Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Hitchens 'n' Moore

Submitted without much comment: Matt Taibbi: SHOVELING COAL FOR SATAN

Jane Jacobs Profile

Intersting little piece on Jane Jacobs in the New York Times, on the occasion of the release of her new book, "Dark Age Ahead." It could be interesting, especially since:
As its title so bleakly suggests, it sounds a litany of warnings about Western society, which she sees as tilting toward a steep decline, or at least a critical reckoning.

"The purpose of this book is to help our culture avoid sliding into a dead end," she writes at the start of the compact, 241-page work. At the end, she concludes, "Formerly vigorous cultures typically fall prey to the arrogant self-deception for which the Greeks had a word, 'hubris.' "

In reaching her gloomy conclusions, Ms. Jacobs barely skims over such possibilities of calamity as terrorism, nuclear war and environmental degradation. Rather, she calls those mere symptoms of what she views as more fundamental, less obvious ailments: the breakdown of the family, the decline of higher education, lapses of modern science, tax systems that do not distribute money fairly and the inadequate self-regulation of professions. These, for her, are signs that the very pillars that support society are rotting.

She says it is natural for societies to "make mistakes and get off balance," but then they correct themselves. "What seems different about this situation is the stabilizers themselves are in trouble," she said one recent afternoon. "If the stabilizers go, what do we depend on?"

Monday, June 28, 2004

I Am Only Like This Sometimes

Books Make You a Boring Person
It is easy to fetishize things that we imagine are on their way out. In the age of Comcast and America Online, books seem quaint, whimsical, imperiled and therefore virtuous. We assume that reading requires a formidable intellect. We forget that books were the television of previous years -- by which I mean they were the source of passive entertainment as well as occasional enlightenment, of social alienation as well as private joy, of idleness as well as inspiration. Books were a mixed bag, and they still are. Books could be used or misused, and they still can be.

Which is a better thing to do, to read a book or to watch TV? The stock answer, delivered rapidly because it's so freakin' obvious, is to read a book. Duh.

OK, but what if the book is a Danielle Steele piece o' excrement and the TV show is "Frontline"? Now you're inclined to change your answer, but these must certainly be exceptions to prove the rule, right?

Now for a hard one: Read "The Godfather," or watch "The Godfather"? OK, if you're not sure, let me give you my opinion as one who has done both: One is a mediocre pot-boiler that the author came up with as a way of making some quick money when his more literary fiction didn't sell. The other is a masterpiece of American cinema.

I'm a reader, and I love books. Yet, I have to admit that I'm also a fetishist about them sometimes. The look, the feel, and, oh god, the smell. A properly aged paperback has an aroma that reminds me of summer days when I'd try to linger inside in the shade at least and (if I got lucky) in the air conditioning at best before I would be kicked outside and told to, you know, play or something.

This Is Turning Into "Come As Your Favorite Nazi Day"

Frank Rich in the New York Times: "While F.D.R. once told Americans that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, Mr. Ashcroft is delighted to play the part of Fear Itself, an assignment in which he lets his imagination run riot.

The Future Is Now

For Iraqi Girls, Changing Land Narrows Lives

Pffft! Don't they know that we handed over sovereignty early? We won! Ahead of schedule, too! And in this Manichean world we've created, it's either this or Saddam Hussein. Do you want Saddam Hussein back, ladies? No? Then this is what you get, courtesy of the President of the United States.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Yet Another Example of Liberal Bias, I Guess

You know, stuff like this grabs the headlines, and yet, somewhere in Iraq a classroom got a fresh coat of paint this last week. Why doesn't THAT get reported? Oh sure, dozens of people dead, hundreds injured, blah blah blah. What the stories don't say is that the Iraqis are GLAD to be hurt. They understand that freedom comes at a price, and that they're willing, HAPPY even, to pay it. I assume. If not, then I'd presume that they're a bunch of whiners and we should kill them all.

Oh wait, we're their "liberators," aren't we? Shit, it's so hard to keep these things straight these days.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Brad DeLong On Unintentional Self-Parody

It's Self-Parody, Just Not Intentional Self-Parody: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

An important thing to keep in mind about Saletan and his "Kerryisms." A couple of things, actually. One is that now that he's getting grief for the feature, he's not going to stop, because he's convincing himself that he's afflicting the comfortable. Kerry supporters are upset because they can't take the heat they've given GWB for his verbal malaprops. Except that GWB means to say one thing and manages to mangle it into something else. Kerry may use a lot of words, but he seems to be saying exactly what he wants to say. Could he be briefer? Sure, sometimes. But sometimes he's making a point of distinction. You can't always speak in broad and vague sentences when you're trying to be specific.

