When I asked the groundskeeper in charge as to why we had to be off the field, he told me that “the neighbors call the cops” if games go beyond that time. Call the cops? Give me a freakin’ break! This made me reflect on several things:

--With no houses within a half mile of the field, how does an evening baseball game between 30 college-age kids imperil their television programs, or their apparent need for peace and serenity?

--There was a time when folks in the community would have come out to watch local players play, rather than treat it as an impositition. What’s gone so wrong that they now resort to calling the police about the crack of leather on wood?

--Since when did the participation of members of the community in an All-American pastime as baseball warrant the involvement of local law enforcement?

I could certainly go on with this, but I think you get the picture. All of this forcefully validates the work that I’ve spent the last year doing—collecting the facts, stories and tracing local baseball’s rise to prominence and subsequent downward plunge into being associated with a criminal activity.

While sociologists might disagree with my assignment of town team baseball’s demise as a cause of social pathology, I think it’s a pretty good mirror to hold up for all of us to look into and ask, “Where the f*ck did we take the wrong turn?” In 30 years, we’ve gone from town team and semi-pro baseball being revered, attended by hundreds and yes, thousands of fans, to now running the risk of arrest and legal penalty for exceeding arbitrary curfews of short-sighted cranks.

I’m not sure where this will all end up. Maybe in the next three or four years, baseball leagues like the Twilight League will finally reach their endpoint—in my humble opinion, we’ve certainly reached our nadir. Then, we’ll only have the overpaid and narcissistic professionals to follow on our wide-screen televisions, brought to you by Nike, Wal-Mart and our other corporate raiders that run the show here in our plutocracy that we call America.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Gross inequality

A good article on the rich getting richer, while the rest of us go begging for crumbs.

Posted from The Huffington Post.

No Justice, No Peace
by, Charlie Cray

Corporate executives and directors have once again flunked the "acid test" of corporate reform (as Warren Buffett put it), continuing to pay themselves an average of 289 times what the average employee took home last year, according to recent figures.

No matter what they say, this gross inequality has nothing to do with job performance or general prosperity (e.g. job creation) and everything to do with the ongoing epidemic of shameless war profiteering, outsourcing, and tax dodging that have fueled festering resentments across the rest of society.

Though you'd hardly think so, judging from the media's overall neglect of the issue, that resentment is deep and well-founded. After all, while worker productivity rose 78 percent between 1973 and 2004, the average employee's paycheck today is more than $3,000 less than it was during the Nixon administration (1973), when it was $36,629 (adjusting for inflation).

In those days U.S. CEOs made about 45 times as much as workers, according to pay expert Graef Crystal. And after President Nixon urged everyone to begin to "move from the era of confrontation to the era of negotiation," America's CEOs have waged a fierce game of class warfare ever since, even using that phrase (with its not-so-subtle Marxist connotation) to "whack-a-mole" any protestations of tax cuts for the rich or (horrors) proposals to ban stock option compensation, the steroids of corporate greed that led to so much book-cooking.

(If the media giants themselves weren't so blind to the issue, maybe they'd have invented a new vocabulary for the unprecedented "corpiracy" and "corporruption" witnessed in recent years.)

Can anything be done or should we wallow in that feeling of futility and junk food commercials in between episodes of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"? (Even there the debate is warped. Maybe someone should remake that old Phil Silvers/Sgt. Bilko show, "You'll Never Get Rich.")

Of course, as is the case with just about every other issue having something to do with justice, Washington is usually the last place to look to for leadership on this issue. The living wage policies that have spread from city to city have, in fact, been the result of grassroots organizing led by groups like ACORN.

But there is one good idea that keeps coming up in Congress thanks to Rep. Martin Sabo. Today, Sabo re-introduced the Income Equity Act .

Sabo's 2005 bill would limit government subsidies of CEO excess by eliminating tax deductions for compensation that exceeds 25 times the company’s lowest paid full-time employee. (For example, if the lowest paid, full-time employee in a firm was paid $20,000, then the highest salary deduction that could be claimed by that firm would be $500,000.)

(To learn more about skyrocketing CEO pay and the effects it has had on the rest of American society, check out United for a Fair Economy, Greed and Good by Sam Pizigatti (the definitive book on CEO pay issues), The Corporate Library and Lucien Bebchuk's Pay Without Performance.

