Wednesday, November 30, 2011
So, I made my big speech yesterday. I got a ton of very positive feedback from teachers and some positive feedback from students.
Today, the issue of students using inappropriate language is in the news. Emma Sullivan tweeted that she told Kansas governor Sam Brownback that he sucks.
First, when I referred in my speech to the "S word", I was not referring to "suck". I was also referring to the gratuitous use of profanity, rather than any absolute ban. I remember my first year teaching. The Korean students were plumping their "Korean Day" by doing a brief presentation of some dance and martial arts. At which point, the "top boy" - a tall, lanky kid, very bright but spoke English poorly - put another kid on his shoulders. That kid held a board out in front of him. A third kid ran across the stage and kicked the board, snapping it right in front of the guy's face. He walked over to the microphone and said in a low, heavily accented voice, "That scared shit out of me."
Everyone died laughing. The Dean of Students turned red he was laughing so hard. In that space, with that speaker, it was just hilarious. It had a context that somehow made it acceptable. That certainly doesn't mean that any and all contexts are open to profanity.
What Ms. Sullivan did was political speech. She thinks her governor sucks. I don't live in Kansas, but I think Sam Brownback sucks, too.
Anyways, Ruth Marcus wrote a scolding piece in the WaPo about how Emma Sullivan is some sort of Visigoth and her mom is awful and... well, this is exactly what I was saying was NOT the right tact to take with profanity.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
So, the Iranians have invaded the sovereign territory of a western power, in this case the British Embassy.
Immediately, older bloggers - like Charlie Pierce - felt like it was 1979 again and warned the neo-cons that this is proof of the shallow roots of the Green movement. That the only thing Iranians hate more than their own government is foreign meddling.
I think that's only half true. Certainly, Iranians are very nationalistic and very suspicious of foreign intervention. This was true prior to '79 and it's only gotten "truer".
But today's actions were by a youth arm of the Basij - a sort of thuggish paramilitary group responsible for beating up the Green movement. It's tough to know if the Basij answer to Ahmadinejad or Khamenei, but they don't speak for the mass of Iranians. While the mass of Iranians may not love the British, they aren't interested in attacking their embassy.
Also, there are rumors that Khamenei is planning a constitutional change to a parliamentary system. This would immediately undercut the institutional power of the presidency. This may be because the next presidential election could become a powder keg. Better to do away with it. Much easier to gerrymander districts and over-represent various regime-friendly groups in the national assembly - the Majles - than transparently rig a national election. It would also undermine Ahmadinejad's political standing, as he is posing a threat to Khamenei.
So the question is: Who sent these kids to the British embassy? Was Khamenei trying to divert attention from his constitutional changes? Was Ahmadinejad trying to force a crisis? Or was this just the actions of a militant group of Basij against a country with a long history of being unpopular in Iran?
What's clear is that somehow, this will be a casus belli for the PNAC group and Obama will be at fault for not doing something that is objectively insane, like starting a land war in Asia.
Well, I don't.
Today I did my annual address to the school. I enjoy doing it, as a teacher. Last year I talked about Katrina.
This year I talked about profanity, including racial slurs. I used one. I did not get fired. I am relieved.
Here is the text:
First, let me apologize if this talk is a little rambling. At Rev G’s request, I threw this jeremiad together over break between second helpings of turkey and separating two brawling boys. I’m also going to take a huge risk later, and I’m really worried about it. So we all have my discomfort to enjoy.
So as a sort of last minute talk, I’m just going to mull over an idea that keeps forcing itself into my thoughts. It’s about the difference between public space and private space.
At first blush, this seems self-apparent. The difference between your dorm room and your classroom seems pretty obvious. You have some measure of privacy in your dorm room or your bedroom at home that obviously doesn’t exist, say, here in Bingham. The school reinforces this idea by requiring dress codes and prohibiting cell phones in the halls, effectively saying that we expect different conduct in different spaces.
Yet, this is inherently a difficult idea for adolescents, I think. It’s because you’re egocentric. Don’t take that the wrong way. You’re supposed to be egocentric. It was probably just a few years ago that you realized that you are the star of your own movie. You write the script, you perform, you weather the critics. This is part of how you differentiate yourself from your childhood self – that part of you clinging to your mother’s warm, dry hand or hiding behind the mass of your father’s legs. Your world revolves around you. Even most altruism is simply someone playing the role of altruist at first. Maybe it becomes that person’s true identity, maybe not. But as you define yourselves as human beings, your focus is naturally on yourselves.
Which can sometimes blind you to the fact that you share the planet with other people.
The best example of this inability to recognize the difference between public and private space is profanity. I don’t have a problem with profanity, per se. I use it; I don’t blush when I hear it. But – especially when I added two impressionable young children to my life – I had to come to the realization that my words – once they leave my mouth – belong to everyone who hears them.
Similarly, when you speak in class, for instance, your words belong to the class discussion. The formulation of ideas that you put into words is now part of the shared experience of the class. I think we understand that. The idea of the commons.
But when you walk down the hall and drop an “F-bomb” and the top of your voice that’s also a public space. Again, I’m not a squeamish prude, but I have come to realize that public spaces belong to all of us. That includes the person who doesn’t want to hear your creative use of compound profanities. This isn’t about political correctness – although I’ll touch on that in a minute – but rather about simply sharing the common space of our community with dignity and class.
Some expletives are unplanned, like the inevitable stubbing of toes, the misplaced hammer blow, the sudden reception of shocking news. But that’s not what one hears in the halls around here. Instead, it’s just a reflexive use of profanity, because that’s what you hear and use in your private space and it bleeds over into the commons.
Take two examples of how pervasive profanity has become in the last 15 years or so. George Carlin had a classic routine about the Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on television. Now humor and profanity are both transgressive. They get their kick from the fact you’re not supposed to say that or do that, and in saying a curse word or performing a practical joke, you violate some small rule and that’s what gives life its spice, its frisson. But overuse that license and you destroy the tension that goes into using profanity or making risqué jokes.
