Blog Credo

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.
- Abraham Lincoln

Monday, September 29, 2014

Steve King: Leader Of The Asshole Caucus

One of the tropes you see a lot in political reporting is that "So-and-So isn't stupid..." and then goes on to explain why this person does what are apparently stupid things.  A variation of this is the Newt Gingrich Effect, whereby a person gets a reputation as being intelligent, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The profile of Steve King quotes people who note that he's "not stupid" and by that they mean that the outrageous things he says are not impulsive, off the cuff statements, but rather a conscious political calculation to change the debate.

And change the debate he has.

But this "Steve King is smart" idea is confusing successful with smart.  The central fact of American politics right now is the narrowing of the GOP base.  Both generationally and racially, the GOP is losing its future, and as the country becomes less pale, the ensuing panic among whites - especially whites in relatively racially homogeneous areas (and the South which is a weird mix of segregation and coexistence) - has made people like Steve King popular.

The article notes that King was a college drop-out and entered construction, where he was also successful.  The idea of college has been the cultivation of the mind beyond the vocational.  The term "liberal arts" refers to the freedom of thought that should be engaged at the collegiate level.  (This is the theory, keg stands and frat basements notwithstanding.)

But it is in that lack of perspective, nuance and intellectual empathy that we see King's essentially blinkered and, yes, stupid side.

King routinely makes up his own numbers - either because he can't understand how to read them or because he doesn't care.  His position resonates well within the GOP base, but it has a negative effect on the GOP as a whole.  It makes Steve King important in a party that is going to struggle to win a national election absent a scandal.

King has succeeded in defining the immigration debate in his terms, but I think the Democrats are having some success in making King the face of GOP immigration policy.  (see "self-deport")

Steve King has been successful in promoting Steve King, but it's tough to see that as "smart".

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Between the Falcons and my kids' soccer teams, I went 0-3 as a fan today.

I guess the Barves won, but I've given up on them until they fire their idiot manager.

And now I'm in a terrible mood.

I think I need to give up sports.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Anyone Have A Spare $1,000,000?

We are thinking of getting a travel grant to travel to Britain.

So I bought a guide book.

I think we need to go there for three months.

Friday, September 26, 2014

If You Don't Eat Your Vegetables, ISIS Will Behead You

I hate ISIS and everything they stand for.

But they aren't a threat to the United States.  They aren't massing on the border.  They aren't planning to bomb the subway.

They are trying to carve out a Sunni state from Iraq and Syria that conforms to a barbaric, medieval form on Islam that is repulsive.

When will Americans wake up to the fact that the so-called "Daddy Party" is full of bed-wetting cowards?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Just A Few Bad Apples

Who is having a worse 2014?  The NFL or America's police?

Remember when that guy jumped the White House fence and managed to enter the building?  Remember how they corralled that guy without shooting him?

I guess maybe we should be training the police in this country not to treat everyone they meet like Tony Montana.

But this is certainly proof of the efficacy of dashboard cams and a strong argument for lapel cams, too.

I Find This Concerning

If he had called his boss a "liar" then I could see a suspension.

But how do you suspend an opinion writer for issuing opinions on his podcast?  And shouldn't ESPN - as putative sports journalists - be protecting their writers from any pressure from the NFL?

I can't imagine the NFL would be so stupid as to contact ESPN and tell them to silence Simmons.  Of course, the NFL has proven itself to be ham-handed and idiotic for a while now.

Instead, this is ABC/Disney/ESPN looking out for another powerful entity.  This is how the powerful ignore the voices from the street.

None of the Sunday morning shows dealt with the climate change protests that involved hundreds of thousands of people.  Much of the news just ignored it entirely, as they did the anti-war protests in March 2003.

It is time to understand that the Fourth Estate is looking more and more like the First.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Wire And ISIS

Interesting parallel.

But as the author notes, Marlo had to die.  There are some lines you don't cross and ISIS has crossed almost all those lines.

That doesn't mean that turning ISIS into a shell of itself will make Iraq and Syria functional.

It just means the psychopaths will be replaced with sociopaths.  And the latter are at least more predictable.

