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[Promoted by DHinMI: Take a little time to read this diary (that started out on the "right side of the site") and ponder blueness' ruminations about clear-eyed commitment to principles, about being honest, but also about having a sense of proportion.]

Over here on the right side of the site things feed on frenzy, and so there have been several self-immolations of late occasioned by Barack Obama's serpentine pronouncements on FISA.

As we watch these Kossacks consume themselves in flames, we hear them roar that on FISA Obama has sounded a Retreat, on a Principle, one that is Not To Be Borne. Better, they snarl, to vote for Nader, or Barr, or no one at all, than to continue to fetch, roll over, play dead for such a man. Better to die like a lion, bay they, than to live like a dog.

Since that Saturday when Senator Clinton at last acknowledged defeat, this site has become increasingly aware that Obama is, uh, Not Perfect. It is going to be a long summer, and an even longer fall. And in that time, Obama will, many times, Disappoint.

What to do, what to do . . . .    

[Promoted by DHinMI: Take a little time to read this diary (that started out on the "right side of the site") and ponder blueness' ruminations about clear-eyed commitment to principles, about being honest, but also about having a sense of proportion.]

In Robert Stone's novel Dog Soldiers, one Converse, having recently suffered torture in a San Francisco motel room at the hands of thugs employed by an American intelligence agent, recalls, while descending in an elevator, lessons learned when caught out in Red Field in Cambodia, suddenly subjected, from out of a clean and peaceful sky, to fragmentation-bombing by the South Vietnamese Air Force.

One insight was that the ordinary physical world through which one shuffled heedless and half-assed toward nonentity was capable of composing itself, at any time and without notice, into a massive instrument of agonizing death. Existence was a trap; the testy patience of things as they are might be exhausted at any moment . . . .

He had lain there--a funny little fucker--a stingless quiver on the earth. That was all there was of him, all there had ever been.

He walked from the Red Field into the lobby and there was no place to sit.

People passed him and he avoided their eyes. His desire to live was unendurable. It was impossible, not to be borne.

He was the celebrated living dog, preferred over dead lions.

Around him was the moronic lobby and outside the box-sided street where people hunted each other. Take it or leave it.

The last paragraph recalls this passage, from George Orwell's WWII "Wartime Diary," expressing his impressions of the subways where people sheltered from German bombing raids:

Always, as I walk through the Underground stations, sickened by the advertisements, the silly staring faces and strident colours, the general frantic struggle[.]

Which in turn recalls Ezra Pound's poem, "In a Station of the Metro":

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Back in Dog Soldiers, Converse, facing "take it or leave it," reaches this conclusion:

I'll take it, he thought. To take it was to begin again from nowhere, the funny little fucker would have to soldier on.

Living dogs lived. It was all they knew.

There is contempt in those words; Converse is a contemptible character. There exists in the novel, in contrast to the dog Converse, a lion, Hicks. On the surface, Hicks more resembles a conventional heroic, or anti-heroic, character. But Hicks, though he fancies himself a serene and controlled man of Zen, dies from grasping, from attachment, of Folly. Though granted in his last moments a hallucinatory vision of carrying with the pain of his own mortal wound the pain of all living beings, Hicks' death is unnecessary, purposeless, without meaning. It is, in a word, stupid.

In this culture, lions are afforded far more respect than are dogs. Lions are strong, powerful; creatures of dignity--the "King of Beasts." Dogs are servile, sneaky, cringing. They eat shit, frantically hump whatever comes in range, devote endless hours to licking and sucking their own genitals.

Thus, when confronted with an old saw like "it's better to live like a dog than to die like a lion," the temptation is to call bullshit: to conclude that it's actually better to die like a lion, than to live like a dog.

That's what can happen when an adage drifts loose from its moorings. In context, in Ecclesiastes, the wisest book of the bible, it is clear that we are supposed to side with the dog, and that it is right to do so:

For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.

It goes on:

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

This is clearly an expression that predates the invention of Heaven. It says: when you're dead, you're dead. That's it. Lights out. The way it is, the way it forever has been, the way it forever will be.

