Never mind my last post... Michele Bachmann says it's all lies...

>> Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oops! Disregard my last post! Part of my argument was based on allegedly bigoted teabaggers shouting epithets at members of Congress. Turns out, however, that this didn't happen at all--Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota says so! And of course we all know how reliable, accurate, responsible and stable the highly-esteemed Representative Bachmann is--if she says it, surely it must be true! Why, apparently there's even a bounty out for any kind of video or audio proof of the false and fictitious claims of those lying liars who are solely interested in discrediting good American patriots blah blah blah blah blah--I'm sorry, there's a limit to how far even I can go with this kind of thing; Representative Bachmann is a tool.

I tried to raise the issue, last post, of why teabaggers weren't condemning their worst elements instead of implicitly embracing--and therefore endorsing--them. And here's your answer from the revered Rep. Bachmann: some will go so far as denying that anything untoward happened at all. It's quite possible I'm reading too much into this here, but I sincerely have to wonder if the subtext in Bachmann's comments isn't, "Hey, y'know, black folks make up accusations of racist assaults all the time"--unlike white people, of course; then there's the related question of whether Bachmann intends that subtext, since it at least seems reasonably likely that some members of her audience heard her comments that way, whether or not that was her express intent.

If it's not Bachmann's express intent, it's at least another example of certain Republicans playing with matches next to a gas can. Maybe, if we're all lucky, a few of these jackasses will burn their fingers and no more harm will be done than that--gasoline isn't quite as volatile as its sometimes made out to be in action movies in which automobiles and truck stops explode at the drop of a bullet--but only an irresponsible asshole or malicious prick plays with volatile inflammables so recklessly at all. How many matches sizzle out before one hits a combustible mix of fuel and air and blows the hell out of everything within range, and how many victims will somebody like Bachmann acknowledge responsibility for if she herself survives the explosion she triggered?


The benefit of the doubt goes to those who haven't lost it yet

David Paul Kuhn of Real Clear Politics responds to Frank Rich's Sunday New York Times piece with a bit of malarkey (as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight notes; there, is that enough hyperlinks in a single sentence for you?). Kuhn writes:

We heard the same arguments [that teabaggers are motivated by racism] last September. Liberals were struggling to make sense of the angry town hall meetings. "An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man," Jimmy Carter said. Days before, the Times' Maureen Dowd concluded that the "shrieking lunacy of the summer" had "much to do with race."

And yet Kuhn still manages to notice:

Clearly, some Tea Party activists are driven by racial animus. We read it in the signs. Dale Robertson, founder, held up a sign last year that read, "Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Niggar." Recently, in an ugly scene near the Capitol, some Tea Party protesters reportedly hurled racist epithets at members of the Congressional Black Caucus (including civil rights hero John Lewis).

It would obviously be a gross exaggeration to say that all teabaggers are racists. But then again, and at the risk of Godwinizing this whole thing before it even posts, it would be a gross exaggeration to say that all Nazis were antisemitic. There were almost certainly members of the Nazi party who had Jewish friends, who liked Jews individually, who even thought der Führer was a bit off the rails for obsessing over Judaism so damn much; but men and women of conscience either resigned from the party or actively subverted its aims from within while using their ostensible party membership as a cloak for sabotage--they didn't sit around saying, "Oh, no, we're not a bunch of anti-Semites despite the fact that our loudest and most vocal and most opportunistic members are batshit crazy in their antisemitism."

Sure, not everybody who opposes healthcare reform is a racist. And Albert Speer's mother loved the parades.1 The problem is that there are a lot of obvious racists, carrying around signs and spitting on and threatening Congressmen, and I don't exactly see teabaggers leaping to condemn their misbegotten brethren--I suppose it would be too much to ask such an inchoate and disorganized rabble to actually oust any members or issue anything like a formal condemnation. Rather, what we seem to see are trickled-down versions of the "defenses" that conservative intelligentsia like Kuhn and unintelligent conservative popstars like Sarah Palin offer--we're not racists, and that's just an attack by the liberal elites, and anyway what about the time some liberal said something more-or-less similar (except, of course, I'm not aware of any liberals carting around a picture of the President with a bone through his nose--but even if you take the most excessive liberal insults to George Bush as somehow equivalent to an overtly racist depiction, I suppose if a liberal had jumped off a cliff, these conservatives would do it, too).

Kuhn isn't wholly wrong. There were excessive, belligerent and flatly irrational attacks on Clinton and Franklin Roosevelt (and if you must be fair, I'm sure George Bush didn't deserve every swipe against him; while proudly anti-intellectual and clearly unimaginative, there's no doubt Bush wasn't stupid--stupid people don't position themselves to be elected President twice, however many stupid mistakes they might otherwise make in the meantime). But pretending there's not a racist dimension to the assaults on Obama is at best naïve and at worst dangerously blind.

Before letting it go at that for now, I can't help highlighting what may be the most singularly stupid and ironic thing Kuhn says as an example of how far off the beam he really is. In discussing the rhetorical excesses of opponents of prior administrations, Kuhn accidentally goes too far and proves too much when he writes:

Most infamously, recall North Carolina Republican Sen. Jesse Helms: "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard." And this was a time of booming far-right militias, on a scale unknown today.

The problem with using Helms as an example in this context is, of course, that Helms was an inveterate racist, a trait that was inseparable from his particular brand of Southern Dixiecrat Republicanism: Helms began his political career as a pro-segregation Democrat until North Carolina's Democratic party was taken over by reformers such as Helms opponents Franklin Porter Graham and Terry Sanford while nationally Lyndon Johnson was "losing the South for a generation" with his push for reforms like the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Helms switched to the Republican party around the same time Nixon campaign advisor Kevin Phillips was promoting the "Southern Strategy" to win Republican votes by appealing directly to racist Southern whites. Helms would add to his considerable infamy in his penultimate Senate campaign by running a racist campaign ad designed to convince ignorant white voters that they would lose their jobs because of "racial quotas" if Helms' African-American opponent, former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt, were elected to the Senate. Helms' racism was, as I said, inseparable from his version of conservatism: that isn't to say all racists are conservatives or all conservatives are racist, but Helms' version of conservative doctrine was racist, nativist, and Helms' concept of large, meddling Federal government was synonymous with the government that forced Reconstruction on the South in the 1870s and desegregation on the South in the 1950s and '60s. The fact that Helms implicitly threatened the life of a President from the party of desegregation and civil rights reform, a President who was popular with African-Americans and was indeed described (perhaps excessively) by Toni Morrison in 1998 in these terms:

Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. hardly a mere coincidence or partisanship on Helms' part. Kuhn, as I say, proves too much--one would be hard-pressed to find rhetoric from Helms that wasn't influenced by Helms' essential bigotry and/or loathsome willingness to exploit prejudice.

Observing racism in teabaggery isn't "liberals struggling to understand" a popular movement; those of us who have lived in the South and studied its history and iconography and learned its codes are, I think, perfectly capable of understanding the evidence of our own senses. The reluctance of some people to call something what it so obviously is is commendable, to be sure; after all, accusations of racism are frequently overblown or unwarranted, and not every act of opposition or statement of criticism is an act of bigotry, and "racist," happily, has become one of the worst accusations you can make against someone (having been the target of that accusation myself, and I think it was unwarranted, I can appreciate the discomfort of being on the receiving end). But one might avoid that accusation fairly easily by pointedly calling out, condemning and disassociating from obvious racists, and I frankly have seen nothing from teabaggers and their abettors but encouragement of such bad behavior. Lie down with pigs and be mistaken for a swine. The benefit of the doubt goes to those who haven't lost it yet.

It must have been during these months [Winter or Spring 1931] that my mother saw an SA [Sturmabteilung] parade in the streets of Heidelberg. The sight of discipline in a time of chaos, the impression of energy in an atmosphere of universal hopelessness, seems to have won her over also. At any rate, without ever having heard a speech or read a pamphlet, she joined the [Nazi] party. Both of us seem to have felt this decision to be a breach with a liberal family tradition. In any case, we concealed it from one another and from my father. Only years later, long after I had become part of Hitler's inner circle, did my mother and I discover by chance that we shared early membership in the party.
-Albert Speer
Inside The Third Reich, trans. Richard and Clara Winston,
(New York: Macmillan, 1970), 21.


