The Smiths, "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side"

>> Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It has nothing at all to do with Halloween.  It's just been stuck in my head a good bit lately, possibly because I think there's a riff in The Kinks' "Lost And Found" that may sort of echo part of the riff in "Boy With The Thorn"; probably coincidentally, or maybe even not-at-all-except-in-my-head.

We have the ScatterKat moved in and she's turned her keys back over to her former landlords.  This is awesome, but a little stressful, too.  There are things everywhere and everywhere there are things.  The insanity was to be expected, but that doesn't make it less insane.  It's good, you know, but transitions are interesting times.

It's left me with Halloween and the October time, possibly my favorite time of the year, having passed me by.  I pulled Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, one of the perfect October books, off the shelf at the beginning of the month to reread it for the nth time and I haven't finished it.  Which tells you something of how underwater I've been (and this is why I mention it): Something Wicked is not only a short novel, it's also a sprightly one; indeed, when I've had a few minutes here and there to pick it up, I've blown through vast chunks of it in single sittings.  Bradbury divvied it up into four sections and I'm down to the final one, and maybe have actually picked up the book and read it three times in the past month, so I'm blowing through it a section at a time, basically.  I imagine I'll finish it today or this evening, at least I plan to.

Maybe it's just as well I'm having so little opportunity to get at it.  One of the major themes in it, you may recall, is mortality, an appropriate October subject--October is the late middle age of the year, when all things wind down toward winter, the trees blaze into brightness one last time before turning grey like an old man's hair, stooping in those cold winds that fill our bones.  This, I knew picking up the book again; I've only re-read it however many dozens of times and it's not a subtle theme at all.  What I'd forgotten, though, is just how young the book's idea of middle age and imminent mortality seems now that I'm old; I am far closer in age to Charles Halloway than I am to Master William, and Charles' "late-in-life" marriage and fatherhood, referred to several times, happened when he was actually a year younger than I am now.  This may be the first time I've ever read the book when this was the case, and I find myself wondering if Bradbury had any idea what he was talking about--forty isn't old--but, no, he was approximately my age when he wrote the damn thing (Something Wicked was published in 1962, Uncle Ray was born on August 22nd, 1920; depending on how long he sat on the manuscript, he was probably 39 or 40 when it was written, and depending on what month it came out, he would have been 40 or 41 upon publication.)

That's a detour I hadn't quite planned on going down.  The main thing was to attempt an explanation of why there haven't really been any October-themed or Halloween-themed posts this year, whereas in other years I've done reviews of various horror films, etc.  I've been tired, old and busy, I think is the explanation.  But Happy Halloween is what I probably really meant to say.  Happy Halloween.


By the numbers

>> Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Digby points to an opinion piece by Dean Chambers in which he argues that Nate Silver's Five Thirty Eight is wrong because Nate Silver is a girly man.  No, seriously; Chambers writes:

Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the "Mr. New Castrati" voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program. In fact, Silver could easily be the poster child for the New Castrati in both image and sound. Nate Silver, like most liberal and leftist celebrities and favorites, might be of average intelligence but is surely not the genius he's made out to be. His political analyses are average at best and his projections, at least this year, are extremely biased in favor of the Democrats. [internal links omitted]
In case you were wondering if fag-baiting was still around: apparently.
Presumably, Dean Chambers is a reliable bloviator because, I imagine, he chain-smokes unfiltered cigarettes, drinks bourbon straight with no chaser, wears his cowboy boots to bed and drives a Hummer that's been specially engineered to use baby seals for fuel.  Not only does Dean Chambers not eat quiche, he has never even seen one and wouldn't know how to spell the word (he thinks it begins with a manly "K" and the effete lisp is spelled out, and this is why no manchild of his would ever be named "Keith", though he has considered it a possible name for a daughter).  When Dean Chambers wants a steak, he goes out and throttles a fresh cow with his bare hands, cuts off the piece he wants and chars it with his cigarette lighter before eating it; when he wants dessert, he just throttles himself a new cow.  And he does not, repeat, not have any time for your queer math with its anal zeroes, phallic ones, limp-wristed twos, bent-over sevens and don't even get him started on how far an eight will go to make your daughter into a professional tennis player when she grows up.


Tim Stanley at the Telegraph makes essentially the same argument with more cogent arguments and a hundred-percent-less sashaying innuendo.  You can look through his points and decide whether you agree with any of them or not.  Me, I actually find the whole thing interesting on another level.

Which is the fact that Nate Silver points to an area in which the majority of liberals and the majority of conservative differ, I think.
We should start with what ought to be obvious.  Silver isn't at the New York Times because he's a lefty and the Times is a lefty paper and they're supporting each other's lefty agenda.  Nate Silver is at the Times because he an a political blog that had a seemingly good track record predicting the 2008 Democratic primaries and election results based on running poll numbers through a simulator Silver devised based on his experience as a sabermetrician, and this blog got an enormous online readership because Silver seemed to be a reliable predictor and his model and number-crunching appeared to be legitimately mathy and rigorous and not merely based on some kind of gut wisdom, and so the Times saw this and the New York Times is a business that's trying to figure out how to transition from a late-19th Century business model to a post-Internet model and Nate Silver's blog was exactly the kind of "new media" the Times is trying to copy / create / invest in / buy up / figure out / grok / compete with / destroy / coexist with; so the Times made Nate Silver an offer he couldn't refuse (apparently), and he didn't and here we are.
So, Silver is at the Times because he had a good run in 2008 and 2010, and the Times wanted to be a part of that.  But does that mean he's unbiased?  Well, no, one supposes not, though he seems to be doing his level-headed best on that score.  If he is unbiased and is trying to be rigorously mathy, does that mean he'll be right?  And again, no, he may be way off.
Certain conservatives are angry and upset, though, because right now as of this writing, for instance, Nate Silver is predicting President Obama has a  74.6% chance of being reelected.  This is crushing to these folks, because they evidently feel that Mitt Romney somehow has a one hundred percent chance of beating the President even though the Electoral College math is challenging for him even when you start throwing close-to-call battlefield states his way.  (These folks also don't seem to understand what a probability is in any case: 74.6% may be comforting to me, but I'm not overlooking the fact--excuse me while I dork out for a moment--that I've sent beloved Dungeons And Dragons characters into the maw of death knowing they had approximately a 25.4% chance of rolling the fifteen or better they needed to survive on a twenty-sided die (that would actually be a 30% chance of rolling well, kiddos).  People bet on football games and buy lottery tickets on worse odds than a 1-in-4 chance of winning.  That some people--right or left--are getting hung up on a 25% chance spelling doom is more a sign of general innumeracy than anything else.)
But this gets us to the thing.  The thing here is that certain conservatives assume or want to argue that Nate Silver is wrong because he's biased and a tool of the liberal elite and whatever else; and if he's wrong they'll crow about how reality beat leftist dewy-eyed dreams (or are those "Dewey-eyed dreams"?) yet again, and if he's right... well, they'll say the election was rigged or stolen and perhaps accuse Nate Silver of creating self-fulfilling prophecies by propagandizing and misleading the public with his deliberate distortions and intentional misrepresentations.

