The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Staying on the downshift

Oh. O.K., I get it. Watching Sean Hannity yesterday saying Obama offered "negotiations without preconditions" made a little light go on. Fox is engaged in a game of "Telephone"-change the message just a little bit, and put the meme out there. And Obama saying "talks" turns to "negotiations" turns to "appeasement" in the public consciousness. Very clever. But MAN they have contempt for their viewers.

The same thing with Michelle Obama. So far as I've been able to see, her "more proud than I've been in my adult life" has been flattened to "first time I've ever been proud" for public consumption. Clearly, this kind of lying works just great. I'm sure that this is the way the game has been played since the beginning of time. Loathsome.

It does make me wonder about the psychology of people who feel that talking is the same as yielding. Wow. Do they live their relationships like that? Their business negotiations? I suggest that this ONLY makes sense if you believe your "enemies" to be sub-human. Less than. And while ultra-protective (and controlling) this is also the exact same thought process that leads to racism, sexism and so forth. On the other hand, it is certainly possible to go too far in the other direction, believing that "we're all just the same" or "we can't judge the cultural customs of other peoples" and so forth. To be frank, I consider either end of the spectrum to be operating on emotion without real engagement with their intellect.


Question of the day: who's excited about "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"? I know I am. Will it be "Raiders"? Heck, no. But I think it's going to be great fun. And I dig the idea of a 65-year old Harrison Ford going for it. I completely understand Connery not wanting to do it...I suspect that he no longer likes the way he looks onscreen. Like Cary Grant, I suspect that he wants to preserve his cinematic legacy by not appearing at less than his best. This age-related judgment definitely hits women harder than men...on the other hand, I think women get a bit of advantage on the other end: young women are praised in about the same intensity that older women are criticized, so advantage still remains within the set called "women" even though the power gradient shifts. Was it Greta Garbo who retired similarly, just not wanting to spoil her legacy?


I think that there is a bit of double-talk regarding Michelle Obama. If you put your wife out as a surrogate, it is reasonable to criticize her public pronouncements. But it's fun watching Barack use "chivalry" to justify "anger" at "attacks" on his wife. Sigh. I do wish that a political contest had more room for nuance. I would read her comments as, simply, "I am prouder than I've ever been of America--politically and socially we are moving in exactly the right direction, and people are more involved than I've ever seen them."


If you meditate in the morning, note where your breathing is by the end of your session: probably deep and slow. Take that same breath into your Tibetans, yoga, Tai Chi or whatever you use to wake your body up in the morning. If you run, lift weights, or whatever, remain conscious of your breathing even as you place yourself under escalating pressure. The physiological pressure of exercise stress has many similarities to pure emotional life stress. If five times a day you will stop, whatever you are doing, and breathe with grace and power, you are creating an important link between exercise and meditation and life itself. A very strange thing happens when you learn to control your breathing in a stressful situation: you actually observe your own fight/flight response trying to upshift to anger, fear, frustration...but you remain separate from it. It's similar to my experience in a sweat lodge: if you remain calm, you can feel the heat without being broiled by it. I remember touching my own shoulder and burning my fingers. Stranger than hell. There are numerous disciplines that aim to shift you out of your ordinary relationship with your body, and they all start here, with control of breathing, then linking breath and life.


Anonymous said...

In a previous post someone brought up Ghandi. India gained its independence from a Britain impoverished by WWII, which had already given up a certain degree of control by forming the Commonwealth. Britain was also run by sane basically good folk. Now lets try an alternate universe in which Hitler's blitzkrieg succeeds completely and he quickly takes over all of Europe including Britain and Russia quickly with few loses. Now Ghandi employs his nonviolent protest against the German Empire led by Hitler. Is there anyone willing to bet that Ghandi wouldn't have died at his first protest and that Hitler wouldn't have sent as many of Ghandi's followers to the gas chambers as necessary to keep control. If you don't think the world is full of crazies, then explain why the world has not been able to deliver relief aid to Mymar. I still say that before you "talk" to somebody you have weigh the possible gains and losses from those talks.

Marty S

Anonymous said...