The second things is that there's no way in hell that Saletan will ever quit doing "Kerryisms," because to stop would mean that he's taken the criticisms to be true and he can't let that appear to be the case. Journalists are supposed to be omniscent, or at least present the appearance of being so. It's why the New York Times won't specifically name Judith Miller when they claim that they made mistakes in their coverage. The vague "we" diffuses responsibility among many people, while naming names would mean that (gasp!) one of their reporters was wrong. The horror!

I've got the image of Saletan digging in his yard, and people are running towards him, waving him off and telling him to stop. He's convincing himself that it's because he's close to the buried treasure and they want it for themselves. What they're trying to tell him is that he's about to hit a gas main and it's going to blow up in his face.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Pickled

Dear Ms. Pickler:

I read with great interest your recent piece, “Kerry Vacations With Wealthy in Nantucket.”. I do, however, have some observations.

You call President Bush’s residence in Crawford, Texas, a “ranch.” By my dictionary’s definition, a ranch is: “1. A large farm, esp. one on which cattle, sheep, or horses are raised. 2. A large farm on which a particular crop or kind of animal is raised.” I do not believe that President Bush raises any livestock or crops on his land. This would seem to preclude his residence from properly being called a ranch. Rather, it is a nice house with a very large yard.

You also refer to President Bush “clearing brush” on his “ranch.” While he certainly does like to clear brush, it, again, is not a ranch. Rather, he is clearing brush from his yard. Further, while “clearing brush” has a certain ring of frontier romanticism, he’s really just cleaning his yard, correct? In fact, you might even say that he is engaging in simple gardening. As a question of the economy of language, “President Bush enjoys clearing brush on his ranch” certainly takes more time to write and takes up more space than “President Bush enjoys gardening.” If I may be so bold, I’d suggest that you start using the latter, merely as a matter of saving time.

Finally, you quote President Bush: “’Most Americans don't sit in Martha's Vineyard, swilling white wine,’ he said at the ranch two years ago.” This is certainly true. On the other hand, you fail to mention that most Americans don’t get to spend an inordinate amount of time gardening in very large yards, either. In fact, many Americans don’t have any yard to speak of, much less one so large as to be confused with a ranch. I, in fact, have neither swilled white wine on Martha’s Vineyard NOR cleared brush (i.e., gardened) on a “ranch.” Can you believe it?! And I was born in the United States!

(Found via Pandagon. Story also available (for the time being) here.)

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Shady Bush

Hmm, interesting. I'd heard rumors before, but as the article proves, if the rich and powerful want to hide something, they can hide it really well.

LA Weekly: News: The Texas Abortion Tango

On the other hand, one has to consider the sources. The Weekly isn't bad -- not like the New Times LA used to be -- but it is Larry Flynt. On the other hand, he can afford to employ a lot of lawyers -- and does -- and one can probably be fairly certain that he's telling enough that's provably true that he won't get into too much legal trouble for saying it. And what little he can say is very, very interesting.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Some rules for you, other rules for me

A little story at the Chicago Reader, found via a post by Jesse Taylor at Pandagon, about a TV reporter covering a display of Reagan memorabilia in the state capitol ofSpringfield, IL, coinciding with his funeral. After shooting her story, she decided to sign the condolence book, didn't like what the person before her wrote about Reagan's decision to ignore AIDS during much of his administration, contacted security, then got into an argument with the guy. As Jesse asks in the post, entitled "This Is What It Sound Like When Idiots Squeal":
She contends that the camera was off, and although she'd just finished reporting, she was there as a private citizen. I'm just surprised that a reporter would run to a police officer and tattle on him, screaming in a public place about a person expressing his opinion in a public place, no matter how distasteful the pro-Reagan reporter might find it.

And, ah...considering that she'd just been there as a reporter, shouldn't she still be a bit careful about how she represents herself? What are the rules of journalistic propriety, especially on a story you just finished covering minutes earlier?