It's what people who are so all-fired ready to transform themselves into dead lions tend to forget. That, with life, as the poet Jeffrey Miller put it:

The first one's free.
You just get one.

On a more trivial level, the same is true of this site: the first UID is free, but you just get one. Once banned, you are as if dead: you are not permitted to return. The site is very straight about itself: it is devoted to securing electoral victory for Democrats. By signing on to this site, we are all presumed to have agreed to serve as dog soldiers for Democrats; people who work against that purpose are not welcome here. There is of course room to roam here for lions: there are several among us now. But site history teaches that if ever a lion persists in presuming to act bigger than the site, euthanasia inevitably results. Similarly, a dog is at any time free to turn rabid, but such a dog will soon be put down.

It was indeed generous of peeder, formerly of this site, to establish for such mad dogs and presumptuous lions a place that is the internet equivalent of Thanatopia in Thomas Pynchon's Vineland: a realm of the dead, where the inhabitants, of habit more than anything else, still go through the motions of living; barred from the land of the living, yet able to observe and comment on it, as their energy slowly, inevitably, wastes away.

Yes, but why be a dog to these occasionally--even frequently--dastardly Democrats?

For the reason expressed in that same passage from Ecclesiastes: "For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope[.]"

When I was younger, I voted, selfishly, for myself. In 1980, I worked on a collectivist "alternative" community newspaper. In the previous four years, Jimmy Carter had occasionally--even frequently--exasperated us. He was not all we wanted him to be. We particularly rended our garments over his little spasms of support for the gang governing El Salvador. We concluded that although Ronald Reagan was an obvious Monster--Californians, we had already lived through eight years of that Beast--we could not in good conscience support Carter. So our paper endorsed no vote, or a vote for one of the meaningless dick-around parties.

Yes, well: foolish youth. That was stupid, and it was selfish. We could smugly consider ourselves pure, which we did, but what we were really doing was withdrawing from the struggle to reduce suffering. There wasn't the slightest doubt that a Reagan presidency would inflict more suffering than a Carter presidency. Amid all the other beings on the planet, we were so privileged--so very lucky to be who we were, where we were, when we were--and it was not likely that we, callow know-it-all youth, would ourselves much suffer from the shitrain Reagan would bring. So, in our purity, through our neutrality, we were actually advocating that others who were not us suffer.

So I don't vote selfishly, for myself, any more. Instead, I vote like Ecclesiastes says: "joined to all the living." I vote for everybody.

Though it is of course true that "everybody" can be tiresome. It is easy to, like Converse, become contemptuous of their "moronic lobb[ies]," disgusted by their insatiable "hunt[ing of] each other." To, like Orwell, regard their "silly staring faces" as repellent, and their "general frantic struggle" as something akin to a bludgeoning.

But it is important to see them as Pound did, as creatures as fragile and delicate as "petals on a wet, black bough." Beings who spend so little time alive, so long as but "apparitions."

It is right to raise a ruckus about FISA. It is right to push Obama, push all Democrats, to do the right thing. It is right to express outrage if they do not. But if they do not, it is not right to set your hair on fire and run screaming from the Democratic Party.

The concept of a politician getting squishy on a principle is not something that was born, full-grown, like Athena from the head of Zeus, with Obama and FISA.

For context, read Orwell in April 1942, reflecting on a decade that saw all politicians, of all parties, all over the world, joined by nearly all their adherents, competing in a sort of Olympics of mendacity, one so craven and complete that, as an example, Winston Churchill one day assured Benito Mussolini he was "wholeheartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetities and passions of Leninism," and the next bayed for Benito's blood.

