Behold! A butterfly to the rescue!

Doom and gloom got you down? With climate change, financial meltdown, recession, war, H1N1, birthers, deathers, tenthers, and all the other miseries of modern life, it is easy to overlook stories like those Philip Slater points to in The Chrysalis Effect of nine-year old Melissa Poe getting 250 billboards donated across the country to ask then-President Bush to save the environment and of eight-year old Tara Church launching a campaign that planted one million trees.

If you find those efforts underwhelming in the face of, well, all those other problems, congratulations, you’re failing to embrace small victories and Slater thinks you’re a radical left wing “Controller.” Slater distinguishes between Integral Culture, defined as being “about embracing and integrating diversity,” and signified by “the Women’s Movement, the global economy, the ecology movement, the Internet, New Age philosophies, organic farming, the growth of international institutions and international law, the growing interest in understanding other cultures and in communicating with other species, the interest in telling old stories from new view points” (whew!); and Control Culture, which sees the world in linear and hierarchical terms.

Slater sees the backlash against the upheavals of the 1960s as a caterpillar forming a chrysalis:

Tiny new cells–what scientists call imaginal cells–now begin to appear in the caterpillar’s body, and start to multiply. The caterpillar’s immune system reacts to these new cells as foreign–as a disease, an infection–and quickly attacks and destroys them. . . . But more and more imaginal cells appear, and begin to link themselves together. Finally, the caterpillar’s immune system is overwhelmed and the caterpillar is liquefied. The imaginal cells then recycle the liquefied mass into a new entity–the butterfly.

So in Slater’s vision, the students I saw reaffirming capitalist and militarist values in the mid-1970s even at a public high school in San Francisco just one neighborhood over from the epicenter of the Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury (I was in the Richmond District) are the antibodies and the hippies are the imaginal cells, with the great mass of society ambivalent. The vicious anti-labor, anti-environment, and anti-poor fundamentalist views of family and society that arose particularly with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 are an even more pronounced immune system reaction. And George W. Bush administration policies signaled yet another escalation. To Slater, these suggest a progressive infection, heralding an unstoppable rise of Integral Culture.

For this analogy to work, a certain linear process must occur. The imaginal cells (hippies and 1960s radicals) must link together and overwhelm the caterpillar’s (old culture’s) immune system. The caterpillar must go through something that must appear as death. Only then can we see the emergent, an outcome we could not predict but for experience, a butterfly, a new Integral Culture.

The dichotomy between Integral Culture and Control Culture appears to parallel Riane Eisler’s (in The Chalice and the Blade) Partnership and Dominator models, where dominating control freaks see the world like a cowboys and Indians movie, in terms of good and evil, white and black, etcetera. By contrast, Integrators embrace contradiction and even Controllers. Like Yin and Yang, though Slater does not point to this paired duality, with each side including a dot from the other, predominant traits must embrace their opposites. Integrators recognize this; Controllers seek to suppress it. Integrators seek understanding between people who disagree; Controllers simply rule by fiat. Partnership model societies are peace-loving and egalitarian; Dominator model societies conquer and impose patriarchy.

While many Controllers are conservative in bent, Slater makes room to criticize those of us on the liberal side who, well, maybe, find Barack Obama too accommodating. Slater never mentions Barack Obama by name, but seems pollyannish about social development since the awful 1950s, citing other developments, a spread of what Slater sees as a spread of more egalitarian democracy. He writes “that authoritarian societies were at an intermediate level of cultural development–both the simplest and most highly developed societies tended to be democratic.” The trouble is that the governments of the “most highly developed societies” Slater refers to are not democracies, but republics. The authors of the Federalist Papers, advocating adoption of the U.S. Constitution, were very clear about this difference. One of those authors, John Jay, went on to be the first Supreme Court Chief Justice, setting precedents that determined how the Constitution would be interpreted. Recognizing class as a vexing problem in Federalist no. 10, James Madison explicitly sought to reserve power to the wealthy, not to protect the minority rights of any stigmatized group, but rather to protect the property rights of landowning white males.