Volumes could be written about this. On the one hand, yes, reporters are citizens, just like everyone else, and are entitled to express their opinions when the camera or microphone is switched off or when their stories have been filed and printed. But while a print reporter can probably assume an anonymous persona that allows him or her to slip back among the civilians, a TV reporter is another thing. If this woman was still dressed and made up for TV, and with her crew following her around to boot, then it's as though she's straddling two worlds. When she goes to security, is she acting as a private citizen expressing her displeasure? As a reporter seeking information? As an advocate on behalf of the public interest? As a celebrity of certain note that believes she's entitled to a certain treatment? That camera becomes a threat, because all she has to do is ask for it to be switched on and she has a potential platform that the poor security guard doesn't.

This also brings to mind an old post by Slacktivist Fred Clark (back when he was still using Blogspot like the rest of us slobs). He referred to a piece of nasty mail that Josh Marshall had recieved in the run up to start of the Iraq war last year and quoted a small portion of it:
This may be the most critical time in the history of the modern world much less of our country; and it is my fervent hope that the American People will remember and appropriately reward those, like you, who have chosen to use this opportunity to forward a political cause, and not incidentally their own careers, by attempting to sabotage an honorable effort to make the world a safer, better place.

To which Mr. Clark quite eloquently replies:
"All flesh is grass," the prophet Isaiah said, and "the grass withereth." This guy, understandably, doth not want to wither. He wants his life to matter, to mean something. He wants to be remembered after he is gone.

He has given this war a metaphysical, religious significance. For him, the war isn't about oil, or "liberating" Iraq, or overthrowing an evil dictator. It's grander than that -- grander even than the dreams of empire that seem to be motivating Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz. This war is an attempt to give his life meaning by turning our times into "the most critical time in the history of the modern world." If our times are meaningful, he hopes (fervently), then our lives must also be meaningful.

The writer gives his life meaning by taking a part in this great, epochal, transcendent struggle.

And note how easy, how undemanding of sacrifice, it is for him to play a role in this epochal, historic event. All he has to do is watch Fox News and fire-off the occasional sophomoric e-mail -- maybe even wave a flag, attend a corporate-radio rally, or rename some snack food.

So the thing with this reporter, and perhaps the reason why she's still in Springfield and not the bigger media market of Chicago, is that she's confusing herself with the story she's reporting. She can be a supporter of Reagan from way back, that's neither here nor there. What's troubling is that she's covering a story -- the memorabilia display and the condolence book -- when she decides that she's going to insert herself into the event, so much the better to change it into something that she'd prefer it to be. It is, after all, a Very Important Story.

And that, by extension, makes you important, too. You were alive to witness the greatness that was Ronald Reagan. You were alive to witness the greatness that was the triumph of good over evil. You were alive!, it screams. If important things were going on while you were alive, you must have been important, too!

There’s a strange intercourse in this when reporters are involved. If nothing is going on, then there’s nothing to report, which means that you’re useless. If something is going on, you get to tell people about it, which makes you useful. It might even make you, you guessed it, important. But here’s the irony: Sometimes people don’t care about important things. Your importance might be diminished, even negated. So if you want to be seen as useful and important, you need to find out what people want to hear about, and tell them what they want to hear. They, just like you, want to be important. So, by being important and telling them about something that makes them important, too (although not as important as you!), then everybody wins!

I always think about this whenever I see “All the President’s Men.” I imagine all sorts of young men and women watching the movie when it came out and saying, “I want to do that.” What we thought was that they were inspired by the tenacious reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, rooting out the bigger story behind the seemingly insignificant one of the break-in, refusing to back down and doing their jobs in the face of angry men who weren’t doing theirs. But no, those young men and women were thinking, “I want to be famous and have a movie made about me, too.”

Another argument against working hard

Jon Stewart, upon receiving an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, The College of William and Mary:
I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. That’s very nice of you, I appreciate it.

I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates—who have spent so long toiling in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that in truth has been so devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered meaningless—will join in congratulating me. Thank you.

When you wish upon a neocon fantasy...

Riverbend is back: Baghdad Burning

My favorite line:
The last time I checked, Puppets do not suddenly come to life and grow a conscience unless a fairy godmother and Jiminy the Cricket are involved.

"Need for speed" has a whole different meaning for W.

