Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bob Woodward on Colin Powell in W: More credit than he deserves

I don't actually like pooping on supposed national heroes (or former national heroes on their way to redemption), but as a member of the reality-based community, it does twist my britches some to see the impressive, but ultimately (in my mind) quite tragically flawed and not-heroic-enough Powell lionized because he did the somewhat brave thing and endorsed Obama. (After, it is only somewhat cynical to note, Obama has taken a clear lead, and long after McCain made it obvious that his military outlook as he has enunciated it looks more like Bush's than Powell's during the latter's time as SecState, and a good bit after many more conservative conservatives had jumped ship over the exquisitely underqualified Palin.)

Bob Woodward, on Slate's so-far ho-hum "Diary on W" between himself, Oliver Stone, Ron Suskind, and Jacob Weisberg (who cares!), had this to say on Jeffrey Wright's excellent portrayal of Powell:
Jacob, you make note of the scene in W. where Bush and his advisers debate whether to go to war. In it, the Colin Powell character makes his case against the invasion. The problem is, as best I can tell, no such meeting ever took place. The president never called the National Security Council and the top advisers together to have a real knock-down, drag-out, come-to-Jesus meeting. It gives Powell more credit than he deserves. This is the broad meeting that Bush should have had to hash it out among his advisers. Powell's plea to the president in August 2002, which he recently affirmed, was that the administration needed to look at the consequences of war, but he never argued openly to the president that he should not invade Iraq.

(spoil-sporty, cynical, "Is nothing sacred?!?" emphasis added)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Incidentally, another great post on racism in Pennsylvania

On Slate, here. "Swing-State Rednecks: What Murtha and Obama get wrong about race and class in western Pennsylvania," by Dennis B. Roddy. Read one of the few pieces of evidence that Slate hasn't gone completely to shit (though it's NOT by a regular writer, by the by).

For she has become Death, Destroyer of Parties

Good article here on the crisis -- not the economic one, but the one within the Republican party, as catalyzed, to a great extent, by Sarah Palin.

The former Reagan economic adviser Bruce Bartlett predicts, indeed, that the Republican primaries will turn into a Palin/Gingrich steel-cage death match (from his lips to God’s ears, I say).

But history suggests that the rebuilding of the party, whether that means a rejuvenation of conservatism or its root-and-branch reformation, will take much longer than a single election cycle.
I have to, cynically and selfishly, agree on the "from your lips to God's ears" element (I try generally to be conciliatory to the everyday Republicans one may meet, or have a reasonable debate with on the internet, and I certainly hate it when they proclaim glee at the Dems internecine warfare). On the other hand, I wonder where this guy was in 2004. That is, after the 2nd Bush win (aka the first time Bush was at least arguably elected, and at least got the popular vote). Democrats were said to be in the woods then, in search of direction, turned against themselves, between centrists and, I guess, my people on the "far left" (which seems, if nothing else, to have a more flexible meaning than "far right," which most, I think, take to be hard core libertarians, survivalists, and theocrats, whereas far left includes everyone from Olbermann and MoveOn and Kucinich to people like the younger William Ayers who would use violence against the system). More accurately, I suppose, it was centrists vs. staunch anti-war progressives, for the most part. But the party didn't figure out its complete incoherence; it just found a charismatic centrist to bring all back into the fold. (Partly, I have to say, by somehow conning a huge amount of my friends and other progressives into the idea that he truly is a Progressive, just in hiding for politics' sake -- this from the guy who won't come out for gay marriage, advocates attacking Iran and Pakistan if necessary, voted for FISA wiretapping, and said he agreed with striking down the DC gun ban and disagreed with the Supremes ruling out executing child rapists, without giving a clear rationale for the last.) In any case, I would hardly say that the Dems had their act together at ALL, as the primaries and PUMA-peeps should show, not to mention the continued silencing of Kucinich-types.