There is nothing egalitarian about a republic. It effectively limits power to an elite class. In U.S. society, the sheer cost of mass media advertising is only one price of admission to running an effective political campaign. Journalists dismiss the electoral prospects of anyone whose political views lie outside a narrow range of acceptable discourse and of anyone running without the blessing of the Republican or the Democratic factions. The system thus clothes an intense hierarchy in democratic garb; Obama’s attorney general appoints a prosecutor to pursue torture allegations only against lower-ranking operatives who exceeded guidance, but not against those who further undermined Constitutional protections and ordered the abuse. Banks and major automobile manufacturers are quickly rescued from their own follies, while workers facing declining or stagnant wages, homeowners facing foreclosures and declining values, and the unemployed facing months without work still await relief. The unpopularity of the war in Iraq and even the election of a Congress in 2006 with an explicit mandate did not force an agreement to withdraw until our own puppet regime in Baghdad demanded it. The unpopularity of the war in Afghanistan does not prevent us from escalating the conflict with still more troops in pursuit of a long-forgotten objective. And despite the popularity of a single-payer health care system, it is not even on the table.

In a democracy, however, there are no representatives from the elite to decide policy and to protect their own privileges; everyone has a say, everyone is expected to participate. But because I draw a line between authoritarianism and democracy on a different side of republicanism, Slater will undoubtedly dismiss me as a radical left wing Controller.

Moreover, by mostly limiting his view of history to the period since the 1960s, Slater overlooks pacifist, anarchist, and labor movements of the 1930s. He overlooks Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, in which Zinn illustrates how time and time again, the elites have held power only by conceding the minimum power and wealth possible to the minimum number of people possible to avoid the accumulation of a critical mass for revolution, and that they have done this only because certain politicians were determined to protect the system. Citing Richard Nixon’s landslide election in 1972, Slater even dismisses the peace, civil rights, and counterculture movements of the 1960s as “long on visibility but short on numbers.” Another metaphor becomes possible: rather than a caterpillar emergent into butterfly we can see a disease of hierarchy inflicting the mass of humanity for what Slater says is the last 8,000 years. This disease appears chronic, with flare-ups and periods of remission. Even if a disempowered U.S. public finally takes a hint from its Iranian counterpart, revolution has a nasty habit of replacing one set of thugs with another; power and wealth get redistributed to a new set of oppressors.

Change is coming. I continue to believe that next year will be a very interesting and dangerous time for the Obama administration. Historically, a gap between rich and poor as wide as exists in the U.S. surely leads to violent revolution. A growing population of meat-eaters strains our planet’s capacity while water shortages reduce our ability to produce food. Global warming already displaces entire populations as sea levels rise and at this writing it unclear that humanity can, let alone will even slow its progress, let alone stop or reverse it. Endemic problems of pollution, starvation, and exploitation persist.

But I see two major problems with Slater’s analysis. First, the nature of emergent phenomenon is that we cannot predict the outcome. For Slater to assume that because his imaginal cells are Integral that the culture that arises from the caterpillar’s death will also be Integral is to miss, in another analogy, how gaseous hydrogen atoms meet with gaseous oxygen atoms to produce something that could not be seen from the factors of its creation, water. Second, we cannot know whether his analogy of imaginal cells (hippies and 1960s radicals) overwhelming the caterpillar (Controller culture) or my analogy of a chronic disease (hierarchy) with flare-ups and periods of remission afflicting the great mass of humanity is more apt. We also cannot presume that humanity will adapt in the many ways necessary to perpetuate itself. We are in trouble. To borrow yet another analogy, this time from Richard Tarnas in The Passion of the Western Mind, our species is under pressure in the womb, about to be traumatically expelled through a narrow birth canal. It feels like death. We cannot really even comprehend the process we are going through. But unlike the infant about to be born, there is no one in our species with the experience to say whether a world of light or something much darker lies at the other end.

Sex become bullying

Two stories today, of a religious nut who had kidnapped a girl when she was 11 years old and fathered children by her over the course of 18 years and of a Roman Catholic Church diocese appealing to the Supreme Court a decision “refus[ing] to dismiss claims by hundreds of alleged victims of sexual abuse” call to mind, yet again, the string of stories of evangelical Protestant and conservative politician sex scandals. Mainstream media coverage conveys an inescapable impression that sexually repressed individuals are more likely to rape, to abuse, and to otherwise behave inappropriately with vulnerable people in a sexual way.

Conservatives would rather we focus on the more ordinary, less powerful offenders all around us and to imprison them for long periods of time. We are to see their fellows among the powerful as exceptional cases, individuals who can repent, who can be forgiven, even if a residual stigma limits their power. And our focus on powerful sex offenders is out of proportion.