From Democratic Veteran:
Bush and Cheney told the commission that they remember the phone call; the president said it reminded him of his time as a fighter pilot.
Would that be before or after breaking his oath or while he was playing water polo with the ambitious secretaries? It surely must have been sometime before he forgot to show up for his physical. Amazing how all these years later he remembers being a "fighter pilot" but can't remember where he was or why he forgot to obey orders and show up for that damn physical. Lying Shithead.

I sometimes wonder if GWB's memories of his time as a "fighter pilot" aren't just partially recalled flashbacks from that time he got really stoned in 1986 and sat through "Top Gun" for 15 straight screenings over the long Labor Day weekend.

"Hearts and Minds"

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Eh?

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Another Fascinating Time Waster

The Scribbler. Hours worth of fun. Minutes, anyway.

(Found via Yahoo! Picks)

Caveat sumthin'

Matthew Yglesias has an important caution about the conclusions that can be drawn from people meeting with each other.
When Adrianna was meeting with the FBI, that did mean she was in league with the Feds, but it didn't mean that the Soprano family was. Tony met with Johnny Sack a whole bunch of times, sometimes to conspire with him, sometimes to tell him to fuck off. Neville Chamberlain was pursuing an unwise policy during his meetings with Hitler in Munich, but he wasn't in cahoots with Hitler. Don Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein in the 80s to collaborate on their common interest in checking Iranian power, but that doesn't mean they were working together in 2003 or 1991.

Kerry Endorsement

Via The Rittenhouse Review, I see that The Philadelphia Daily News has endorsed John Kerry for president.

He then posts this:
Daily News readers react to the endorsement. Here’s my personal favorite, from one Michael P. Kilhoffer of Philadelphia: “So, the Daily News has joined North Korea, the French, Palestinian terrorists and al Qaeda in endorsing John F. Simoes Ferierra Heinz Kennedy Kerry. You’re in good company.”]

That has got to be, I think, the least effective way of trying to get me to vote for Bush. I suspect that we will see, in due time, at least one person claim that every vote for Kerry makes Baby Jesus cry. You know what? The Earth did not stop spinning on its axis and Jesus did not bodily descend from heaven to witness the death of Ronald Reagan. I don't think that God gives a damn if George W. Bush is president or not. I think that Al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorists hate American foreign policy and stupidly believe that blowing stuff up is an effective means of changing it, and that they don't give a damn if George W. Bush is president or not. Kim Jong Il is crazy, and doesn't give a damn if George W. Bush is president or not. The French are, believe it or not, our allies, as well as a sovereign nation, and both were and are entitled to tell us that they think we're making mistakes. And I don't think they give a damn if George W. Bush is president or not.

George W. Bush, the man and the myth, is not that great. Trying to make yourself believe that he his our modern-day messiah, endowed with special powers to protect us all from harm as long as we all pay him due respect, is a waste of time. If he's so damn powerful, why does he just sit there and look confused all of the time? Why is his whole campaign message now, "I call a do-over"? If you were so damn omnipotent, why didn't you fix everything the first time? Jackass.

20 Things you have to believe to be a Republican today

Found at Steve Gilliard's News Blog, although he claims to have cribbed it from Atrios's comments. Whatever -- it's still funny. Kind of. In a cringing sort of way. That makes me want to punch a wall. While laughing.

Piety v. Artistry

Fred Clark, a.k.a. The Slacktivist, is always a good read. He's especially interesting when he takes fellow evangelical Christians to task. He's been on a roll lately, first reprinting a piece about the empty gesture of "WWJD?" jewelry and accessories, and now he takes on the hollowness of "Christian Entertainment."
If the popularity of these dismal artistic and entertainment offerings could really be explained as merely the result of a lack of "Christian-themed" alternatives, then a happy and hopeful solution presents itself: create more alternatives and watch quality win out in the marketplace of ideas.

The first problem with this idea is that the subcultural marketplace of American evangelicalism is not a free market.

Anything not produced by and for the profit of the barons and bishops of the subculture's market-driven ecclesiology will be branded as dangerous, heretical and anathema. The latest album of shallow pop music from a "Christian label" record company is permissible. The latest offerings from U2 or from Buddy and Julie Miller -- sales of which do nothing to enrich Word records or Creation concerts -- are not. Left Behind, which enriches Thomas Nelson, has the official blessing of the gatekeepers of the kingdom. John Grisham's preachy The Testament, is published by Random House and is therefore not officially sanctioned reading.