Versus what liberals are likely to do if Nate Silver is wrong: however they may feel about the election results and whether the numbers were the product of things like voter ID laws or just the President losing out to a rough economy, liberals are likely to look at Silver's numbers and ask what's wrong with Nate Silver's model, not what's wrong with reality.

That is to say: I'm not sure I want to call what Nate Silver does "science", but there is a scientific approach in what he's trying to do.  And when you have a predictive model that doesn't work out, the scientific thing to do is to figure out what's wrong with the model--can it be salvaged or does it need to be abandoned and we start all over again?--instead of insisting the model works and making excuses for what is merely an "apparent" failure.

It seems to me there are ingrained patterns here, perhaps rooted in the difference between a conservative regard for tradition and a liberal regard for experimentation: that when a conservative fails, the answer is he should have done the same thing, only more of it; whereas when a liberal fails, the answer is to break the whole process down and figure out what went wrong and do things completely differently next time.  I tend to find the latter process superior, but then I guess I would.

This tangentially gets us to a problem with an argument Brother Seth recently made; he wrote: 

The best reason for liberals to throw the election to Romney, as I said Friday, is to hasten the apocalypse. Just throw everything to the Republicans and let them govern, unimpeded, until the country is a scalded ruin and the image of what conservatives would do with power is so branded on the American soul that nobody ever votes for them again. That’s a strategy. Hoping to fall back into the loser’s position so that liberals behave more like Matt Stoller wants them to is not. [internal link omitted]

Which would be more tempting argument but for the fact we've been through that several times now.  Regardless of what one thinks of conservatism as an ideology or governing philosophy, one might think George W. Bush, the 104th Congress, Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, Herbert Hoover, the Teddy Roosevelt-led Progressive insurrection or even the Grant Administration could have been a death-knell for the Grand Old Party, but they've come home more times than Michael Myers and his Shatner mask.
Even if we confine ourselves to the postwar Republican Party, or even the post-Vietnam Republican Party, which are wholly different species of elephant from the parties of Hoover, Coolidge, Taft and Grant (which were different parties from the party of Lincoln), you're talking about the GOP recovering from the embarrassments of Nixon, Iran-Contra, Gingrich, De Lay, et al. when any similarly-scaled humiliations and/or scandals would put a comparable party in a parliamentary democracy into a permanent minority.  Not only that, but the wilderness periods, such as they were, have gotten shorter and shorter.  They rehabilitated Nixon, for fuck's sake, which should have been harder than populating Mars.

Well, it's because there's a mentality, held, apparently, by roughly half the population, that believes the real problem with Nixon was that he wasn't Nixonian enough, that if he'd really had the fullest latitude to smash down the greasy hippies, it would have been awesome.  Or if you want to bring us up to date, that the problem with George W. Bush was that he was insufficiently conservative, that bailing out the banks was socialism and No Child Left Behind a flawed set of programs because of underfunded mandates and a misplaced reliance on testing as a success metric, but because it violates the Tenth Amendment.

There is no apocalypse the Republican Party could cause that would shake the blind faith of these folks.  If President Obama, reelected, somehow caused the zombie apocalypse, liberals would start second-guessing everything they'd ever done and have a massive crisis of faith and probably schedule several circular firing squads.  If Romney triggers the Zombocalypse, however, conservatives will just blame Obama, or Nancy Pelosi, or maybe even Ted Kennedy; there's nothing wrong with the principles, so if everything got bunged up, it must be someone else's fault.


The Kinks, "Lost And Found"

>> Monday, October 29, 2012

This one's for everybody up the Atlantic coastline, everybody in New York and New England: batten down and stay warm and dry folks.  Warm and dry and I hope you're safe.  Be safe.



Camper Van Beethoven, "All Her Favorite Fruit"

>> Sunday, October 28, 2012

More CVB.  One I do indeed love, for all its melancholy.


Camper Van Beethoven, "I'm Not Like Everybody Else"

>> Saturday, October 27, 2012

I think this'll be a CVB weekend while the ScatterKat and I get done packing things away, finalizing her move-in to my condo.
If you're on the east coast (or, really, anywhere else), try and stay warm, dry and well-lit, hey?


Dumb quote of the day--goddamn all these trees, Google Maps says there's a forest around here somewhere edition

>> Friday, October 26, 2012

However, the overriding point is that for left-leaning voters, this election choice should not be seen as easy. It should be viewed as a complex decision about policy outcomes within the context of opposition politics. And here’s the inconvenient truth: with such similar presidential candidates, a lack of liberal opposition to a reelected Obama is arguably as frightening a prospect as a Romney presidency.
Salon, October 26th, 2012.


Confession.  I've mostly stopped reading Sirota's stuff at Salon because I generally think he's a clueless hack.  Stopped to the point that I've sometimes clicked on a link with an interesting headline, suddenly noticed his byline, and hit the stop or close tab button to abort before I wasted my time.  So what made me read this one?  I was looking for easy material for a short dumb quote piece for a quickie Friday posting.

Ha, ha: I won.

Look, this election is, in fact, easy for left-leaning voters.  Too easy.  It isn't that Sirota is wrong to be offended by drone strikes and the expansion of Bush-era security policies that are inimical to civil rights; or that he's necessarily wrong to feel betrayed by Obama's broken campaign promises (though some of those, on inspection, may be blameable on an obstructionist Congress); nor that he's far-off in thinking the President has pursued center-right economic policies and done things like, as Sirota puts it, "turning over his economic policymaking to corporate-connected insiders".  All of that's fair enough.  More than fair.

But any liberal looking at the situation faces a really numbingly obvious question: what, if anything, do you think President Mitt Romney would do better?

Because, you know, it's true that only Nixon--the legendary red-baiter who got into the House by accusing Jerry Voorhis of being a communist, into the Senate by accusing Helen Douglas of the same, into the national eye during his House career by going after Alger Hiss--could go to China.  Nobody could accuse Richard Nixon of being soft on the Red Menace.  But does anyone think Mitt Romney, the Etch-A-Sketch candidate, the weather vane, the guy who spent much of the Republican primary season saying what he thought ultraconservatives wanted to hear and much of the Presidential debates saying what he though moderates wanted to hear, does anyone think this guy has the brass, much less the credentials, to boldly lead from the center against his own party?

Supposing you even give Romney the benefit of the doubt as to whether he's ever said anything he meant (well... at least in public), what he said about drones (one of Sirota's big problems with the President) during the third debate was:
Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it's widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.

On the issues Sirota thinks are important, Romney has indicated (where he's said anything on the subject at all) he'll either do basically the same thing as the President or he'll do worse (compared to what a liberal presumably finds desirable or acceptable).  It really is that plain.

So what the question boils down to for a liberal or progressive... well, there is no question, actually.  But we'll put it out there anyway.  The only question for a liberal or progressive ought to be "Does my vote help Mitt Romney and the increasingly conservative GOP in any way?"  It isn't even a question of endorsing Obama or endorsing everything Obama has done as President or might do if reelected.  If the answer is an unconditional "no", perhaps because you live in a state like California or New York where the vote is pretty much a done deal, by all means vote for Jill Stein or whomever; but there's no reason to be "undecided" in that case, or pretend you are, just say, "Yeah, I'm going Green because I've done the math and I can't vote for Obama and assuaging my own moral ego in no way endangers any other cause I might believe in nor does it enhance any risk of something happening--a Supreme Court Justice appointment, for instance--that would appall me."  But if there's any chance whatsoever that the answer could be "yes", you're an idiot for having had to ask the question, or for thinking there was any reason at all to stay on a fence.  You really think Mitt Romney might be better for the country on any issue of importance to the left?  Then yeah, you really are an idiot, because you really haven't been paying an ounce of attention.