Anyway, all that is to say that I wonder if the Republicans a) will have an intra-party Celebrity Deathmatch (after McCain's loss!), b) will remain out of power for more than one election cycle (i.e. past 2010, impossible to know from here), and c) will actually reconcile, stronger for the experience, into a new Modern Synthesis (if you will), rather than, as the Dems seem to have done, kicking the can down the road.

It should be interesting times in both parties, I suppose.

Great, reflective post on race by Daktari

You will go read it. Yes, you will.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reason #X why I should love it, AND leave it

I may love the US, country of my birth, but shit like this, that seems intractable, immemorial, and perennial just drive me crazy.

I understand we were built to be a looser federation of states, but that's no longer the reality -- and having our voting system handled at a local instead of national level essentially disenfranchises people -- along with our messy systems and Tuesday voting.

Despite popular opinion, in re: the US #1-ness -- we're #139 out of 172 countries when it comes to voter turnout, possibly because we use methods shared by other, um, "great" democracies:
Our problems begin with a less than state-of-the-art registration system. According to Adam Fogel of FairVote, the United States is one of just a few democracies where the government takes a back seat, expecting individuals to sign themselves up to vote. (Other "self-initiating" countries include such beacons of democracy as Algeria, Cameroon, and Chad.) The National Voter Registration Act (aka the Motor Voter law, which Congress enacted in 1993) makes it possible to sign up at the DMV, at public-assistance offices, or by mail. But many, many people fall through the cracks—only 72 percent of the voting-age population was registered in 2004. Plus, we have no comprehensive way of correcting forms or striking people from the rolls when they move away or die.

Read it and weep.

"Weep for the future, Na'Toth. Weep for us all."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

ACORN: A Good Apple

I was outraged that Obama didn't bother to defend ACORN against McCain's ridiculous charges last night.

ACORN registers people to vote; we all agree this is a good thing, right? Well, the voter fraud charges against them are largely BULLSHIT, and I'm here to tell you why.

Three articles:
Nuts About ACORN: Believing in vote fraud may be dangerous to a democracy's health.By Dahlia Lithwick


So where's the ACORN voter fraud? and Republican Voter Fraud Hoax by Brad Friedman (US citizen and not-voting-for-Obama-er, despite what the commenters at The Guardian UK thought. Read the endless comments for a gamut of arguments, and scary shit about the socialist revolution that Obama is self-apparently NOT leading, not to mention that most people couldn't even correctly define any of a myriad of CORRECT definitions of socialism or distinguish it meaningfully from communism... I know it's bad to say, but I once again am ready to leave this shit and emigrate. Actually, for the first time -- last two elections I felt it was my duty to stay, but fuck that, I need a change of arguments at least, even if there's stupidity and disagreement everywhere. I need NEW political viewpoints and arguments to feel condescending towards, no more American discoursic treadmilling for me.)

(Of course, I have no actual plans to leave. But dammit, I'm getting too old for this shit. =)

ACORN is getting slammed over ridiculous, fictional sh*t.
A) They're required by law to turn in all filled out registration forms, EVEN IF THEY ALREADY KNOW THEY'RE FRAUDULENT. Would you rather ACORN itself decide which registration cards are good and which aren't?
B) They VOLUNTARILY report irregularities; one police raid of their offices was to seize files THEY'D ALREADY REPORTED AS QUESTIONABLE, without being asked. In fact, most cases "against" ACORN have been on people they themselves have turned in.
C) They register MILLIONS of VALID voters each year; the fraudulent cases represent less than 0.5%.
D) No one has EVER successfully linked voter REGISTRATION fraud, and actual VOTER FRAUD -- because all voters have to show up with an ID. Consequently, ACORN has never been connected to VOTER FRAUD.
E) They do NOT pay by the registration card; they pay BY THE HOUR.
F) They register ANYONE who they encounter on their drives; Dem or Rep. They focus on urban, poor, and minority populations. The majority of urban, poor, and minority populations are DEMOCRATS. Maintaining that ACORN is biased because they population it services is primarily Democratic is like claiming that the Detroit DMV is racist against whites because most of the people it serves are black.