Every day, I find myself more and more frustrated with the inanities of organized religion. Clark is a true voice of sanity in the midst of that otherwise furious noise.

(Slacktivist Classic: Torment the Mustard Seed
Since T.S. Eliot is regarded as one of the foremost writers of the 20th century, and since he was also a Christian, he makes a good candidate for a snarky-but-fun little game I like to call "Torment the Mustard Seed."

The Mustard Seed is a chain of "Christian book stores" in the Philadelphia area. You may not have a Mustard Seed near where you live, but you've likely got something similar, probably called something like "Family Christian Books" or "The Fisherman's Net" or worse. Despite the name "book store," most of the floor space in these shops tends to be taken up with knick-knackery, Precious Moments, greeting cards, WWJD bracelets, fish magnets, etc. Plus a very few books.

"Torment the Mustard Seed" is a very simple game. Pick some great work of Christian literature -- Donne's Holy Sonnets or The Brothers Karamazov, say -- then call up your local Christian book store and ask if they have a copy. Try to seem surprised when they tell you they don't have it -- "This is a Christian book store, isn't it?"

In honor of Eliot's birthday, why not give your local Christian book store a call and ask for a copy of his Christianity and Culture.

Good stuff, good stuff...)

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Matthew Yglesias on Reagan's Intellectual Legacy

Something I saw a few days ago written by Matthew Yglesias about Ronald Reagan and anti-intellectualism:
The most disturbing element of the Reagan legacy is probably the decisive boost he gave to a kind of blinkered anti-intellectualism in American conservatism. That Ronald Reagan was not very smart was not, perhaps, a fatal flaw. I myself give him a great deal of credit for democratization and anti-communism. Nevertheless, that a man can have some successes despite his flaws is not the same as saying that his flaws did not exist.

At some point during the late-nineties campaign to secure the presidency for George W. Bush, however, the official line on this subject on the right took a drastic turn for the worse. All perspective was lost on Reagan, and his intellectual failings became an alleged asset, the better to justify the nomination of another feebleminded candidate.

This is a bit insane. Our two most popular recent Democratic presidents, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, were both quite the cads. So, too, was Martin Luther King, Jr. a womanizer. Progressives, however, both rightly consider these men to have been admirable leaders despite this aspect of their personality. We don't go around saying: What the country needs is some more womanizers! Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to have concluded that, via the mysterious quality of moral clarity (rightly derided by Leon Wieseltier in the current TNR) that an inability to comprehend policy details and nuance is an important qualification for high office. This is madness.

Standardized Writing

A good piece in the Chicago Tribune about the difficulties in objectively judging a thing like writing in students' stadardized tests.
At 14, Ulises Gonzales is the kind of writer who makes his English teacher sigh with appreciation. His imagery is vivid, his style fluid and imaginative, his mechanics flawless.

Ulises' Burr Ridge teacher believes he will be a published writer someday. She also suspects he failed his 8th grade standardized writing test.

The person who grades that test will be a $10-an-hour temporary worker in a conference room in Tampa who spends about three minutes on each essay. Ulises is likely to lose points because, among other things, his ended without a summary and makes no explicit reference to the test question--a criteria on the checklist given to each grader.

And then there's this:
Standardized writing tests measure certain benchmarks of basic competence--complete sentences, well-organized paragraphs, supporting details, correct pronouns.

The tests do not measure the grace and innovation found in the best writing.

They penalize pupils who struggle to finish in the prescribed 40 minutes, as Ulises did, without necessarily crediting his unconventional uses of dialogue and descriptive passages that have characters "yelling with a surprising ferocity" and "detention slips clenched in tight fists."

In the end, what these tests evaluate is so formulaic that in Indiana, a machine does the grading. In May, some 50,000 high school juniors there took an online essay test that was evaluated by computers using a form of artificial intelligence designed to mimic human readers.

Which seems like a real shame, since writing is supposed to be something done by humans for other humans. Sort of a tree-falling-in-the-woods argument. If another human being doesn't read it, did you really write anything? OK, it's not a perfect analogy, but you can mimic the form of acceptable writing without actually saying anything. An interesting test would be to string together nonsensical phrases that are nonetheless pefectly constructed and see what sort of score is returned.
Yet he acknowledged that many teachers still teach "the formula:" the five-paragraph, three-topic essay with lots of repetition and tired paragraph transitions that begin with "first," "second" and "in conclusion." Hunter said this kind of staid essay is enough to pass the test, but not enough to exceed standards, which is why so few pupils rise to the top level.

