Mixed Feelings

So, a couple of weeks ago my 12-year old Twilight-loving disciple gave me the flu. A flu that endured through inauguration week, hampering my righteous pursuits of karmic justice and filling me with all manner of ennui. A flu that had me cursing my weak immune system and seeing everyone around me as a potential source for disease and misery and seeing myself as same. A flu that reinforced my natural inclinations toward self-containment and lack of patience with my own frailty and dependence. Melancholy, deflated, fatigued. But that was then.

Yesterday, I strode once again through the child-laden halls of the 826 tutoring center, this time with an unapologetic lingering chest cough and an uncompromising irritability toward anyone under the height of 5 feet. My afternoon headache from a morning of coughing was just starting to come on, and I was feeling even less charitable toward the beastly little contaminants than usual. It's days like these when I remember that I often don't like kids. Which is why I prefer to volunteer in the back room with the databases and website rather than in the front with the sticky hands and bad manners. Still, I know that children are our future and that it's my responsibility--and in my interest--to help them out. But yesterday, I couldn't keep myself from wishing something besides needy, gooey kids could be our future. Maybe plants. Or hardwood floors.

Of course, to counter this curmudgeonly attitude, I forced myself to remember that there are times when the kids and I have fun. Like at 826, when they come bounding back to get some supplies and end up engaging me in lengthy conversations about dessert toppings or Nazi propaganda techniques (hey-it happens). Or like when my 12-year old disciple excitedly shouts, "See! I'm focusing!", when we're working on her homework. And those things are good and should be remembered because being mindful of the good things helps motivate me toward the larger goal. Even when I'm not feeling it. Even when they give me the flu, making me feeble and useless. I guess.

Little bastards.

Nothing New byslag at 9:15 AM 2 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Not "If." But "How?": Dispensing Karmic Justice in the Age of Obama

Glenn Greenwald has a persuasive post up about why criticizing Obama is important:

Politicians, by definition, respond to political pressure. Those who decide that it's best to keep quiet and simply trust in the goodness and just nature of their leader are certain to have their political goals ignored. It's always better -- far better -- for a politician to know that he's being scrutinized closely and will be praised and supported only when his actions warrant that, and will be criticized and opposed when they don't.

If those who want fundamental reform in these areas adopt the view that they will not criticize Barack Obama because to do so is to "help Republicans," or because he deserves more time, or because criticisms are unnecessary because we can trust in him to do the right thing, or because criticizing him is to "tear him down" or "create a circular firing squad" or "be a Naderite purist" or any of those other empty platitudes, then they are ceding the field to the very powerful factions who are going to fight vehemently against any changes. Do you think that those who want the CIA to retain "robust" interrogation and who want the federal surveillance state maintained, or want a hard-line towards Iran and a continuation of our Middle East policies, or who want to maintain corporate-lobbyist-domination of Washington, are sitting back saying: "it's not right to pressure Obama too much right now; give him some time"?
Makes sense, but the question that's been on my mind for quite some time hasn't been if we should criticize Obama, but rather, how we should go about it. Whether or not I necessarily buy Glenn's cause-effect relationship between Obama's performance on This Week and his team's subsequent statements on the necessity of closing Guantanamo, like any good liberal, I see citizen participation as the cornerstone of democracy and, consequently, am naturally inclined to raise objections to anything I find objectionable. Nonetheless, I can't help but appreciate the harsh reality that simply yakkity yakking on my little piece of the blogosphere (as enjoyable as it is) or even participating in a rally or two just ain't going to get the job done. I could dress myself in funny costumes and scream obscenities during congressional hearings, but since I do that just for fun anyway, who's going to notice?

This question of how we should criticize Obama is one that Glenn glances at later in his post--yet doesn't really address--when he mentions the one-sidedness of the latest Israel problem:
That happens for one clear reason: because one side of the debate (the AIPAC faction) is strong and aggressive in its criticisms and pressure tactics and the other side (the faction wanting an even-handed U.S. approach) is not.
Now, I remember Glenn Greenwald, Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias, Juan Cole, Rachel Maddow, and even Jon Stewart (to name but a few) expressing their dismay at the lopsidedness of both Israel's response to Palestine and Congress' response to the Israel-Palestine issue. But in response to their critics, Congress, Bush, and Obama issued forth little more than a healthy yawn. Now, I'm no expert on the art of exerting political pressure, but from my line of sight, that wasn't an example of failure to criticize, that was an example of criticism FAIL. Which brings us back to the issue here--how do we strategically go about the process of driving change?

To begin addressing that question, I look for recent examples of progressives having a directly observable impact on the national discourse (show me the money!). For example, when a reporter with nice hair stood up in an Obama press conference and raised Democratic concerns (from the left!) about Obama's economic plan, I realized a little something about this thing called hope:

Now, the fact that Obama's first inclination was to dismiss the question with the whole "Igetcriticismfrombothsidesblahblahblah" shtick was more than a little dismaying. But the reporter pushed a little (I could kiss that dude with nice hair!), and Obama folded like a house of cards to the point where he was even inviting suggestions from Paul Krugman on his economic stimulus plan. And as such, this gave Krugman a real opportunity to step up and offer some left-ish suggestions in the New York Times. Huzzah! Let's keep this party going!