Here's how simple it was for me: I went to the polls to vote early, and I voted straight-ticket Democrat in every partisan race, even where I knew with a moral certainty that I was voting for a corrupt or incompetent son-of-a-bitch.  And I didn't vote for those candidates because I liked them, I voted for them because when I looked at the other side of the race, it was easy enough to say, "I'm not doing a thing to encourage those ruinous rat bastards and their reactionary, teabagging party."  End-of-line.  That simple.  That black-and-white.  I'll just go ahead and tell you: I voted for some real shits.  But my "choice" was I could vote for someone whose party is hostile to nearly everything I think is worth fighting for or I could abstain and thereby do nothing to hurt that party that's hostile to nearly everything I think is worth fighting for (and maybe even help them by doing nothing meaningful against them).

If you don't get that, you need to give yourself a long look in the mirror and wonder what the hell you're thinking.


All apologies

>> Thursday, October 25, 2012

It's terribly hard, in these last weeks before the election, to catalogue everything wrong with Mitt Romney, and at this point there's quite a lot one would rather just ignore, you know?  I start feeling like this dog:

But I came across something while I was wandering the Internet, a post at some conservative blog where the author was pimping the "Obama Apology Tour" meme, and I realized that this is something that's floating around even above and beyond Romney pimping it at the debates and his whistlestops.  Oh, and I guess Romney was pimping this one even at least as early as two years ago, when he published something called No Apology as a preamble to officially running for President.

The writer at Hot Air takes the tack that the "Apology Tour" line is defensible and not, as it's sometimes been characterized, a total lie.  Not because the President ever actually expressed an out-and-out, you know, apology or remorse or anything like that, but (the writer argues) because the President said things that are semantically indistinguishable from an apology, like:

In America, there’s a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic Union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.

...which the writer goes on to characterize as, "...a mode of behavior that should have been odious and offensive to every American," concluding:

It would have been had the speaker been someone other than a man in whom so many invested hope. The unwillingness of those on the left now, after four years, to concede that Obama’s words were not only apologetic but wrong-headed just shows how partisan and small-minded they are.

See, what I find simultaneously interesting and confoundingly stupid about this whole thing isn't that I actually care whether or not Obama's words are technically or semantically or essentially or whatever an "apology", but that I don't really care if they were.  What I mean is, even if I stipulate that comments like the one quoted were in fact an apology and that the President is now misrepresenting what he said or even lying about it, I still don't understand what's so awful about apologizing in the first place.

Maybe it's because I was raised in the South.  Maybe it's because my parents did some things right.  Where I come from, anyway, we were brought up to apologize when we screwed up.  Or even, sometimes, when we didn't, though the standard Southern formality for that is the classic unapologetic pseudo-apology, "Well, I'm sorry you feel that way."

America has shown arrogance, been dismissive, and even derisive.  Especially during the Bush years, when Donald Rumsfeld gratuitously insulted our French and German allies by dismissing them as "Old Europe" during the build-up to the Iraq War, another Administration official disparagingly called the Belgians "chocolate makers" and the Heritage Foundation recommended the Bush Administration treat Europe as a "toolbox".  Assuming, just for the sake of an argument, that Obama making conciliatory overtures was, indeed, a quote-unquote "apology", I kinda think we had some things to apologize for.

It isn't like the President, I dunno, did something like fly to Japan and go door-to-door to express his regret that we so antagonized and intimidated them in the Pacific and mainland Asia in the 1930s that we're sorry the Japanese had to go to all that trouble to bomb Pearl Harbor and we're so sorry if we got needlessly upset and firebombed Tokyo or anything like that when any hostility should have been directed back at ourselves for supporting Chiang Kai-Shek and deploying forces to the Pacific instead of allowing the Japanese to just go ahead and establish strategic and trade monopolies over almost the entire Pacific Rim as was clearly their own Manifest Destiny.

No, the President just sort of acknowledged--in speeches addressed to some of our closest traditional allies in Europe and to some of our trade partners and geographical neighbors in Latin America--that we'd kind of been dicks lately and implied we wouldn't do that quite as often in the future.  Honestly, I kind of wish he'd gone farther and simply flat-out said, "Yeah, sorry about that."

Or I would have kind of liked this, for instance: "People of France, I really hope our being assholes over the Iraq thing won't change our BFF status with France.  Sometimes buddies argue.  But you guys saved our asses in the American Revolution and we saved yours in World War II, so let's sit down with beers and baguettes instead of staying pissed at each other, 'kay?  We're sorry.  Pals?"

The pseudo-manly "no apology" crap is one of the least attractive things about the right-wing mindset.  Gentlemen apologize.  Assholes don't.  But I think it also ties in very tightly with another ugly thing about the mindset: see, being able to apologize means being able to at least consider that you might have been wrong about something, and admitting you might be wrong about something is to admit the capacity for doubt, for fallibility, for uncertainty.  In a way, it's admitting that there are diverse viewpoints about things.  That there are, in fact, shades and perspectives, and that the world isn't just not black-and-white, but that it's polychrome, and not just polychrome, but (much like the iridescent scales on a butterfly wing or the sheen of oil floating on water) polychrome that may change in shade, tone or even hue if you change your angle of incidence, sometimes by as little as a few degrees or inches--take a full step left or right, and the red becomes purple or the blue turns indigo, something as bright as polished silver suddenly turns blacker than midnight at the bottom of a well.

For the majority of American conservatives these days, it seems like the acknowledgement of uncertainty is anathema.  You can't have it in your economics or your religion, it better stay out of your politics.  Right and wrong, Jesus and Satan, totalitarian communism and libertarian laissez-faire, guns and slavery, religion and science; it's not just that there's no middle ground between any two supposedly polar absolutes, there's not a sliver of deviance.  A theist who suggests evolution is God's standard operating procedure might as well be Richard Dawkins; a staunchly pro-business CEO who hazards that one or two banking regulations might not be the worst thing that ever happened to anyone is clearly an inveterate Marxist.

The little minds of these folks are haunted by hobgoblins (riffing on Emerson).  They cling to clouds of foolish inconsistency and auras of absolutism with ferocious terror, and it's ugly.

Of course they can't apologize--right or wrong, they're always right, and anything else is weakness.  Not perceived weakness, actual weakness, because if they were ever wrong, it would mean they stepped from the solid stone of their beliefs and principles into an endless void of possibility where they would have no hope of balance or leverage--better to stay on their crumbling plateau than to risk falling.

Ugly, ugly, ugly.  It's weak and despicable and unbecoming.  It's a form of cowardice in a sealed-off bunker fronting as bravery under fire.

I have no idea what's going to happen in a couple of weeks, whether Romney will be elected or Obama will be.  But the last thing in the world this country--this world--needs is more preening, self-righteous, overconfident arrogance from those who represent us to the world and make decisions about how to act in it.

