Tuesday, August 14, 2007


There they were, a million strong, in Washington DC, holding candles in their hands and joining in song: "All we are saying, is give peace a chance." A million of them. Think of it! Think of the power of it!

We were watching the DVD of "The U.S. Versus John Lennon." How this one man, among many, back then, had the courage to stand up for his beliefs and speak them out loud. John Lennon singer, songwriter, pop star, intellectual, performance artist, genius, clown... Not many, of course, had John Lennon's name, nor the platform he had to reach millions throughout the world. Not many--none other, perhaps--could attract the international media to his slightest move, his zaniest pronouncement. And yet millions did stand up for their opposition to a senseless, senselessly protracted war. There was hardly a campus, back in those days, that was not in active revolt.

So where is everybody? We know from well-publicized polls that opposition to Bush's folly in Iraq is widespread, even passionate--and yet we all sit on our duffs or peck away at our computer keyboards, hidden behind the multiple monitors in virtually every house. (I say "all," but that's not entirely true: there are a few hardy souls, like those who stand in protest every Saturday near the boardwalk in Laguna Beach. I honor them.) Where--the question is by now familiar--where is the outrage? Where are the million people flooding Pennsylvania Avenue?

The John Lennon documentary is brilliant, by the way. Our current fiasco is barely mentioned, but you can't watch it without making the comparison all along the way. And the persecution of this cheeky, iconoclastic singer by the entire weight of the United States federal government is an indignation-inspiring tale that will get your emotions roiling in sympathy. What is remarkable is that John managed to survive it. But of course he didn't. Not eventually. It took the bullets of a crazed, gun-wielding lunatic to get him, but he died for the balls he had to stand out and be heard. If you haven't seen the movie, I'd suggest you rent it... It's great just to hear those songs.

Which brings me to Katrina. Ellie and I had watched, the previous two nights (we've been doing a lot of Netflixing!) the epic Spike Lee documentary on the hurricane and its aftermath, "When the Levees Broke." Not surprisingly, it's a film about the abandonment of a city and its people by every level of government. It's about the discrepancy between the fine words some Americans speak and the fecklessness of their actions, or inaction. It's about the unique history and traditions of a truly great, truly individual, truly American city and the callous neglect with which that history and those traditions were snubbed in the wake of natural disaster. It's a depressing story of the indifference of those in power and their betrayal of the trust misplaced in them.

And then last night I heard on the BBC World News that the United States is now rated forty-second in life expectancy among the nations of the world. Forty-second! A statistic not shared, to my knowledge in any of the American media. And then in this morning's New York Times I read Bob Herbert's column on the dramatic growth in urban crime and the bloodshed left in the path of disgracefully uncontrolled guns. And I read the letters on the Editorial page about our country's failure to provide health care for forty-five million of its citizens, including millions of children, and the ruined lives that result from this criminal neglect.

And I remembered that man who stole the Democratic presidential candidates' debate last week--the one who wept before and audience of millions with the shame and indignity of being unable to provide, in his senior years, for health care for his wife; and who asked, choking with emotion, "What has happened to America?" And I hear the familiar chorus of voices that keep inanely bleating that old cliche, the "This is STILL the greatest country in the world," and I wonder...

Ellie reports that she has been sleeping poorly for the past few days. Today she decided that it was likely due to her distress in watching those movies before bedtime--two days' worth of Spike Lee and, last night, John Lennon. What kind of a country have we become, she wondered aloud? What's happened to America? I myself had woken grumpy, and "got out the wrong side of the bed." When I heard what Ellie had to say, I could understand why.


Cardozo said...

A couple of thoughts to add...

First, about THE DRAFT. Having been at Berkeley during and after 9/11, I can tell you that the revolutionary fervor was certainly brewing...even during the war on the Taliban.

But the draft would have made the difference...would have filled the streets and then some. Without it, apathy was just powerful enough to win the day.

The lack of a draft brings to mind another point, which is the generally lack of involvement and sacrifice called for by the Bush administration during war-time. Except for Iraqi-Americans and military families, this is not our war, as a people. We are almost wholly disconnected which, I believe, is a powerful sign that we are having the wool pulled over our eyes.

Mark said...

Speaking as a college age representative (though surely not for the majority), I think the lack of outrage stems from the lack of involvement in current issues. John Mayer recently had a song that kind of sums up our lack of involvement. It's titled "Waiting for the World to Change," and I encourage you to listen to it. It talks about how, as a generation, we feel helpless, voiceless, and thus tend to remove ourselves from the situation.

