On and Off the Mark

September 2011
September 18, 2011:  New Format

You’ll see that we have changed the design of this web site, both to make it more reader friendly and to go along with certain changes in my interests and my intentions.

Now when you go to the site, you’ll see first of all the most recent text I’ve produced. You don’t, any longer, have to click on links with titles that may not be clear to you. The homepage will contain approximately the last two weeks of my writing which you can access simply by scrolling down through six to eight pieces.

Everything else, comprised of both active topics and archives of past efforts, will be available on the blue panel to the left. It also features a link that will open a blank e-mail message to me.

During the first several years of this site I wrote mainly about political items. I began the effort during the campaign of 2004, when I was so fed up the policies of the Bush administration I could scarcely think of anything else. I made, mostly, short comments of 200 to 400 words about specific follies that were being reported on TV and in the daily newspapers. Occasionally, I would write a movie review or an essay on a novel, but mainly my efforts were concentrated on politics.

Over the years, I began to write longer, column-length pieces, and recently I don’t think I’ve posted anything shorter than 800 words.

My political exasperations have certainly not faded away. But I have expressed myself pretty fully on what I think about public policy. I believe this country is in a bad way politically because the selfish, mean-spirited and ignorant portions of the population have consolidated into a single political party. They have no vision of public well-being. In fact, they don’t want a majority of the people to live healthy, satisfying lives. They think only a small number of us deserve such benefits, a number made up of themselves. Their definition of liberty is a governmental system which allows a minority of the people, who prize nothing but material wealth, to pile up huge mounds of riches which are to be used to make the rest of us into servants -- servants for themselves. I have no wish to see my country evolve in that direction. I am not titillated by the thought of rich men. Most such persons I have known have been vulgar jerks. Furthermore, they are murderous in their habits.

When especially egregious political events occur, I will continue to comment on them. But I don’t any longer wish to spend most of my writing life on louts. There are other topics which interest me more. So I expect that a smaller percentage of the essays I write in the coming years will go into “On and Off the Mark.”

I used to reserve “From Liberty Street” for my longer pieces. But, then, as all my efforts began to get longer, I began to put anything that might reasonably be called “philosophic” into that category. In the future, I will stick to that practice even more strictly than I have recently.

We are adding a heading I have not yet written anything for called “Here In Vermont.” I have tended to ignore local events, even when they have attracted my attention. I don’t want to do that anymore. Vermont is an interesting place, and distinctive enough that it deserves a separate category. So, I’ll start trying to post two or three items a month that will address how Vermont differs from other states.

“Images Rising” will continue to be about movies and television, and “Readings” about literature. I expect to be posting more -- and more substantial -- pieces in both those categories in the future..

“Out and About” has been neglected of late. I want to bring it back to life but with the change that the essays which accompany the photographs will be more lengthy.

“Essays and Reviews” will contain public addresses and anything that appears in local publications. Consequently, new items will appear there only occasionally.

I’m in the mood to get beyond column-length writing and turn out more pieces that could constitute a chapter in a book, perhaps up to about 3,000 words. I want the site to be interesting to other people, but I confess it functions also as a writing laboratory for myself. It’s where I experiment in the hope of producing a few works of more lasting quality. If I do lengthen my pieces, it means I can’t turn them out as frequently. So starting now, I’m going to give up the attempt to post something almost every day -- as I did until recently -- and aim at about a dozen more substantial pieces each month. Whether I’ll be able to carry through with my intentions you’ll just have to wait and see.

In any case, what I always hope for is to hear from anyone who reads what I write. I believe in a communicative community, and I would like to do what I can to foster one -- even if it’s small and made up of only a few people. So if you could gratify me in that respect it would add quite a bit to my life.

We don’t have the new format perfect yet. There will be small changes that we’ll make over the next few weeks, mainly to introduce the topics more adequately. But what you see now is the basic layout we will use for the next couple years at least.