That damn liberal media strikes again!

>> Tuesday, March 30, 2010

That damn liberal press. Here's a headline from the left-wing mainstream mass media (specifically, MSNBC) that caught my eye (full article here):

Yeah, pretty left-wing, alright. You can just see the socialism seeping out of your browser. Scare quotes around the word "fixes"? Really? And then there's the second part of the headline: "Measure cuts banks out of the student loan business, costing them billions." Not, "Student loan reforms will save taxpayers estimated sixty-eight billion over next ten years," not, "Government bailouts of student loan defaults to end," not, "Pell Grant program strengthened; community colleges to benefit," not, "College graduates' financial burdens to be relaxed," not....

Well, you get the idea. Oh no, pity the poor banks: they had a swell deal where student loans were guaranteed by Federal subsidy if struggling college grads went into default, a win-win deal that allowed participating banks to reap interest from subsidized student loans at absolutely no risk to themselves (interest that was supplemented by direct payments from the Federal government if necessary to keep consumer rates low), a system that was inefficient and was a direct handout to private enterprise from the taxpayers' pockets, and here's a headline that seems, to my eyes at least, to strongly imply that we should be morally offended on bank shareholders' collective behalf that the gravy spigot is being shut off at the well.

Let's be blunt: fuck that noise.

Y'know, I was able to go to college and law school because of subsidized Federal loans, loans which I'm repaying and expect to pay back fully. I'd like to think that, on top of that, the investment the government has made in subsidizing the interest and guaranteeing the loan is repaid in having a productive member of society who pays taxes and makes his corner of the country a little better and brighter than it might be if he was an unemployable bum, a career which I probably could have aspired to had I wanted (I certainly was too apathetic in high school to be scholarship material, and my parents weren't in a fiscally sound position at the time; the simple fact, I'm afraid, is that I went to college at least partly because I could easily borrow money to do so). (I kid, in part, about the "bum" business: perhaps, had I not gone to college, the whole musician/actor thing would have panned out... but probably not, let's be honest; I was never terribly good at either.)

I also have to say something else about those loans: that when I graduated from law school--UNC, a bargain, then a top-25 law school but one where the annual tuition cost a third of the annual tuition at the next cheapest in-state law school of similar caliber (Wake Forest)--and went to work as an Assistant Public Defender, practicing law on behalf of the poor, I was not in a position to pay back my loans and easily could have defaulted. I eventually benefited from an in-state public interest law loan repayment program and a refinancing that made my debt manageable, but my initial repayments represented roughly one-third of my monthly take-home paycheck, and the refinancing occurred after I'd been unable to make one, possibly two monthly payments; a cap of ten percent annually of my annual income, one of the reforms the President signed into law today, would have been a huge boon to start with had it been available then.

But aside from the personal benefits, let me be clear about something else: I fully believe government should fully pay for a secondary education for any person who wants one. Educated people make better choices and can contribute more to civilization under any metric you might point to: they have more taxable potential, more revenue creation potential, create more interesting pieces of culture, have more potential for inventing new technologies, etc., etc., etc. They even make better bankers.

So I see taking out the middlemen and the assorted accompanying reforms as being good things, and admit my personal and political biases accordingly. A list of them is buried in the article linked to above, underneath the headline, and let's be honest about that: the headline is not only the first thing you read (and liable to color your entire sense of the article that follows), but for those who skim the news it may well be the only part of the article they read.

Which means that a lot of people will see the news and think, ah, here's a left-wing President and liberal Congress discriminating against banks. Which might be nice if only it were true, is what I think myself, but in fact what you have is a center-left President and centrist/center-right Congress simply saving the American taxpayer money in various ways while ending what can only be described as a corporate handout. Of course this will cost lenders billions: because the American taxpayer was giving banks billions he probably didn't even know he was generously gifting them with and probably would have been sort of pissed about if he had.

It's funny: last week my friend Janiece worried that she was reading too many liberal blogs and relying on too many liberal news sites and asking about conservative ones she could look to for balance. Which is great, and frankly typical of the kind of "question everything" open-mindedness that I consider to be a staple of true liberalism; but what I thought was funny though not-helpful, and sort of said there a little bit but not as much as I would have liked, is that the mainstream press is so center-right-to-right wing already that she doesn't really need to change all that much. Mother Jones isn't going to report that banks are going to lose billions, at least not without an evident sense of glee and an emphasis on the good that education lending reform is going to do for consumers, taxpayers and educational institutions. The headline you see up there would be unthinkable in a publication as left-wing as the right and Fox News purport the MSM to be.

But this is what the right is talking about, anyway, when they point to the liberal media elites: big corporations sticking up for the corporatist status quo and tsking under its breath at the rare actual stabs at liberalism from a government that loves to subsidize the private sector in all sorts of ways, including the example of corporate welfare that the President and Congress are ending today. Keep that in mind, maybe, the next time the right starts bitching about the "liberal press."


Damn the progressive fascists who won't let me sell you my urine!

>> Monday, March 29, 2010

I had a vision, people. The scales fell from my eyes and I saw the way to reform the American healthcare system. I have two people to thank for my revelation and coming around: the first is Dave, a.k.a. "Leanright," a frequent commenter on this blog who responded to this post with a devastating riposte to insurance reform. The other is the greatest Russo-American in history, the brilliant scholar/philosopher/authoress Ayn Rand; I have to confess I've never made the time to read Ms. Rand's writings, having only been exposed to them secondhand, but this weekend I had a chance to listen to a 1959 Mike Wallace interview with Ayn Rand posted at Mrs. Bitch's blog, in which I found myself amazed by the way Rand flattened Wallace with her historical acumen, perspicacity and rightly-vaunted rationality.

The problem with American healthcare, I realized, was that we haven't let the free market properly operate. It's obvious to me now: costs are out of control and people are in massive debt because we have failed to allow the invisible hand of capitalism to guide us.

Here at the blog, I responded to Dave by saying, in part:

I can't get a Big Mac without paying for it first so why am I allowed to get lifesaving surgery without paying for it up front, cash-on-the-barrelhead? If I have insurance, naturally they're a business and need to conduct their business rationally--so in such a purely free-market scheme, naturally they'd be entitled to shop around. I mean, hey, why should they be required to pay the first hospital I'm wheeled into when there might be a better bargain on the other side of town, or elsewhere in the state?

I was on the right track with that, but attacking the manner in which the medical industry relies on performing business on credit to its detriment is really closing the doors after the horse has run out and the barn has caught fire and burned down, so I'm really not even sure how you're closing the doors unless maybe they're made out of metal or something and withstood the conflagration.

No, the real problem with the medical industry is government regulation.

Back at the end of the 19th Century, those awful proto-communofascists that are misleadingly referred to as "progressives" got legislatures to meddle in what had traditionally been a free-market system exactly like that contemplated by the Founding Fathers. To wit, they allowed the American Medical Association, formed in 1847 with exactly this nefarious purpose in mind, to create a quasi-monopoly on the practice of medicine by convincing state legislatures to require that those engaging in the practice of medicine be licensed. This movement to destroy free enterprise medicine reached its acme (or nadir, really) in 1910 with the publication of the Flexner Report (with, it has to be mentioned, the assistance of a foundation established by infamous monopolist Andrew Carnegie); the Flexner Report set arbitrarily high standards for medical schools (and recommended that government interfere with their trade) and arbitrary and unfair standards for physicians (e.g. requiring a high school diploma and some college education).

This is, to put it bluntly, bullshit.

In the Founders' time, any entrepreneur who wanted to call himself a doctor did so, dammit, and he didn't let big government try to stop him by asking him if he could read and write or knew where the humerus was (it's that thing that hangs down in the back of the throat). He simply engaged in his God-given right to run a business without meddling by "Big Brother" in the form of various "regulatory" agencies looking out for the public "welfare" (note that word, people, it means "socialism"). If he was good at his business, business thrived; if he was bad at his business, he shut down and hung out a new shingle in another county or state, possibly under a new name, and it was all good--because that's how the free market, guaranteed to us by the Constitution and the Declaration Of Independence, operates.

