Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Caught in the Web?

Every day, at work and at home, I spend a great deal of time transfixed by our computers--those inert, expensive boxes attached to a tangle of wires that clutter my life while potentially connecting me to billions of people around the world.

Twenty-five years ago, I could compose a letter to a friend and send it off in the mails, knowing that I would get a reply soon enough. The total cost of paper, pen, envelope and stamp was no more than 60 cents. I didn't need to be connected to people I didn't know. I was satisfied.

Today I can sometimes achieve super-accelerated, near-instantaneous delivery and sooner-than-soon-enough replies. But the total cost of this ability is staggering . . . hardware, software, modem, wires, internet connection . . .

Every e-mail I send or receive also involves a potential vulnerability to fraud and loss of privacy. Even if no one else tracks me, my internet service provider can access every message. In fact, as evidenced by the Great Spam Invasion, nearly everyone else in the world has access to my inbox. I am not just privy to the world community--I am virtually forced to join it.

Then there's the learning and information aspect of the Web. Today, if my seven-year-old wants to know what a hedgehog looks like, we connect to the Internet, Google the images section, and--presto!--we access hundreds of prickly animal images that satisfy her curiosity. And that's about as far as she cares to go.

The same request twenty-five years ago would lead us to our home bookshelves, where we might also find hedgehog images. We would then read about hedgehogs and learn something. Or, if the bookshelf browse proved fruitless, we would trundle off to the library and have a family learning expedition, interacting with the librarian and perhaps visiting with other patrons. Our gratification would not be instantaneous, but it would come soon enough--and it might well be more multi-dimensional.

For hundreds of millions of us, the computer has become our correspondence medium; our learning center; our memory jogger and life organizer; our entertainment center; our "community;" and our shopping mall. We regard the breakdown of our computer as a true disaster. We scramble to get it repaired as quickly as possible--or we buy a new one. We believe we can't afford to be "disconnected" for too long. If it could feed us, the computer might come to describe the boundaries of our entire existence.

I often feel deeply uneasy about the whole thing. I have a pretty good idea of what I've gained from the computer, but I'm not so clear on what I've lost. And I doubt that most people have a clear perspective on this. Studies of the effects of Internet use--those that I've seen--are contradictory. Some claim social interaction suffers while depression and feelings of isolation increase. Others claim just the opposite. In any case, studies can't tell us what we've gained or lost on an individual level, no matter how good they are.

Most days, the "joys" and advantages of the Web and the computer feel to me more like obligations. I wonder if others experience comparable feelings of ambivalence. If so, how do you deal with them? What do you think you've gained and lost via the computer? Do you see the technology as entirely positive? How do you balance your own equation, to ensure that computer use remains in its "proper place" among the other aspects of your life?

I invite your comments.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Why I'm Not a Liberal

I have been called a "liberal" a few times by those who stopped by to comment. Well, it ain't true. Innocent as charged.

Here's why. First, and most obviously, the term has lost both its original meaning and all semblance of context. Republicans have used the term as a slanderous label for decades now; their pre-emption has been highly and lamentably successful. The word "liberal" now comes pre-loaded with associative connotations such as "big spender," "tax and spend," "bleeding heart" etc. Doesn't matter who you are or what you believe, you can't escape the baggage that comes with the "L" word.

In response to the anti-liberal campaign, the Democrats and most other lefties have learned to avoid the label at all costs, as if it were a battered orphan nobody wanted to adopt.

But the right-wing campaign has been devastatingly effective on a deeper level. Democrats now not only shun the word, but also the policies traditionally advocated by liberals. Tax increase? Uh-uh. Social programs? Too risky. Oppose pre-emptive war? Not me! Thus the Democrats have subjected themselves to a self-imposed spine-ectomy, and for the most part no longer have enough backbone to comport themselves in a vertical manner. That is, they're unable to stand up for anything a "liberal" might believe in. So those policies and beliefs have largely gone down the tubes, at a great cost to individuals and to the country.

The time to be a liberal has clearly passed--for politicians and for me. In my case, I believe it's too late to be a liberal for the simple reason that we are at war. Let me repeat that. WE ARE AT WAR.

It is not just a war of words, metaphors, or abstract ideologies. It is a war that has dire and concrete consequences, has taken millions of casualties, has everything to do with not only the future of this country but of the entire planet. It is a war of rich against poor, of corruption versus justice, greed combating fairness, technology battling people, consumption versus preservation, the obsession with power opposing the desire for peace. It is a war that is simultaneously internal and external. It is, for all intents and purposes, a world war. Welcome to Round III.

How can a world war be going on while our kids go to school, dinner is served every day, and the roofs over our heads remain . . . over our heads? Think of it as a deadly battle in the near distance, one that is moving inexorably closer to home every day. Think of it as the gradual Nazification of Germany in the mid to late 1930s. Think of it as a mushroom cloud in slow motion.

Consider that the gap between rich and poor has never in modern times been larger than it is today. Consider that the examples of corporate greed run amok, embodied by Enron, are not aberrations. Enron's tactics are THE SYSTEM, not the exception (see Arianna Huffington's book, "Pigs at the Trough")

Consider the fact that we needed no war on terrorism, no Department of Homeland Security, and no colored-light system of "alerts" before G.W. Bush and friends stormed the White House. Consider what a profound departure the "pre-emptive war" in Iraq is from our reluctant participation in World Wars I and II

Consider the severely compromised position of our natural environment, the illusory nature of our economic security, the betrayal involved in soliciting global trade agreements that simply dissolve environmental safeguards, wage standards, and notions of job security. Consider the disturbing intrusions of technology into the realm of private information, the staggering national debt, the financial influence of the Chinese government on our future, the felonious if not treasonous lies of Bush and his officials to Congress and the American people, the dwindling world oil supply, the dumb insensate numbness supplied to us daily by "information outlets" such as the Web and the media, the unsafety and uncertain origin of the foods we eat, the cynically misnamed Patriot Act, and so much more. We are under DIRECT ASSAULT every single day. That's war, baby.