We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone's thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting a "case" with deliberate suppression of his opponent's point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends. The Indian nationalist is sunken in self pity and hatred of Britain and utterly indifferent to the miseries of China, the English pacifist works himself up into frenzies about concentration camps in the Isle of Man and forgets about those in Germany etc. etc. One notices this in the case of people one disagrees with, such as Fascists or pacifists, but in fact everyone is the same, at least everyone who has definite opinions. Everyone is dishonest, and everyone is utterly heartless towards people who are outside the immediate range of his own interests and sympathies. What is most striking of all is the way sympathy can be turned on or off like a tap according to political expediency. All the pinks, or most of them, who flung themselves to and fro in their rage against Nazi atrocities before the war, forgot all about these atrocities and obviously lost their sympathy with the Jews etc as soon as the war began to bore them. Ditto with people who hated Russia like poison up to 22 June 1941 and then suddenly forgot about the purges, the GPU etc the moment Russia came into the war. I am not thinking of lying for political ends, but of actual changes in subjective feeling. But is there no one who has both firm opinions and a balanced outlook? Actually there are plenty, but they are powerless. All power is in the hands of paranoiacs.

Talk about bitter and despairing . . . .

Of course not even Orwell plumbs the depths of despair. For that one needs to consult, say, Arthur Schopenhauer's "Additional Remarks on the Doctrine of the Suffering of the World," where one may be regularly and routinely assaulted by clear-eyed pitiless truths like this one:

In early youth we sit before the impending course of our life like children at the theater before the curtain is raised, who sit there in happy and excited expectation of the things that are to come. It is a blessing that we do not know what will actually come. For to the man who knows, the children may at times appear to be like innocent delinquents who are condemned not to death, it is true, but to life and have not yet grasped the purport of their sentence. Nevertheless everyone wants to reach old age and thus to a state of life, whereof it may be said: "It is bad today and every day it will get worse, until the worst of all happens."

Now there's a cheery thought for a Friday night.

More to the present point is this Schopenhauer, from the same source:

Whoever lives two or three generations, feels like the spectator who, during the fair, sees the performances of all kinds of jugglers and, if he remains seated in the booth, sees them repeated two or three times. As the tricks were meant only for one performance, they no longer make any impression after the illusion and novelty have vanished.

This is why I have little patience for those who would argue that McCain would be "little worse" than Obama, would be "better" than George II. Because I have been sitting in the booth for 51 years now, and I have seen the GOoPer jugglers offer the same "illusions and novelities" three times: under the stage-names Nixon, Reagan/George I, and George II. And I know that there is not the slightest chance that John McCain will not reprise these "illusions and novelties" for a fourth time.

Since the great shift of 1964-65, when the Democratic Party transformed itself from the party of racism into the party of racial justice, since the 1968 campaigns of McCarthy and Kennedy & the 1972 campaign of McGovern, when the Democratic Party transformed itself, in Chinese terms, from a party of warriors into a party of scholars, the Republican Party, in reaction, has stood for the same things: racism, xenophobia, patriarchy, monarchy, ungovernable capital, Thanatos.

As history will record, by any measure but number of body bags and pure thuggishness, Reagan/George II was actually worse than Nixon. But in 1980, I was 24, and too ignorant to foresee that. By the time the United States Supreme Court selected George II as president, I had wised up. About a month after 9/11, I wrote a long piece--even longer than this one--for the local pink sheet that pretty much predicted most of what has happened in the six-plus years since. This was not because I am particularly smart, or insightful. It's because I had lived long enough, and paid enough attention. Besides, they were out there telling us what they were going to do. We knew from the mumblings of Rumsfeld they were all about going after Iraq; we had heard Darth Cheney ebulliently announce that the new "War on Terra" meant the US must unearth all the forbidden tools, to "wage war" on "the dark side."

It was inevitable that George II, particularly give the pretext of 9/11, would be worse than Reagan/George I, who were themselves worse than Nixon. As it is inevitable that McCain--believe it not--would prove as bad or worse than George II.

All you have to do is listen to what he says.

We are in serious trouble, people. In late April, an administration factotum informed Congress of the following:

Mr. Elwood acknowledged that the administration believed that the president could ignore or modify existing executive orders that he or other presidents have issued without disclosing the new interpretation.

That is pre-Magna Carta. That is Divine Right of Kings. That is governance by not only executive fiat, but secret executive fiat. It is Monarchy having metastasized, like the most virulent cancer, to devour the body of a democratic republic.