Similarly, communofascists who want to make decisions for you have convinced the government to regulate the manufacture and sale of medicines, driving prices sky high and allowing "Big Pharma" to acquire "patents" that allow them a monopoly on supposed curatives. This is clearly a restraint of trade: if I want to pee in a jar and then sell it as an ulcer cure, mood stabilizer, performance enhancer and hair tonic, I ought to be able to, dammit, without the Federal government or state bureaucracies telling me I can't! And you can't tell me my urine doesn't have curative properties--not unless you do the kinds of ridiculous experiments, tests and clinical trials that Government wants to subject enterprising businessmen like myself to.

And what does that do to your medical expenses? Well, let me put it to you this way: I would sell my piss for a song, a helluva lot less than you'd pay "Big Pharma" for one of their artificially-engineered "molecules" (that's right--my urine is 100% All Natural, meaning it comes from nature and is therefore good for you).

So it's government meddling that's driven up the price of healthcare in this country, and who do you have to blame for it? That's right, progressives: people who believe you should pay more just so you can see somebody who has some kind of fancy "medical degree" from a "medical school" and will prescribe some kind of artificial molecule designed in a lab that's been tested to make sure it won't cause blindness in a rat. (You're not a rat, are you? Didn't think so.) When there are unemployed high school dropouts who, I'm pretty sure, would be happy to sell you my urine on the basis of a reasonable commission. And if my urine doesn't cure your athlete's foot, halitosis, or type 1 diabetes, you have a simple, free enterprise remedy Benjamin Franklin would've heartily approved of: don't buy my urine again. (Of course, I hate that you'd give up so quickly--I would tell you, if I was allowed by the repressive overlords of the State to engage in the free market, that it's possible you need to make a regular regimen out of drinking my urine to see results.)

All of this brings us around to the original point I made with Dave, namely the perniciousness of doing business on credit. One reason so many people are bankrupted by medical problems is that our current, unfairly regulated system allows people to go in and receive medical care they can't pay for. Four words, people: "cash," "on," "the," "barrelhead" (I know that last one sounds like two words, but it really is just one). Pay in advance. You'd certainly be more prudent in purchasing medical care if you had to pay cash right there on the spot: you get wheeled into my clinic (that I'd have if I wasn't penalized by the monopolists and fascist regulators) complaining that your chest hurts and you have a tingling numbness all up and down your left arm and I'm supposed to just drop everything so I can try to figure out what you're whining about? I don't fucking think so. Cash. Up front. Sorry, no checks. But I'll also tell you this--and this is part of keeping costs down for consumers--you show me an ad from some other medical provider offering a low rate on diagnostics and/or treatment, and I guarantee I will beat it. Or I would if engaging in free enterprise wasn't a damn felony--I can't tell you how much that chafes my ass, to think about government shackling the invisible hand, stifling innovation (how will we know if my urine can stop a heart attack if I'm not allowed to administer it to you, eh?) and driving up costs for the benefit of so-called "professionals" with their years of study and "internships" in "hospitals."


So, I'm converted! I hereby retract every misguided thing I might have said about government in the health market: take your grubby hands off my right to open a business, you communofascist pigs! I have a right to put out a sign and sell my urine to dying people, and you have no right to stop me, because that is not what the Founding Fathers intended when they set up a country in which hairstylists and circus carnies could serve the sick and dying by drawing blood, selling them copper bracelets and horse urine (you'd at least get human urine if I was your physic, unless I was having a really hard time going), electrocuting them, selling them narcotics that hadn't been criminalized yet, rubbing poop on their feet, and otherwise engaging in that most noble of trades:



The coolest thing yesterday...

>> Sunday, March 28, 2010

Feel free to scroll down to the cool part, which will be self-evident, and skip the crap that leads up to it. Or not. Your call.

Two of the things that was derailed by last year's unfortunate incident were my photography and my forays to walk around the USNWC trails in an attempt to get a little exercise outside while also attempting to find things to take photographs of. For a good chunk of last year my hand was attached to a dysfunctional wrist--which made working the camera a problem--and for much of the same chunk of last year I wasn't supposed to do anything where I could re-break the wrist that my most-excellent surgeon, Dr. Perlik, had gone to so much trouble to bolt back together (of course trying not to re-break it wasn't really for his sake--he'd have rightly told me I was an idiot and re-repaired it like a pro).

Even after the wrist was cleared last year and I was good to go, I only got back to the USNWC one single time, and I continued not to shoot as many pictures as I wanted. I had a half-assed excuse for not revisiting the trails--it was cold and wet for much of that time, and the trails are closed when wet and wouldn't have been that much fun to walk even if they weren't--but the real issue was a certain amount of missing mojo (and forgive the Austin Powers reference, but it's a good phrase for it).

So yesterday it was cold and bright, and the weather report was calling for thunderstorms today, so I figured, "Screw it, go take a walk and take the camera." Truth is it was a little chilly for it, though I warmed up walking; I drove out there with the Bug's top down and it was definitely too chilly for that--I rode out there wearing a fleece and with the heater on.

It wasn't a bad walk. I'm horribly out of shape and was too damn winded on some of the hills, but that's the point of going. My shots were lackluster and I think they'll all turn out fairly awful, but that was alright, too--the real point was to fill up a memory card just to get into the act of taking shots again. And I went to Smelly Cat afterwards and wrote a hundred-or-so words after the well had been dry for the past three days, so that was good, too.

But the real high point was at the Whitewater Center as I was leaving. As I was packing up the car to head homeward, this hawk lands on some branches sticking out of a log, astonishingly close to the parking lot, maybe twenty, thirty yards away. There are a lot of birds of prey out there, but they usually like to stay up and away from the people getting ready to take hikes or ride bikes or head the other way to the Center's artificial rapids; a lot of the people who show up out there have dogs and kids, too, which probably is as intimidating to a solitary hunting bird as a trail bike or an automobile. But this bird--male or female, I have no idea--seemed a bit young and perhaps emboldened by the randiness of Spring (it is that time of year, after all--"Birds do it... bees do it..."). I rushed to unpack the camera, figuring the hawk would launch himself or herself at any moment--something they're wont to do, of course--and he or she just sat there.

So how do you not try to get close? And this was the coolest part--I must have gotten with twenty feet of him, or her. The bird just sat there, mostly ignoring me, though you can see from one of the pics below that the bird noticed I was there and stared at me a bit (the pic shows the bird staring at me indirectly: he or she also turned his or her head around and stared at me straight on with an "O RLY" sort of birdy stare). The hawk seemed more irritated by my presence than concerned, but that's surely pure anthropomorphizing on my part. Anyway, the bird stayed and let himself (or herself) be photographed for several minutes before abruptly bursting into the air (I have a picture that is nothing but feet, wingtips, and the perch that formerly supported them). I must have gotten a few dozen images--I haven't counted them--though I expected most of them would be awful and most were; I was too excited and too eager to get some images before the bird got scared or bored to pay enough attention to things like exposure, and the pictures all tend to be blown out except for the one that's too dark.

These six are among the more passable. They haven't had much done to them: the first four or five are using the camera's white balance and the last two I went with a preset for cloudy lighting (it wasn't cloudy today) because I realized the browns came out better that way. I also removed the blobs from one image where they were obvious--two artifacts that appear in every picture from the D40X that suggest it needs to be cleaned. And they've been re-scaled. Other than that, they're basically "as is."


I mostly take solace in not having a yard to tell them to stay out of...

>> Saturday, March 27, 2010

A moment of zen: students at a Staten Island elementary school rehearse The Church's "Under The Milky Way," a song that was originally released in 1988 (when I was in high school).

This song is twenty-two years old. These kids are in fifth grade. I was in fifth grade in... let's see... carry the two... divide by the square of the hypotenuse... multiply by e... 1983. So these kids singing "Under The Milky Way" is a lot like when I was in fifth grade singing songs recorded in 1961. "Stand By Me." That song would be bigger a few years later when the movie came out in 1986. "Runaway." "Crying." "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." "Please Mr. Postman." "The Wanderer." Fucking hell, that stuff was ancient when I was a kid; I mean, we're talking pre-Beatles, here; there was a lot of old stuff we were exposed to and listening to, especially if your parents were Boomers like mine were, but it wasn't nearly a quarter of a century old. I have to wonder what these kids are thinking: "Under The Milky Way" is a gorgeous, glorious song, one of those I still crank up when it comes up on the radio (which, now that I think of it, must mean I'm technically listening to oldies radio when I'm listening to a station that plays The Church), but to these kids it has to be play like a novelty song.