At least the teacher has some doubts:
Wheeler admires Ulises' refusal to compromise his writing quality, but she also knows she will be judged on the passing rate of her pupils. Her school is a diverse one in a neighborhood of million-dollar homes, where parents expect top-notch scores on state exams. She agonizes over how hard to push pupils like Ulises when she's teaching her class how to write for the ISAT, the state exam.

"The test works for the student who doesn't have any understanding about writing. It gives them a starting point," said Wheeler. "But really great writers don't write that way. They break the rules."

Burr Ridge Principal Debra LeBlanc said testing exacts a toll in all classrooms, but the writing exam troubles her most because she believes it is too arbitrary for a subject where mastery can take many forms.

She sees so much sameness in her pupils' writing that "even my thank-you notes read like little ISAT tests. `I really liked having lunch with you. Here are three reasons why.'"

Coincidentally, I read this the same morning that I read this on Neil Gaiman's site. It's part of his response to a fan's inquiry about an idea of telling a story from an unusual point-of-view:
The main rule of writing is that, if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.)

I've been rereading some P.G. Wodehouse recently, and am fascinated by what he does with point of view. The point of view he writes from (if he's not telling a first person account) is The Author's, which allows him enormous freedom to zoom in and out of people's heads whenever he wants to, in a way that is, I suspect, completely forbidden by the writers' guides.

(Back when I was writing Sandman monthly I came up with a definition of story that satisfied me. A story, I decided, is anything that keeps the people reading turning the pages, and doesn't leave them feeling cheated at the end. Everything else was up for grabs.)

"Paradise Glossed"

Via Atrios, a link to a piece by Nicholas Confessore that adds more to the argument against David Brooks.

Update 6/18/2004, 3:24pm: I've given it a little thought and I think one of the things that bothers me the most about Brooks is that he's not a humorist. It's all well and good for people like P.J. O'Rourke or Al Franken to make broad generalizations because I know that they're doing it in service to their punch lines. They're comics at heart, and while they work their commentaries into their writing, ultimately they want a laugh. Brooks wants it both ways. He wants to be funny, he wants the laugh, but he wants people to take his "research" seriously. Which would be fine if he actually did research. But whenever he seems to be headed in that direction, he gets tired and bored and decides to make a sweeping statement based upon the itsy-bitsy amount of data he's managed to collect. Proving your thesis is much more difficult than being the Big Picture guy that he likes to think of himself as. When your first line of defense when people come at you because your data (what little of it there is) doesn't jibe with your conclusions is that you're just kidding around and people shouldn't take it so seriously, I wonder why it's supposedly worth reading at all. (And I wonder why he doesn't cut short people heaping hossanas on him for his insightfulness with, "You shouldn't take it so seriously. I"m just kidding around.")

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Midwestern Blues, Part 2

A little bit more on a similar technique by Jesse Taylor at Pandagon. He decries the repeal of the estate tax by using the image of hard-working Midwestern farmers losing the family farm to garner sympathy when the law is really designed to protect the future assets of the heirs of the super-rich. The whole estate tax repeal will not benefit the family that Paris Hilton stayed with on "The Simple LIfe" last summer, but Paris Hilton.

What was the limit on the estate tax? $1.5 million? Any assests above that were taxed at a higher rate, right? Hell, I think you could have doubled or tripled that amount and made the cut off $3 million or $5 million without substantially affecting the rest of the tax code and you still would have a steady stream of tax revenue. But no, it's the baby with the bathwater, all or nothing. If you don't watch out for the trust fund kids who will look out for them.

Actually, I think the trust fund kids had nothing to worry about. If you've taken a significant portion of your money and put it in trusts for your children, then those are in their names, right? Those can't be taxed after your death because they aren't your assets.

What is the deal, then? Do all of these Republicans have necromancers on retainer? Do they plan on returning from the dead and want to make sure they'll still have some spending money for when they get back? Sheesh.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Midwestern Blues

A really bad book review.

And I don't mean that because the reviewer didn't like the book, it's because the reviewer doesn't address the issues of the book as much as claim that the Republican party respects the values of the Midwest, not like those coastal elitists.