I haven’t given as much credit here as I should have to my web manager, my brother Neil Turner, who lives in Annapolis. If it weren’t for his work, I doubt I would have a web site. And keeping what is now getting to be an unwieldy beast in manageable form is no small labor. It was Neil who suggested that we make this change and designed the major features of it. So if it serves you better, which I think it should, it will be due more to Neil than to me.

September 11, 2011:  Insipidity On and On

I see that Thomas Friedman is out with yet one more exercise in false equivalency masked again as a call for moderation and good sense. He argues  that what we must have in this country is a Grand Bargain, in which the two sides agree to compromise in the interests of national renewal.

What two sides is he talking about?

He calls for the two extremes to get out of the way of the sensible middle, so the latter can get on with the job of building American competitiveness.

Who are the two extremes? And who, for God’s sake, makes up the sensible middle?

As long as pundits like Friedman continue to push a wildly inaccurate description of current conditions we will be held back from taking steps that might improve the lives of most Americans.

There is no sensible “middle” in the United States. That’s the first thing we have to get straight in order to lay out options that might actually succeed. There are, rather, two political impulses which right now are fairly equal in potency.

One is based on the belief that the only intelligent goal is vast wealth and overweening power. It envisions a nation made up of a fairly small, highly affluent class - perhaps ten percent of the total -- and a gigantic horde of ill-educated, manipulable people whose function will be to serve the wealthy, and nothing else.

The other thinks that wealth is less important than physical health, and that national policy should be directed towards spreading health as widely as possible and eliminating suffering and humiliation.

Each of these impulses employs a political party. The first has the Republican Party; the second has the Democrats.

The first thinks of itself as aristocratic, but it is not aristocratic because it has hideously vulgar tastes. Donald Trump and his New York apartment are the exemplars of what it seeks.

The second thinks of itself as democratic, but it has been duped by political structures which are both cowardly and corrupt.

That’s where we are. That’s what we have to deal with. So long as we run away from knowing who we are now, we cripple any attempt to work towards who we might actually like to be. 

I may be wrong, but I assume that if all the people understood the political impulses at work within the national structures, a sizable majority would choose the second. If we could free ourselves from the sort of deception promoted by writers like Friedman, we could use the democratic structures of the nation to advance policies benefitting the majority. To do that, however, we would also have to free ourselves from the notion that getting rich is the best thing imaginable. And that I’m not sure the American people can do.

They have preached riches to themselves for so long, they have so consistently set wealth and nationalistic power as the only prizes worth having, it may not be possible for them to adopt public well-being as their political goal. I hope that’s not the case, but it may be.

Even so, if we are to pursue the goal of widespread public health, if we are to put it to the test, so to speak, we have to recognize what voices like Friedman’s are doing to us. They are using ostensibly sweet words to hold us perpetually in a state of fumble. You might argue that’s better than letting the plutocrats take over completely. Such appeals, at least, keep some vague democratic aspirations alive. But they undercut the possibility for genuine democratic solutions. 

I don’t know whether Friedman and those of his ilk know what they’re doing to us. Perhaps some do and some don’t. Some are servants of Republican strategy. Some are merely dumb. I don’t know which of those categories Friedman, himself, occupies. Besides, knowing about him doesn’t matter. But recognizing the insidious effects of false equivalency does. It paralyzes us into an endless round of media hype, and political screaming. Meanwhile, the actual conditions of life in America decay. More and more people sink into the despondency of unemployment. Fewer and fewer are able to envision and work towards the rewards of a middle class life. The country itself becomes ever more crass.

This is not a prediction of perpetual decline. I can’t see the long-term future any more accurately than anyone else. It’s simply an argument that at the moment we are fiddling away quality of life, because we won’t face the fatuity of current journalistic blather. Just because Tom Friedman wants to console himself with a Hallmark card dream of all of us coming together in some sort of grand bargain does not justify the wrecked lives that our unwillingness to face what’s going on is causing.

©John R. Turner

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