Blogger Like Me

I'm so impressed with my own response to Daktari's response to my previous post, that I'm reposting it here. I'll assume D won't mind me top-posting her original comment as well:

There's the occasionally repeated point that arts tend to draw in people with radical ideas and/or marginalized agenda...

Which is total bullshit, btw. I have been around enough actors/writers/wannabes/artsy-fartsy types to know that their idea of "radical ideas and a marginalized agenda" is growing up misunderstood in a hick town just like the rest of us. While a willingness to offend/shock/shuck convention can foster some creativity, it rarely does so in a culturally meaningful way. Rarer still is the liberal play that pushes the envelope well.

What is the conservative stage equivalent of the first gay kiss, the first interracial kiss; the conservative stage equivalent of brilliant strung-out prophets and flamboyant, flashy colors and dancing and scantily clad ladies and gents?

Answer: Opera. Wagner in particular.

I can think of plenty of plays with conservative viewpoints. Everything from Oklahoma to The Music Man, where Marion, our gentle librarian, plays straight man to the wildly flamboyant Harold Hill. And what could POSSIBLY be more conservative than Our Town. But like most plays with a conservative viewpoint, most of those made me want to gouge my eyes out. Pulitzer Prize my ass.

Hmm... Well taken, but I think you're overestimating two things: the % of actors/writers/wannabes/artsy-fartsy types whose "idea of "radical ideas and a marginalized agenda" is growing up misunderstood in a hick town just like the rest of us" out of the whole, and the extent to which conservatives don't consider depicting the status quo/the "idealized" status quo as normal rather than "conservative." That is, Oklahoma and Music Man might be hopelessly conventional in the way they see society, but I think conservatives wouldn't view that as a "conservative" play at all. Which was part of my point -- the analysis of the leanings of plays and playwrights is trickier than the author even came close to implying. After all, it is easy to argue the caveman politics of many plays/art with a damsel in distress saved by a charming handsome leading man, and/or with a female lead whose three-dimensional characteristics consist of the dimensions of "hot", "young", and "coquettishly attracted to the male lead", but I find it hard to imagine most people counting them as "conservative" in a political way. Which, I guess, was part of the point I was trying to make: making plays that are about, celebrate, or depict that status quo or a by-gone age is "conservative" in the same way that, let's say, "Rent" is liberal -- Rent isn't quite a liberal message play, but rather one that emphasizes the humanity of and treats as normal a bunch of outcasts and supposed non-conformists; what liberal message does that present other than "We're queer, we're here, and we're having lots of sex"? But by accepting "deviant" lifestyles, it's defined as "liberal", whereas accepting "normal" lifestyles -- patriarchy, female frailty, traditional marriage -- isn't considered "conservative" by even many liberals (as long as the traditionalness and female frailty aren't oppressive; cf. almost all mainstream romantic comedies). Which, actually, brings me back to my other point I forgot about -- I'd say that there're plenty of liberal plays that DO push the envelope well; they're just ones we're not thinking of, because when you push the envelope well, the political message isn't plainly and simply spelled out. It's a rare play that is OBVIOUSLY a message play and is good, I think (not a play, but case in point: the movie "In the Heat of the Night.)

And you did quite call me out on Wagner, you're right, and not having seen "Our Town," I'll give you that one, but I pose two challenges to you.

1) All the plays you name aren't contemporary; especially Wagner and Our Town are from rather a bit back, such that one can argue that many pieces of work written over 70 years ago are going to appear/be "conservative," because they express viewpoints that have long since been out of vogue/refuted. "Taming of the Shrew" seems rather cretinous to me, and while it's false to suggest that sexism was accepted without question by all hundreds of years ago, it's not false to say that sexism was quite acceptable and accepted as reality by most. So riddle me this, D: name a contemporary conservative play. (I'm sure you can, I'm just curious what you'll come up with.)

2) Name a conservative message play. Which seems to be the hidden presumption of the NYT author, anyway -- that liberal plays look to advance the liberal agenda, ergo any "liberal" play is a liberal message play.