Full Of Awesome

Monday, September 22, 2014

This Could Save The Senate For The Democrats

It's fucking Louisiana.  By all means, belittle both LSU and drinking beer.

And pitch perfect response from Landrieu.

The Way I Was Raised

One of the interesting and hopefully illuminating aspects to come out of the Adrian Peterson saga has been to shine a light on the practice of corporal punishment.  One player (Calvin Johnson?) said that he would continue to discipline his child as he saw fit, and there was a story yesterday that Peterson simply doesn't get the degree of trouble that he's in.

The "I was whupped and I turned out fine" argument is a fascinating one, especially when applied to Peterson.  Because self-evidently, he did not turn out fine.  He turned into a man who left scars on his four year old child.  On the other hand, he's a millionaire and not in prison - which for a black kid from Texas and from limited means is a sort of accomplishment.

There have been several good stories - Vox and The New Republic are good examples - that catalog the overwhelming evidence that corporal punishment is not good for a child.  Among other things: it damages the trust between parent and child that is critical in their emotional development, it teaches the child that violence is a way to solve problems, it instills fear of repercussion rather than teaches good behavior and it instills a fear of authority.  The long term effects are higher incidents of depression, substance use and the tradition of violence that gets passed down from one generation to the next.

There is also the fact that very rarely is corporal punishment applied dispassionately.  I have two sons.  I have wanted to swat them countless times.  They do incredibly aggravating/dangerous/disrespectful/hurtful things on a daily basis.  Did I mention they were boys?  Luckily for me (and the boys) my wife is wiser and calmer than I and laid down a "no spanking" rule in our house.  Because every impulse I've had to spank my kids has come from MY anger and MY frame of mind.  If you discipline from a place of anger (a place most parents are all too familiar with) you will teach anger.  If you discipline from a place of rationality, you will teach thoughtfulness.

But there is a cultural issue at play here, too.  Last week, I was teaching my students about political culture and how tricky it is to tease out causation and correlation when it comes to culture, so let those caveats apply.  I don't know if there is a determinative effect here or whether this reflects the culture.  But look at the map of states that ban all forms of physical punishment in schools:

Does that map look familiar?

It's not perfect - you'd need to swap Colorado and Utah, and the northern plains states probably have some of that vestigial Germanic educational tradition - but that's a striking map.

It would be interesting to tease out the use of corporal punishment by parents between "red" states and "blue" states, but from what we know of corporal punishment we know that it does create a more fearful attitude towards authority.

In the outrage over Trayvon Martin, white America was introduced to the reality of "The Talk" that African American parents give their kids, especially their sons.  We've learned that the world is fraught for black boys, replete with dangers and pitfalls.  But what sort of multiplying effect does the reliance on corporal punishment have?  In an effort to protect their sons from a world that looks down on them and values them less are parents making things worse by adding the psychological damage of corporal punishment on top of the societal weight of racism?

And what is the cultural effect on overall violence?  The ten most violent states in the country in the 2006 census are South Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, Delaware (!), Maryland, New Mexico and Michgan.  The highest ranked New England state in Massachusetts at 20.  Most European nations - that outlaw all forms of corporal punishment including by the parents - see much, much lower rates of violent crime.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that spankings turn people into violent criminals.  Nor am I trying to "blame the victim" when it comes to racism.

But I do wonder if the culture of "I was raised this way" that leads to the use of violence over education to discipline a child is one of the contributing factors in America's bloody body count.

Cross posted at Booman Tribune

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Monkey Business

Matt Bai has written a book.  But you can save yourself some money and get the gist of it from the article.

Bai argues - somewhat persuasively - that Gary Hart's famous implosion in 1987 represents a sea change in American political reporting and therefore of American politics as a whole.  He traces the impulse to catch Hart in his infidelity back to Watergate.  It was Watergate, he argues, that made the personal morality of politicians a legitimate target of investigative reporting.

Journalists - wanting the fame and money of Woodward and Bernstein - became obsessed with sniffing out ANYTHING that might be scandalous.  Interestingly, Bai disproves the narrative that Hart challenged reporters to dig up dirt and that's why the Rice scandal broke.  The Miami Herald had the story before the "follow me" quote appeared.