Clearly, this makes me feel old. No, "old" is an inadequate word. "Ancient," "decrepit," "antique," "crumbling into ruins" (that's three words, so sue me).

The irony of this is that I came across this video clip via Salon, and a piece by Andrew Leonard ragging on someone kvetching in an elderly way about digital music. Leonard links to an earlier piece he wrote, ragging on an earlier critic of digital music, Duran Duran's John Taylor, who was kvetching in an elderly way about digital music stifling creativity. Originally, I was predisposed to agree with both of Leonard's pieces, and not even mention them beyond an "H/T," but now I'm not so sure; I mean, is it good or bad that these kids are singing a quarter-century old pop song? I'm inclined to say "Hell no, 'Under The Milky Way' is a kickass song!" But I'm nearing forty and "Under The Milky Way" is a piece of my youth, not necessarily theirs. Had The Beatles been performing twenty-two year old songs in, say, 1963, they would have been playing music from 1941. "Chattanooga Choo Choo." "Racing With The Moon." "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Great songs; I have SiriusXM's "Forties On 4" as a preset on the car stereo and listen to it sometimes when I'm in an ultra-retro mood--but it's really, really, really old music, and it was really, really, really old music in 1963, music from a different universe, really. So maybe John Taylor is onto something--why aren't these kids singing something from this year or this decade or sometime within their own lifetimes, I mean aside from the fact that their generation's music sucks, unlike my generation's music, which was the pinnacle towards which all previous human musical efforts pointed and from which all subsequent music was nothing but decline, a bunch of noise and half these people don't play their own instruments and what is this "Autotune" crap and nobody cares about melody anymore and nobody will be listening to any of their shit in twenty-two years, I'll tell you what, because in my day music meant something and was important and sincere and oh fucking hell did I just channel my grandfather?*

So, anyway, I should be enjoying this clip for what it is--a bunch of adorable kids singing a great song from when I was a kid a little older than they were. But I can't help thinking it was a song from a different world, too--there was a place called the Soviet Union, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were still alive, a black guy couldn't be President Of The United States (hey, Jesse Jackson had tried), they had a big wall in Berlin, MTV played music videos (though not quite as many), Michael Jackson was still (a) alive and (b) not much weirder than any other child-star-turned-pop-culture-god. So I'm not enjoying it, awesome as it is, as much as I might be enjoying it if it wasn't making me feel desperately old and disconnected.

Gee, have a great Saturday.

*Actually, so far as I know, my grandfather VanNewkirk hated his own generation's music, therefore I'm not channeling him. My other grandfather died when my Mom was a little girl, so who knows what he would've thought. Crap. Did I just ruin a joke by over-analyzing it? I did, didn't I? I knew I was going to do that. See, the problem is that both my parents read my blog, and (a) they have relatively contemporary musical tastes (I say "relatively" because their tastes are actually sort of similar to mine, and the point of all this is I'm not sure my tastes are that contemporary anymore) and (b) I can expect to hear from them about what kind of music their dads would have liked. So if the joke was, "Did I just channel my mother/father?" it would understandably piss them off, but doing the joke with my grandfather, it's like I'd end up having to explain it was just a gag anyway. Does that make sense? So I feel obligated to forestall the inevitable objection with a footnote that's likely to be longer than the original piece. Dammit. I should just go back and delete the gag. Except now I've gone and written this. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. Screw it. We'll leave it in.

Tangentially speaking, I had a great conversation a couple of years ago with my Grandmother VanNewkirk, and she happened to mention a time she'd had a chance to see Sinatra when she was young--I think she would have been in her 20s, if I remember correctly; which I thought was really cool because I love Sinatra, but the rest of the story included the fact that she really, really, really hated Frank Sinatra. Which, in a weird way, was kind of cooler. I mean, here's this iconic pop music figure in his early prime, before his fall from grace and re-invention and re-emergence, and my grandmother's attitude was basically, if I may paraphrase using a word I'm not sure my grandmother has used in her entire life, "Fuck him."

My other grandmother, I'm pretty sure, has used that exact phrase somewhere along the line. There's a great story my Mom tells about my Grandma jumping up while the most recent President Bush was on the TV and hurling a string of invective at his televised image.

My grandmothers are both kind of badasses in their own really idiosyncratic ways.


"The music with no fear"

>> Friday, March 26, 2010

A kickass 2007 version of "Punkrocker" by Teddybears, fronted this time by Aimee Echo. This is a blurry amateur vid with great sound; the original studio version features Iggy Pop, is awesome, has a video, and the label stupidly doesn't want you to see it and buy the band's album, or I would have embedded that instead and given them free advertising that way. Still, this rocks.


Hey, Eric, what's your all-time favorite Neil Young song?

>> Thursday, March 25, 2010

Actually, nobody's asked me that, I'm just asking myself as a setup for this classic performance of it from Young and The Band with backup from the ever-divine Ms. Joni Mitchell, and captured on film by Martin Scorsese:

(Oh--"Like A Hurricane" is number two.)


It's funny because it's true... well... in a manner of speaking...

>> Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It reminds me of Greg Costikyan's pen'n'paper rules for Violence: The Roleplaying Game of Egregious and Repulsive Bloodshed (PDF link), a satire of the "kick in the door" mentality present in most RPGs. Your character goes in, wrecks up a place, steals from people (some of them not even human, but still...), kills, maims, and generally acts like a thug in order to receive some sort of reward. It's ugly and mocking that style of play is fun, though I also have to confess that kind of virtual ruffianism can be enjoyable and an amusing and diverting form of escape. After all, one of the things a game lets you do is be transgressive, to enjoy doing things you'd never do in real life because they're just horrifying and awful.

What's a bigger issue, there, is awareness. It may be fun to play a game where you're some kind of fantasy monster--a vampire, let's say (and here, frankly, I'm thinking more of Fury Of Dracula than Vampire: The Masquerade--I just can't abide LARPing, sorry)--but in a good one, you're cognizant of being a beast. Even in a game we're a human monster--the better entries in the Grand Theft Auto series come to mind--you may be aware that there's a horror to what you're all about alongside whatever malefic fun you might also be having. But it can be all too easy, unfortunately, for the conventions of certain kinds of games--looking in containers for stuff, acquiring benefits by killing things you encounter, the world revolving around you and the environment existing for your entertainment (and settings like "homes" being essentially puzzles to be hacked)--to obscure the, for want of a better phrase at the moment, "virtual truth beneath the metagame." That is to say, what kind of hero acts like the knight in the above video? The potion is likely a necessary thing to finish a level, complete a quest, save a world, finish the game--but, other than the fact that it's part of the metagame (necessary for the mechanics of playing), why would it be there--how much would these non-player-characters have paid for what is likely a needed medical item?

Imagine, if you will, that you were sitting in your own home and some savior walked in without knocking, rummaged through your cabinets while you just sat there, grabbed a bottle of aspirin and walked out, perhaps returning to visit an indeterminate time later to see if the medicine had "respawned," i.e. whether you'd bought some more and put it in the same cabinet? You might be calling the police.

Something, perhaps, to consider the next time you're playing a game.


...unless you is msnbc editor....

>> Tuesday, March 23, 2010

You'll need to click on the image to embiggen it:

At first I thought maybe it was, you know, some kind of cheap stab at irony, but the actual article gets the headline right. Speaking of which, it's not much of an interview; Bill Nye is great, but the questions he's asked are pretty awful, like, "So you're saying that even before the iPhone and Google and everything, we were offloading information?" Gee Gizmodo dude, ever heard of a fucking book? No, not one of those things you download for your Kindle, I mean one of those floppy things with pieces of paper stuck inside it and there are little tiny symbols on the pieces of paper that encode information, ever heard of one of those?