By the by, I think you're right that liberal message plays rarely push the envelope well, but I would argue that many plays that aren't WRITTEN to be message plays, liberal or conservative, DO push the boundary well. Rather like "The Half-Hour News Hour" or "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," the creators (conservative and liberal, respectively -- I just noticed that) missed the point in that comedy, especially, usually fails when its first master is a message. Its first master must be being funny -- THEN you can do the message. As with message plays, if you start with the goal of having a message, you'll have one, but it might be a shitty play. If you start with the goal of an excellent play/show, and then within that you wish to plant a message, you might get it right.

So my last long-assed-introductioned question: are there any deeply influential plays that *didn't* push the envelope? Or is it true necessarily that superlative excellence requires pushing envelopes (whereas pushing envelopes doesn't necessarily mean it's any good).

Things that make me go "Ummm..."

Fantastically interesting article in the NYT about the apparent lack of conservative plays/playwrights. I haven't the time or energy to fully explore the topic here, but some quick takes:

a) The article bugs me for some reason... I think because it takes for granted that the highest standard for something is whether or not it's present; that is, it's easy to argue all/many/most plays are left-leaning. What's harder is to ascertain the reason and the content -- are they liberal because they celebrate multiculturalism? Mock convention? Are flamingly gay? What? Should plays that are on the bleeding edge of avante garde or transparent political leanings be placed in anything like the same genre as big Broadway hits that, like Hollywood, treasure profitability and production values over content? (Not that good content doesn't happen, it's just secondary to profit.) The author doesn't begin to engage these ideas until the second page, and then the article ends. I guess I feel like the argument is pointless in the abstract, without analyzing what specific themes are absent, within AND without a liberal "canon," rather than the simple binary she sets up.

b) There's the occasionally repeated point that arts tend to draw in people with radical ideas and/or marginalized agenda; would it be fair to say that free-marketeerism wasn't (at least until recently, and I'm not convinced even now) is not an endangered ideology? Considering the embrace of it in so many aspects of our life, do conservative ideas just not stage as well? I mean, no one makes plays about happy, untroubled people living in harmony with their neighbors for 3 acts. Why? Because conflict is the heart of a play, and theatre is a great place to be "in your face" in a way that things rooting for the status quo usually aren't. There are "in your face" conservative novels, but don't they tend to be ideologically shocking more than stage-shocking? What is the conservative stage equivalent of the first gay kiss, the first interracial kiss; the conservative stage equivalent of brilliant strung-out prophets and flamboyant, flashy colors and dancing and scantily clad ladies and gents? Is conservatism, which at its heart tends to be backward-looking (i.e. we would be better served by going back to "values of old", from the Bible to Patriotism to freer markets), just hard to portray?

c) In relation to b), I've often asserted that the reason, for example, that there are also fewer conservative running comic strips, a conservative "Doonesbury" or "Boondocks" for example (yes, fine, I see you Mallard Fillmore, but you're still not funny or very popular) is because irony doesn't play as big a part in conservative thought. Hypocrisy has to be accepted in more cases. (Sure, this is "skewed liberal," I'm sure conservatives, in fact I know conservatives charge liberals with hypocrisy, but it just seems less, I dunno, authentic to me. What's a situation with more inherent conflict making for ironic humor/hypocrisy: revering the founding fathers and strictly honoring their positive accomplishments, or questioning their authenticity and own moral consistency, from slave-holding to elitism? Is it just easier to go to the well repeatedly to find new inconsistencies and questions than it is to continuously make interesting reverent works? Has 1776 already plumbed most of the play-worthy reverence?) Ultimately, it just seems to me to be more of a conservative trait to believe some ideas aren't to be questioned, there's an avoidance of conflict, whereas within liberalism, despite caricatures, not everyone feels the same about feminism, affirmative action, war, abortion, what not? Can you make a conservative play that questions adherence to core conservative ideas? Or does it become liberal then? Does a play questioning liberal ideals become conservative, or does it tend to stay within a broad liberal orthodoxy, making it still liberal?