Three of Carlin’s seven worlds are ubiquitous on basic cable after 10pm every night of the week. One, let’s call it the “S word” was the topic of a South Park episode a few years ago. They even had a little counter at the bottom of the screen where every time Cartman said it, it rolled over to a new number. I think they hit 200 in a 30 minute episode. The South Park guys were making fun of our squeamishness over profanity, but they also demonstrated that once you overuse a word, it ceases to have any power, subversive or otherwise. Put another way, what started out as subversive and creative became overkill and boring.
It’s not just out and out profanity either. I’m going to go ahead and use these next two words as is, no euphemisms, and I apologize to any and all who take offense. This is the part where I get very uncomfortable. I want to talk about “bitch” and “nigger”. There was a school of thought that blacks and women could use those words in such a way as to remove the sting from them. It was a form of co-optation that allowed them to use a word that for centuries was a verbal form of oppression and abuse and strip it of its ability to gut punch someone. I remember living in LA in the early ‘90s and a friend walking me through an NWA song. The use of both profanity and racist words had a point. It was an expression of political rage. It was searing.
Later on, Meredith Brooks had a hit single called Bitch. It is now almost impossible to find an entire rap album without someone using the N-word. But I would argue that the theory of using a word to strip it of its power ultimately doesn’t work. Instead, it has simply allowed license for people to use that word. I know what NWA was trying to do, but 20 years later, I don’t think it has worked. A lot of time and energy went into making “N-word” the “N-word”, into making it something that was simply not OK to use under any circumstances.
Hopefully, a middle aged white guy saying it makes you uncomfortable, but when I am in the weight room and the music constantly drops the N word and the F word, that’s a violation of public space. As a history teacher, I don’t want my country to be a country where it’s OK to call someone that word. Too much blood was spilled in order to end the idea that some people can label other people. And if I hear it, I will turn it off. Because it’s not just a word, it’s a word that was used for centuries to say that some people were better than others. And this obviously goes for any other slur. To be clear, as far as I know, Taft students don’t go around calling each other the N-word. But I’ve heard you call each other “gay”. It’s the same thing. But even if we don’t use the words ourselves, if we blast music – out of our dorm window or during warm-ups before practice – that uses slurs – whether sexist, racist or what have you – we are tacitly endorsing their use.
I know that you’re the star of your own movie, but your movie overlaps with everyone else’s movie, too, and there needs to be some basic level of agreement on what theaters show PG and what theaters show R rated movies. To use another metaphor, if we see someone throwing their garbage out the car window, we understand that they have polluted the common space we all live in. And while the occasional candy wrapper or stray receipt may fall out of your pocket, don’t make a habit of throwing your entire happy meal on the sidewalk.
This isn’t about thought police, it’s about courtesy. We live cheek by jowl here at Taft. Most of you will decide to share your life with someone else, share a home with a family. Get used to the idea that being part of a community means putting just enough filter on your words so that you don’t make others uncomfortable, and that includes nattering old farts like me, apparently.
Finally, there is another area where the interplay between public and private is very tricky. And that’s the virtual world. So much of our life happens on line, and we haven’t yet come up with etiquette for that world.
Some of you know I have a blog. The only people who read it regularly are my mom and a few of her friends. Sometimes, I am moved to use profanity, because sometimes profanity is called for. It’s my blog, after all, and if I want to curse, I can. Except, my audience apparently consists of not a few 70 year old matrons in the greater Atlanta area, Deirdre Shea and Angel Pan, so I have to tone it down just a bit. In the end, I have to write as though I was sitting in front of my mom, which means when the s hits the fan it does not do so gratuitously. And maybe gratuitously is the important filter and finding out what that filter is, well, that’s worth consciously thinking about.
Similarly, social media puts you guys in almost constant contact with each other. But think about the physical dynamic of being on line. You are usually isolated somehow. You are interacting with a screen, not another person. You lose that filter that naturally occurs when you are next to someone. I’ve been part of an internet chat group for over 12 years. It’s a group of people who started out talking about Braves baseball in an ESPN chat room in the early days of the internet, back in the dial-up era. Now we have our own website and some of us post daily. I know a little bit about most of them, some of them have met up at games and met as real people. We have running inside jokes that stretch back almost a decade.
This summer, we let a whole bunch of new people into the site. Many of them your age, refugees from some new rules at ESPN’s chat board. Immediately, flame wars and personal invective started flying. The rules and norms that the old timers (and the old timers are not all that old, many are in their 20s) had put into place were overwhelmed by the internet culture of casual cruelty. It took a month before we had straightened out, and we straightened it out, because we all wanted to continue talking about baseball, not calling each other names.
But for most of the internet, there is no referee. And without the buffer of looking another human being in the eye when you insult them, much of the internet can be caustic and unpleasant. Not because everyone there is caustic and unpleasant, but because there are usually a few people who would take the commons of the internet and turn it into a swamp. Rather than share a public space with everyone, they insist on colonizing it into their own personal space and filling it with their own unpleasant baggage.
But remember this, too, the internet never forgets. If you think you can infect some public corner of the internet with your private bilge, remember that it’s always out there. Increasingly, companies are checking people’s online personae as part of their hiring process. Emails are not as private as you think. The promise of the internet is that it is a commons, a public space, for a new century. The peril is that before it can become the commons, it will sink to the lowest common denominator. It will be about insult and profanity and not respecting the common rights of all to use it.
There are endless examples of this inability to differentiate between public and private spaces. People on their cellphones loudly talking about their colonoscopies. Dude, I do not need to hear that. I’m glad the polyp was benign, but c’mon!
The point is not to censor everything you say or think. Political correctness simply for the sake of political correctness is both censorship and a power play.
I would just challenge you to recognize that your life plays out in public. Not all of it, thankfully, but a lot of your life is there for the world to see, whether it is what comes out of your mouth or your stereo speakers or by the deeds you do. And in seeing you, the world will judge you. Not because you make Miss Manner’s retreat to her fainting couch, but because ultimately you will be judged by the consideration you show others.