At the other extreme, Gayle Rubin in a classic essay, “Thinking Sex,” criticizes a social attitude that sex is guilty until proven innocent and ends up endorsing the National Man-Boy Love Association. She neglects the problem of consent, that given the inherent power relationships between children and grown-ups, children cannot meaningfully agree to sexual relations.

The common theme in all these cases is power. Historically, it appears in Spanish soldiers’ routine and systematic rapes of Indian women, which Antonia Casteñeda understands as introducing hierarchy in the relationships between Indian men and women and thus making Indian society susceptible to the hierarchy of the Spanish and of Catholicism. In The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler interprets the introduction of patriarchy as fundamental to the displacement of the partnership model of human relationships with a dominator model. Following the Civil War, when African American males got the vote; a massive wave of immigration brought darker-skinned, Catholic, and non-English speaking southern and eastern Europeans to the United States; and middle- and upper-class white women began exercising greater control over their fertility, nativists decried “race suicide,” abortion became an issue, and the Comstock Act regulating contraception and sexual information passed into law. Patricia Murphy Robinson writes, “Inside this reality woman’s strength as a sexual being is a constant threat. We have to face the biological fact that she is the sex that harbors and brings forth the very human beings the ruling class must have to create wealth.” In short, she has a necessary power which men cannot match.

That a “respect for society and those social traditions that, over time, have demonstrated that they exist for everyone’s benefit” now privileges Eisler’s dominator model over her partnership model; that those who most strongly advocate this view are the same people who prefer a fundamentalist view of religion, society, and family; and that those powerful people labeled conservatives form the ranks from which so many sexual scandals are drawn cannot and should not escape notice. Conservatives use sexuality not only as a release from their own repressed needs but to assert dominance. Sex thus becomes bullying.

In Rubin’s view, (stigmatized) transgressive sexual practices challenge patriarchy. I argue the contrary, that through the injuries, no matter how minor, of masochism and sadism; through bondage; and explicitly through dominance and submission, they perpetuate the conflation of sexuality and hierarchy that in Eisler’s view create an oppressive structure of human relationships so institutionalized that the vast majority of us cannot imagine life without it. Perhaps if we begin in our most intimate relationships, we can start to unravel this horrible hierarchy.

Adapt or Perish

When I write of “my former professor” at CSU East Bay, I am usually referring to the one I took more classes from, served as a teaching assistant for, and generally had more fun with than any other. Despite our friendship, we had our differences.

I think Professor Robert Terrell would agree that where I point to much of world history as evidence that a self-serving system of governance cannot reform itself, and in fact has no motivation to do so, he retains a faith not only that it can, but that it will. The irony is that he supplied much of the evidence that prompted my further investigations, evidence I’ve seen in class, but only recently found a fraction of on line, in his web site and blog.

He juxtaposes his optimism with observations of the increasingly ludicrous health care debate, the devastation of Detroit, and a dire need for new thinking about the problems our society faces. It is now a cliche to point to all the ways in which humanity displays a self-destructiveness that belies hope for the species’ future, including environmental, social, political, and economic catastrophe, ongoing wars, a persistent threat of nuclear war, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Humanity must, I and too many others to list have argued, evolve or it will surely perish. The gun nuts outside Obama speech venues, the “Town Hell” heckling that impedes meaningful debate, the willingness to lie in the service of a political agenda are a natural result of a profoundly dishonest political system in which segments of our society feel empowered only when they are able to distinguish themselves from the poor, only when they are repressing others, and only when they imagine an ability to compete for even greater advantages. These people cling to myths of U.S. exceptionalism, climate change denial, “trickle down” economics, updated Calvinism, capitalism as freedom, of social Darwinism as rationalizing a hierarchy that ranks gender, races, and any opportune differences in a “natural” and “moral” order. They are very scary people whose presence amongst us seems irreconcilable with progress, people who themselves feel threatened by any prospect of a more caring, gentle society.