Michelle has made it clear
and the whole clip that contains that phrase does as well
that what she meant was proud about
how engaged people were in the political debate
and participating in the primaries
(for the first time in her adult life)
that's what she was proud of

the videos are at
I'd post the links but I'm feeling a little lazy at the moment

Michelle said...

Indiana Jones...yes I'm excited. Especially since there's lots of folks around to tell George Lucas "no, you can't do that" this time.

At least I hope there was.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Apparently Spielberg and Ford wouldn't sign on until Lucas's goofier space alien stuff was toned down by a good deal. So thanks to them we won't be treated to another round of "piss on your childhood" ...

Unknown said...

"Now Ghandi employs his nonviolent protest against the German Empire led by Hitler. Is there anyone willing to bet that Ghandi wouldn't have died at his first protest and that Hitler wouldn't have sent as many of Ghandi's followers to the gas chambers as necessary to keep control."

As the person who brought up Gandhi, I'd say - complicated answer.

No, nonviolent resistance isn't some magic panacea; yes, Hitler did in fact execute people, like those in the White Rose group, who nonviolently protested against him.

And no, there isn't some set of people - even Nazis - who are completely invulnerable to any sort of nonviolent protest, such that it's useless even to try. For one thing, nonviolent resistance isn't just a matter of appealing to the other side's good will; it's also a matter of refusing your cooperation in critical areas. For another, even the likes of Hitler don't want to kill everyone, though they have little regard for the lives of vast swaths of people. Thus, the Danes were able to save their Jewish community to a far greater degree than other European counties, by being united in their resistance. Of course, it helped that the Danes were seen by Hitler as part of his master race, it helped that there were countries nearby that Danish fishermen could carry Jews off to, and so on. It's probable that the Poles, say, would have had less success, even had they tried as hard, collectively, as the Danes.

Anyway, I don't believe that nonviolent protest always works - obviously sometimes it fails - but I do think that some human biases about the Other that come easily can lead us to underestimate the likely success of nonviolent methods, and overestimate the likely success of violent ones, in many cases.

Anonymous said...

I have read on here about Michelle Obama's comment and it seems no one has seen the entire one minute and fifteen seconds that makes the entire discussion moot. If anyone were to listen to what she says, before and after that phrase, it is more than obvious what she is referring to. C-span's deletion of the word "really" is abominable.

If the one minute clip of what she said were to be played on TV and talked about, instead of the five second snippet, the meaning of her words would be obvious to anyone with a marginal attention span. Or intelligence.

In my lifetime (I am a forty-four year old white male), I have never seen a more close-to-perfect candidate being ripped to shreds with five second sound bites that either has no bearing to issues or, in many cases (such as this one), are manufactured lies bordering on lunacy.

I have come to the conclusion the media does not want the full minute of Michell Obama's speech to be played because then they (the media) would have to admit complicity to the falsehoods being seeded in the public's mind.

Here is one of the many links to the one minute video. Please watch:

Also, here's an essay I wrote right after King-O's Philly speech, entitled, "A White Man's Response To The Race Issue".

Anonymous said...

I screwed up on the neither-nor thing, but you get the point.

Anonymous said...

Sitting dhurna worked for Ghandi because he was a clever, experienced lawyer with a simple case (Brits Out). Also his allies in Britain ran to the sandal-wearing, pacifist side.
In other cases Ghandi was more than willing to use violence. You can say, with Orwell, that saints should be considered guilty until proven innocent, so using other means for other situations made Ghandi a hypocrite, or just plain bad. See his suggestion that German Jews should commit mass suicide to appeal to the world's conscience.
Or you could say, everyone makes the odd mad bad remark. If he used nonviolence against the Imperial British Army, and recommended violence against bandits, fine. India could not beat the Brits in open war, but the Brits had some conscience. Some bandits are easily cowed, but conscienceless. Horses for courses.

Anonymous said...

In regards to Gandhi, I once had I far higher regard for "The Mahatma" and Satyagraha tactics than currently. First, as remarked previously, non-violence would have been ineffective against Hitler, who infamously advised the British to shoot Gandhi, Nehru and however many other Indian Congress people necessary until "They understand you mean business". From my understanding of campaigns where non-violence was effective in combating oppression, the following conditions are perquisites in ensuring that Mahatma's and their followers meet with success, as opposed to being devoured by Fuhrers and their morally barren minions.