Nye's pretty patient, actually--either that, or somebody edited out all the times he called the interviewer a dumbass. Offloading information into permanent external storage and figuring out new ways to accurately perform mental tasks with hardware is indeed, as Nye says, a hallmark of being human--it's the bleeding essence of civilization, isn't it? Language itself, even before somebody invents a way to write it down on (hopefully) more permanent media, is a way of offloading information into the flash memory of the community, the clan, the eternal posterity.

There's also a bit of irritating fluff early on, comparing human memory to computer storage. It's a fallacious comparison to start with; it may not wholly be Nye's fault, since he's only responding to what he was asked and I think he's trying, ironically enough, to dumb it down for people who are used to dealing with gadgets, but I think the correct answer is there's very little comparison between computer memory, which can store data with relatively little information loss, and human memory, which really isn't designed for most of what we use it for and is demonstrably buggy. It's sort of like the way, back in the day, people tried to compare memory to film and later to video; there's no evidence the brain is set up to reliably and permanently store all sensations or experiences in a fixed media. (One can quibble about whether technological media, with their various Achilles' Heels, are really fixed, but surely we can agree that a hard drive, say, is at least designed to record and play back the same stored sequences of ones and zeroes for the physical life of the drive.)

Anyway, I don't know that I want to get all bloggity about that. Mostly, I found the grammar error on the main page amusing in context.


Missed opportunities...

I see that the awesome Janiece and amazing Chez are both irate at Georgia Representative Paul Broun, who is making an effort to violate the Constitution of the United States with a proposal to pimp the Ten Commandments. Because, I guess, the biggest problem facing Americans today is that nobody appreciates the Ten Commandments enough. I mean, sure, we hear about them all the time, but did you ever stop to think about them?

Did you know, for instance, that the Ten Commandments don't say anything about not using your cell phone in a movie theatre while other people are watching the movie? Seriously, not a single thin word in any of the at-least-three versions; which, if you think about it, would have been a huge trump if Big-G had dropped that in, y'know? People would be sitting there for thousands of years going, "What the fuck is a cell phone... or a movie theatre?" And then all of a sudden, come the 20th Century, it would have been, like, "Holy fuck! These things are totally in the Bible! But dude--what the hell is a cell phone?" And then at the end of the 20th Century--"Holy sweet fucking fuck! These are in there, too! And we're not supposed to use them in movie theatres or God will be pissed!"

Seriously, I'd have a hard time being an atheist. A really hard time. It wouldn't have to even be the cell-phones-at-movies thing, either, though obviously that would be nice. "Thou shalt not drive slower than traffic travelling in the same direction when occupying the far-left lane" would have been kind of awesome, though maybe less prognosticatory; there were probably slow drivers in the late Bronze Age Middle East, actually. But you get the idea. God could've really laid down a big one on humanity, and instead it's stuff like, "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Which, I mean, I'm not even Jewish or Christian or anything and I'm pretty observant about not coveting anybody's ox. I don't even know anyone who has an ox. I don't think they'd be allowed within the city limits without some kind of ox permit, would they? Some friends of mine got a really adorable American Eskimo puppy a few months ago which I kinda-sorta covet, but I'm not sure if that counts because dogs aren't listed and they don't actually live next to me so I don't think they're technically neighbors. And then there's the one from Exodus 34:26--"You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk." Ew. They mean a goat, right? Tell me they mean a goat. And even then, I'm still kinda leaning towards, "Ew."

But I digress, which isn't unusual. No, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with Janiece and Chez, as much as I love 'em both, because I get the sense they prefer the Broun bill to die, while I think it doesn't go far enough. That's right, I, an atheist and civil libertarian, think the Broun bill is too meagre in scope!

I mean, go read the text of the Broun bill itself. All it says is everybody should think about what the Ten Commandments means to them, which, honestly would not take me all weekend, whether you held it in May or some other time. This is the most I've thought about the Ten Commandments in a while, and this is taking me, like, I don't know, twenty minutes and mostly because I couldn't remember what kind of breed my friends' dog was without checking Jessica's Twitter feed and I had to scroll down into last year to find out. (I remembered it was an "Alaskan something," which turned out to be not-quite-right, although there are Eskimos in Alaska.) To be really honest, the first thing I think when I hear "the Ten Commandments" is how awesome Charlton Heston was, especially in Planet Of The Apes (the very first one, not the Tim Burton remake, which was awful, though Charlton Heston was in that, too; I just wish they'd had him punch Tim Roth because that would have kicked ass... wait, no... they should have had him going around punching everybody in the movie, including the director).

The Broun bill doesn't actually call for any action, which I think is pretty lame. I mean, if Representative Broun loves the Ten Commandments so much, why is it all he wants to do is propose that we think about them? Which is all he's really doing. No, to really show appreciation, I think all these Republicans should stand up and... uhm... make a stand.

Now, what's the first thing you think of when you think of Republicans? If your answer was, "Hypocrites cheating on their spouses, usually (but not always) with someone of the same sex, and then lying about it," then you must be somebody who could answer a softball question on national television about what you like to read. Now look at those Ten Commandments again: the seventh... or maybe it's the sixth... depends... anyway, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." And what's "adultery"?

adultery –noun, plural -teries: voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse.

Hell, look at the whole list, and how much do you want to bet there are Republican politicians who curse, have worked on a Saturday, coveted somebody's shit, watched American Idol and generally screwed up the whole list? That thing's harder than a Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. So what I'm thinking is that every Republican office-holder who loves the Ten Commandments so much they'd marry them as long as there wasn't anything "gay marriage-ey" about doing so ought to show their love by resigning during the first weekend in May. Unless they're, you know, Muslim or some other kind of pagan.

Now, you may be saying, "Eric, that's a great idea and I wish I'd thought of it, but why single out Republicans? You know those Democrats are totally skanky and steal hotel towels all the time and are an embarrassment to their parents." Which is all completely true. But we all know that the Democrats are going to Hell anyway, and want to abort grandmothers and surrender to the Soviet Union and all that, besides which aren't they all atheists, anyway? But more importantly, only someone who really, really hates America would violate a bunch of the Ten Commandments and try to run the country in spite of their obvious, sinning malevolence. Therefore, on Ten Commandments Weekend, sinners who love America (conservatives, Republican or Democrat) should show their love by resigning and kissing a flag in a non-idolatrous manner, while sinners who hate America (liberals, if there actually are any, other than Dennis Kucinich, to be found in Congress) should show their hatred by filling vacancies in the Federal judiciary and having a huge orgy/cookout on the Senate floor.

Ten Commandments Weekend is going to be awesome! I'm going to buy my ticket and start working on my toga as soon as I finish this post!


Some kickass extended technique!

>> Monday, March 22, 2010

I don't have anything to add to an interesting discussion over at Boing Boing concerning whether or not blues legend Charley Patton maybe really played overhand or was just posing for a photograph, but one of the commentators there provided a link to this really, really awesome video of a Botswanan guitarist playing overhand. Take a look:


Dear Republicans, teabaggers, pundits, and others whining about the healthcare bill:

Hey, I didn't want the House to pass that bill, either.

I wanted the one with a single-payer system.

But, y'know, like the man said--

--so shut the fuck up, already. You fought a long, protracted, dirty battle, and you lost. It happens. Hey, you can't lie and cheat your way out of everything.

And to Speaker Pelosi, President Obama, and the House Democrats: congratulations, good job, well-played, and thank you.

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


"A Bouvier 'til her wedding day; shots rang out, the police came..."

I was originally going to post this Sunday, but ended up ranting about racist bigots attacking those trying to pass healthcare reform on the streets of Washington D.C.; so I bumped this. Tori Amos, "Jackie's Strength," off from the choirgirl hotel:



>> Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pundits like Joan Walsh are shocked, shocked, I tell you, that teabaggers hurled racial epithets at African American lawmakers attending this weekend's hearings on healthcare.

Really? Really?

I'm not trying to slag on Walsh, a columnist who I respect and whose work I enjoy. But is she really surprised that a bunch of racist, reactionary crackers acted like racist, reactionary crackers? Really? She writes about trying to understand these jackasses, trying to give them the benefit of human credentials--and that's why I respect her, actually, because, you know, it's good for some of us on the left to hold onto the hopes that spring eternal. But I had these crackers' number called six months ago, and so did President Jimmy Carter.