Herman Cain's third grade homework.
Three things happened that bode poorly for Willard Romney.
First, the DNC launched an attack on Romney for his constantly shifting positions on the issues. This is important because except for some fumbling stabs at this by Perry and Pawlenty, GOP candidates have not really gone after Romney for being "Multiple Choice Mitt". Part of this is an effort by the DNC to prepare the ground for a run against Mitt, but it's also a way of getting the opponent they prefer.
Second, Herman Cain? Can you please return your campaign to the help desk? Your hard drive is apparently corrupted. Any collapse in Cain support should accrue to Newt's advantage.
Third, Gingrich seems to finally get that he has a chance at this thing. Rather than just doing book signings, he's actually opening campaign offices and getting a ground game going. Given how much the Tea Party types have stood on the sidelines, he may be able to overcome his late start if they rally behind him.
Right now, I have the odds at nomination of Romney 50%, Gingrich 45%, the field 5%.
The more Romney no longer looks inevitable, the faster he could sink.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Enjoy your milk, Barney.
Barney Frank is retiring. Why do we love Barney? Because of things like this.
Frank could be as funny and caustic as a politician was allowed to be. He is blindingly smart and lightning quick. I know he said he wants to write, but he has a mind made for television for the quick give and take.
He and Rachel Maddow would be the perfect GLAAD tag team for MSNBC.
So, Leroy went out and got himself an endorsement. Normally, newspaper endorsements are about as valuable as Joe the Plumber's, but there is a general feeling this might be more. Everyone is no doubt watching to see if Leroy eventually becomes the Final, Preferred, Approved NotRomney.
There are rumors of social conservatives in Iowa trying to rally behind a single NotRomney and now we have this. With the Flavor of the Month Crowd (Bachmann, Perry, Cain) you had a lot of "dating" going on. They got some small online donors. Perry brought his Texas moneymen with him. But the big institutional GOP machinery has remained largely aloof from all this. It's unusual. I know Rove is moving behind the scenes to shore up Romney, but the rest of them have largely stayed hidden from the limelight.
The holidays are upon us. People are not paying much attention to politics. The usual ebb and flow (at least in this electoral cycle) might not hold after, say, the 20th. If Newt is still viable by then, I think he stands a decent chance of winning Iowa. Win Iowa, take second in New Hampshire and he can hope South Carolina and Florida will give him the needed momentum to sweep up all the NonRomney votes.
It's plausible. Believe it or not, it's plausible.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
So, made it home just in time. Let's see what the "midseason finale" is all about.
Well, we've got all sorts of tension in the opening few seconds. And Glenn goes and drops a nice big one on the group. And then we get a Gollum eye for good effect.
Shane is near the breaking point. He's gone full metal gonzo. That's certainly interesting.
Glenn cost himself his nice hottie girlfriend.
Carl is turning into a pint sized man.
Is this sexual tension between Carol and Daryl or something different? If so... Odd.
Great scene between Dale and Andrea. All of their scenes are good. Complex, subtle. I worry that Dale's good impulses are going to get him in a boatload of trouble.
"It changes you. Either into one of Them or into something less than you once were." That's pretty much this season in a nutshell.
Ah, what will this little nugget of info do to Shane? Will being a secret papa change the way he looks at things?
Herschel is going to come face to face with an angry daughter. And a smart one.
"Rick ain't built for this world." I guess that's the big question. Is he or isn't he?
Careful Lori. Shane's crazy.
Carl's awesome. But what has Shane in mind for him? Seriously, Shane is starting to get creepy. Not sure that's the best way to go, unless we're going to get some resolution soon.
So, Herschel's decision to not off the Walkers is "about him" not about them.
Hey, Herschel? Just because a Walker follows you home doesn't mean you can keep him.
Yay, Glenn. You win.
They keep reinforcing the idea that the Walkers reveal who you are.
Crap. The series resumes in February. Same as Justified. Better get my work done in January.
Wow, they went full Peckinpah there at the end. I guess that solves the problem of the barn.
Oh. Damn. Oh. Damn.
And of course, it's up to Rick to end it.
Wow. Just wow. What an ending. Not a cliff hanger but a sad, mournful moment that brings the whole season to a close. Of course, the question is still open. What sort of man will you be when the world goes to hell? Herschel? Rick? Shane? Dale? Glenn?
And we have to wait until February? Damnit!
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Read this and tell me aren't doomed as a culture:
Obama "forgets" to thank God in his Thanksgiving speech. He says "God bless" at the end, but he did insufficient obeisance to the almighty sky father, so people are having themselves a freak out.
I don't mind some benign religious references in the public sphere, but not all Americans are Christian or even religious, and Obama is their president, too.
What's more, if you believe that God specifically blesses and curses us in turn, then the Big Guy has some explaining to do.
Maybe if the god-botherers paid more attention to injunction to be our brother's keeper and less to the whole groveling before the altar, we might have more to be thankful for in the first place.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Can we give Texas back to Mexico?
Frank Rich is still writing. He's at New York magazine, along with Jon Chait, apparently in an effort to turn that mag into something worth reading.
He wrote a piece recently about the JFK assassination. Obviously, we are two years from the 50th anniversary of that event and Stephen King has written one of his massive books about it. In this case, it's about a Maine schoolteacher (natch) who travels back in time to prevent the assassination and about the toxic atmosphere in Dallas that undoubtedly contributed to Oswald's decision to write his name into history with blood.
Rich's angle is to compare the vitriol of 1963 with the vitriol of 2011; to compare the glamorous Kennedy to the glamorous Obama.
The funny thing is how neatly this matches up with Chait's piece about how liberals can't stand their presidents when they are in office.