Suppose we agree Barack Obama apologized for the United States and Mitt Romney promises he never will: all that tells me is one of these men is a fool.


Leda And The Swan

>> Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,

So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

-William Butler Yeats, "Leda And The Swan" (1924)

Yet another Republican candidate for national office talks about rape and abortion.  This time, a United States Senate candidate in Indiana, Richard Mourdock, saying "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."  And lots of folks are getting upset because here's yet another anti-abortion Republican saying something misogynistic.

Except he isn't.  That isn't the problem with Richard Mourdock at all.

People are comparing what Mourdock said with what U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin said over in Missouri.  Which is, let's say, a misplaced comparison.  I mean, if we want to be honest, it's actually a dumb comparison, even if some of the people drawing it are smart ones.  Mourdock didn't imply some kind of bizarre distinction between "legitimate" (i.e. "real") rape and fake or fraudulent rape, nor did Mourdock bizarrely recycle a 13th Century medico-legal concept  propped up with contemporary junk science.  Mourdock said rape was horrible, and at least from what I've seen so far, he didn't proffer a dubious taxonomy of violence or engage in troubling semantics; Mourdock merely said that horrible rapes can produce a living creature and that's just God's will.

What Mourdock said isn't exactly a women's rights issue.  Not entirely, though I guess we'll be coming back to that in a moment.  But, no: mostly it's a religious issue.

Because, really, if you believe in a personal, interventionist God who is omniscient and omnipotent and perhaps even preordaining of the future, I don't see how you avoid the conclusion that an act of rape is something God wanted--maybe not something He liked, mind you, but He knew about it (presumably in advance) and He had the cosmic ability to stop it somehow if He wanted.  Keep in mind all those qualifiers: this observation isn't a particularly atheistic observation, the idea that there's a God doesn't necessarily imply any of the rest of it; a creator God who made the universe and walked away, or an omniscient but powerless God, or a God who is all-powerful but doesn't get His hands dirty for whatever unknowable Mysterious Reason--these are all possibilities, and not even an exclusive list of them.

(My own atheism stems not from the absurd pseudo-atheistic argument that God must be evil and therefore doesn't exist(!!), or that the concept of a deity who is omniscient, omnipotent and benign contradicts what is actually seen in the world (so maybe God is real and He's a rat bastard--that's not atheism), but from a lack of satisfactory positive evidence of any kind of deity in the universe at all, combined with ruminations about history, myth and human behavior.)

I don't know Mourdock's religious beliefs.  He got his undergraduate degree from a university affiliated with a Protestant denomination, which means nothing, engaged in missionary activities in Bolivia which is suggestive, his demographics (conservative, American, Midwestern, teabagger affiliations) are certainly also suggestive; and then there are his more-than-suggestive comments that have gotten him this national attention.  I would guess he's an Evangelical Protestant, but I could be dead wrong on that.  It seems, at any rate, he believes in that personal, interventionist, all-knowing, all-powerful deity, doesn't it?  At least that's the inference from "when life begins in that horrible situation of rape... [that] is something that God intended to happen," right?

If that's where you're coming from, who are you to argue with God?

And I'm sorry, but I think one has to concede there's power to that argument if you're going to buy into the premise.  William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, wondered if a woman being raped by a bird (okay, the bird was the god Zeus... because, uhm, that's just how He rolled in those days) had any glimmer of foreknowledge that she was an agent of capital-H History (or capital-D Destiny, if you'd prefer), the consequence of her violation being that she gave birth to between two and four children (depends on who's telling the story), one of whom was Helen Of Troy, who caused so much trouble by being the most famous kidnap victim in human history.  Some versions of the story also claim that one of Leda's kids was Clytemnestra, who killed Agamemmnon (who led the armies of Greece against Troy to recover Helen) while he was having an otherwise nice bath.  You want to talk about pregnancy from rape being something that's the will of the divine, talk about that.

The thing is, though--and here's where we do get back to women's rights in a brief and kind of ironic way--you can make this theological argument about just about everything.  So God wanted you to get raped and pregnant, well maybe He also wanted you to have that abortion.  I don't know why.  He's God.  Moves in mysterious ways, or so they tell me.  Mourdock's still making a value judgment that puts the supposed rights of a fetus over whatever rights we may otherwise feel the woman surrounding it might have.  The will-of-God argument doesn't really get around that, I don't think; assuming there's this personal, interventionist--oh, you know the verbiage, right?--assuming there's this particular kind of God, maybe He likes women to have abortions.  Or it's part of His plan.

But that also sort of segues us to what I find most troubling about someone like Mourdock and what he represents.  Thinking that God, if He exists, does really bizarre and unfathomable things isn't a reason not to believe in God, if you're so inclined, though it may be a reason to wonder what kind of Creature He is; but it is a reason to wonder why someone like Mr. Mourdock does anything at all, or why he cares, or why he isn't just a passive thing drifting through circumstances or why he wouldn't be such a drifting jellyfish as a United States Senator, if elected?  I mean, if it's God's divine will that women get raped and knocked up, maybe it's also God's will that we have Obamacare.  Or that the infrastructure of the United States Interstate System collapses into dust through lack of Federal highway funds.  Or you can use it to justify any positive action, I guess, whether it's turning Medicaid into a voucher program for God or nuking Peoria for Christ.  (I don't know why God hates Peoria.  He just does.  Did.  Sorry, guess we need to change all the maps now.  Maybe that was His Divine Plan all along.  He loves cartographers and National Geographic magazine inserts.)

I suspect if I believed in God, I'd find Mourdock's apparent willingness to second-guess what God wants kind of disturbing, but then I have a hard time imagining I'd ever believe in a personal, interventionist--oh, for fuck's sake, I'm already sick of typing it all out.  (As I get old, I kind of like the idea of the Jewish version of God, which, as far as I can tell, is "So, He's around, you know"; Jewish friends, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.  Not that I'm looking to convert, or anything.  Still don't see any particular reason I should believe in any deity, or why I'd be obligated to choose Yahweh over Odin, who's much more metal than any of our boring monotheistic offerings--Dude has one eye, rides an eight-legged horse and gets His news from a pair of omniscient, super-intelligent crows.  Rock.)  As an atheist, I find his apparent inside-track on the divine Mind to be just a tad, you know, delusional.

But, either way, this is all part of a larger problem with religion and politics getting their chocolate in each other's peanut butter in a totally non-delicious-and-in-fact-kind-of-nasty-tasting way, isn't it?  That's the real point, here.  There's logic in what Richard Mourdock says, in the simple sense of his conclusions flowing from his premises: if there's this kind of God, if life begins at conception, if said life is valued a certain way, etc., then this must indeed be God's plan.  Pretentious logic, maybe.  Delusional logic, perhaps.  The premises certainly beg a whole lot of questions, however you want to slice it.  But the conclusion?  Flawless conclusion, if you buy what Mourdock's selling, if you're drinking from the same fountain.