d) Last point: it also funnily strikes me as vaguely, you guessed it, ironic when these arguments about diversity of viewpoints are made about academia or theatre. It is *not* that diversity of viewpoints isn't a good thing, but rather that it's a supposedly liberal, relativistic argument (actually a corruption of post-modernism in my opinion) that all ideas are equally worthy. Conservative arguments about being in academia, for example, presuppose conservative viewpoints are just as valid as liberal ones and should be included. And hey, I'm not saying that they're NOT just as valid, but rather that the conservative argument that they must be included just to include them, and that it's actually discrimination that keeps them from their proper share of positions, is strictly speaking an affirmative action, relatistic argument. That is, "we aren't succeeding at X because of discrimination, and therefore structures must be changed, people must be included, and the way things are done must change to address this." They contend that the best people aren't being chosen but rather that selection is biased, but the empirical evidence I've seen is sparse and equivocal, it seems to me. And in any case, you don't see many arguments (at least I don't) with specifics, that is, THIS person, THIS idea is clearly qualified, and isn't accepted for the following reasons, but rather, THIS person, THIS group of people aren't represented, and therefore are discriminated against, QED. The quality of their work and the possibility that their points of view don't stand up academically is rarely broached -- again, I'm not saying the answer is already known, but rather that by failing to pose these questions, in theatre or academics, conservatives are asking for mushy multi-culti relativism that they supposedly oppose: include me in your "marketplace" of ideas because everyone deserves to be there. In the end, apparently, we need marketplace adjustment in academics and theatre because, apparently, the market is supplying a suboptimal amount of conservatism.

I'm just saying, it's a funny idea.


PS Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention: is it possible that there's so much celebration of conservatism in other venues, that those who espouse it don't need to go the relatively difficult route of a playwright? Just saying.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In the Name of All That's Holy...

Geez. A quite snotty, if correct in its overall conclusion in regards to free speech, article here from the Calgary Herald. (How/why was I reading the Calgary Herald? Short answer: thesising is driving me batty. Long answer: checking Slate every 20 minutes meant I read this post from Rachel Larrimore referencing the article. It was a not particularly bad post for the increasingly gormless posts on the XX Factor, but I digress.

The thing annoying me about the Calgary Herald piece is the presumption it carries that Muslims should "clean up their own house", one of my FAVORITE wackaloon fuckwit notions of all times. Besides the fact that many Muslims are already engaged in trying to do just that, there are several unasked questions that really aren't discussed, and the at least arguable viewpoint that Muslims individually hold some responsibility for the actions of others within the religion or hold responsibility to outreach to the more diverse communities many of them are living in in Europe and the US (or if not diverse, different non-Muslim communities) slides into blaming Muslims as a whole for the actions of some. When is the last time we blamed Catholics for the sins of some of them? White people? Republicans? Democrats? Oh, wait... Nevertheless, the sophistic reasoning that Islam is some kind of inherently violent brutal religion, despite millions of negative examples, is ridiculous. Any group containing one billion people is going to have a lot of very violent ones within it. Notwithstanding that, during the Middle Ages and for times after that, they were the ones carrying the torch of tolerance and knowledge for Western/Middle-Eastern civilization. It quite seems from the historical evidence that, on the whole, you'd be better off as a Jew or Christian in many of the Islamic-controlled areas than, oh, say, SPAIN? (Achem, Inquisition, achem.)

Anyway. I needn't remind everyone again that many Christians have done horrific things in the name of Christianity. And though I enjoyed Bill Maher's movie Religulous, my friends and I were all horrified by his equating of religion with extremism. His basic point in the end was that religion = war = nuclear armageddon. Now, don't get me wrong, it'd take a severe... replacement with a wholly different person for me to join an organized religion at this point, and I may agree with Maher that much of it is senseless, but I think if religion disappeared from the world today, there would still be violence, threat, strife, and possibly from the exact same people. Religion doesn't, on average, cause irrationality -- it serves as a rationale for many. It is a channel for energy, be it goodwill, love, and a feeling of greater than yourself, or your hate, dissatisfaction, and longing for direction. Islam didn't cause terrorism, just as Christianity didn't cause the Holocaust. Religion is an abstraction, and abstractions don't do anything -- it's the people that choose how to use them. (Well, kind of, but it sounds rhetorically nice so we'll leave it.)