JFK was not a great president when we examine his record fairly. The Cuban Missile Crisis is probably his finest moment and that was really a series of blunders in Havana, Washington and Moscow that was only prevented because no one was really that in to ending the world. In other words, Kennedy's finest moment was in not bringing about a nuclear apocalypse. I should note that this distinction applies to every post-1945 president, too.
Kennedy was able to accomplish almost nothing in Congress. It wasn't until his death that Lyndon Johnson was able to use national grief and his legendary "Johnson Treatment" to strong arm legislation through the recalcitrant Southern Democrats who de facto controlled the Senate. So while JFK set the agenda, LBJ delivered the goods. It was Johnson who passed civil and voting rights, passed the tax cuts, passed the Great Society - not Kennedy.
And Rich, as a boomer, admits to being blinded by the Kennedy mystique, the glamor - he even calls it erotic. It is precisely this mystique, this fascination with the appearance of things, that taints our political attitudes.
By any reasonable historical standard, Obama has been one of our most successful legislative Presidents. He doesn't rank with Wilson, FDR or Johnson, but rather he comes into the second tier with Reagan. And presumably he's less than half way through his presidency. If he gets a Democratic House and some basic reform of Senate rules, he could conceivably get some movement on deficit reduction and some sort of climate change legislation.
But while it is safe to lionize, even fetishize, the long dead Kennedy, Obama comes in for slings and arrows from Left and Right. He gets heckled by OWS in a speech. He gets yelled at by moronic South Carolina legislators. He is called both a devout Muslim and a Communist in the same breath. It reminds me of the Onion headline shortly after his election "Black Man Given America's Worst Job."
The good news is that 15 year from now, when liberals are kvetching about what a terrible disappointment Elizabeth Warren is as President, they will all say how much better Obama was.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I have a pretty dark sense of humor. I have a light one, too, but I can laugh at some dark crap. I mean, what's the other option?
But I was disturbed yesterday listening to NPR joke about the new internet meme or craze or whatever of putting the UC Davis pepper spray officer in all sorts of iconic art and images. The hosts were chuckling along as they mentioned that he has been put into Guernica. Hilarious! Because what is funnier than putting a police officer who attacked peaceful protestors into one of the seminal anti-war paintings of all time!
I expect Jon Stewart to make fun of this guy. After all, no one was killed. I do not want the news doing it. First of all, you're NPR; stop trying to be hip. Secondly, there are three aspects to this story about the police crackdown that are important.
First, the crackdown is important in and of itself. Why now? Winter's coming. Why do we need to oust the protestors now? Why is not OK for people to protest wealth inequality and the lack of prosecution of financial crimes?
Second, when did our peace officers turn into riot-clad storm troopers? In what possible universe does the UC Davis police need to dress like they are taking on the Baader-Meinhof Gang? I realize that we were all freaked out over crime in the '90s and some conservatives are freaked out about crime now (even though crimes rates continue to drop in the midst of an employment depression). But it seems pretty clear from events from Oakland to New York that we've ceded too much latitude to the police to bully the populace.
Third, the untold story, the one I bet you simply will not see on the CBS Evening News, much less Fox and Friends, is the incredible discipline of the protestors. Middle aged, plump pundits - secure in their six figure incomes and book deals at Regnery - will tsk tsk all the day long about how today's youth just don't measure up. Whether you're reading Tom Brokaw's Daddy-worship about the World War II generation or David Brooks latest pompous ramblings about how everything went to shit once we stopped lynching coloreds and fastening scarlet letters on women who had sex, the theme is always, "It was better back then, and these kids today are terrible because we score below Finland in second grade math proficiency."
Well, let me tell you something about today's 20 somethings, Tom and David. They fought a war, a war much longer than World War II. True, they didn't storm Omaha Beach, but they patrolled the streets of Haditha and drove down roads where every pile of trash by the roadside might explode and maim them. They proved their mettle. And every single young person who is patrolling the Korengal Valley volunteered to do it. You can't even say that about the heroes of Bastogne and Iwo Jima.
And now that they have come home from some seriously messed up wars, they want jobs. They want a future. But the financial crimes of the past few years have diminished everyone's future, or at least everyone who isn't in the 1%. For those that didn't serve, they were told that the way to get ahead was to go to college, so they worked hard, went to college and now can't find work, despite having crushing mountains of debt.
There's your story, NPR. Not some snarky piece about the UC Davis cop spraying Edvard Munch's "The Scream". The story is that we are systematically robbing our young people of their future.
And they are standing up for their future with a discipline and a resolve that would impress King and Gandhi. It really would.
I don't know if the blindness comes from class or from age differences, but the story of the year is not the stupid Super Congress or the Debt Ceiling. It's about young people from Tahir Square to Zuccotti Park standing up for a future that they can believe in.
This is funny:
Monday, November 21, 2011
I said something similar last winter, but Chait says it... longer.
I said something similar last winter, but Chait says it... longer.
Republican game of "Ring Around The Budget"
Jon Chait makes a case so transparently obvious that it really shouldn't have to be made.
In this piece, he notes that the GOP simply does not care about deficits. There is not a scintilla of evidence that they care about the difference between government revenue and government spending.
They care - exclusively - about lowering taxes and ending government programs. To the degree they care about deficits it is entirely about ending social spending. It has nothing to do with reducing deficits. Look at Ryan's budget. Any reduction in spending is offset by lowering taxes on the rich.
THERE LITERALLY SHOULD BE NO DEBATE ON THIS ISSUE.
Yet, as Chait notes, the media cannot bring themselves to describe the entirely obvious dynamic in Washington.
In fact, I just heard the same "blame both sides" on "even the liberal" NPR (right after a mocking piece about the Internet art that has been created over the UC Davis police assault).
It is no surprise that we can't understand the basic political dynamics in this country when we are being told what's happening by people who won't tell us what's happening.
TBogg takes the insane screechings of Pam Geller and pulls a neat O Henry-esque finish.
TBogg takes the insane screechings of Pam Geller and pulls a neat O Henry-esque finish.
Super Congress goes back to sleep.