I think what I'm really trying to get around to, though, is just this: that lots of people want to knock Mourdock for his conclusion, when it's his premises that are the whole problem.  Is there a God?  How would Mourdock know what He wants if there is?  What else will Richard Mourdock claim God wants, and do we trust Mourdock as an agent of God's will that much, if we even think Mourdock's God is legit?  I'd have to add that this isn't just a problem for the agnostic or atheist who thinks Mourdock is channeling static, but for any theist whose idea of God is maybe a little different from the entity Mourdock's implementing policy on behalf of.

In the universe Leda existed in--this universe of stories, myths, legends, muddled history and apocrypha--we have the benefit of knowing how the whole thing ends, and knowing, yes, that within the context of the story, it's all true.  That is, it may be something people made up a long ways back, but for the purposes of this tale, there is a God and He likes turning into animals and having sex with human women, and those children (however many of them there are, whomever they are) all are a part of the legends, too.  We know Zeus taking Leda has a higher purpose, because we know that Troy burned and Agamemnon bled out in his bathwater, that Orestes avenged his old man but was chased by demons for it into the bosom of Apollo, who was of no use to him.  And Cassandra saw it all coming but couldn't do a thing, poor creature.  And we can say this was all what God intended to happen, what God wanted, because that's how the story ended up being rigged, this is how all the pieces were put together, this is how it was made up.  This is, to borrow a good line, the reconstruction of the fables.

This is all clear, because it's all stories, and anyone real the stories might have been based on is very, very dead.

In this universe, the time is now and Richard Mourdock is telling stories to and for people who may not think much of them at all, and the characters are all real people who may be suffering now.  Does anyone really think the time and place he wants to tell those stories is the right one, or that the version he's telling is so true it ought to be told on the floor of the United States Senate?


A few desultory thoughts about the third Presidential debate, 2012

>> Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The ScatterKat and I voted Saturday.  Early voting.  So it isn't like listening to the debate on NPR was going to make a huge difference for us.  Not unless we built a time machine between now and Election Day, or fell in a wormhole or something.  But it's an easy post.

So the President did alright for himself, which was to be expected.  Look, the truth is that even if you set aside the conventional wisdom that foreign policy is an incumbent President's strong suit during a campaign--which I'm not sure is always true, it's just one of the things pundits say while bloviating--I think it's hard for the Republicans to get around the fact that the Administration's foreign policy has mostly been competent, if not well-conducted.  There's the faux-scandal of the Benghazi attack, but not all the facts are in and Romney ended up having that blade turn in in his hand and cut him at the last debate because he didn't know how to wield it.  You can attack the Administration for the use of drones in "targeted" killings from the bleeding-heart left or the isolationist right, but Romney and the Bush neocons he's surrounded himself with for foreign policy advice are hardly in a position to do either.

Which left Romney in the awkward position of spending much of last night's debate saying he'd do exactly what the current Administration is doing, only he'd do it better or Romney-er or something.  It made the whole thing a little awkward and weird.

No doubt, that's why they kept pivoting to the economy.  Well; I get why Romney wanted to do that, I'm not entirely sure why Obama kept going there, too.  Maybe he figured he was owning Romney on foreign policy issues, he might as well work in a pander to teachers just like Romney figured while he was getting owned on foreign policy, he might as well pander to the Latino vote.  I dunno if that actually worked for either of them, but someone could've gotten whiplash if they tried following the changing of the subject too closely.


Confession: I didn't really think Romney had made any really notable gaffes, but that's because I forgot where Syria was.  Honestly, I ought to know better.  In my defense, I was playing a videogame while we were listening to it, and I was probably more concerned, as far as spatial relations are concerned, with where the Borg sphere I was targeting was in relation to my shields than I was with the fact Syria is on the Mediterranean while Iran's route to the sea would be via the Gulf named after it.  Let me add that my teammates and I thoroughly decimated the Borg incursion and those damn cybernetic-infecting-hive-mind-cockroaches won't be bothering the Regulus Sector Block of the Alpha Quadrant ever again until the next time they respawn for their daily event.

(I would like to hear more about how Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama would deal with these regular incursions of the Borg menace into Federation space and would they be willing to hold a cease-fire with the Klingon Empire to discuss presenting a united Federation-Klingon-Romulan front to this common menace to the Alpha Quadrant.  Also, what steps would either gentleman take, if elected or re-elected, to reduce our dependence on foreign dilithium while bringing matter-antimatter containment field prices down.  Thank you.)

So that was pretty fucking stupid on my part not to catch it last night.  But at least I wasn't stupid enough to say something like that to the entire American people.  I don't know that it'll make a difference, though: I keep hearing that Americans are too dumb to find their own home state on a map of South America (hint: that's a trick question), much less figure out that the Romney campaign is too dumb to Google the Middle East, and this after more than two-thirds of his foreign-policy team got George W. Bush into what often gets labeled the "Second Gulf War", as in Persian Gulf, as in Persia is what they called Iran in that old Apple II game where I used to always fall into pits and get impaled on spikes (which seems redundant, since there was no way for me to get out of the pit, but I guess that was better than waiting for your man to die of starvation, which probably would have been really boring after about fifteen minutes).


Even missing the "Route To The Sea" gaffe, Romney's foreign policy prescriptions frequently veered on the incoherent.  My favorite was the bit about providing Syrian rebels with weapons that magically can't be used against Americans.  Now those are what I call smart weapons (rimshot).  I guess this is how Romney plans on creating jobs: we'll get the American public employed making guns that have an expiration date or some kind of monthly subscription fee.


In a similar vein, there was Romney's line, "You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators," which was kind of funny because, like Romney last night, the ScatterKat and I were talking about Iran this past weekend.  Only, y'know, what we were talking about was the Iranian Revolution and how it was a result of the CIA deposing Iran's democratically-elected government and reinstalling>
the Shah of Iran in 1953 (we were talking about seeing Argo, Ben Affleck's movie about the real-life rescue of a half-dozen American diplomats from Iran during the '79 hostage crisis by CIA operatives posing as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a Roger Zelazny movie).

Yeah, I mean, not to rationalize or justify Iran's political and theocratic leadership being bugfuck crazy, genocidal, homicidal, etc., but it probably does behoove us to remember that if the Iranians think we're out to get them, it might have something to do with, you know, the way we've been out to get them.  And that if they're a problem state, it might have something to do with the fact we destroyed their democracy and then spent a quarter-century propping up the dictator we installed because they were going to nationalize British oil interests and the Cold War and stuff, and then when they were sick of it and overthrew said dictator, we yoiked him away from their justice or retribution or whatever they were going to do for him (though, to be fair, he did need medical treatment and he did spend his whole stay in the United States stuck in a hospital under a fake name).  Which, again, isn't to say we owe them an apology (though... maybe), much less that we should put up with any bullshit from them; it is to say maybe we shouldn't be so sanguine about all this "We have freed other nations from dictators" schtick.


I also don't get Romney's current China positions.  We'll work with them by, on Romney's first day in office, declaring them a currency manipulator and imposing tariffs.  Also, they won't like or respect us as trade partners if we reduce the size of our military, because... well, I didn't understand that part, either.  Actually, I think Romney's China policy may have been created by Henry Mudd, which means it will only work if China is a hive-mind of logic-obsessed robots who can be overloaded by a sequence of surrealist and absurdist pantomimes culminating in presenting the Chinese Premier with the liar paradox and hoping he hasn't been outfitted with paradox-absorbing crumple zones.