Do you think John McCain will pass up the opportunity to rule like a king?

I don't. But I think Barack Obama might.

Which returns us to that same passage from Ecclesiastes, but with, again, as ever, this time a different emphasis: "For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope[.]"

Over there on the left side of the site, yesterday I read this:

Wenner: "Is there a marker you would lay down at the end of your first term where you say, ‘If this has happened or not happened, I would consider it a negative mark on my governance’?"

Obama: "If I haven’t gotten combat troops out of Iraq, passed universal health care and created a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming, then we’ve missed the boat."

Withdrawing from Iraq, establishing universal health care, addressing global warming--each of these goals involves the reduction of suffering. That is why I am a Democrat, and that is why I will vote for Barack Obama.

I will meanwhile no doubt bitch and moan, if only to myself, about retreats, capitulations, like FISA. But I will also recognize that, at least to me, all the FISA fuss is really about gradations in badness. Because I don't even believe in the FISA court. I work in regular ol' criminal law, and there's far too much secrecy even there. All of it is wrong, all of it serves to frustrate justice, always the powers of secrecy are abused. An entirely secret court? No. I don't think so.

I don't even believe in secret intelligence. A couple years ago, I said on this site that I believed that all intelligence collected by the nation's ever-expanding array of intelligence agencies should be posted on the web, so that the American people--who after all are those for whom this intelligence is collected--may read it and judge it for themselves. I was promptly pronounced a loon. Maybe so, maybe so. But is a fact that if all the intelligence collected by BushCo about Iraq were to have been posted to the web, neither the Congress, nor the American people, would ever have sanctioned Operation Iraqi Fiefdom.

I will also remind myself that I never once believed that this year, with this Congress, there was ever a prayer of a FISA bill passing without a provision providing for amnesty for the telecommunications industry. It is both eternally exasperating and darkly amusing that this site is nearly every day bedeviled by wild-eyed fanatics screeching that AIPAC exercises sinister control over the US Congress. Truth is, there are dozens of special interests--telecommunications is one, the oil and gas industries, weapons contractors, insurance companies, banks, credit-card companies, the pharmaceutical industry are others--that exercise far more control over Congress than does AIPAC. But The Powers love that people like we focus so much on AIPAC--i.e., Jews. That's what, after all, for more than 2000 years, the Jews have been there for. So that'll we'll foam and fulminate about them, rather than look up and notice those who are slapping saddles on our backs, preparing to ride us till we drop.

Finally, I'll remind myself that I don't even really like the whole idea of "government." Because I'm not really comfortable with someone "representing" me. I'd kinda like to represent myself.

But I work with the system I have. Not the one I dream.

So my key is this: who will most work to reduce suffering? Or, to express it in positive terms, who will work most to realize that ageless dream, expressed by Emile Zola through Jean Macquart: "All I ask is a quiet life and happiness and prosperity for all"?

At this time, in this place, the answer to that is the Democrats. Barack Obama. And that is why I am here. I am a dog soldier for Democrats.

Like all the best titles, Stone's Dog Soldiers may be read in more than one way. "Soldiers" rings most naturally as a noun. But it can also be a verb. And in that way it describes what I'm doing here. With my time, with my money, with my energy, with my words, with my vote, this dog soldiers. He will never see struggle's end. But, while here, he does what he can.

My "purity" days are past. May you all enjoy yours. Today I try to see, as I humbly suggest is a good way to see, from out of the eyes of everyone. When I vote, I try to vote for the interests of everyone, regardless of my own "purity," my own "interests." I try to lock in to the concluding vision of the seemingly doomed protaganist of Kenneth Patchen's The Journal of Albion Moonlight:

Don't you understand? I have arisen not from the dead but from the living. It is my own face I see in the blazing windows of all the houses on earth.

That is why, to push it even into the realm of the absurd, I would vote for Barack Obama even if I concluded his victory would result in but one fewer person suffering than would a victory for John McCain. Because if I were that one person--and I am--I would know just how badly it would hurt, and how important it would be to make it stop.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 08:00 PM PDT.

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