To the surprise of exactly no one, the institutional kicking of the can down the road known as the Superduper Justice League of Congress has failed to agree on things because the GOP cannot agree with the Democrats on anything, even when the Democrats move more than halfway towards the GOP on every single damned issue.
As many Reality Based journalists have pointed out, if the Congress does absolutely nothing for the next 14 months, much of our budgetary issues will go away when the Bush Tax Cuts expire. Of course, the GOP will no doubt burn down the Capitol building and shoot a bunch of schoolchildren before they let that happen, but in theory at least, it's a good idea to bet on gridlock.
Chait has a pretty good take on the Super Congress here. He makes the point that it did exactly what it was supposed to do.
From Charlie Pierce:
Kerry and the other Democratic suckers failed to realize that Republican intransigence appeals to an actual viable political constituency, while Democratic flexibility appeals to about 42 op-ed columnists and three guys with mailing lists.
Read more: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/super-committee-failure-6593851#ixzz1eN5sxO7w
Here's Krugman on his Sunday Chat Show Purgatory:
“The Republican base does not want Romney and they keep on looking for an alternative. And Newt, although — somebody said, ‘He’s a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.’ But he is more plausible than the other guys they’ve been pushing up.”
I'm not sure I've ever heard a better description of Gingrich.
Gingrich does have one attribute usually attributed to intelligent people. He can hold contradictory ideas in his mind at the same time. I grant him that. This is why he's considered an "idea man" in the GOP. He can understand Cap and Trade and the arguments against it. In today's GOP that makes him some mutant combo of Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
But what's striking about Newt is the absence of the sort of filter that allows him to consider the differences between Cap and Trade and the alternatives and then actually arrive at a smart, considered answer. Crap just spills out of Newt's mouth. He's gotten better and more disciplined over the course of the campaign, but so has Michelle Bachmann - and that lady's crazy!
You see this sort of thinking in smart teenagers. (Or you do, if - like me - you spend far too much time in their company.) They are endlessly fascinated by new ideas and new paradigms, like kittens with a ball of twine. This, by the way, is why I consider it a form of child abuse to allow a teenager to read Ayn Rand. Rand's ideas are so out there, so transgressive that they immediately captivate the teenage fascination with "the New". **
Developmentally, this process of fascination, followed by disenchantment, followed by a new object of fascination is really important. It allows teenagers to explore and understand ideas, rather than memorize facts.
The problem - as I see it - is that the GOP "Idea Guys" have either never outgrown their fascination with transgressive ideas like Rand's (see Ryan, Paul; Greenspan, Alan; Paul, Ron) or they haven't outgrown the kitten with a ball of string way of looking at the world (see Gingrich, Newt).
So compared to the monolithic way that Conservatives like Dubya Bush, Grover Norquist and Every Damned Social Conservative In The Country see the world, the Teenage Thinkers of the GOP seem pretty smart. In much the same way a stupid high school senior seems pretty much a genius when visiting first grade.
And then there's Mitt Romney. In private, he probably thinks the things coming out of his own mouth are nuts, but he's running for office for Pete's sake. Outside of Huntsman, he's probably the smartest guy in the GOP field, but he's also the least sincere. Gingrich has the advantage - as teenagers do - of believing every single brain fart that escapes his mouth.
Romney knows he's pandering.
At least Huntsman's soul has remained intact. He may not crack 3%, but he's got that.
** This requires relating the best quote ever about Rand: There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
A lot of really good stuff has been written about what happened at UC Davis.
I offer the following links. They are important to read, because ultimately this is about more than protestors.
I realize they are all from the Atlantic, but they are all good analysis.
OK, Herschel has a barn full of Walkers. Daryl and Shane are on the verge of cracking up violently. Lori's preggers. Let's see what happens tonight.
In the novels, Carl goes dark about this time. I'm guessing he will in the series, too.
So... we're feeding the Barn Walkers chickens? If memory serves, Herschel's people have kin in the barn. Kin who love free range chickens, I guess.
I love that Glenn has to be the keeper of all the lies, and that he's surrounded by cops.
The kid who plays Carl is a pretty good actor.
Nice scene between Dale and Herschel. Too good, veteran character actors playing subtle where others would have gone big.
I would imagine that the sort of scene between Shane and Andrea would happen a lot between people thrown together.
Wow, tough scene with Lori.
WTF is Jimmy Buffet doing on Hawaii Five-0?
Nice, Glenn. The IKEA kill followed by some Gurkha coup de grace.
Ouch, abortion pills.
Glenn. Playa. But will Maggie turn him into something else?
Nice corpse shot. Got our gross-out moment of the day.
Well, that's learning by doing...
OK, how is this going to end? A lot of secrets bouncing around.
Glenn, again, being the man.
Andrea, apparently, being the woman.
Lori, admittedly, being a bit nuts.
Dale, obviously, being jealous. (And perceptive.)
Dale clearly overplayed his hand there. But then, I think Shane may have, too.
And we have the inevitable awkward discovery by Rick. This should test his saintliness.
How do you rebuild the world when there's no hope? Do you even try?
Wow. At some point, Rick is going to explode. That's going to be some explosion. You can only carry around so much weight. He's carrying tons.
Great episode, but it needed more Daryl.
Wait... Midseason finale? What the hell does THAT mean?
Ok, maybe that's a bit much.
I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'
If Jesus returned to earth, he be getting pepper sprayed at an OWS rally.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
A remarkable moment at UC Davis.
Police pepper spray a bunch of kids in the face, which is increasingly a common occurrence. I have to agree - looking at the videos that are flying around - that we have militarized our police forces. Look at the guys in this video. Amped up, armed to the teeth, body armor... to deal with a bunch of college kids?
This is made even more glaring by how the students respond. Watch the first three minutes or so, then jump to about minute six. (In between is a lot of chanting "Shame on you!") The students basically invite the police to take a moment, think about what they are doing and leave.