In a very real way, there's nothing shocking about some of the teabaggers calling elected officials and fellow Americans derogatory racist epithets as they go to do America's work, or large numbers of their fellows standing by silently. First, because the subset of ignoramuses responsive to the fear-mongering of the Becks, Limbaughs and Malkins overlaps nicely with the subset of ignoramuses who would join the Klan if it was still 1954. And second, because--well look at the picture I grabbed again, above, to illustrate this piece: second, because the teabagger movement has always essentially been a racist movement. If Hilary Clinton was President, these people might question her policies but they wouldn't question her legitimacy; they might accuse her of stealing an election, even, but they wouldn't question her American-ness.

What the teabag movement has done, really, is provided a nice, safe haven for America's remaining racists to gather under the umbrella of ostensibly attacking a policy. Attacking policies is a First Amendment prerogative, how dare anyone accuse them of being racists? And the media, by and large, has fallen for it. The teabaggers parade around using racist code and racist iconography--then shelter it behind a policy debate while well-meaning whites give them a benefit of a doubt because it's 2010 and surely we've come a long way since George Wallace.

Y'know, I'd like to be clear because I worry maybe I haven't been in my past derision: the teabagger movement deserves attention and respect. Just like Tom Metzger's White Aryan Resistance does, f'r'instance; because we should pay attention to and respect the enemies of human decency. They deserve mockery, too, because sarcasm and satire and plain old snottiness are righteous weapons against evil. But that's the kind of attention and respect they deserve--not the attention and respect you give the honorable opposition, not the attention and respect you give to reasonable minds that differ; the kind of attention and respect you give to the hateful, fearful, ignorant and dangerous.

I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you, that Joan Walsh and others are surprised by what happened this weekend. Maybe it's because I live down here where open racism has been such a part of the warp and weft of the culture, and people in New York and L.A. have conveniently forgotten the way their forebears treated "others." Maybe it's just an idealistic naïvete that allows some people to assume that hateful, awful people don't really mean what they're saying, have something legitimate to say that they just haven't been able to say artfully. I don't know. What I know is this: the "protesters" who shouted racial epithets at Representative John Lewis and who spat on Representative Emanuel Cleaver this weekend weren't saying or doing anything they didn't mean in September of last year; any "artfulness" they displayed was in hiding their ugly intent nominally well-enough for pure-hearted Northeastern and West Coast intellectual liberals to mistake what they were all about. I can only hope my fellow travelers North-and-West won't make that mistake twice now that the cretins have fully unmasked themselves to reveal what was obvious to some of us all along.

Photograph of Obama protester with racist sign ©2009 CNN.


Drive anywhere, just try not to wreck the blog while I'm out...

>> Saturday, March 20, 2010

May not be in much today, got some stuff to do and nothing to blog about. So have a good Saturday (hope your weather is as nice as mine is right now) and some ancient Depeche Mode: "Behind The Wheel," directed by Anton Corbijn.



>> Friday, March 19, 2010

I have to admit, I feel a little conflicted--I mean, on one level, I totally want to see The Runaways if anyone shows it in Charlotte (the movie opens today in "select theatres," but not here), on the other hand, I'm not surprised that the movie seems to be getting some mixed reviews, or that the positive reviews seem to be grading on sort of a curve, giving the movie points just for being about The Runaways.

Which I can't wholly fault, since it would be the main reason I'd want to see it in the first place. Honestly, rock biopics mostly suck; frequently even the "good" ones stand out mainly for their soundtracks. And when you're talking about The Runaways as a band... well, let's face it, a lot of the coolness was kind of inchoate. What I mean is: take "Cherry Bomb" for instance: it's not actually that good a song, depending mostly on a sleazy, exploitative joke that puts the song perilously close to being a kind of hentai novelty song--except it's being performed by Joan-Fucking-Jett and Lita-Fucking-Ford, thank you very much, who would go on to be two of the baddest-ass femme rockers of all time, and that's not to knock Cherie Currie or any of the other women who managed to hold their own on stage with Ms. Jett and Ms. Ford.

Which brings us sort-of-indirectly to another sort-of awkward issue with this movie: there's already been a bit of titillation over Kristen Stewart (who plays Joan Jett) and Dakota Fanning (as Cherie Curie) getting romantic in The Runaways. Thing is, I can get actual porn (it's why DARPA invented the Internet, true story), and the fact that these scenes feature Stewart, who I've actually only seen in Panic Room and Fanning, who I've only seen in War Of The Worlds, really doesn't mean shit to me.

Finally, a near wash: yes, there's Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat, who is made entirely out of concentrated, superdense awesome, but she plays a made-up character because The Runaways' real bassist during that era, Jackie Fox, didn't give her consent to the project. I think Shawkat's presence outweighs her character being bullshit, but....

I dunno. Another Runaways' bassist, Vicki Blue, made an award-winning documentary I haven't seen called Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways. Maybe I should just rent that and chase it with Jett doing "Bad Reputation" in URGH! A Music War. While I think about it, here's a post-Cherie Currie Runaways kicking some ass with "Wasted," from 1977's Waitin' For The Night. Enjoy:


I'll Grant you...

>> Thursday, March 18, 2010

I got an e-mail today from Nathan, who pointed me to a New York Times op-ed by Sean Wilentz from last week about the rehabilitation of President Ulysses S. Grant. Nathan thought it might make for a nice follow-up to a snarky bit of business I wrote several weeks ago about efforts to put President Ronald Reagan on the fifty dollar bill.

The gist of my piece was that it was only fitting to replace the head of one of the reputedly most-corrupt presidencies in history with a successor administration that was even more corrupt. Wilentz's gist is that the corruption of the Grant Administration never touched U.S. Grant in the first place and was grossly exaggerated by racists at the turn of the 20th Century in any case.

Fine, fine, fine--be fair about it, why don't you?

I kid, somewhat, with that line about fairness: I mean, the real point I was making was about the Reagan era's overwhelming corruption, something I understand Wilentz (who authored a book titled The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008) to have written about at some length. Slagging Grant was only incidental to that purpose, a useful foil given Grant's reputation.

Unfortunately, I have to admit Wilentz is probably right, or more-or-less right. There's not a lot of evidence, if any, that Grant was a part of the corruption that occurred beneath him; then again, there's not a lot of evidence Reagan was aware of just how corrupt his administration was before all the indictments and resignations--and, as another President famously had engraved on a plaque on his desk, "The buck stops here." The President is the big kahuna, and bears an executive responsibility for employing criminals, for creating an environment in which they may thrive, and perhaps for failing to adequately clean house if he fails on those first two measures. Being responsible for his subordinates is why he gets to have United States Marines playing his theme song every time he enters a room, like he's Rocky Balboa or James Bond or something.

And the thing Wilentz is really right on is the thing that troubles me enough to write some kind of concession in the first place: certainly, the South has borne a disproportionate influence in writing history since Reconstruction. While that disgracefully includes a number of Southern historians, as Wilentz says, there have certainly been honest Southern historians like the late, great C. Vann Woodward; a more pernicious influence on American history has been Southern politicians, particularly those historical laypersons elected in general elections to choose and purchase textbooks. (The current attempt by Republican members of the Texas State Board Of Education to rewrite time and space in their own images is merely one recent example, and not the first.)

The fact is that Grant's competence as a President should bear no relation at all to the fact that the Confederacy was a betrayal of the solemn compact entered into by thirteen former colonies, 1787-1790 (and therefore an act of treason), or to the fact that the Southern states were completely on the wrong side of history itself. It is not merely that freighting human beings and treating them as property, as farm machines was an inexcusable evil that cannot be mitigated by any rationalization, justification or excuse; it is also a fact that the nations that held onto or came into power as the 19th Century bled into the 20th were those industrialized nations that had abandoned feudal (or, in the case of the Southern plantation system, crypto-feudal) economies and adopted strongly-centralized governments. The Southern cause was not noble or heroic: it was backwards, doomed and immoral, and we Southerners should be grateful we lost, however bloody it was, so that we could live in a great modern nation and not the racist Third-World backwater the Confederacy almost certainly would've become had Lincoln left us to our own devices.