Anyway. Lost train of thought.

There are many legitimate and interesting questions to be asked about religion, animosity, modernism, liberal/secular values, etc. But they musn't and can't start from a presumption of inferiority, of this ridiculous "your religion must've caused this and ours is the way of liberal democratic peace" bullshit. All religions -- all peoples -- have histories that have involved violence. If we want to talk about, seriously talk about how to address violence in the modern era, we should all start with a look inside and ask how we've stopped killing those different than ourselves as we did in the past, and hope that we're even correct in the presumption that we've gotten that far. If we look to our own cultural baggage first, and then at another's in an attempt to understand it as a real lived human experience and not an existential threat from a hot mess of an abstract nonsensical conglomeration (Islamofascism, I'm looking at you), then we may find ways to address things and appropriate and reasoned questions to ask. If we don't understand ourselves, we can't understand others, and deflecting soul-searching in favor of crude generalization and cultural blaming will only keep things the same. Is our goal to feel good about ourselves, and superior to others? Or is it to actually stop the present strife? Because I guarantee you, we will never do the latter if we embrace the former.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Racism, Terror, McCain and Palin: The Original Crypto-racists

Ok, McCain and Palin actually are not at all the original crypto-racists. But this excellent article on The Root points out the coded language being used by their campaign shows quite clearly what's going on and how it fits in a history of using the "he-said, she-said" mode of the press to legitimize and equate negative campaigning (arguably used by Obama) with inciting hate and fear (which The Root points out is at best being tolerated, and far more likely being fostered, by McCain-Palin).

I can hear several people, including friends of mine, asserting that McCain and Palin are not being racist, they're just playing hardball. Which may indeed be the case, insofar as explicit racism -- they may not think Obama is inferior because of his race, but they are exploiting the very race/class lines that come from those assumptions. Kai Wright:

""It's as if the usual rules don't apply," he huffed in complaint about Obama's refusal to respond to smears masquerading as questions. "What does he plan for America? In short, who is the real Barack Obama?!"

The crowd was ready with an answer. "A terrorist!" is the cry several observers heard from at least one McCain fan. Similar slurs flew at McCain camp rallies all week. Someone at a Sarah Palin event in Florida hollered "kill him!" when she repeated her now-infamous smear about Obama "palling around with terrorists." (It's unclear whether the supporter meant Obama or '60s-radical-turned-academic Bill Ayers, the terrorist pal in question.) The crowd eventually turned on the press galley covering the speech, shouting threats and taunts. A black camera crew member was told, "Sit down, boy."

By yesterday, Team McCain had cooled things down a bit. They at least kept the race baiting out of McCain and Palin's mouths—even if they still haven't stopped others on the platform from conspicuously repeating "Barack Hussein Obama." But the crowd's reactions this week lay bare the coded language McCain and Palin have deliberately used. The message from the McCain camp was clear: This Obama guy is different than you in "essential" ways. He represents people who aren't like you. Don't trust him. He is other."

To really fully support such things requires a deeper exegesis than we have time for here. But I think the Southern Strategy that Daktari and I have been discussing is more alive and well than we suspected. I don't think it's such a conscious thing these days, but riling up an audience along the same lines as have been used for decades (and so aptly demonstrated in a key scene in To Kill a Mockingbird) can play into old, half-recognized prejudices and group-think that doesn't represent the feelings of the individual, but a less-rational, more hateful crowd-mind. We are very, very far from literal lynch mobs -- but the fact that McCain-Palin are playing on the same crowd dynamics that made such things acceptable for so long is nonetheless disturbing, whether they do it knowingly or not.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Apropos of Nothing

I have to say, although I'm enjoying my pizza sandwich, their "chocolate shake" has confirmed my suspicion that Potbelly Sandwiches' offerings are like food, but less so.