Okay, I've been playing way too much Star Trek Online.


I think one reason I thought Romney's performance rose to adequacy, or maybe the reason, was that he didn't bite on any of Bob Schieffer's gotcha questions on Israel.  Neither candidate did.  Schieffer kept asking them if they'd go to war for Israel, or what if Iran did this to Israel, or would we make a commitment to defend Israel like it was American soil, and Romney even pretty much called Schieffer on his bullshit with, "Bob, let's not go into hypotheticals of that nature," and pointing out in a mostly-tactful way that the question Schieffer had just asked was pretty fucking stupid.

I just want to give credit where it's due, y'know?


Speaking of calling people on their bullshit, I'm glad the President finally jumped on that stupid meme Romney and Ryan have been pushing about reducing the United States Navy to pre-World War I numbers.  I'm not even sure how that one has gotten any traction at all, unless people really are so stupid they don't realize the U.S.S. Enterprise (no, not that one, this one) could pretty much take on the entire WWI United States Navy without the WWI fleet ever seeing her or even knowing exactly where she was.  I'd go as far as saying the Enterprise could sink the whole WWI-era fleet, only I don't know if she'd run out of ammunition before sinking 774 boats.

But Romney and Ryan keep comparing the proposed force levels to a military that didn't have radar, long-range aircraft, guided missiles, or the ability to operate long periods at sea without routinely returning to port to re-coal.  Much less possess submarines each capable of being armed with more than 130 megatons of destructive capacity that can be directed at hundreds of targets within a 7,500 mile range.

And who are we going to be fighting, that we need to destroy the world a dozen times over, anyway?


I thought I was about finished, but then I remembered that Romney attacked Tesla Motors again.  And I still don't get it.  Tesla is paying back their Federal loan and is wholly on schedule and the company is predicting positive cash flow by the end of next month.  They've had some problems delivering their new sedan model on schedule, but there's nothing wholly unexpected about that with such an innovative company.  The Wall Street Journal calls Tesla a wait-and-see investment, based in large part on the company's debt-to-cash ratio, but the Journal also points out that the debt-to-cash issue is part and parcel of being a cutting-edge company.  I.e. Tesla may be a risky investment, but that doesn't make it a bad investment.

And that's for the individual investor.  It isn't necessarily a bad investment for the government even if the government loses money (which seems unlikely: it looks like the public will at least break even on the loan we made); after all, there's a good case to be made that the American people have an interest in new technologies and innovations built upon existing techs that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and all the political, economic and environmental problems they create.

Honestly, if I hadn't voted already, Romney picking on Tesla would be yet another reason to vote against him.


So it's about two more weeks of this, and then....

Well, then it's not really over, because I guess if the President gets reelected, the GOP is going to return to the same shenanigans they've been at the past four years, and if Romney somehow pulls it out, we get to deal with whatever mess he ends up making of things.  I don't know how much heart I'll have to write about politics in that scenario, because I imagine I'm only capable of saying, "I coulda told you that would happen" oh-so-many-times, plus I'm a light touch and, really, if we end up with the economy even further in the crapper or in a trade war with China, I probably will feel sorry for the victims even if they voted for the wrong guy.

Or maybe I'm wrong, and the system will be more robust than I give it credit for.  All of Romney's "On my first day as President" statements are a bit silly and hyperbolic, just because a lot of them are going to be things that get blocked in the Senate (by filibuster if the Republicans hold it, by majority if they don't).  On an unfortunately similar note, a lot of the worst things we could expect from a Romney administration are already seeping into effect via House budget actions or state legislative actions (e.g. at some point it isn't going to get any harder for a woman to get an abortion, because it can't get any harder than impossible even if abortion is legal but there just aren't any clinics willing or able within a few hundred miles).

Which isn't to say the guy would be harmless.  He wouldn't.  He wants to return us to 19th Century regulatory policies, which is the kind of thing that led to the housing bubble and credit collapse, and he's surrounding himself with the same gang of idiots who got us into Iraq (and who screwed up Afghanistan in the process).  He'll have a hard time destroying Obamacare outright, but he can certainly erode it into meaningless while screwing up the nation's financials.  And speaking of that: Clinton and Obama are right, the Romney tax plan doesn't add up; now, I'm one of those people who thinks deficit concerns are overblown--I think the crucial issue isn't whether there's a deficit, but how well the deficit is being managed (basically, where are we with the interest payments is an oversimplified "what-the-problem-boils-down-to")--but Romney's plan doesn't even do that; and, I should add, deficits are a problem if you're not getting any benefit from your expenditures, and I don't see Romney's deficit-running as being socially or economically constructive in any way (rich people are as likely--or more--to sequester their money or gamble with it as they are to quote-unquote "create jobs").

But this is where we're at.  I've cast my vote, done my bit.  We'll see if it means anything.  Or we'll at least have to wait and see who the Electoral College puts in office.


Dire Straits, "Romeo And Juliet"

>> Monday, October 22, 2012

Mostly because it's probably one of the prettiest songs Dire Straits ever recorded.  "Brothers In Arms") and "Why Worry" are about the only two that come to mind in that category of "pretty"--Dire Straits recorded a lot of songs that rocked and a bunch that swung, some kind of funky songs and a lot of blues, but I don't know that their sentiments ever ran overmuch to... well, sentimentality.  I'm sure there's something I'm missing, but as awesome as Dire Straits was, you really have to look to Mark Knopfler's solo career for songs that are as sweet and tender as those three tunes ("Brothers", "Worry", "Romeo").
I'm going home to listen to the debate tonight, even though I'm no longer a likely voter.  Or, put another way, I'm a maximally-likely voter: the ScatterKat and I went down and took advantage of early voting to punch our tickets this past Saturday.  It wasn't like some drama was going to change our minds in the last couple of weeks of the race, was it?  Or, as I've said previously, the first couple of weeks of the race, or the years leading up to it.
But I feel like I'm supposed to keep abreast of this kind of thing.  I think I said that before, too.
It's also an excuse not to write anything, which is great because writing has been a painful and awful business.  I can't finish anything I start anymore, and I can't start much to begin with.  I'm actually planning on trying to keep pace with the NaNoWriMo schedule this year just because it might goad me into... I don't know.  You can't really be goaded into coming up with anything worth a damn, but I'm hoping it will encourage me.  The big project of the past year's been abandoned, again, and the idea I thought I'd replace it with seems to be going pear-shaped already.  I'm wondering these days if I'm temperamentally suited to being a quote-unquote "writer", but it is what it is.
Still, I struggle.  And my head hurts thinking about it, so enough about that.


Dum Dum Girls, "Lord Knows"

>> Sunday, October 21, 2012

It's a song that gets in your head.  And I'm a sucker for melancholy, shivery guitars and echo-drenched ethereal women's voices, so there's that.  (Are we talking ethereal voices of women or voices of ethereal women?  Does it matter?)  Julee Cruise, Cowboy Junkies, this tune.  A couple of Raveonettes songs, though their stuff tends to be slicker and grungier, like an oil leak underneath a 1950 Indian.  Boys can sometimes go there, too: Julee Cruise shimmered more with Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch writing material for her, but, actually, I was thinking of some Chris Isaac, though maybe he doesn't ever go dark enough.