For some, however, that's a painful thing to come face-to-face with, and especially so at the turn of the 20th Century when there were still millions of Americans around who had been alive during the Civil War and Reconstruction, some as children and some as actual veterans of the conflict. Hard to admit that you or your daddy were on the wrong side, but harder still to sit there and maintain that it was moral and proper to traffick in humans (and, rubbing salt in the wound, to defend the trafficking in humans for the sake of being able to farm the way people did in the Fifteenth Century during an epoch in which cities are becoming luminous with electricity, messages are being sent instantaneously across the Atlantic, steamships bigger than buildings are racing 'round the world in mere days, and some Ohio boys vacationing on the North Carolina beach just defied the laws of gravity). So it's easier to go ad hominem, instead of trying to pretend slavery was good (though a few would even resort to that--saying that those who survived the Atlantic crossing in chains had it better than those whose cultures and independence were crushed by the European powers), easier to just assault those who fought to hold the Republic together. Grant and Sherman were butchers and Lincoln a hypocrite, and that's all you need to know about that. But, you know, even if those statements were true, how the hell would that make it okay for Charleston millionaires to send the poor sons of the South to die in droves for the right to own a man and work him to death like a beast?

(Stop asking questions, troublemaker. Lincoln didn't care about slaves, he said so himself, freed 'em just to stir up trouble, didn't matter if he was right because he was wrong anyway.)

The bitch of it is that just because revisionists trashed Grant for the wrong reason doesn't mean Grant ought to be restored to full good graces automatically. In the plus column, he was largely a good general who helped save the Republic and crushed those who, however innocently most of them did it, served evil. He kept up the fight for civil rights in the Reconstruction era even as political knaves and opportunists began turning their backs on human duty. In the negative column, while he was President, the Republic was for sale--indeed, the efforts Grant made on behalf of Native Americans were indelibly tainted by not one, but two ugly corruption scandals. He presided over what was, up to that point, the worst financial crisis in American history and may have made it worse with the slow, clumsy response by his administration (indeed, he may have indirectly and passively precipitated it in the first place).

It may be that the "pro" column should outweigh the "con." And maybe not. Regardless, what one really has to say is that nuance isn't something we Americans do all that well, left or right, and a rehabilitation of Grant's image shouldn't come at the price of forgetting his faults, just as the tarnishing of his image shouldn't have been allowed to eclipse his achievements (or the failings of his opponents) in the first place.

On a tangent: while gathering threads for this entry, I did find a review of Wilentz's Age Of Reagan up at the website of The Claremont Institute, a conservative think-tank. They didn't like the book that much, though they were kinder than you might expect. The main reason I mention it, though, was this unintentionally amusing excerpt:

The core of the problem is that, in a book on the period of conservative ascendancy, Wilentz has almost nothing to say about conservative ideas. He makes it clear from the start that he dislikes Reagan and conservatism—Wilentz was one of Bill Clinton's most outspoken academic defenders when Clinton was impeached—but the problem goes beyond bias. He simply does not want to engage with conservative thought. The book has no discussion of the complexities of conservative thinking, how conservatism relates to modern American culture, or how conservative thought has contributed to the changes of the past three decades.

I don't know how much I have to say about "conservative ideas," to be honest; at the risk of undercutting my own earlier comments about nuance, the first thing that crossed my mind when I came across the above lines in the book review was, "Conservatives have ideas?"

I know, I know. Unfair. Biased, left-wing partisanship, not meeting them halfway, open contempt, out-of-touch, etc. I'm a horrible, awful person. Anyway, it's not true that conservatives don't have ideas, it's simply that an awful lot of those ideas, e.g. unregulated free market libertarianism or Constitutional strict constructionalism, are bad ones. I haven't read Wilentz's book, but it's possible he gives conservative thought as much engagement as he thinks it deserves.

As I write this, I think--"Y'know, it's possible there are some good conservative ideas in there somewhere." Unrepentant mixed-economy socialist that I am, I'd like to think I'm pragmatic enough that I wouldn't throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. The problem, however, is that in America (at least), any modern conservatives who do have good ideas are buried beneath a bunch of rubbish that can't even be called "ideas" (e.g. pretty much everything that comes out of the teabagger movement, and no, I'm not about to dignify them with any other title).

The other thing about the excerpt quoted above, that gets picked up in a later line in the review--"Even as he acknowledges Reagan's political successes, Wilentz criticizes him as intellectually inconsistent without admitting that there might be a connection"--is that cognitive dissonance is not "subtlety." To provide one example: whatever one accuses Henry Kissinger of, nobody has ever accused him of being inconsistent or an idiot--Kissinger's willingness to accommodate tyrannical regimes went hand-in-hand with his realpolitik philosophy of America's ends justifying any means necessary. Reagan, on the other hand, publicly (and apparently privately) regarded the world in binary terms--good vs. evil--and his administration still treated with human rights abusers like the Nicaraguan Contras.

Quite frequently, you know, you see someone on the right accusing various parties of having a "double standard" when it comes to some scandal or another--a Republican who cheats on his wife, for instance, gets more of a drubbing in the press than a Democrat who did the same. While there may well be some bias, let's point out that very few Democrats make their marriages a centerpiece of their campaigns--and those like former Senator John Edwards who do and are caught cheating on their wives get drubbed pretty thoroughly. Pointing out hypocrisy isn't a double standard, it's a standard. Similarly, a Republican politician who makes a huge deal out of opposing gay rights and then is caught in flagrante leaving a gay bar is much more newsworthy than an openly gay Congressman who, what-a-shock, is having gay sex--having gay sex, do we even have to point this out, is something that a gay man might do which we would not expect a man who has spent many years raging against gay sex to also do; you might even define a "gay man" as "a man who has gay sex," believe it or not.


American Terror

>> Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Some mornings I just don't recognize my country at all.

This morning it's a look at a bill Senators Lieberman and McCain submitted two weeks ago that sort of slipped my notice somehow until I saw Marc Ambinder's piece in The Atlantic today. It's a helluva piece of work, and the bill's worth a read--when the spineless Dems in Congress let it pass, you can know just how it happened here.

Ambinder's focus is on the fact that the bill would allow the military to detain American citizens suspected of "acts of terrorism" indefinitely. Which is, frankly, awful. But I'm not sure it's the worst thing in the bill.

The worst thing in the bill might be this: first, it explicitly prohibits suspects from being read their rights under Miranda even if they're otherwise entitled to them (Section 3, subsec. B(3):

INAPPLICABILITY OF CERTAIN STATEMENT AND RIGHTS.—A individual who is suspected of being an unprivileged enemy belligerent shall not, during interrogation under this subsection, be provided the statement required by Miranda v. Arizona (384 U.S. 436 (1966)) or otherwise be informed of any rights that the individual may or may not have to counsel or to remain silent consistent with Miranda v. Arizona.

Note that language--"may or may not have"; the McCain/Lieberman bill skips over any legal argument over whether a particular detainee might have any rights and simply says he shall not be read those rights with no determination of whether or not he in fact has them; may or may-not, doesn't matter.

Now, believe it or not, this may or may not be a problem in and of itself.

See, Miranda is an exclusionary rule applicable to civilian criminal trials. If you're arrested, and the cops fail to Mirandize you, and the State indicts you and tries to prosecute, Miranda says the State can't use your statement against you in court (or evidence that was gathered as a direct result of that statement). If a hundred witnesses saw you do it (whatever it was), the State can still call those witnesses. If there's an expert who analyzed evidence that was gathered independently of your statement, the State can still put her up on the stand to testify about what she discovered.

Now, let's say you're a terrorist, a real-deal America-hating motherfucker like li'l Timmy McVeigh, let's say. (What, you figured I'd pick a foreigner when there's a homegrown son-of-a-bitch available--I may be okay with globalization, but not when outsourcing will deprive us of an exemplar par excellence right here at home?) And let's say the cops fail to Mirandize you when you spit out your buddy's plans to blow up another building--that ridiculous "ticking bomb" scenario certain people wet their pants over--do the police have to shrug and say, "Oops, can't do anything about that other truckful of explosives because you forgot to Mirandize the perp, Doug, nice goin'"? Hell no--they can do what they have to do to prevent bomb plot number two. Hell, they can still prosecute you for whatever they have evidence for regarding plot number one--all Miranda does is keep them from reading your statement into evidence or using any evidence of your involvement in plot number two obtained as a result of your statement (again, other evidence might still be admissible against you).