So, the Hart story reaffirms two flaws that we tend to associate with the political journalism class.  First, their sense of their own moral importance and second, their reliance on post hoc narratives.  Bill Clinton committed a crime.  Al Gore sighed.  At one point, Bai points out a significant error on the lead reporter's own online biography, and it takes the guy a year to change it.  But, yeah, they are trustworthy and politicians are all dogs.

I had been a Hart fan in the '80s.  To me, he seemed a fresh voice in a party that was lost in the Reagan wilderness. Smart, gifted with foresight and ruggedly charismatic, Hart seemed a bracing change from the Hollywood Regency of the Reagan years.  Today, we'd likely decry him as a DLC DINO, but for that moment in time, what the Democratic Party needed was a response to Reagan.  When Hart went down in flames, we would have to wait another four years before we found that response.

Hart's fall happened at the same time as Iran Contra, and yet the difference in coverage is profound.  Hart's story was salacious, and the press could hold aloft Hart's scalp.  In Iran Contra, we had actual law breaking that we know could have been traced to Vice President and President.

But the complexity of Iran Contra proved impenetrable to both reporters and public alike.  Arguably, Iran Contra was a more serious constitutional breach than Watergate.  And yet the press became obsessed with biography and "scandal" at the expense of covering policy.  While they certainly covered Iran Contra, in the end, they allowed the Tower Commission's white-wash to stand as a definitive account.  In many ways, they gave the lame duck Reagan exactly the same break that they denied Clinton a decade later.

When Gary Hart went down in flames, we lost more than preventing the first Bush Administration - and Clarence Thomas - we lost the thread of political journalism.

The article ends with the poignancy of Hart reflecting that if he had beaten the elder Bush in 1988, there would have also been no second Bush Administration either.  No Iraq, no Abu Ghraib, no Michael Brown.

Perhaps, with the advent of the internet and the debacle of the Bush years, we are beginning to return to realizing that what a politician does is more important than who they fuck.  I doubt it, but change is often hard to observe when you're in the middle of it.

Our ideas are better.  But if we allow personality to become the metric on which people decide who their leaders are, we are disadvantaged by the ability of bullshit to trump meaning.

x-posted at Booman

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ray Rice And Roger Goodell

The fascinating thing that comes from reading this authoritative account of the Ray Rice saga is that Rice - of all people - comes off looking pretty good.

Rice has - throughout his career - been exactly what the NFL wants its players to be: great competitors and great citizens.  Rice was incredibly active in the community and with charitable organizations.

It also seems clear that - unlike say Michael Vick - this was not a pattern of behavior but a drunken incident that Rice regrets with gut wrenching sincerity.

Goodell, however, comes across as a mercenary, favorite-playing situational ethicist.

It has always been problematic that league commissioners tend to work for the owners.  Bud Selig WAS an owner.  But it's the lack of independence of the commissioner from the owners that creates the sort of conflicts of interest that leads to Goodell suspending players for having marijuana in their pee but slapping the owner of the Colts wrist for an actual DUI.

What seems apparent with all this bullshit talk of "getting it right" is that someone like Goodell is not temperamentally empathetic enough to see beyond his cloistered group of advisers and owners.  As the outrage built over Rice's relatively lenient suspension, Goodell acted - not out of moral urgency - but because the league's bottom line was threatened.

Ray Rice seems like a decent person who did an awful thing; Roger Goodell seems like an awful person who was forced to do something decent after he has exhausted all other possible options.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Well, That Was Anti-Climactic

So, we don't have to re-write the maps, and I don't have to toss the chapter in my Comp Gov textbook dealing with Great Britain.

I told my class that I thought late breakers would vote for union, simply because that would've been a huge disruptive change and people tend to get cold feet.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

American Ignorance

Yglesias seems to think asymmetrical federalism would be a terrible thing for the UK.

In fact, many countries practice asymmetrical federalism for exactly the same reason that the UK might offer that for Scotland: giving large but separate ethnic groups more autonomy for local matters.

But, yeah, it won't be American federalism.  So what?