Of course, there are several non-hopey ways to view this Obama-Krugman debate. For starters, one might wonder why progressive economists, such as Paul Krugman, are nowhere to be found in Obama's inner economic circle (hint: Obama is not an economic progressive nor does he want to have to disagree with them face-to-face). Second, we can't all be Paul Krugman, and therefore, the likelihood that a reporter with nice hair will stand up and ask questions on behalf of the rest of us is more remote (for proof, see the best comment ever). Nonetheless, after eight long years of screaming into the wind against pointless wars, complete disregard for civil liberties, and ever-increasing economic injustice, I can't help but see this exchange as one worth trying to replicate.

And the replication has begun. After progressive bloggers worked together to push a question about investigating torture and other war crimes to the top of the list on change.gov, Keith Olbermann and George Stephanopoulos (both having nice hair, might I add?) raised the issue on their shows. And while we may not be happy with Obama's current answer to the question, I see no reason why we should stop clamoring for a better one. And the same is true for getting a more progressive economic package. Heck! We may even be able to wheedle a more rational response about Israel-Palestine from Obama if we utilize our resources effectively.

And what are our resources? Well, so far, we have Paul Krugman, progressive bloggers working together, questions on change.gov, and reporters with nice hair. Beyond that, we have a new President who not only spent his entire campaign claiming that he actually wants us to be involved but has even provided some tools for us to do so (Have I mentioned change.gov? What about usaservice.org?). Whether or not those tools were initially intended to serve simply palliative purposes doesn't matter, because we have already used them to influence our national discourse, at least. And after the last eight years, that's already change I can believe in.

Of course, now that we've succeeded in getting some of our change.gov questions out into the world, the Obama team has decided that, if we can't play nice, we shouldn't be allowed to play at all and has taken our question-asking tool away (which, to me, indicates that it was intended to be palliative). This disappointment reinforces the need for progressives to build and maintain progressive infrastructures outside of the Obamasphere to press our issues. Sites like Get FISA Right and Get Afghanistan Right (boosted by Rachel Maddow) are great places to start. Maybe we need to add "Get Israel Right" and "Get the Economy Right" just to round out the bunch? There are also great progressive aggregator sites, such as Change.org and (of course) DailyKos, and Firedoglake is always providing us with new ways to get our action on. And the list goes on...

But in spite of all this hopey-changey goodness in the progressosphere and beyond, I can't help but wonder...is there a killer app? Is there a more effective way to harness our resources, exert pressure on the softest spots, and maximize our Change ability? To figure that out, I look toward the places where progressives seem to have less impact. For instance, while Brave New Films and Crooks and Liars are televising the affronts to decency and democracy that comprise much of our Congress and national press corps, I can't help but wonder if progressives are truly making the most of the YouTubes. How many of us actively hook in to (or even know about) GritTv or Current as a means of "catapulting the propaganda"? And what about images? We may remember the inspired iRaq torture image or Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous Obama HOPE poster well, but what more? Are so many progressives just words?

Beyond all that, there's the vague sense I get that the progressosphere is no place for the novice. I talk to many people who have progressive leanings but aren't necessarily so familiar with the world of electrons, and it can be a little daunting. News sites like Huffington Post, and TPM are great starting points, and blogrolls help immensely (Jon Swift probably does it best), but one always gets the sense that there's a whole progressive world out there just beyond the finger tips. Maybe down on page 24 of your "awesome progressives" Google search is a site that might just hold the key that unlocks the secrets of the 'verse, and you'll never know because you failed to get past page 23. I don't know; I'm no expert. It's possible that the killer apps are talked about at places like Netroots Nation, BlogHer, Blogging While Brown, or even at Drinking Liberally, but I'm too lazy/cheap/misanthropic to go and learn about them. Nonetheless, I know for certain that the progressive army is strong in numbers and in resources. Whether or not we're aware of all of them may be another question.

Late Update: It looks like JedReport Jed is starting up Daily Kos TV! Good news.

Nothing New byslag at 9:18 AM 5 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Hey Marseilles...

one of the few bands I would stuff myself into a hot room packed with tight pants and very straight hair to go see:

If you're going to be at South by Southwest in March, you should definitely check them out.

Full Disclosure: Matt is a friend of mine and a quality human being. But if he weren't also a quality musician, singer, and songwriter, I'd be asleep in bed right now instead of just coming back from a concert.

Nothing New byslag at 1:04 AM 0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Unexpected Consequences

One of the most fulfilling aspects of the minimalist holiday was taking the time to focus--to coin a cliche--on the important things. But one unexpected consequence of doing that for an entire week is that one becomes less tolerant of the unimportant things afterward. Case in point would be my blogging. Every post I try to write these days seems frivolous and strained--an indulgence in unadulterated hackery, if you will. And every single post I've written before now looks pretty much the same to me. So, since the blog isn't currently a remunerative element of the Some of Nothing empire, and since the cause of karmic justice is hardly served through gibberish, updates to the SoN blog will be sporadic for a while.

Carry on.

Nothing New byslag at 12:04 PM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

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