I also echo Cardozo's sentiments. If there was a draft, I'm sure we'd all be holding hands and marching on D.C., but currently our generation is only voluntarily involved in the situation.

For myself personally, I find it hard to know what to believe. This administration and media situation has really made me incredibly skeptic of any information I hear from any source. It all has a partisan bias and I don't know what to believe about any situation. Maybe that's a cop out, but that's sort of my stance on the matter.

Cardozo said...

"This administration has made me incredibly skeptical of any information I hear from any source."

I'm with you there, Mark, which means we are in a VERY powerless position in regard to our own destinies. If the president tells us that Saddam Hussein's regime poses an "iminent threat" against our country, what tools do we have to agree or disagree? You'd have to put in full-time hours to get the facts straight.

What we have to fall back on, I suppose, is intuition, common sense, and buildlng a government populated by leaders we actually trust.

Here is an interesting graphic on rationales for the Iraq war.

robin andrea said...

I saw the John Lennon documentary not too long ago. It was startling to be reminded of the blatant misuse of power against one man. It is easy to see how it's being done today on a scale much larger and insidious. The news no longer reports objective reality. It is content to frame every story politically, a right vs left perspective. Even Katrina news was reported through that prism.

I too have wondered why we haven't taken to the streets. We are talking to each other on the virtual streets, while the Washington Mall is empty of our voices. The war doesn't reach down into our lives the way it should.

lindsey said...

I have to jump in on this because I absolutely loved "The US vs. John Lennon" and left the theater feeling the exact same sentiments.

I had my John Lennon moment when Pres. Bush came to visit Springfield, MO last October. I braved the cold with about 50 other peaceful and not so peaceful demonstrators, and it ranks right up there as one of the best days of my life.

I disagree with Mark on the "Waiting on the World to Change" issue (and he knows I hate that song as we discussed it once while we were waiting to hear Cindy Sheehan speak). We're not waiting on the world to change, we're waiting on someone to organize us.

Make a Facebook event for protest rally or send out a Myspace invite to an awareness raising concert and there will be people there.

The trick is getting us connected, organized and motivated.

Now who's going to be the one to step up?

Cardozo said...

I still maintain that on issues as big and complex as the aftermath to war, you have to work within the system. Protest now? Protest what!? Immediate withdrawal? Which of us are aware of the consequences of that? Worse than staying put and fighting this out, you say? Oh yeah, how do you know?

I agree we need organization. But let's organize around systemic issues like public financing of elections, universal health care, and poverty. These progressive changes will "trickle up" and ultimately decrease the likelihood of war for short-term domination or even shorter-term profiteering.

carly said...

Yea. You're right. I know nothing of Geoff. But I took those definitions as a starting point of criticism of platitudinous type stuff, that preachers often use. I thought your site could use a little edge. Mostly, you guys just agree with each other a lot. I've noticed that whenever you ask a buddhist something, you get a buddhist answer and it's something you already know.

It would have been better for me if you had learned, then reported something enlightening about the tenets of Buddhism, or something which clears up what are issues for me about how people are using the religion. I am obviously coming from the angle that Americans appropriate and misuse everything, from art to history, and in the process, adulterate it, or weaken its passion and potency, until it's unrecognizable and unusable. It's like your, where are the OUtraged Demonstrators? question. Since everything is passionless and watered down, how can a force be raised to combat Washington? It's worse than apathy. The ultimate answer is: democracy is broken. Even Bill Maher slipped in that idea the other night on L.King, when he said, ".......the reason democracy doesn't work any more....". Answer that question and you'll know why there are no demonstrators.

My idea is that it's not apathy at all. It's part of the credo of most Americans, which in it's present form is, if you can't make money on it, it isn't worth speaking up. With a few exceptions of course. And, now, it's more expensive to drop work and go to Washington and not see any results. As ends are harder to meet, the more they will become slaves.

Also, existentialism is so pervasive here, that it stymies group adhesion. I see it in the Buddhist adaptation. A trend based on atheism and nothingness ( and granted, you're well covered on principles of harm and decency) sill, is going to have problems pulling together in a struggle. IT'S INWARD. But spiritual forces of another kind are needed for great undertakings. I have offered a better philosophy to all, but nobody's interested. I get no feedback on a philosophy which has the historical track record needed, and is coming to new use in China, which is the new powerhouse. The buddhist group is probably stuck and has little or no political action to offer. Which is its historical legacy.

Also, I think, people realize overt protests don't have much effect in the States. In Europe, they can really stop traffic. And there, leaders seem to pay attention to the numbers involved. Here, it's a challenge to their power. I think Cardozo's idea is best, apply leverage at other problems. But long-term solutions don't make the impactful statement and must be sustainable by money.