1) Victory is a foregone conclusion. Britain was tiring of Empire and the rigid racist mores of the Old South were withering under the assault of modernity, courtesy of the social upheaval caused by the World Wars (see James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son and The Autobiography of Malcolm X) and mass media. Britain would have quit India post WWII regardless of Gandhi, and Jim Crow was doomed regardless of Dr. King. Arguably, Gandhi and King hastened the demise Empire and Apartheid, and diminished the accompanying bloodshed.

2) Significant members of the Opposition seek accommodation. Significant numbers of British despised Empire for both ethical and political reasons and were supportive of Gandhi, while significant numbers of White Americans either genuinely sympathized with the plight of African Americans, or sanguinely supported their assimilation to varying degrees.

3) Oppressor and Oppressed share common ethical precepts. The humanist and egalitarian values of the Enlightenment that the British espoused spread in the wake of their arms, while the descendants African slaves were nominally citizens of a nation that enshrined equality in its laws and reason for being. Shared ethical and legal precepts provided frameworks conducive to negotiation and the formulation of viable Modus Vivendi's.

4)Pacifism and violence working in tandem. Gandhi and King were effective in large measure because the only alternatives were terrorism and war with the likes of Sud Chandras Godse (Indian militant who sought alliance with Hitler) or Malcolm X. In both India and America, pacifism and violence accomplished together what neither could deliver alone.

Finally, I'd add that, while I accept the practical political utility of Non-Violence, I reject its ethical precepts, courtesy of Sam Harris' insightful denunciation of Gandhi in The End of Faith. Satyagraha (Gandhi and King-style Pacifism) aims to both secure political gains for the oppressed AND supposed ethical gains for the oppressor, i.e. to reform victimizers by encouraging moral reflection, which is promoted by exposing the perpetrator to shame and condemnation for their atrocities. In its sincerest form, Satyagraha subsumes the former objective under the latter, since the Oppressor's rehabilitation is thought indispensable for success. Thus Gandhi advised European Jewry to embrace the Holocaust, since the awful spectacle would humiliate the Nazis, thereby salvaging the otherwise ethically unreachable. Should one really sacrifice self, beloveds and the fruits of the toil of generations of basically decent people in the service of killers, sadists and sociopaths?

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I like to think that if Ghandi (obviously a very smart man) had had to deal with Nazi Germany, he would have invented other tactics.

From what I've read (an article a long time ago, sorry no cite), non-violent protest did work to some extent against the Nazis. While Hitler was no democrat, he thought that Germans were special, and the Germans of Berlin were the center of Germanness.

There were protests by German women married to Jewish men against their husbands being taken away. (It seems odd, but the article says that those men were one of the last groups of German Jews targeted.) The women would gather in the streets, the police would shoot over their heads, the women would scatter to the alleys, and then gather again in the streets. I can't remember whether the men were saved till the end of the war or just for a while.

The one that didn't work, but afaik wasn't punished was religious objections to institutionalized people being killed. The killing went on, but was more secretive.

The one that worked unequivocally was what happened when Hitler proposed killing crippled people. He nearly lost the military and backed off from the policy.

As for refusal to even start negotiations, I'd love to see the history of that notion. My impression is that it's a pretty recent policy.

As for breathing and the Tibetans, I'm working on it. I suspect I started out giving myself too much credit for being able to track my breathing at all, so now I'm working on more expanded relaxed breathing, with some hope of keeping it going between the Tibetans as well as while I'm doing them.

Anonymous said...

Both violence and nonviolence, and talks/negotiations are tools to be used at the appropriate times. The over commitment to one is a serious weakness. For example see Bush's invasion of Iraq. The appearance of over commitment to one versus the other can be just as serious as the over commitment itself. It may lead your enemy to misjudge your willingness to respond to his aggressive actions and eventually lead to the violence you were trying to avoid. It does not matter what Obama actually meant with his statement I and apparently many others read it as meaning he was overly committed to the talk/negotiation option and saw it as a weakness. Assuming we were in error, this still means some of our enemies may have reached a similar conclusion and in the event of his election this could result in them taking actions that would lead to unfortunate consequences.
Had Obama made a statement like "I would rather talk than fight and I hope that my enemies will exhibit a willingness to do the same, but if they remain intransigent and persist in a aggression we will respond appropriately." I might be a Obama supporter.