Oh, and to research a specific CEO's pay, check out AFL-CIO's Executive Paywatch page.

Charlie Cray the director of the Center for Corporate Policy in Washington, DC. He helped establish Halliburton Watch, and is co-author of The People's Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy (Berrett-Koehler), and is a former associate editor of Multinational Monitor magazine.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

RiverVision Press

As promised, I have an announcement to make regarding my book, When Towns Had Teams. After attempting the traditional publishing route, only to find that my book lacked the sameness and familiarity that many small presses are locked into, I have decided to form RiverVision Press, “Maine’s DIY small press.” Taking the best of what I’ve learned from the DIY ethic prevalent in much of 80’s punk rock, and blending it a vision to capture the history and what’s best about small town Maine and other New England locales, the time seemed right to begin my own small press venture.

RiverVision Press will be pre-releasing When Towns Had Teams via the website and mail order beginning August 1. The first 500 copies of the book that are ordered prior to November 1 will be hand-numbered as orders are received, and I will also be signing each copy. The book which will be in the neighborhood of 230 pages will be selling for $15.95 + S&H, plus Maine sales tax for Maine residents.

In addition to When Towns Had Teams, I’ve already begun plans for my next book. This next offering will also tackle a subject that has been shamefully neglected, but which is extremely popular throughout New England and elsewhere. Additionally, I hope to have a book which captures small town Maine, Moxie, as well as the town where I grew up—Lisbon Falls. I hope to be able to release that book during next year’s Moxie Festival. As if that isn’t enough, I’ve begun discussions with two other Maine writers who I think are adept at capturing the unique qualities and heritage of a state like Maine.

I also want to give a "shout out" and props to the work of Jonathan Braden. His creativity, skill, as well as diligence have made it possible to get the RiverVision Press site up and running quickly. I also have been extremely fortunate to have acquired the services of a talented copy editor. Her expertise has provided the necessary fine tuning that any quality manuscript requires. If all goes well, I’ll be sending it to the printer in about three weeks.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to visit the RiverVision Press website and see what Maine’s DIY small press is all about! Check back from time to time as I’ll be putting News and other events up as they become available.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Some sanity added to the mix

I cannot believe some of the inane (and insane) analyis coming from the right wing regarding this AM's attacks on commuters in London. Let's be fair about this; some on the left, like Jerry Springer weren't much better (although, he at least ended his broadcast by playing the British National Anthem). Fox and Friends were practically gloating about it, saying things like, "well it's good it happened with so many of the world's leaders nearby". WTF?? Then, there were the callers on C-Span saying we should basically bomb the Middle East back into whatever century. I'm too angry and running on adrenaline (and caffeine) to respond with anything that might be helpful. My sympathies go out to those in Great Britain, by-and-large working class, who are mourning this evening. If people have to suffer, why is it always the common people?

Fortunately, there are people like Nathan Newman. It is all about economics and he usually nails it, as he did today.

July 07, 2005
Don't Forget Aid for Africa

The terrorists want us to concentrate on them, as does the rightwing which is thrilled to see aid for the global poor put back on the backburner.

But let's get some perspective. Less than a hundred people died today in London, but 15,000 Africans die EVERY DAY from preventable diseases.

The best way to fight terrorism is to drain the pool of public support. Supporting the victims of the Tsunami in Indonesia was one of the best ways possible to improve the image of the US in that country. A serious commitment to aid in Africa, aside from being the right thing to do, is the best use of money to fight terrorism as well.

If we took the money wasted in Iraq, we could build global support and allies around the world through a crusade to end poverty, even as we'd have additional money to secure our vulnerable facilities against the crazies left over.

London shows our current strategy has failed. Let's try a new one build on global justice abroad and intelligent security at home.

The High Price of Oil

From Bloomberg (via Atrios):

July 4 (Bloomberg) -- Record oil prices may increase to $80 a barrel this year, options contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange show. Investors are speculating OPEC won't produce enough oil to compensate for any disruption to supplies.