Kevin Drum (yeah, again) makes a really interesting point here about Ronald Reagan's origins in Illinois and his fortunes being made in California:
At the risk of being pedantic, it's hard to overstate just how profoundly the Midwest informs everything that is California. Migration from the Midwest made up the bulk of California's population in the first part of the 20th century, and the biggest contribution of all came from Iowa and Reagan's home state of Illinois. (In fact, his hometown of Dixon is about a hundred miles from Cerro Gordo, birthplace of my own grandfather.)

Everybody knows about California's flakiness, but its true character — and the source of its astonishing success — comes from a combination of its famously vibrant openness to new ideas with the down-to-earth heritage of its Midwestern roots. In that sense, Reagan really is the perfect Californian, but it's his Illinois upbringing that's the key to that.

So yes, he was a Californian. But there's a lot of history packed into those four little words.

I'm not from Kansas. Like Kevin Drum's grandfather and Ronald Reagan, I'm from Illinois. I was born and raised there, my family still lives there, and I love the place, but when I was 18 left to go to school in California. While I visit often, I haven't moved back and I don't know if I ever will. The Midwest -- like every other place in the United States -- has its share of warm, caring, wonderful people. It also -- like every other place in the United States -- has its share of small-minded, willfully-ignorant bigots. The "cultural elites" are so phrased as a code to refer to those so-called sophisticates on the east and west coasts, yet I don't think that I routinely read as much about people who equate everything that they say, do, and believe with their geographical location as Midwesterners.

Read Sinclair Lewis. Try "Main Street," or "Babbit," or even the excesses of "Elmer Gantry." Midwesterners are not especially saintly, despite what the fetishists of today's media may have us believe.

More From Kevin Drum

The Washington Monthly: Reagan and Bush

I'm just turning this place into a dumping ground. I check out dozens, if not hundreds, of links a day and need to find someplace to stick them all. There is a weird connect-the-dots game that goes on with blogs, where you click one link, which leads to another link, which leads to another link, and you end up someplace so far removed from where you first started that you have no idea how you got there and you've managed to form some strange notion in the process that you can't possibly explain to anyone because you have to follow this link-to-a-link-to-a-link to see how it all fits together.

So I'm just putting whatever catches my eye up here. A way to reference, if only for myself, what's making me think what I think at any given time.

Scary Mo-fos

A frighteningly interesting look at the Texas Republican Party and their platform by Kevin Drum.

One word: Secession.

You think you're a different country, and you don't like living in the country that I live in, so rather than force the rest of us to be like you, why don't you take your little dirtball of a state and form your own damn sovereign nation?

And then we can declare war on you and invade you for your oil. We're good at that.

Guess the Dictator or Sit-Com Character

A great way to waste a frightening amount of time: Guess the Dictator or Sit-Com Character

Friday, June 11, 2004

Salon.com News | Reagan blasts Bush

Straight from Junior's mouth: Salon.com News | Reagan blasts Bush

If that doesn't work, or you don't want to watch the ad, try going here.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

Let me just say that I love Kurt Vonnegut. Sure, this piece is all over the place, but so are his novels, and they're great fun to read, too. I just love that an 81-year-old man who keeps saying that his time has passed can still get so righteously pissed off once in a while. Gives me hope.

(Edit: I just wanted to add that I found the link above via Bookslut.)

Please, sir, may I have some more? Oh, sure, why not?

Not enough? Then go here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Current Reading

I started reading "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami a couple of days ago. Not bad so far, but it's long and I don't know how long I can keep up the interest in the minimal action. We'll see.

A Little Association

So I was reading a post by Joshua Marshall the other day, wherein he referred back to a piece he had written about former Representative and Vice-Presidential candidate Jack Kemp:
Consider the example of Jack Kemp, who has spent much of his career since leaving Congress arguing for a more inclusive Republican Party that could build beyond its base of economic and social conservatives and reach out to traditionally Democratic constituencies.

[snip]

Most Republicans know that enterprise zones and other nostrums presented as alternatives to "failed" liberal social policy are window dressing. Kemp's problem is that he takes the window dressing seriously, but none of his GOP colleagues have the heart to tell him.