Violent Femmes, "Add It Up"

>> Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mitt Romney's tax plan may not be something that adds up, but if anyone can do it, it's Gordon Gano.  Though he might not be able to talk about it if... well, certain activities with certain individuals leave him speechless, he tells us.


The Rolling Stones, "Doom And Gloom"

>> Friday, October 19, 2012

Approaching seventy, The Stones finally release their very own "Rockin' In The Free World".  And I am pleasantly surprised.  Very pleasantly surprised.  Didn't know they still had that much oomph left in 'em anymore.


Pink Floyd, "A New Machine (pt. 1)" / "Terminal Frost" / "A New Machine (pt. 2)"

>> Thursday, October 18, 2012

This seems as good a way as any for not writing anything in particular, which (I think) is what I'm in the mood for this evening.  And "A New Machine" and "Terminal Frost" may not be at the top of anyone's best-of lists (though I've been inordinately fond of "Terminal Frost" since A Momentary Lapse Of Reason came out in 1987), but there's a groove there, and a groove is, I think, the kind of thing I need at the moment.

I must hope you're okay with that, or, better yet, you need a groove, too.  And that psychedelic space smooth jazz--or whatever you'd like to call it--scratches that itch.  Cheers.


Dumb quote of the day: Trapper Keeper edition

>> Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Now, one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort, but number two, because I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can't be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for — making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

We're going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I'm going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they're going to be anxious to hire women. In the — in the last four years, women have lost 580,000 jobs. That's the net of what's happened in the last four years. We're still down 580,000 jobs. I mentioned 3 1/2 million women more now in poverty than four years ago.

What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a — a flexible work schedule that gives women the opportunities that — that they would otherwise not be able to — to afford.

You could really pick from any number of dumb quotes last night's Presidential debate, but why not go with the one that's already become an Internet meme?  And this one really scores a kind of trifecta: surreal, instantly meme-able, and false.

Romney's line was a little surreal on multiple levels.  The first, of course, is the awkward phrasing that provoked the meme in the first place.  But then there's also a surreal quality to the actual content of the line: as Amanda Marcotte at Slate points out, Romney's proposed "solution" to pay inequality and unequal expectations of women in the workplace is to let the market sort itself out somehow.  Which is kind of a theme for the GOP these days--the market will solve everything.

How many times does this have to be pointed out: the reason we have all of these regulatory statutes in the first place is because the free market failed to take care of itself.  In other words, we already tried it their way, and it didn't work very well.  We don't have food inspections because it just seemed like an arbitrarily fun thing to increase the size of government, we inspect food because back in the day, we somehow kept finding rat turds in everything.  We don't regulate pharmaceuticals because government just likes getting its fingers in everyone's eyes, we do it because, between the guys selling their own urine on the carney circuit and the guys who sold pregnant ladies a sedative that caused their babies to be born with flippers, the idea that maybe you just should let people vote with their dollars to never buy that again seemed remarkably closing-the-barn-doors-after-the-horse-ran-away-and-died-and-then-the-barn-burned-down.  We regulate pesticides because deciding to boycott them after the last bald eagle dies seems kinda pointless (plus, anytime you want to boycott a product for any reason, the conservatives all get underwear-wedgies over unfair trade practices and censorship and stuff--funny how that works).  And we try to pass laws saying women ought to get the same benefits as dudes because after all these centuries in the labor force, somehow they still keep getting shafted.  Gods only know, it would be a lot cheaper and more efficient if we didn't need any regulations and laws because people could always be trusted to do the right thing, but as long as there are assholes who are willing to shit all over everyone else for even a momentary advantage (and one that will dirty their own nests in the long run, stupid motherfuckers), society has an obligation to say, "Uh, no, dude, just, no--you can't do that," and government is the mechanism through which we impose our cultural will.

But there's another reason that Romney's unsurprisingly retro, back-to-the-bad-old-days line bugs me, and it's something Matthew Yglesias, also at Slate, touches on really briefly--glances off of like a pebble being skipped across a stream, actually--before going on to make some other good points.  He writes:

I am favorably disposed toward both full employment and flexible workplace scheduling. But what Romney is saying here is that due to their family responsibilities women are burdened with an inherent disadvantage in the labor market. In conditions of full employment, firms do become desperate for workers and are willing to do things they won't do in weak labor market. High-margin businesses, for example, hand out raises to competent experienced workers. And firms of all kinds take risks on people they wouldn't otherwise go for—those who lack formal credentials, those who might have had legal problems in the past, smart people who seem to lack experience, and so forth. Romney's suggestion is that a woman—at least a woman with a family—is basically like a high school dropout with a felony conviction in his background. A marginally employable worker who'll get a job if and only if the labor market is super-tight. After all, everyone knows mom needs to be home at 5:00 to start cooking dinner.

But maybe dad should cook dinner!

Exactly!  But then Yglesias goes on to talk about his own family's experience, how his mom had an inflexible job, but luckily his dad was able to pick up the slack.  Which can take you all sorts of places that point up what's wrong with Romney's approach.  (E.g. that Romney's preference for married couples raising children is certainly laudable and we ought to encourage two-parent households, sure, but the reality is that this doesn't always happen--there's not just out-of-wedlock children, there are also families rent by divorce, left bereft by death, two-parent families that are effectively one-parent households because a job requires travel or even deployment, etc.--and so what are you going to do where there is no second parent to help with the load?)

And that takes us away from an often-buried point, which is that fair treatment for women in the workplace is not merely a women's issue.  Romney talks about flex time for women, which is wonderful and all, but we really ought to be talking about flex time for parents.  And I don't see how a perpetual pool of underpaid but equally-qualified laborers doesn't depress wages and benefits for everyone.

Indeed, one way to look at the problem of female equality in the workplace is to turn it around: the problem is not merely that women are penalized in the workplace for choosing to take care of families (or having the potential to make such a choice--childless women are implicitly punished for the possibility they might choose to have a child at some point and are therefore "unreliable" employees)--the problem is also that men are punished at home and in society by the expectation they will always choose work ahead of their children, that they will stay late at the office instead of leaving to take care of familial responsibilities, etc.

Call it the "Cat's In The Cradle" problem.  There was furor earlier this year over articles in The Atlantic and Newsweek by women struggling with the stress of "trying to have it all", a windmill that some feminists have been tilting at for decades.  Largely absent from the discussion was the fact that men have never actually had it all: the trope--acknowledged in plays, songs, novels, short stories, memoirs, films, television shows, et al.--of the absentee father who spends all of his time at the office and misses his children's first words, school plays, baseball games, graduations, etc. predates the Harry Chapin song by almost to the Industrial Revolution; what men did do, being the dominant gender and structuring everything patriarchally and all, was successfully convince themselves (and apparently, along the way, women) that being largely absent from the domestic sphere except in some kind of figurehead capacity was winning, Great American Novels and livers-destroyed-by-after-work-highballs notwithstanding, largely burying the domestic sphere except in a sort of lip-service way.  The punch line to every woman wondering how she's supposed to juggle making dinner every night with a professional career is that the emphasis on the professional career was always, at its heart, something we men have been conning ourselves into desiring for generations.