I must here acknowledge borrowing much of my analysis from George Lakoff, particularly in Moral Politics, particularly since I am about to borrow much, much more. While Lakoff fails to challenge U.S. exceptionalism, I have found his analysis of “critical father” conservatives insightful. I have also suspected that many self-professed liberals would not identify with his description of “nurturant parent” liberals. But in the irony of a president who seeks to govern from the “center” yet polarizes the country even further than his predecessor, I cannot help but notice that Lakoff could point to his description of liberals in Obama’s determination to accommodate the opposition, even to the extent that the result may well be no progress at all, even at the risk that progress may be halted for yet another generation.

This accommodation threatens our survival as a species. It is wishful thinking to imagine an “economic recovery” with so many unemployed, with so many making so little money, and with so many more yet to join them. It is wishful thinking to imagine that a “cap and trade” system that transfers the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from countries that produce the most to countries which produce the least will impact global warming. It is wishful thinking that we can continue to spend ridiculous amounts of money on so-called defense while adequately providing for people at home. It is wishful thinking that capitalists will ever prioritize social and environmental responsibility over return on investment. It is wishful thinking to imagine that when a critical mass recognize the futility of their middle class pretensions that social unrest will not follow. These are delusions, signs of mental illness, signifying maladaption. We must evolve or we will surely perish.

I do not know how to heal the many and the powerful who resist change. But as one of the professors in my Ph.D. program, Bradford Keeney, points out, life is change. Stagnation is death. And at this moment, I feel we are much closer to death than we are to life.

Wolves in Sheeps’ Clothing

My former professor warns that if the health care battle is lost, progressive hope will be lost for a generation. Of course, it isn’t just the health care issue that brings us to this juncture, but the discrepancies between Obama’s positions in the campaign and in the presidency.

I know I have warned, and I believe that others have as well, that Democrats take the progressive vote for granted. Progressives, they reason, have no major “party” alternative. Just like right wing Christians have no major “party” alternative to the Republicans. There is a difference, of course, in that Republicans have done far more for evangelical Protestants than Democrats for progressives, with the Democrats in fact pandering to those same evangelical Protestants to try to win back the South.

Image: 2004 Electoral Map by county (Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman, University of Michigan)

I am looking for another similarity in that just as many evangelicals felt, even if they voted for John McCain in the 2008 election, that they could not vigorously support him, I think that progressives will find it extremely difficult to vigorously support Obama in 2012. Campaigns are not just about votes and money but also about the dedication of volunteers. In 2008, Obama drew upon progressive energy in a campaign premised on “hope” and on “change.” For a great many, he has delivered despair and more of the same. If we want Republicans, many progressives will say, we will vote for Republicans; we do not need wolves in sheeps’ clothing, nor do we need Republicans in Democrats’ clothing.

In the week I’ve been away

I’ve been away now, for nearly a week, on an intensive that precedes each semester of my Ph.D. program. And while the program has largely gone well, it has not been without difficulties. My roommate snores, which got me off to a poor start. The Internet connection here has been problematic. The hotel catering service has not even a beginner’s understanding of a vegan diet.

But I have been keeping up on the news. And what I’m noticing in this time is how obsessions mask each other.

Michael Jackson’s death has been ruled a homicide. This seems over the top to me; a grossly over-rated celebrity who marketed himself as sick was indeed sick, pandering to a very sick society. I am sure he shopped around for physicians who would do what he wanted. He probably supplemented what they did. This is not a case of homicide but of an addict, an addict who mirrors the addictions of society.

Consider, for instance, the obsessions of the “birthers,” who insist that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and the “deathers,” who carry guns outside the venue of an Obama speech because they are convinced that a pale imitation of health care reform will convene “death panels” to “pull the plug on grandma.” This diverts attention from the increasing probability that Obama will send yet more troops to Afghanistan, as if there was ever an instance in the history of humanity where additional imperial troops prevailed in an asymmetric conflict. It diverts attention from the multiple Israeli obsessions with–I’m not quite sure what order to list these–colonizing the West Bank, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Iran. It diverts attention from the ongoing abuses of Guantanamo. It diverts attention from increasing violence in Iraq. It diverts attention from an economic “recovery” that benefits investors while job losses continue. It diverts attention from a rising tension between Obama and progressives, now that the latter are finally realizing that the former has betrayed them, using their hope to propel him into the presidency (those who still sport Obama stickers on your bumpers should be deeply, deeply ashamed).