A friend of mine sent me a You Tube video slamming the OWS as a bunch of hypocrites and moochers. I agree that in some ways they are easy targets. They have beards!
But to actually watch that video, I think it's pretty clear who the mature, measured people are in that video and it's not the police. I couldn't have maintained my composure in circumstances like that. They did.
There is a multi-million dollar effort by lobbyists and PR groups to destroy the support OWS has with the American people. It should come as no surprise that people agree with OWS on the issues but dislike OWS in particular.
That's the way American politics has been done since Nixon.
But notice, too, in the video how many people have cameras. In their phones, in their tablets.
It's tough to warp the truth if you no longer control the filter.
Rick Santorum is in Iowa. Apparently he's running for President. Who knew?
Anyways, he says that the appropriate response to the "New Normal" is that we should all embrace suffering as Christians.
Christ suffered for our sins, so that humanity may be redeemed, or at least that's the company line. He did not suggest that we suffer so that Goldman Sachs executives can get multi-million dollar bonuses and pay capital gains rates on them. In fact, Jesus we pretty much the first hippie. #Occupy Jerusalem.
This to me is an echo of the way slave holding Southerners used a twisted version of Christianity to keep slaves in their place. Only now, it's economic serfdom that Santorum offers us. But don't worry, it will all pay off in the hereafter.
The even better news, is that if Jesus was telling the truth about rich men and the eye of a needle, we won't have a bunch of rich assholes there mucking the place up.
Friday, November 18, 2011
I guess it started for me with James Fallows looking at whether Mormonism was a disqualifying belief system for the Presidency. He started from the basic liberal supposition that denying the rights of Mormons to be President was a "religious test" banned under the Constitution.
What amazed him was both the vitriolic responses and - perhaps as surprising - the calm, level-headed denunciations of Mormonism. The responses seemed to come in three forms. First, I would never vote for Romney because he has no core values, not because he's a Mormon. Second, I think we can calmly look at someone's religious beliefs and use that to evaluate their judgment and their moral compass, and Mormonism does seem rather strange. Third, Mormons are dangerous cultists who should be allowed nowhere near the levers of power.
Now, this is entirely anecdotal from a self-selected group of people who read The Atlantic online. But it has been burbling up elsewhere on the Internet. Yesterday a poll came out showing a solid plurality of GOP voters think that Newt is more trustworthy to have the nuclear codes. "Newt" and "most trustworthy" usually don't appear together without a "not" in between them. But if you look at the Krazy Kandidates (Bachmann, Santorum) or the Klueless Kandidates (Cain, Perry) it really comes down to Paul, Gingrich and Romney. Paul is marginal to everyone who doesn't love him. And Romney is a Mormon. And I think that matters to GOP voters.
Romney's a phony. He just oozes falseness. I mean, he's running for office for Pete's sake. But Cain and Gingrich are both carnival barkers, grifters and self-promoters and the GOP still prefers them by almost a 2-1 combined margin over Romney. It can't be Romney's phoniness alone that is keeping him pegged in the 20-25% range.
I confess to not knowing a ton about Mormon beliefs. I know they can't drink coffee, much less beer, and they make going to Utah a pain, because it's tough to have an entire state BYOB.
So let's take a travel with Wikipedia through the Mormon catechism and see what we find.
First, all religions are silly if taken literally. Hindus have a god for everything. They probably have gods for dirty laundry and finding a babysitter on a Saturday night. Catholic veneration of the saints is not that far behind, a sort of closet polytheism. Take a look at Mohammed's night journey and see if that makes any sense to you. Revelation seems pretty clearly to be the product of a schizophrenic episode. And take a few moments to REALLY read Genesis and tell me if you can believe every word of it.
Centuries of tradition have given these faiths a patina of respectability. Mormonism is one of the few new post-Enlightenment religions and therefore struggles to justify its mythology empirically - something other faiths never had to do.
The early history of Mormonism, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam is one of persecution and ridicule. It involved a charismatic leader preaching during a time of great spiritual ferment, with an underlying nationalist message. In other words, just like Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Mormons believe that the Christian church went astray in the years after Jesus' death. I don't think this is a reflection on gnosticism or the Arian heresies or the Nicene Movement, but who knows. Anyway, they think their version of Christianity is the truest.
Mormons believe that everyone is effectively immortal and comes to earth in physical form to experience sin and death. In the process, they must come to choose good over evil. There are a bunch of sacraments and rules and laws ("ordinances") that Mormons are expected to follow, including baptism and some form of the Eucharist. The doctrinal differences from other Christians doesn't seem all that more divergent than, say, those between Calvinism from Catholicism.
Some of the more "cult-like" observances of Mormonism include banning non-LDS members from the Temple, even for the marriage of a child or sibling who is Mormon. The secrecy of the Temple has created that blank space into which imagine may run freely. The "endowment" ceremony seems to have been lifted from Masons, and much of LDS theology is borrowed from elsewhere. The Mormon church is pretty hard on people it considers apostates. There are ideas within Mormonism related to sexuality, marriage and gender that are... odd.
So far, not seeing anything apocalyptic. To this point, LDS just seems like a peculiar variant of Christianity. No more peculiar to these Episcopalian eyes than anything Michelle Bachmann believes.
The Mormon cosmology is kind of weird though. They believe in a planet or star called Kolob, which is kind of like God's home planet. There are bunch of other inhabited worlds, which is not surprising from a religion that came after Galileo. You also have a sort of undergarment, referred to as "Mormon magical underwear" by critics. On the one hand, it's a physical manifestation of divine covenant like a yarmulke or the ritual washing before entering a mosque. On the other, it's somehow supposed to protect you from sin. Cotton: The Fabric of Your Afterlife.
Also, covenanted members of the Church have some sort of paradise allegedly waiting for them, which might make Mormons somewhat more willing to accept the apocalypse.
Looking at Mormonism, it appears to me to be a mish-mash of Christian beliefs, Masonic rituals with some Old Testament stuff thrown in and a dash of weird 19th century science fiction. In fact, Mormonism did inspire some elements of Battlestar Galactica (the Lord of Kobol).