Liberal? Hah! That's something you could maybe afford to be when Dwight Eisenhower was president. Today, like it or not, we are all combatants. And personally, I consider myself to the left of the left--and then further left. And then further left than that. I'm a danger to uncivil society, and proud of it. Mess with my yearning for peace (or call me a liberal), and I'm liable to blow you away.

In print, that is.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Taxes and Moral Responsibility

Millions of Americans feel that the war in Iraq is both unnecessary and deeply immoral. One estimate of the number of civilians killed in that country due to the American incursion is 100,000. It boggles and sickens the imagination. And of course there are American combat deaths and those of combatants from other members of Bush's alleged "coalition."

Add to the immorality the billions spent on building and utilizing weapons; the contracts let by the federal government without bids to corporate giants like Halliburton, which also cost us hundreds of millions of dollars; the ongoing research and development efforts focused on developing new kinds of weapons, including "Star Wars" monstrosities in space and small-scale nuclear weapons.

The destruction of the environment, the Administration's direct aid in outsourcing American jobs, the tax cuts for the rich, the detention of uncharged prisoners at Guantanamo . . . The list of Bush administration sins is a long one with far-reaching tendrils. Then there's the tiny fact that the 2004 presidential election may have been stolen from under the noses of the American people.

But the subject few people want to talk seriously about is this: that all American taxpayers share the responsibility for these atrocities and others, because we support them with our tax dollars. Every time we dutifully surrender our tax monies--that is, every time we're paid and every time we fill out a tax return and send additional money--we fund exactly the things to which we morally object.

Today we have a one-party political system. In many states, the Democratic Party is no longer a viable entity. In states where Democrats still get elected, most of the successful politicians dare not oppose the Republican agenda vigorously, for fear of losing their jobs. Thus, in effect, we're stuck with a one-party system that does not in any way "represent" or respond to the interests or beliefs of millions of Americans. The "checks and balances " aspect of our system, in which one party watchdogs the other, is entirely unbalanced.

Back to taxes. These monies keep the wheels turning, the immoral agenda moving forward--and these monies come from us. If we hope to address and influence the process of American politics, we must consider forming a massive tax resistance movement, in which tens of thousands or millions of Americans band together to withhold the fiscal lubricant until serious changes are made. In short, we need a fiscal revolution!

I urge anyone who reads this blog to take action by withholding their federal taxes this April; by changing the number of exemptions they claim to eliminate the withholding of taxes by employers; and by urging groups such as MoveOn to push for a national movement in this direction.

Taking the money away is more than a symbolic gesture. It may well be our last hope.

For further information, take a look at these links:

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Post-Election Blues

There's tremendous pressure at the moment to "get over it" with regard to the 2004 presidential election--to move on and accept the official results as democratic reality. But, as is always the case, reality is slippery.

Credible evidence mounts on the Web and elsewhere indicating that the election tally may have been manipulated or rigged. That Bush and Cheney, for the second consecutive time, actually stole the election. Alleged experts do their best to discredit this evidence, but doubts remain. Florida and Ohio are particularly questionable.

What strikes me is that, whether the election was stolen or not, we are a very sick country.

If Bush indeed won, we have re-elected a profoundly incompetent and malevolent fanatic who once said: "Terrorists will stop at nothing to destroy this country. Neither will we." Or something like that. And, friends, he meant every word of it.

If the election was indeed stolen, we are a contemptible parody of democracy, worthy of our newfound status as a rogue nation, sabotaged by an emperor who wears no clothes but is nevertheless globally dangerous.

Both major parties have fought for decades to ensure that no minority parties could gain significant power. But, if you believe the famed red-and-blue map of the U.S., the Democrats are no longer viable in huge chunks of the country. So now we're stuck with the worst possible, most frightening, least democratic reality: a one-party system. Fascist almost by definition.

Where do we turn to counteract all of this? God? Street-by-street combat? A new life in New Zealand?

There are times when gloom-and-doom scenarios are only realistic. This is one of those times. I believe that to my bones. And bones, unlike Republicans, rarely lie.


For the last couple of weeks, a thought has been asserting itself in my head, refusing to calm itself down and recede into the background. Nothing mystical about it, just a recurring personal imperative. After some years as a journalist, writer, editor, amateur songwriter, and other perhaps senseless pursuits, followed by some years of creative dormancy, this thought has arisen with ever-increasing urgency and frequency. I have decided to stop ignoring it, stop pretending it doesn't exist or doesn't matter. On some level, it matters very much.

The thought? As follows: RECLAIM YOUR VOICE.

There you have it. Just what exactly this voice has to say, I have no idea. I intend primarily to placate it by offering it a venue for regular exercise--a place where it might conceivably attract readers, but then again, it may babble on in isolation. A place to "publish" without getting too damn formal about it.

I will sign my postings "Greg," because that happens to be my name. I suspect my wife may contribute postings from time to time as well, but I'll let her explain her own motivations and choose her own signature. At this point, she knows nothing about what I'm doing. I think I've dreamed about this blog creation, but I can't be sure. Like most people, I can't be sure of much.

So now I suppose I've introduced myself--to someone or no one, or perhaps I've just resurrected my voice from the void. There will be more postings, directed to more specific subjects, in the future, though as the song says, "don't know where, don't know when." If you're out there, welcome.