The focus on Michael Jackson and on mentally challenged evangelical Protestant gun nuts substitutes imagery for serious consideration of issues. A doctor will be put on trial but the perversion of our society will escape examination. Pundits will snicker about those disrupting town hall meetings while using these same people to cast doubt on the popularity of health care reform. The press will solemnly report on Obama’s dilemma as he decides to send troops to a war whose purpose is long forgotten. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is bellicose about expanding settlements and outposts in the West Bank while Fatah, a group that lost the last Palestinian election, dithers over negotiations and while no one questions how Hezbollah is a threat to Israel, while Gazans continue to languish under a brutal blockade, and while mere suspicion of an Iranian nuclear program obscures Israel’s own nuclear stockpile.

U.S. society may well deserve Michael Jackson, who pandered to its disease. But does the rest of the world?


Angry crowds evoking the imagery of lynch mobs surround politicians’ town hall meetings meant to discuss health care reform that isn’t reform advocated by a president who ran for office on a platform of change but who bailed out the rich while neglecting those who suffer most and leaving real economy to twist in the wind. An H1N1 pandemic that almost certainly originated on a factory swine farm threatens a renewal, people starve, global warming is accelerating, we still have ridiculously large stockpiles of nuclear weapons, the U.S. still spends ridiculous amounts of money on its military fighting wars that can’t be won and to disproportionately imprison African American males, while fascists (dressed as police) patrol the streets.

I’m thinking of a Tarot card: Death. While I think of cards often used in divination, death appears in many cultures as renewal. The old must make way for the new. And I’d like to think that things cannot get worse, that a new beginning is at hand. This is, I am sure, wishful thinking. It seems like every time I look, the state of humanity has reached new depths of despair.

The program I begin today, a Ph.D. program in Transformative Studies at California Institute for Integral Studies is, for me, a new beginning. I approach this program from the perspective that if humanity is to survive, it must evolve socially, psychologically, and spiritually.

A fundamental concept in this program is of emergent phenomena, outcomes that could not be forecast from their origins. The example classically used to explain this is of water, a clear liquid vital for life, that emerges from the combination of two gases, hydrogen and oxygen. This is a universe that beginning with the Big Bang, has sorted itself out into galaxies and solar systems, that nurtured life from the chaos of at least one coalescing planet. Emergent phenomena are not always good: There is room for doubt that we as a species are truly better off with all our technological advances than we were ten thousand years ago. The ingredients of our situation are abysmal. But the outcome is yet to be seen.

Anarchism against the masses

In Federalist No. 10, James Madison prefers the elite to run the country, arguing that their experience of high culture makes them wiser and that their wealth reduces their need to act in their own interests. He also clearly fears that, if given power, the masses would deprive the wealthy of their property. In this view, the cost of television advertising, for example, becomes a legitimate price of admission to high office.

Capitalists rationalize their wealth based on property rights; and money, being readily exchangeable for property, serves as a proxy for property. As Karl Marx pointed out, return on monetary investment is a higher value than return on labor investment; when times are tight, laid off workers still have bills to pay, but incorporation shields investors from bankruptcy.

In contrast, anarchists argue that wealth and culture do not translate into qualifications for high office, that only popular support can legitimate hierarchy. We would strenuously deny that control of resources is a legitimate source of authority. We invest great faith in people and we specifically deny that the wealthy are any less self-serving than ordinary folks. So how can we address scenes of gun-toting protesters (including one with an AR-15) outside the venue of an Obama speech?

Whatever one thinks of gun rights, such tactics are astonishing for their stupidity. They manifestly threaten a popular president around whom assassination rumors have swirled since his election last November. They contribute an aura of racism and threatened violence in recent political discourse. They escalate the fears of those who oppose gun rights.

Madison draws further support from polls showing very similar proportions of people who either believe or don’t know whether to believe hysterical claims that 1) health reform legislation will mandate “death panels” and 2) that Obama was born outside the United States. For fear of the alternative, then, we should trust those who are already powerful, both economically and politically.

Such logic obscures the failings of the present order, which has bailed out the rich and neglected the poor, with increasing visibility. It diminishes the crimes of the wealthy, which many sociologists believe outweigh those which the criminal so-called justice system focuses upon. And so the image of a pitchfork and torch bearing mob actually serves to reinforce a social order whose credibility has been challenged.