So, for me... For me, Mormonism is just an odd variant of Christianity. It doesn't seem cultlike, although it does have some odd secrecy issues. It feels like a 19th century attempt to enliven some old Christian dogmas. There's some Milton in there and some Galileo/Copernicus. There's some Masonic hocus-pocus.
But it really isn't any more dire than some forms of fundamentalist Christianity. Yes, Mormons tend to be anti-gay bigots and don't allow women equal footing with men. How is that different from fundamentalist Christianity or even the Catholic church?
I think you can say that you would not vote for someone because their choice of religious belief freaks you out. I think you can say that Mormonism freaks you out. But I have a hard time with people who would then turn to someone like Michelle Bachmann for relative religious normality.
I offer this quote from one of Fallow's readers:
On the accusation that Mormons believe such crazy things that we can't possibly be rational: have they been watching the Republican debates? The two most rational people in the room have clearly been the two Mormons.
Tough to argue with that.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Mo Money, Mo Problems
Before the first poll showing Newt in the lead had grown cold, the attacks started.
The attacks started because Newt's favorables are ridiculously high and as NotRomney's go, he's as plausible as the next guy. The idea that Karl Rove - or one of his Myrmidons - isn't behind Romney's campaign is laughable.
The attacks also started because, c'mon. It's Newt Gingrich. Opposition research on Newt is as easy as a five minute Google search. (Though perhaps not as easy in that regard as a Santorum search.)
His ridiculous answer to the Freddie Mac question. His non-existent campaign staff. The innumerable flip-flops over the years.
Newt is a grifter. Just like Herman Cain. Just like Sarah Palin. Romney's problem is that he can't sell the grift. Which seems to mean that the GOP loves to be grifted. They eat up being told the ridiculous crap they love to hear.
Unlike Cain or Palin, Newt will never be at a loss for words about Libya or Putin coming over the horizon or "In what sense, Charlie?" Newt is a creature of the age. I think the period since 1994 could be called the Age of Gingrich.
Romney and the GOP establishment will unload a sewer of allegations against Gingrich. Most of the fecal ooze will be true. But Gingrich can swim in that shit all day.
As always, it is folly to predict what will bring down Gingrich's surge. Let's face it, Cain should've imploded a month ago, yet he's still kicking.
Given the relative unimportance of facts to the GOP electorate, all the breathless stories at TPM won't matter a damn.
Romney is the default setting. When the lights go out on Bachmann Crazy Overdrive or Governor Goodhair or The Force Five Hermancain, then we reset to the default.
It really is a matter of timing. Newt will flame out. But will he do it before Iowa?
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
I know Marc Thiessen. I went to school with him. So when Charlie Pierce uncorks the whupass on Marc here, let me just say... "Here, here!"
Marc was intellectually lazy and slightly creepy as an adolescent. Like Peter Pan, he never grew up.
The best line ever written about Marc was an aside in a school newspaper article by a friend of mine, Laura. (OK, girlfriend of mine.)
She was advising underclassmen which courses to take. She extolled the intimate setting of AP European History. "It's a wonderful, tight knit class, as there are only four of us. Thiessen never shows."
Thiessen never shows.
Two stories of note surrounding the Newtster.
First, is the column by Dana Milbank. Here, Milbank argues that Gingrich won't last because he's not conservative enough for the GOP voters. I think Milbank is subtly advancing the idea that GOP voters are freaking lunatics, but he does mention the many times over Gingrich's career that Newt has made a stab towards reality based policy.
I guess my response is that the Tea Party is only partly about policy. In fact, policy isn't really important at all. The real driving force is grievance and victimhood. They feel oppressed by smoking bans and the inability to tell blonde jokes and being taxed to pay for black people's food stamps. The merits of Obamacare (or Romneycare) are largely irrelevant. Hell, the fact that Obamacare is largely the GOP position from the '90s is not evidence that Gingrich and Romney are too far left. It is evidence that facts don't matter (see almost every damned post at this blog for examples).
Gingrich's advantage over Romney is stylistic. Gingrich is the pissed off, middle aged white guy. He's the one going after the media. Romney is the suit who laid off cousin Daryl at the plant when his firm bought the company and downsized every one. Oh, and he's a cultist, too.
Gingrich is a conservative because he feels genuine grievance. Romney is a fraud because he can't summon that true righteous anger at the status quo.
The second story - and this comes as no surprise - is that Gingrich's tawdry, self-serving past is coming to the fore. The problem for Mitt and Karl Rove (the most likely source for all this) is that any attack will have to come through the media. And the media are the enemy. What killed Perry and Bachmann was their own words, their own blank, soulless stares. What might kill Cain is not the harassment scandal, but his increasingly poor handling of it. That and his Perry-esque brain fart on Libya that's circling the web. Gingrich has largely insulated himself from attacks through the press by making attacking the press his main schtick.
Gingrich is flawed as hell. But ultimately, the game of Musical Notromney ends when the song stops and there is only one chair left empty. Maybe Romney will be the only one left to take it. We can dream though.
But while Newt may have the charisma and moral compass of a cockroach, he also has the same survival skills.
Apparently, the GOP plan for "jobs" doesn't actually create jobs. It just funnels more money to rich people and corporations. Obama's job plan actually WILL create jobs.
But what do "experts" know? I mean really, why should we trust people who spend their time - their whole lives actually - studying these issues? Obama passed a stimulus bill in 2009, but we're still in a recession. So therefore, all stimulative spending is failure. Never mind that the numbers are pretty clear that the stimulus did arrest the slide into depression. Never mind that the recession has gotten worse as the stimulus funds have dried up
The American people know that the stimulus bill failed because the completely objective people at Fox News told them it failed. None of that book larnin and fuzzy math for me, buster.