This is where the McCain/Lieberman bill gets ass-ugly. It does two things after stripping suspects of their Miranda rights, if any: first of all (for our discussion), Section 4 prevents any "unprivileged enemy belligerent" from being prosecuted in a Federal courtroom:

LIMITATION.—No funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Justice may be used to prosecute in an Article III court in the United States, or in any territory or possession of the United States, any alien who has been determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3(c)(2).

This, in and of itself, is awful. I mean, what we should want is to have a battery of solutions for dealing with actual, honest-to-goodness terrorists, including terrorists who are "unprivileged enemy belligerents." While a fan of our court systems, having worked in one for roughly a third of my life now, I'll concede for the sake of an argument (at least) that maybe there's somebody out there who can't be tried in a civilian court; hell, I could concede (for argument) that there might be some sort of terrorist who can't be tried anywhere (though, really, I've never heard of a real-life congenital birth defect producing a real-life Magneto; but I'm an SF/F nerd, I can imagine it would be hard to hold a trial for a mutant supervillain) while still saying, "Hey, let's at least hold open the possibility just in case we decide we want to." McCain and Lieberman would actually take a tool out of our toolbox with no consideration of its utility. That's not merely a slap in the face to the Republic our Constitution creates, it's also really fucking stupid.

But wait, it gets worse. This is thing number two, though it comes earlier in the bill: notice how Section 4 says no civil prosecutions for anyone determined to be an "unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3(c)(2)." That latter phrase, a term of art defined later in the bill as follows:

UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENT.—The term "unprivileged enemy belligerent" means an individual (other than a privileged belligerent) who—

(A) has engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners;

(B) has purposely and materially supported hostilities against the United States or
3 its coalition partners; or

(C) was a part of al Qaeda at the time of capture.

Let's leave aside how scary clause #2 is. (And it is scary, since it's one of those catchall "means what we say it means" formulations--is a lecture or pamphlet "material support"? A "purposeful" donation to an ostensibly non-terrorist organization that is later discovered to knowingly or unknowingly support terrorists abroad?) What's actually really bad here is that the determination of whether you're even one of those "unprivileged enemy belligerents" who can't be tried in a Federal court occurs after you've been interrogated with no Miranda rights.

Hell, this should be scary even to people who don't care all that much about their civil liberties. What this bill means is that you could have a situation where somebody who is suspected of being an "unprivileged enemy belligerent" but isn't, but who has still potentially violated Federal law, gets questioned without being Mirandized, who cannot be Mirandized. Miranda is Constitutional law now--have the Feds investigating our suspect shot themselves in the foot because they were required by law to obtain an inadmissible statement? Or is Miranda now wholly situational? And regardless of whether a person is or isn't an "unprivileged enemy belligerent," violations of Federal law are likely to also be violations of state law--there's no reason, for instance, that the State Of New York can't prosecute those responsible for 9/11 for more than 3,000 counts of murder and/or conspiracy to commit murder regardless of whether there's a Federal trial (indeed, dual sovereignty means the State Of New York can prosecute the architects of 9/11 even if they're convicted in Federal trials).

There's other awful stuff in this bill that reflects a fundamental mistrust of, misunderstanding of, and pure contempt for American law and legal institutions. I'm out of time now, but read it yourself. It's terrible. I can't help pointing out, too, that the architects of this reprehensible turd both had realistic presidential aspirations; one has to wonder how on Earth they planned to take yet another oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States when they're both so dead-set on breaking the oaths to do so they took as Senators and, in the case of Senator McCain, as a member of the armed services.

Anyway, read the bill for yourself. It's bad.



In honor of the recent induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame of Mr. Pop née Osterberg, the Brothers Asheton, Mr. Alexander, Mr. Williamson and all other once and future members of that phenomena of sound and fury known under the nom de guerre "The Stooges," please enjoy my favorite song by Mr. Pop, "The Passenger," performed live at the Manchester Apollo, 1977. Congratulations guys. Even if you had to get inducted at the same time as ABBA.


An irony too long to tweet....

>> Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My friend Tania retweeted this right before I went to bed:

thc1972 RT @washingtonpost Howard Kurtz - The Beck Factor at Fox: Staffers say comments taint their work -..

The link is to a Washington Post piece by Howard Kurtz. This paragraph on the first page caught my eye:

Publicly, there is plenty of praise. While Beck declined to be interviewed, Chris Balfe, president of Beck's company, Mercury Radio Arts, says that "Glenn and Roger have a fantastic relationship. That's the reason he went to Fox, because of Roger." He adds: "Roger definitely gives Glenn advice on a lot of different things he thinks Glenn could be doing better or differently."

Now, here's what's interesting about this: I knew that Beck was an Orson Welles fanatic from this series in Salon. Which should have struck me as funny, but didn't until I was reading this Kurtz piece before bed and saw that Beck had obviously named his production company--Mercury Radio Arts--in honor of Orson Welles' theatre company, radio show, acting troupe and film production company. Some of you are still wondering what the joke is.

The joke is that the Mercury Players and their founders, Orson Welles and John Houseman, were closely connected to, recipients of funds from, and promoters of the New Deal as part of the WPA Federal Theatre Project, a "big government" effort to keep people employed while promoting the arts. Personally, I think it was a great program and I'd love to see something like it come back, but--here's the kicker--we all know how Glenn Beck feels about Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Turns out, as I was grabbing links, that I'm not the first person to notice the irony: in fact, here's a Republican Orson Welles fan who is completely seething over Beck's use of the "Mercury Players" reference. The whole thing is great, makes wonderful points and is worth a read, but this is an especially choice paragraph right here:

Orson Welles would be turning over in his grave – his ashes are in a well in Ronda, Spain – to learn that a demagogue like Glenn Beck has co-opted the name of his cherished Mercury Theatre on the Air from which to spew his daily dose of rabble-rousing bigotry and venom ("Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?", Time cover story, Sept. 17). Beck represents EVERYTHING that Welles despised – the same sort of sanctimonious intolerance that forced him, in November 1947, to board the plane that sent him into a nearly decade-long exile in Europe.

The writer, Richard France, goes on to describe Welles as "a true New Deal Democrat," which is about right. It seems worth mentioning that Welles owed much of his pre-Citizen Kane fame/infamy not just to the famous War Of The Worlds dramatization and his radio appearances as The Shadow, but also to the controversy that surrounded an extremely pro-labor, pro-New Deal, Federally-funded WPA play that Welles and John Houseman produced, The Cradle Will Rock; indeed, it was Welles' talent for drawing controversy that led RKO to give Welles the unprecedented film deal that resulted in Kane, though they quickly bit off more than they could swallow when Welles' first feature turned out to be a brutal piss-taking of William Randolph Hearst, who had recently turned on Roosevelt.*

Surely Beck is aware that his greatest hero was an ardent supporter of "that evil son of a bitch" who brought America to the edge of socialism? I ask rhetorically. I mean, who knows what Beck is aware of or how much he believes his own schtick. (Chez Pazienza has suggested that Beck is "the greatest performance artist of the 21st century"; he may be right.) The irony, nonetheless, amuses. Will Beck change the name of his production company? Disavow his hero? Who knows?

Who cares?

*There is a slightly-apocryphal story that the single thing that most offended Hearst about Citizen Kane was the title character's obsession with "Rosebud."

Welles' co-author on Kane, Herman J. Mankiewicz, was formerly an invitee to Hearst parties, acquainted with Hearst's crowd and was privy to a great deal of Hearst gossip, and thus was aware that "Rosebud" was, allegedly, Hearst's nickname for his mistress', Marion Davies', genitalia.

Hearst was not amused by the reference.

SORT OF AN UPDATE: If you haven't read Roger Ebert's wonderful takedown of Il Beck's latest crazy rant--Beck recently told his Christian viewers to excuse themselves from churches who make social justice part of their mission--go, read it, read it now. It's a lovely little rant from someone who's turning out to be, I think, not just a reliably decent critic but one of the coolest and smartest guys on the planet.


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