New York Mercantile Exchange data show 6,900 options contracts outstanding that allow buyers to purchase oil for December delivery at $80 a barrel, compared with an average of 77 contracts in January. The probability that oil will top $75 a barrel when the December crude contract expires is 21 percent, according to Adam Sieminski and Michael Lewis, strategists at Deutsche Bank AG, up from 5 percent at the start of the year.

Oil has surged partly on concern that a dispute over Iran's nuclear program to generate electricity may lead to conflict with the U.S. and disrupt supplies from the Middle East. The cushion between output capacity and demand is narrowing as producers including most OPEC members pump at maximum.

``The perception is that the risk of higher prices now is higher than at the beginning of this year,'' Deutsche Bank's Sieminski said in an interview. ``The market is so tightly balanced that issues like a nuclear confrontation with Iran could add a great deal of worry'' about supplies.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the producer of about 40 percent of the world's oil, is pumping almost as much crude oil as it can to increase inventories before consumption peaks in the fourth quarter. Crude oil reached a record $60.95 in New York on June 27, deepening concern that the cost of energy would slow economic growth.

From JK at Clusterfuck Nation:

"Oil's remorseless up-ratcheting past $60 is as much a symptom of a weak dollar as a strained global energy allocation system, and the dollar is weakening because the way of life it represents is becoming more and more unreal. The harsh truth is that we've reached the limit of our ability to expand our suburban sprawl economy and there is no alternative US economy in the background ready to take its place. The world can't fail to notice this weakness. The inability to generate even fake wealth, in the form of ever more WalMarts, will take its toll on the consensus that the American Dream has enduring value."

From "High West" by Ed Dorn

"The hours spent recreational shopping...What will happen when/if the malls can no longer pay the electricity bill? Or the power just gets cut? What if the cine-plexes were to close? What if we could no longer be an ever expanding 24/7 consumer's paradise? What would folks do with themselves? The prospect is tantalizing. Twenty-five yard long strips of freezersfull ofStouffers, which should smell like cat-puke if the power gets cut. As in the Gulf War, when Iraqis had to throw thawed food to the dogs who soon got fat and ran in packs"


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Book News

I will be making an announcement in the next few days regarding When Towns Had Teams and the publication of the book. I will also be doing some marketing for the book over the next month at various Maine festivals, including this weekend's Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls.

Stay tuned for details!

Monday, July 04, 2005

The 4th of July

Today is the 4th of July, that day when we celebrate the myth many of us have been socialized to accept--this idea that America is this beacon of freedom and liberty to the rest of the world. We are the shining example of democracy and equality that is so much hogwash when the facts are analyzed.

I won't be flying the flag today, nor will I be attending any fireworks tonight. I used to enjoy fireworks, but I've become uncomfortable gathering where jingoism is openly promoted and flaunted.

I've developed a deep respect for Howard Zinn that began when I read his A People's History of the United States. I'm eternally grateful for that book, as it opened my eyes to that which I didn't want to believe--that the United States and its history was one of imperialism, not exceptionalism. I've read several other books by Zinn since then.

I had the good fortune of being able to attend a lecture by Zinn back in November of 2002 at Bates College. Along with my son Mark, home from college, we went to hear Zinn--at the time, 77 years old--clearly make a case for the injustice of that war. Here we are almost two years later, without a clear plan and no intention of leaving the region.

For your 4th of July reading, I've posted a portion of Zinn's essay from Boston Review; a deflation of the American myth of exceptionalism. You can read the remainder here:

The Power and the Glory: Myths of American exceptionalism
by, Howard Zinn

The notion of American exceptionalism—that the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary—is not new. It started as early as 1630 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when Governor John Winthrop uttered the words that centuries later would be quoted by Ronald Reagan. Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a “city upon a hill.” Reagan embellished a little, calling it a “shining city on a hill.”

The idea of a city on a hill is heartwarming. It suggests what George Bush has spoken of: that the United States is a beacon of liberty and democracy. People can look to us and learn from and emulate us.

In reality, we have never been just a city on a hill. A few years after Governor Winthrop uttered his famous words, the people in the city on a hill moved out to massacre the Pequot Indians. Here’s a description by William Bradford, an early settler, of Captain John Mason’s attack on a Pequot village.

"Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived that they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy."