The abject failure of our political process to hold people accountable for being flat-ass wrong is why we are in a stagnant, distressed economy. We actually have a party whose solution to the problems created by supply side economics and deregulation is MORE supply side economics and deregulation.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Riot police are so cute.
Been busy today, but wanted to comment on the apparently coordinated assault on OWS across the country by police officers.
I'll try to be even handed here. I understand - I guess - that OWS could not continue to occupy public space. Part of me thinks that another month of winter chill would have done the cops work for them. And if it didn't, then maybe OWS was demonstrating the sort of commitment to protest that we laud in our history books whether it's Boston Harbor or Selma, Alabama.
Why now? What happened to make this the moment when OWS needed to be evicted. And note that they are being evicted from parks across the US, not just Zuccotti Park.
I'm not sure we'll ever get a full answer to "Why now?" But I am much more interested in "What now?"
One thing OWS has shown is creativity. What made it so striking is that many of them come from a generation that connects virtually, yet here they were physically occupying the landscape. This is not what we are trained to expect from young people. They are supposed to be on Facebook, not on picket lines.
So the next step could be interesting and unpredictable. One brilliant off-shoot of OWS was Move Your Money Day. We are tied hand, foot, mortgage and equity line to Wells Fargo, otherwise I would have quickly moved what meager cash we have to a credit union. That was creative and effective. Want to get rid of Too Big To Fail? Shrink the banks from within.
Not to get my nerd on here, but I'm reminded of the scene in the original Star Wars movie where Kenobi and Vader are fighting. Kenobi says, "If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can imagine." (Or something, screw it nerds.)
I have to wonder if maybe the same thing will happen here. Having cleared the Park as a focal point of the protest will the ideas and actions metastasize throughout the body politic, throughout the internet ether?
Here's to hoping. Here's to hoping OWS enters a new phase: more ideas, less drum circles.
Pfarrer on the attack
I remember reading about this book when it first came out. It felt like all those tell-all exposes about the Clinton White House from former military aides who stopped by the White House to brief a staffer and somehow gained the insight that Clinton was a terrible commander-in-chief.
Pfarrer tried to be "fair" to Obama in his criticism, and there was some effort at not being an absolute hit job.
But to have a military spokesman come out and say, "This book is a lie. We don't usually comment, but... c'mon" that's pretty damning.
The article at the end notes several basic factual errors that are supposed to impugn the author's account of the raid. I guess they do.
But it reminds me of the flap over Bill O'Reilly's book about the Lincoln Assassination being yanked from the Ford's Theater bookshop because it is factually inaccurate. O'Reilly says it's because those meanies at the National Park Service don't like them. The NPS says, this book is chock full o'crap.
This returns me to the common theme of this blog. We live in a world where objective fact is denied as spin. We have effectively ceded rational decision making to a process of he said/she said and whoever can yell the loudest. We have abandoned the Enlightenment assumption of reason and rationality.
Jerry Sandusky goes on TV and says he's not a child rapist. Herman Cain says 9-9-9 will solve our budget problems. John Boehner - who is employed by the government - says the government has never created a job.
We are awash in a torrent of bullshit. And until we stop and call the bullshitters what they are, we are never going to solve any of the problems that we are facing.
Monday, November 14, 2011
If you've been following the Penn State horror show, you've probably had your mind boggled.
What impresses me in this clip is Jon Ritchie. This guy looked like an axe murderer when he played in the NFL (above), but he also went to Stanford and clearly learned something there.
Newt busts a move.
Just read it. Wow. It's a great tract on why Newt is for real. Admittedly a week ago, Pierce had trouble convincing himself Newt stood a chance, but he brings the rhetorical house on this one.
The Bruins had a very special event for Veteran's Day.
I got something in my eye watching it.
The Bruins had a very special event for Veteran's Day.
I got something in my eye watching it.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Hello, child actress. Are your parents saving some money for your therapy later?
OK, here we go. Maybe we can find out what happened to Sophia.
Forgot what a douche Ed was. Glad he's dead. Broadly speaking, flashbacks work well in this story, especially with the outbreak episodes. I guess we'll flesh out (so to speak) Shane and Lori's relationship, since Lori's child is likely Shane's.
"You see eleven condoms, I see eleven minutes if my life I'll never get back." Reminds me of this.
Rick and Shane with divergent philosophies about survival. Shane makes sense, which is the horrible logic of survival.
Daryl went and had himself a Deliverance moment. Punctured by his own arrow. Probably has Hanta virus on it from that squirrel.
I'm going to guess that climbing a cliff with an arrow sticking in your side is more painful than having a splinter in your thumb.
I'm going to guess falling down a cliff with an arrow sticking in your side hurts even more.
So Merle is just a hallucination? Somewhat disappointing.
Daryl vs. Zombies? Not at all disappointing. See he was just leaving that arrow stuck in his side for easy access when he needed it.
Yum, squirrel sushi. And Daryl goes off the rails a bit. Hint: zombie ears should be kept well away from open wounds.
Merle's scene reminds me of a sequence in World War Z when a downed supply pilot has an imaginary voice guide her to safety.
Herschel is a wonderful example of apparently benign patriarchs who are really control freaks. Makes a nice comparison to Dale and Rick.
Nice scene with Dale and Glenn.
Oh, shit, they're going to shoot Daryl.
In a way, this season has been an extended argument for gun control. All these idiots running around with guns have been a bigger threat to each other than the freaking zombies.
You know, in writing "they're going to shoot Dale", it occurred to me that most shows would ratchet up the tension and then not shoot the guy. Not this show. Sumbitch got shot.
Glad Andrea is not a good shot. (Kind of contradicts my point earlier.)
Ironically, Shane has made the toughest call of all. Of course, that call involved his own survival. Maybe he thought it was for Carl, but really it was for himself.
Awkward Otis moment during awkward dinner.
And now we are passing notes in Trig.
Carol and Daryl make a nice combo. Not romantically, but philosophically.
Oops, don't go in the barn, Glenn. Haven't you read the graphic novels?