Marty S

Unknown said...

Marty, I'm curious what your reaction is to the speech Obama just gave in Iowa:, particularly the part about foreign policy. Does he alleviate yyour concerns in this speech or exacerbate them (or neither)?

I'm wondering because I notice a careful balancing here of his antiwar message with one about defending America (e.g. get out of a war we never should have started and finish a war we never should have ignored, the references to strong alliances and Roosevelt and Truman), but, being chronically dovish myself, I'm not sure how that plays to someone with more hawkish tendencies than me.

Steven Barnes said...

The fact that we haven't delivered the food to Mymar doesn't mean the world is filled with crazies. It means that there are crazy people in the world, yes. Note you said "filled" as in "the dominant proportion." Is that your attitude?
Note that you took my comment "talk to" and seem to equate it with "non-violence." I'm perfectly willing to have a discussion about non-violence, but it is interesting that for some, communication is equated with non-violence, surrender, and appeasement. I suggest you re-examine your basic premise here: no one on this blog has suggested anything but communication. You are adding the rest. Why? Is that how you live your life? I've worked in a mental institution. I've dealt with street thugs, and known cold-blooded killers. Trust me, I KNOW that there are people beyond reason. And how can I best determine the quality of someone's mind or character? By meeting with them. The wise man learns far more than the fool when the two speak. Our task is to elect a wise man...or woman. I assume that from your perspective Terrorists are not extraordinarily wise, right? Then exactly what are you afraid of?

mjholt said...

Your observation that Faux News and others are playing "telephone" is so correct, and this is why they are propagandists not reporters. Loathsome. The only explanation is that these "news" readers are trying to destroy Obama and Clinton (she has suffered much of the same misinformational shift or shaft) to install the candidate of their masters' desire. This is why the Senate and House majorities need to be Democrats for a while to undo the radical changes in broadcast communications ownership rules that have been changed since the first Bush (41) administration. When big corporations own our news sources, those sources report what is important to them. There was an article Monday (I think) about how there is almost no coverage of unions and strikes.

Consider that Ghandi and Hitler were reflections of the societies they dominated. Ghandi lead a massively divided country with a message of peace and non-violent resistance, and Hitler lead an extremely unified country (caused by a state of poverty imposed by France (sanctioned by everyone else) as part of war reparations for WWI), to fight both internal and external enemies.

Through unifying his people, Ghandi met a weakened GB with a strong unified India. GB made its inroads into India by exploiting the divisions between the hundreds of principalities.

With a majority segment of his people unified with poverty pushed on the by the outside over war reparations that the German royals seemed to be excused from paying although they helped cause WWI, Hitler did the exact inverse of Ghandi: he created a war machine.

The Jews were targeted not only because they were Jews (an irrational ancient hatred) but because unlike wealthy German non-Jews, wealthy Jews helped impoverished Jews survive and eat. Had there been a Mormon population in Germany, they too would have been targeted as were the Jews.

Hitler disposed of anyone who had anything to loose from war, leaving only (mostly) people who had something to gain from war. While an over simplification, most certainly, this view provides a methodology for understanding the dynamics of the societal change from Germans to Nazis, which follows the pattern of mass hysteria quite nicely.

In our own society, the Ghandi dynamic has served to sooth the waters and bring a backlash against Bush's (43) war message which has evolved to embracing Obama's message. (Clinton's "tough" stance worked against her.)

Faux News and others supporting McCain are trying to do what Hitler did, unify the country against an outside threat. This is simply a technique for holding power and money.

If you want to understand why these are being done, follow the money.

Bush's supporters are enriched (or think they are) immensely by the Hitler mode.

Obama's supporters are enriched by the Ghandi mode.

Question of the day: who's excited about "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"? -- Not excited at all, but I will probably watch it when it is out on video or On-Demand and enjoy it.

Unknown said...

Question of the day: who's excited about "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"?

I haven't made up my mind, yet, but I do like that I've heard that they're bringing the girl friend from the original Indiana Jones movie back; I really liked her, and felt the love interest situation deteriorated when they switched her for others.