Which made me think about this article in Salon about David Cantania, a D.C. city council member openly gay and a member of the Log Cabin Republicans who had his position as a delegate to the Republican National Convention revoked because he wouldn't promise to vote for George W. Bush in November:
Her argument was that you had publicly said you would not support George Bush and therefore you should not be at the convention.

Her argument is a curious one. In order to be certified as a delegate you have to be a District resident, [you have to be] a registered voter by one year in the District of Columbia, and you have to be willing to support the president's nomination at the convention. Obviously I fulfill the first two, and I would vote for Bush's nomination at the convention, so on its face I met the requirements of being a delegate. The issue is, she wanted me to state that I would be supportive of the president in November, a position, frankly, that no other member of the delegation has been asked to swear a blood oath to. Certainly no one -- I'm not an imbecile -- wants their delegates breaking rank. It looks bad and it's embarrassing to have any of your delegates say, "Look, pal, I'm parting company at the end of this party." And that's where I am. I've been very clear I'm not going to support him in November.

Why did you still want to attend the convention as a delegate?

I was willing to support Bush at the convention because my other motivation is the platform. [Catania was supposed to serve on the convention's platform committee.] And it's not just the issues of gay and lesbian civil rights or marriage. I've been elected three times citywide. As a member of the D.C. Council, I have a whole series of urban agenda items I've worked on that include applying Republican principles to urban problems and finding creative solutions that work, and I wanted to be at the convention to talk about how the Republican Party could construct an urban agenda for itself.


Which became further associated in my mind when I read this this morning at Tom Tomorrow's blog:
One other thing: just on the off chance Andrew Sullivan is reading this, I thought I would compile some of the thoughts his fellow Reagan-worshippers were kind enough to share with Rall ... just so he can see the kind of company he's keeping:
By the way, Teddie, it doesn't take a cartoonist to figure out that AIDS was spread by unprotected anal sex amongst homosexuals back then (and still is), not by the President. Now Teddie, you wouldn't be familiar with that practice, would you?... You are a cocksucker,Go back to the USSR, that failed like you.When you are a fag, you need to pull your head out of your ass ... Just for the record, President Reagan did not kill 500,000 gays--they killed themselves by having promiscuous sex without protection and leading a perverted lifestyle. Why is it that people can't take responsibility for their OWN actions, and have to blame their troubles on other people?... Check the mirror and you'll see a wessal-like, weak, weak little asshole of a man and maybe even a faggot ... I could tell by the way you talk, you’ve consumed much sperm, and are addicted to homosexuality ... Fuck you! you cocksucker!... You piss ant twerp… I would shove those gay glasses up your ass… You Cocksucker FUCK YOU ... Mother Fucking low life communist faggot pig. You are as much of a virus as the aids virus. The problem with this country is you and the faggotry you practice ...

Those are your peeps, Andrew. Those are the people with whom you have aligned yourself. Just so you know.

(Any time I go through one of these periodic shitstorms, any time some dimwit right wing blogger decides to send his dimwit readers after me--this is the kind of stuff I get as well. You faggot, you suck dick, blah blah blah. There are still plenty of people out there for whom homosexuality is an active insult, to be hurled indiscriminately at one's opponents. And at the risk of generalizing, I think it's fair to say that most of them vote Republican.)


Add to this whole thing that Grover Norquist wants to get the late Ronald Reagan's visage on our currency, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants to rename the Pentagon after the Gipper(to something like "The Ronald Reagan National Defense Complex," which has all the ring of anything you'd expect a government employee to come up with), and yet Laura Bush insists that there's not a chance in hell that her husband will reconsider his position on stem cell research at the behest of Nancy Reagan. Can't wait to honor him in his death, but consider funding research that might have helped him live more comfortably or that might save other families from the agony of watching a loved one wither away, the legions of "compassionate" conservatives dart their eyes away and quickly change the subject. Look! A statue!

I suppose similar things can be found within the Democratic party, but the Republicans are in charge now and they get the scrutiny. And there is some tether connecting all of these things, but I can't quite put my finger on it. It's the fundamental dishonesty of power. Calling legislation that permits industrial polluters more leeway "The Clean Skies Initiative," or GWB touting the existence of government programs for families and working parents that he tried to kill as evidence that he cares, even though he's planning on trying to kill them again after the election.

It's all rotten, but what does it take for certain people to get that the group they belong to really doesn't give a damn about them or about the things they care about?