No News is Good News, or We’ll Always Have Paris and Britney

Dr. Andrew Weil, the alternative medicine maven, (and a college classmate of mine) says we should all try “fasting” from news, and perhaps even from media in general, a few days a year, to improve our mental and physical health. I’m beginning to think he has a point

Admittedly, the last couple of weeks have brought us a real overdose of news, even without input about Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Most of it is even real news, not filler. There was l’affaire Spitzer, raising all sorts of questions about private morality and public life. Then came its successor, the Paterson confession. In the purely political realm, there was the whole uproar about the Florida and Michigan Democratic primaries, which we are apparently doomed to repeat until we get it right.

Then came the Eternal Return of the clips of the Reverend Mr. Jeremiah Wright’s wildly gyrating sermons, resembling nothing so much as Richard Simmons on a good day. Followed by The Speech from Obama, condemning the sermons and loving the sermonizer.

Underneath all that was the steady drumbeat of The Economy, including the subprime mortgage disaster, the Bear Sterns crash, and the damage control scrambling of the Federal Reserve, while economists debated how many unemployed workers could dance on the head of a pin without constituting a recession, or maybe even the onset of a depression.

Over the last week, the Tibetans have been demonstrating or rioting, and the Chinese have been controlling the violence or beating up monks, depending whether you believe the Dalai Lama or the Chinese authorities. This may or may not encourage a boycott of the Beijing Olympics later this year. And, speaking of bad news from Asia, Sir Arthur C. Clarke died in Sri Lanka.

Finally, yesterday was the 5th anniversary of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, last night was a bizarrely noisy anti-war march here in Chicago, today is the first day of spring, and any time within the next week or so, we can expect the death of the 4000th US servicemember in Iraq.

Where can an overworked blogger stand in this swamp of significance? None of this stuff deserves to be ignored. Much of it demands immediate and personal reaction. I’m actually getting nostalgic for Paris and Britney, who could safely be ignored. Should we all just turn off our tvs, radios, and computers and go read Anna Karenina? God knows it’s tempting. Tolstoy has a lot to say about matters related to, for instance, the Spitzer affair.

Okay, I’ll just hit the high spots. I’m sort of immune to Obama’s charisma, partly because, in my neighborhood, he’s a prophet in his own country, with the corresponding lack of honor (he was our state senator before he ran for federal office, and his house is 5 miles from ours) and partly because I apparently suffer from a congenital deficiency in charisma receptors. So The Speech, while it struck me as well-drafted and well-delivered, didn’t make the earth move for me. I still haven’t made up my mind whether the Rev. Wright is a racist or just indulging in audience-pleasing hyperbole. Mr. Wired believes that, at some point, we have to stop pointing to, and trying to avenge, old wrongs on all sides, and just Start Over, both in the Mideast and the Midwest. I find that approach attractive, but I can understand why people who view themselves as the most recent and worst-damaged victims might have trouble with it.

Are we headed into a depression? Most of the controls FDR put into the system to prevent another one have since been removed or at least weakened. Yes, it could happen. My personal index on this is that three restaurants within a one-block radius of my office have closed down in the last three months. This is definitely a bad sign. And our cost of living has certainly gone up a lot in the last few months. When I do our taxes this weekend, I will have a better handle on how much.

Spitzer? If he had been a French politician, his constituents would probably just have yawned. But then, if he had been a French politician, he would never have made such a fuss about closing down prostitution rings either. For better or worse, we are not the French. So much the worse for our cooking and physical fitness, so much the better for our work ethic, I guess. What bothers me about the whole thing is how eager people are to condemn Mrs. Spitzer for not dumping him, and to attribute the worst of motives to her decision. She is, after all, the victim here, or one of them anyway. Is she staying to protect her “investment” (such as it is, since he seems headed for indictment)? Is she cowed and stupid (unlikely, since she graduated Harvard Law)? Is she, somehow, as sleazy as he is? Dammit, the whole point of the Women’s Movement was to give women options. A century and a half ago, women had to fight for the right to leave their unfaithful husbands. Now, apparently, they have to fight for the right to stay with them. All of this, of course, echoes the saga of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, and was probably intended to, by the Justice Department operatives who put the Spitzer story on the front page. Sometimes the conspiracy theorists get it right.

Finally, we are five years into a war that never should have started. Five years used to be a reasonable length of time to use force to decide matters of international politics. It was long enough to decide every conflict the US was ever involved in before Vietnam. Now, apparently, five years is just an opening act. Maybe that’s what happens when a republic becomes an empire. In Europe, wars lasting seven, or thirty, or even a hundred years used to be par for the course. Are we headed in that direction? And if so, how long can we keep even the external trappings of a republic, much less its substance?

War is the ultimate enemy of liberty. The word “dictator” originally meant a leader given extraordinary powers specifically in wartime. All of the governmental intrusions most despised by libertarians in this country were brought to us by one or another real or metaphorical war. The income tax, the draft, the standing army, drug testing (courtesy of the “war”on drugs), wiretapping (as in the “war”on crime), and most recently universal ID-checking and inspection, in the “war” on terror. Permanent war means permanent loss of liberty. The Hard Right is fond of telling us that we can have freedom only if we are permanently prepared to fight for it. I think they may have it exactly wrong. Freedom is possible only in peacetime. And there are young citizens old enough to vote this year who cannot even remember peacetime, or being able to enter a public building without being searched.

Red Emma

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