Accordingly, it also challenges anarchists. Already associated in the popular mind with violence and disorder, we appear naïve for our faith in those who have been blind in their patriotic support of the “war on terror” and every war that comes along at least until it is clear that “our” side is losing, those who preferred George W. Bush over John Kerry to drink a beer with, and those who are often portrayed as beer-guzzling couch potatoes watching football somehow abusing their dingbat wives. Bush blatantly exploited public resentment at this caricature when he derided academic elites for their stance on global warming; liberal denials on health care reform and about Obama’s birth certificate likely resound in this same way among the same people.

Republicans have long exploited working class resentment to persuade workers to vote against their own interests, to oppose affirmative action and immigration reform, even as capitalists exported their jobs. Democrats are weak to the point of worthlessness even as they control the presidency and both houses of Congress. Violence threatens not merely to replace one set of thugs with another, but to favor a rising fascist tide. And it is far from clear that anarchists can gain traction in offering an increasingly desperately needed alternative.

But the time for declaring a crisis of “democracy” is past. The time for satisfying ourselves amongst ourselves is past. It is time, at the top of our lungs, to ask what Republicans do for us and what Democrats do for us. And it is time to demand, at the top of our lungs, real answers to those questions.

What I know

As Descartes realized, I think, therefore I am. As Hume realized, beyond this, I know nothing.

For contrary to Kant and later Hegel, the existence of A does not imply the existence of not A. A is a symbol, representing a concept of an underlying reality which I do not know to exist. If the underlying reality of A is unknown, so too is the underlying reality of not A. Therefore, I do not know that anything besides me exists, regardless of my imaginings. Certainly I cannot know, as Kant and Descartes hoped, that the existence of me or my imperfection implies the existence of any deity or of any perfection.

That I have symbols, that I imagine does not mean that anything exists apart from me, for it may all be the construction of a greater me, temporarily lost in imagination. It may be that I am a masochist in a void, or in nothing else at all, projecting a hellish existence, so like someone suffering depression, I will feel pain that I may feel anything at all. I do not know. I cannot know.

I know that I perceive an often hellish world, an existence of all the cruelty I have witnessed and in some way experienced. I do not know whether or not this world, this hell in fact exists. I do not know that the people I perceive in it exist. But I know I want contact with some people I perceive and even if I have imagined up this world, I live in it, even if I can never be certain of its existence.

Post-modernists submit that if nothing beyond perception can be known, then the only proper field for investigation is within the self, that we can write not of things outside ourselves but only our experience of those things. But to deny the objective is to deny that which we all, assuming that more than one of us exist, have in common. We may not perceive the objective accurately. As Hume observed, there is no necessary correspondence between what we perceive and what is real at all. But to discount it entirely is to devalue any communication, or more cynically, to accumulate publication credits toward tenure at a university with the contents of my toilet.

If I am to communicate with you, I must assume that you exist and that we have in common some means for our communication. We must strive for that which we have in common, the objective which we may poorly or not at all perceive, even if we can never succeed. And so it is on this basis I proceed, not knowing the correspondence (if any) between my perception and reality, and by rejecting post-modernism for its denial of an objective that I must fervently wish to exist.

The Republicans are still in charge

It appears from several reports that the Obama administration is about to concede on a public option, a government-run alternative to private health care insurers.

The public option is what we were supposed to be satisfied with in lieu of a single-payer system. Now, we will get co-ops with government seed money. It is unclear why these co-ops will be any better than existing companies. Barack Obama simply wants an alternative to private insurers.

So, I’m trying to get all this straight. George W. Bush was able to get Democratic party support for his endless “war on terror,” abrogating civil liberties, implementing torture, funding for the war in Iraq. Even when voters elected Democrats to control of Congress in 2006 with an explicit mandate to get the country out of the Iraq war, they didn’t. Even when voters elected Barack Obama as president, with an explicit mandate for change, he has consistently acted to preserve the status quo, watering down or backing out of each and every campaign promise he has made, even those promises he made after it was clear he had won the Democratic Party nomination.

I’m not surprised. I’ve been saying all along that this is what would happen. And I’m not alone.

And now I’m trying to remember a single instance since Bush came to power in 2001 that Republicans have compromised to get Democratic faction support. It is hard. I remember some push back on the Patriot Act extension and I remember a bunch of symbolic votes, but in the end, Republicans for all intents and purposes have gotten their way. I cannot recall a single instance where in opposition, the Democrats have eviscerated legislation the way Republicans are eviscerating health care reform.