The kind of massacre described by Bradford occurs again and again as Americans march west to the Pacific and south to the Gulf of Mexico. (In fact our celebrated war of liberation, the American Revolution, was disastrous for the Indians. Colonists had been restrained from encroaching on the Indian territory by the British and the boundary set up in their Proclamation of 1763. American independence wiped out that boundary.)

Invoking God has been a habit for American presidents throughout the nation’s history, but George W. Bush has made a specialty of it. For an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the reporter talked with Palestinian leaders who had met with Bush. One of them reported that Bush told him, “God told me to strike at al Qaeda. And I struck them. And then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did. And now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.” It’s hard to know if the quote is authentic, especially because it is so literate. But it certainly is consistent with Bush’s oft-expressed claims. A more credible story comes from a Bush supporter, Richard Lamb, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who says that during the election campaign Bush told him, “I believe God wants me to be president. But if that doesn’t happen, that’s okay.”

Divine ordination is a very dangerous idea, especially when combined with military power (the United States has 10,000 nuclear weapons, with military bases in a hundred different countries and warships on every sea). With God’s approval, you need no human standard of morality. Anyone today who claims the support of God might be embarrassed to recall that the Nazi storm troopers had inscribed on their belts, “Gott mit uns” (“God with us”).

Not every American leader claimed divine sanction, but the idea persisted that the United States was uniquely justified in using its power to expand throughout the world. In 1945, at the end of World War II, Henry Luce, the owner of a vast chain of media enterprises—Time, Life, Fortune—declared that this would be “the American Century,” that victory in the war gave the United States the right “to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”

This confident prophecy was acted out all through the rest of the 20th century. Almost immediately after World War II the United States penetrated the oil regions of the Middle East by special arrangement with Saudi Arabia. It established military bases in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and a number of Pacific islands. In the next decades it orchestrated right-wing coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, and gave military aid to various dictatorships in the Caribbean. In an attempt to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia it invaded Vietnam and bombed Laos and Cambodia.

Friday, July 01, 2005

When wrong is right and other morality tales

Moral relativism could be defined as moral propositions not reflecting absolute or universal truths. A relativist might posit that moral judgments emerge from social customs and personal preferences. There is no single standard by which to judge an ethical position as right or wrong, such as the Bible, or the Ten Commandments. You could even go as far as to say that one person's ethical judgments or acts cannot be judged by another, though most relativists propound a more limited version of the theory.

A moral relativist is often a pragmatist. His/her decisions as to right and wrong are determined by what’s best for them. While it’s convenient for many on the right to affix that label in a perjorative manner to those on the left, those “nasty” liberals or progressives, it seems as those their own personal Jesus, George Bush, is in fact a moral relativist, also.

Thom Englehardt at dishes out the dirt and shows us that George Bush, for all the political mileage and capital he garners from those with very fixed guideposts of ethical behavior, is actually a pragmatist afterall.

Englehardt writes, “In his speeches, George Bush regularly calls for a return to or the reinforcement of traditional, even eternal, family values and emphasizes the importance of personal "accountability" for our children as well as ourselves. ('The culture of America is changing from one that has said, if it feels good, do it, and if you've got a problem, blame somebody else, to a new culture in which each of us understands we are responsible for the decisions we make in life.') And yet when it comes to acts that are clearly wrong in this world -- aggressive war, the looting of resources, torture, personal gain at the expense of others, lying, and manipulation among other matters -- Bush and his top officials never hesitate to redefine reality to suit their needs. When faced with matters long defined in everyday life in terms of right and wrong, they simply reach for their dictionaries.”

I mean, good ole' Bush is a card-carrying member of the postmodern club, bejesus! Don't believe it? There's alot more in Englehardt's piece for ammunition, such as this zinger; "Here's the strange thing, then: No one in our lifetime has found the nature of reality to be more definitionally supple, more malleable, more… let's say it… postmodern and relative (to their needs and desires) than the top officials of the Bush administration."

Let me break it down real simple for 'ya. Just because you say something's true, or happened when it didn't, doesn't change reality; no matter how many times you say it's so.

It's amazing how our Teflon president can continue to skate by, propped up by lies that aren't just immoral--they are getting young men and women killed. But, with the current state of our cowering press and an American populace addicted to flags and yellow ribbons, none of it matters. War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. Oh yeah! And when you've drunk the Kool-aid, let's add that Bush is God!