It's interesting that Bill Maher and Michael Moore are galvanizing people, and the Dixie Chicks and Cheryl Crow are doing some Lennon-like stuff. And getting rich and famous at the same time. There's a good video about the Chicks thing.

Docu-film makers are doing their part. I just saw an amazing one about Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. I think all those involved in buddhism should see "Cry of the Snow Lion" for some important lessons about Buddhism's limitations. But when I recommend these things, people don't listen. They just go on touting how great buddhism is. I get the same thing on other blogs too. Which is why I don't know why I'm here, writing.

And then of course, there is the principle of non-action. But I won't even get into that, since I know people are not listening. After all, what do I know? I'm just another contentious guy, pooping on everything. Everything that isn't working.

film tip. You may not like everything about Apocalypto, but does it not have some incredible scenes about ideas you deal with here? Notably the sacrifice scene where the leaders are pulling a fast one on the public. Don't see before bedtime.

PeterAtLarge said...

Carly, just so that you don't feel too neglected and unheard, I did, actually, see "They Cry of the Snow Leopard"--on your recommendation! It's a powerful move, and one that does provoke a great deal of serious thought about non-violence and retreat from confrontation. Hard to know, though, how else Tibet and its (yes, Buddhist!) leaders might have behaved differently to produce a different outcome, given the overhwelming military power attacking them. In a sense, you could argue that since his exile the Dalai Lama has far expanded his platform to convey the message of Buddhism to the world. And yes, I agree, there is a tendency in this country to reduce everything to the harmless, to the most acceptable, the least threatening of offense. We have a constantly shrinking intellectual and moral standard, and ask too little of ourselves on every front. More's the pity. But I'd ask you not to judge Buddhism by those--and yes, there are those, agreed--who water it down to the meaningless. There's more to be gained by looking at the substance than the abuse.

carly said...

P: Your level reaction to criticism is good and I'll keep it down, because I know you are busy with your life. Me too.

Actually, I base my evaluation of Tibetans on the events before Chinese invasion, when they had let the Chinese take control of several aspects of Tibet including military defense in some areas. This gave China a taste that they had rights there, and was a fatal error of the gov't. Yes, there is a new tone in some Buddhists that is more contemporary, even aggressive on issues involving pacifism.

I admire and agree with many aspects of Buddhism. It was connected to Taoist thought and still is in Asia. It's the metaphysical base which I think makes it useful for some types of individuals but not so much for society, unless everyone was Buddhist. Which will never be.

Somewhere I once heard, "what is right is ubiquitous". I see no need to call it Buddhist nor anything else. Such activity divides and discriminates. It even frightens some people.
It isn't a question of whether religion is necessary. Religions persist even though we might all understand what is right. In buddhist terms, they just are. But I don't like it. All these institutions are just excuses to grab power from the well meaning ones and abuse in the hands of the aggressive ones. As we saw in Tibet, Buddhism is corruptable just as any other.

I am convinced a philosophy of oneness is far better than the many names for special interests. It's the only idea which combines spiritual preservation with economics, and powerfully at that.

PK said...

My thoughts on the newness of most of us waking up a tad over the top.... We watch so much on TV, movies, newspapers, magazines, the Net, that we are all getting a taste of PTSD. Now this sounds like I'm taking it a little far, but in reality I don't think so... We see, and hear, so much about death and destruction that it's hard to get past that everyday. It's like one needs thier fix of it or it just isn't the right day. I 'need' to know what's going on all the time. Years ago I would go to the TV and turn it on because I 'wanted' to see what was going on in the world... now it's a 'need'...... As far as all of us revolting against the government [Bush], I think the answer has already been partially said. No draft... but it's on it's way. The other is APATHY, by any other name, it's still that. The other is being able to connect with people of like mind on the Internet, you can flame all you want if you get on the right site. So you get it all out of you, you don't save it up, like we used to back in the 60's, and get our signs together and pool our money to rent a bus, or go by V-dub with about 7 or 8 other people, all paying your share. And the kids today are ambiguous... It's pretty sad. Hard to light a fire under that! When Paris Hilton and Britney Spears get more press time than anything of importance, I just have to turn off the TV, I can't deal with it. There was only a 5 minute blurb on regular TV [I don't have cable] telling us that there was another ship heading out because Bush wanted back up for the others because of Iran! I have to leave this discussion, it's after 8pm, need to meditate :D. Got to calm down before bed time... Sleep well Peter