The solution isn't that women need to go back home.  The solution is that we, as a society, ought to be reevaluating what, exactly, our priorities are and making the playing field as compassionately gender neutral as biology permits (it's to be taken for granted that men, lacking certain plumbing, would never have to miss work to deliver a baby, though it ought to be a given right and society ought to encourage them to be present at their children's deliveries).  There shouldn't be a choice at all between career and family, they ought to be a pair of things together, with career accommodating family.  It's not just that women shouldn't be punished for doing what many men want and all men ought to do, it's that neither gender should be punished, and if this is not something American corporations can get their heads around, then, yes, it's time for society--acting through government, its tool for this kind of thing--to force the issue by defining a right to have a family without having to sacrifice one's livelihood, and a right to have a career without sacrificing one's family.

I doubt Mitt Romney is capable of understanding any of this, much less agreeing with it.  No doubt he feels comfortable with the choices he and Ann Romney have made regarding family and career, and that's fine insofar as the Romney family itself is concerned.  I certainly am not saying that if someone wants to spend all their time at work and none of it with their children, they can't do such an awful thing as that.  But I am saying that being able to do that by choice, as opposed to by necessity, is itself a position of privilege that Mitt Romney obviously takes for granted.  The Romney boys probably turned out well however they were raised, and the family certainly seems pretty close.  But Mitt and Ann Romney's choices were so wide open, they probably didn't know they were making them; it seems unlikely, given the kinds of things he says in public (or in semi-private donor events) that it's ever crossed Mitt Romney's mind that someone--a man, a woman--might not have any viable options at all, that it might not be a matter of working sixty hours a week because you want to get that promotion more than you want to see your kid's first marching band performance, but because that appears to be required if you don't want to be fired or, at best, stuck in a dead end rut for the next several decades; or that there isn't anyone else to pick up the kids after school, and if that means you get passed over again the next time there's a round of raises, well, gee, you can't blame your employer for giving the money to the guy who was willing to miss much of his kid's childhood.

I don't know that Mitt Romney's lack of understanding, empathy and compassion makes him a bad person in this context so much as it may make him regrettably ignorant and sheltered and unqualified to lead all Americans, even ones who never had the implicit and unspecified privileges that the wealthy are born into the way fish are born into water.  (Cue Pulp's "Common People"--if Mitt Romney was ever exposed to any mundane hardship, it was only as a tourist.)  I don't begrudge him those privileges, I just think he doesn't know the first fucking thing about anything, and his idea that an improved economy will just magically solve everything is merely yet another example of that.  Hell, I'm not even saying that Obama can do better when it comes to fundamental problems like this (though the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was undeniably one small step in trying to fix the whole cultural, socioeconomic mess); but at least he's not oblivious to it all, which is at least half of Romney's problem, the other chunks of Romney's problem being arrogance and apathy.

(Image from Binders Full Of Women submitted to Tumblr by Sue.)


Tonight I'm listening to fiddlers and warming myself by the glow of the burning Republic. You?

>> Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hoo, boy, I'm not looking forward to listening to this thing, and yet I feel it's my civic duty for some reason.  Charles Pierce (or maybe his editor, whoever writes his headlines) is right that this is a debate where "Bullshit Is Now the Status Quo" and gives a fair summary of what we those of us listening or watching can expect to endure.  He's far too sanguine, however, about the odds of anyone ambushing the candidates with a chance to be authentic--especially in light of the Memorandum Of Understanding concerning the debates that showed up on Gawker yesterday.

I don't know that it's too early to call time-of-death on our form of democracy.  That's probably just a mood I'm in.  But what we have, yeah, really seems pretty lousy at this point.  What we've cobbled together is some kind of weird, weighted popularity contest where nobody's vote actually counts except insofar as it chooses whose vote does count.  The candidates we get stuck with are basically people who don't actually represent anybody in particular, unless its the ugly crowd of unideological partisans who mostly care about politics in the same kind of way some people care about sports--all it's about is whose team wins the pennant, and sod any deeper point behind the so-called game.  But what hurts me worst of all is the notion I'm finding myself embracing more and more that the biggest problem with our democracy is that democracy might be an inherently bad system of governance; as much as I pride myself on being an egalitarian and populist and all that, I can't escape the looming idea that some people really don't deserve to vote.

I'm not even talking about people who disagree with me.  I'm talking about all these "undecideds" I keep hearing interviewed who don't even have the faintest clue what they're talking about, these people who clearly don't understand the issues at all.  These people who make America's Founders look not only wise, but principled for originally creating a system of government that deliberately disenfranchised the rabble and mob from the outset, giving them a voice in the least-important sub-branch of government and leaving it to the elites to choose the Senate, President and Judiciary.  And I hate even saying this kind of thing, y'know, because I want to be Mr. Inclusive, who gives a voice to everybody.  I just don't know if I understood that some people might be simply too stupid to be heard.  What a horrible, pompous thing for me to end up writing.

The so-called "town hall meeting" tonight, with its vetted questions and lack of interaction between the candidates and public, candidates and moderator, candidate and candidate, is all about the candidates selling themselves to this segment of the population.  And it will be nothing but cheap shots and smokescreens.  Romney is apt to talk about the September 11th attack on Americans in Benghazi, even though the story is still emerging; the President has said he'll talk about Bain Capital, even though he won't touch the real issue, which isn't that Mitt Romney successfully exploited what is allowed by our legal and fiscal regime, but rather the fact that this legal and financial framework where a business or person can get rich by leveraging debt without producing anything of lasting value--i.e. we possibly should be hating the game, not the player, but the Democratic Party is far too dependent on corporate support to issue forth a Rooseveltian (Theodore or Franklin, take your pick or choose both, even) indictment--much less a Marxist one--of what the American economy has turned into.

(I am starting to think that Romney's tenure at Bain--whenever, however it ended--is a kind of dead trail, actually.  Because aside from the murkiness of Romney's tax return issues, it's reasonable to assume most of what Bain did, maybe even all of it, was perfectly legal.  So the question then is whether getting rich off of something that's legal but maybe amoral, or arguably even immoral, makes you a shit because you chose to participate.  And we already have plenty of evidence Romney's a shit, whether it's the Seamus story, or the high school bullying, or the dodges and reversals he's made along the course of his political career while trying to say what he thinks a majority bloc of voters will stand for.  It may well be that Bain Capital was actually the most fair and aboveboard thing Mitt Romney has ever associated himself with or accomplished, and then you're left with a pure value judgement re: whether gaming a broken system is an indicator of impoverished ethics or merely the American way, if that's an authentic dichotomy at all, even.)

I'm just depressed by the whole damned thing.


Björk and P.J. Harvey, "Satisfaction"

>> Monday, October 15, 2012

Oh, crap--I haven't even posted anything today, and I really don't have anything at all.  Which means you get whatever random thing I can find today, and that would be--

--well, holy shit.  Now this is a helluva lot cooler than anything I expected to find.  And I gotta be honest and tell you I didn't even know this existed.

I don't think I thought anyone could tear this song down more than Devo did, damned if Björk and Polly Jean tear this one a new one in the best possible way.  Well done, ladies, this kicks some ass.


The Edgar Winter Group, "Frankenstein"

>> Sunday, October 14, 2012

Just because, is why.


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