So even in opposition, all Republicans have to do is throw a tantrum. They don’t even have to argue from fact. They can just argue from whatever lies they choose. And they will get their way.

I’m thinking of what is probably a very inaccurate metaphor. But, what the hell, the Republicans are doing it, so why shouldn’t I? I’m thinking of George Lakoff’s descriptions of conservatives as “critical fathers” and of liberals as “nurturant parents.” And I’m thinking of the classic scene in the grocery store where some toddler is creating a scene and won’t shut up and of course opponents of corporal punishment will insist that parents should try to understand their screaming infant and try to accommodate it when what would really satisfy would be to smack that screaming rug rat into the next galaxy.

It happens my earliest memory is on the side of a road, being whipped by my father. I’m no fan of corporal punishment. But if the Democrats’ answer to Republicans every time on issues that matter is to placate and to appease, the “critical father” that is deeply embedded in my upbringing has an answer I like a lot better.

Dear Linus (cc: Bill)

Dear Linus,

A short while ago, you were quoted saying, “I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease.”

So I guess you haven’t been playing with Windows much. After all, why would you? You were the original developer of Linux, which is a perfectly good operating system. But I’ve been having to play with Windows. My mother relies upon it and she’s afraid (for good reason–I’m job hunting and would prefer to leave the country) I’ll move far away and no one will be near to help with Linux if we switch her over. So Windows it is.

In my first career, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a computer programmer. Not much of one, mind you. It was a misguided career choice. But I made a go of it for a few years before I burned out. So I have certain expectations of operating systems.

Except on rare occasions, Linux fulfills those expectations. (See, I’m not all that unreasonable.) Linux does things like copy files when I ask it to. That doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable request now, does it? But I guess it is.

Because my mother’s old computer was dying. You know, planned obsolescence and all. It was over three years old and the USB, with which she connects her printer, her mouse, her keyboard, and her camera was failing. The system ran Windows XP. I had tried the “reboot and reinstall” thing, sure that something evil was running around what was by now a pretty crufty installation. Only that didn’t fix it.

So, we saw an ad for Office Depot, went down and picked up a new Windows Vista system for her. She doesn’t need a lot of high end power so we got it pretty cheap. I’ve been playing around with Windows Vista on my old laptop. Yes, I’ve heard the hue and cry about Vista, but really, if you manage not to get two firewalls trying to run on the thing, it isn’t totally unusable.

When I had done the “reboot and reinstall” on her old system, I had painstaking copied her user account to my old laptop. It had Vista on it, and a larger disk, so I could set up a file share (and actually, I have one on my new laptop as well–thanks Samba). This was horrendous. It took me all night. Because, you see, Windows has an excuse. You can’t just copy an entire user directory because given the path name length restrictions that Windows designers imposed, the path names that Windows designers created in structuring user data are too long. And there are files it doesn’t want to copy because it thinks they’re in use. And you have to unhide directories (why you’d hide them in the first place is incomprehensible to me) and go through multiple levels of hierarchy to try and get all the files that have user data in them. It was painful. Did I mention I was up to nine the next morning trying to copy a whopping 1.25 gigabytes? No, not terabytes. Gigabytes.

So now I’m looking at going through this again. It turns out that yes, there is a way to copy a user account. It is a little weird and you have to reboot once (what is it with Windows and all this rebooting all the time, anyway?), but I did it. Got my mother’s new computer plugged in, copied everything back to an “old” folder because, you know, this is Windows and way too much is mysterious and I’m guessing it is a bad idea to assume Vista arranges things the same way as its predecessor.

Only Windows is special. You see, it doesn’t copy files. Path names are too long. Some files are in use. Some files it assumes you really don’t mean to copy. Like all of her old email messages. And by the way, the new Windows email program refuses to import the Outlook Express messages even from the backups I had from the “reboot and reinstall” episode.

Linus, I have to tell you, because apparently your new friend, Bill [Gates], doesn’t realize that copying files is fundamental. We even did it when I was a programmer. We even did it a lot. You might not remember magtapes; you’re a little young for that. (We had disks, too, that took an entire large room to hold what you can put on a thumb drive now.) But yeah, we copied files. Maybe you just take it for granted.

But Windows doesn’t copy files. And you think hating Microsoft is a form of mental illness.