Media Bias (minus Linky Love)

Just a quick esoteric rant, with few links source material -- in a hurry, sorry.

Watching "Interviews: 50 cents," Alex Chadwick's occasional interview series on Slate V, Slate's Video feed, he interviews a young, sort of lost-seeming guy who is looking to go into journalism. The guy says something to the effect that he doesn't agree with most of the policies of the current heads of government (hence explaining why he might like to cover a war, but not be in one), and then says, "But I guess if I want to be a journalist, I'm not supposed to have... beliefs, right?" Long pause as Chadwick apparently confirms the duty of an objective journalist to not have thoughts by not expressing any thoughts about the guy's question (which actually is understandable as a good interview tactic in this case), and the guy continues, "Right? You can't have political beliefs?" Chadwick now jumps in -- "You can have them, you can't express them..." They chat a bit longer, but...

WHAT the FUCK? Doesn't Chadwick see how self-apparently nonsensical that is? OF COURSE journalists have opinions -- so how does it help objectivity if they don't voice them, thereby making whatever biases they may carry more apparent for the discerning reader/listener to evaluate for themselves, AND subjecting them to public scrutiny, which can hone, refine, challenge, and improve one's grasp of concepts and world events? And how does NOT SAYING WHAT YOU BELIEVE change your actual degree of objectivity? For the sake of all that's... That otherwise intelligent people can continue to believe that SECRET JOURNALIST OPINIONS are better/more impartial than OPEN JOURNALIST OPINIONS that you can take into account for yourself is sort of beyond me at this point. I just want to sit down with Chadwick and Lehrer and some of these other media fools and figure out what exactly they think they're playing at, other than trying to project false impartiality by not voicing their actually partial thoughts?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On a different note, Sweetheart...

Great post on Feministing about a recent study showing that talking to the elderly like children -- "How are we today?" "Now that's a good girl, take your medicine" -- makes them aggressive, depressed, and encourages a downward spiral into exactly the kind of behavior and loss of self-confidence that one is, theoretically, trying to avoid.

Of course, nominally, these diminutives and other cutsies used when talking to the elderly are meant to be shorthand for "I care about you," but especially when used in nursing homes, is anyone really fooled? I mean, didn't this kind of tossed-in verbal garbage long ago become clearly superficial and pro forma, like "Hello, thank you for calling the BIG FUCK Corporation; we here at BIG FUCK appreciate your call." Doesn't the pretend sincerity bug EVERYONE? So why should the older folks (who've had to deal with pretend sincerity for longer than the rest of us) be any different?

The study looked at the effects this condescending language had on the mentality of the idosos it was directed at ("idoso" is Portuguese for elderly/aging, after the Portuguese word for age, "idade"). It's hardly surprising that it might be used in senior centers -- but what ISN'T surprising is that it's not very helpful/good. These days, it seems like it'd be more surprising if a senior "assisted living" center WAS doing something good. (While there are no doubt numerous good ones, the industry as a whole seems like a SCARY den of neglect and iniquity.)

Perhaps I'm crazy, but I've thought for a while that the US model of not taking responsibility for personally caring for your parents/the previous generation is a bit twisted -- it's still traditional in a lot of countries, 3-generation-homes and all. And while it's beyond many's means, it seems like more often it's just viewed as an inconvenience or avoidable hassle. While some of the elderly don't have people that could look after them, or'd rather be cared for by someone who they didn't themselves raise, out of a sense of personal dignity, there seem to me to be too many of the younger who just aren't willing to deal with it. I don't have any numbers on this, it's just my impression, and not having had to take care of an ailing parent, it's easy for me to say -- but still, it seems like the least one owes a parent, doesn't it?

Hmm... I'm underinformed on this issue, so this is me talking out of my ass for the time being, but how 'bout this: let's agree to address our seniors like equals, and if we're going to use affectionate monikers, how 'bout we stick to actual, sincere ones, or avoid it all together, ok sweetiekins? Thanks honey, you've been a real gem.

David Plotz: When you look into the Red Dawn, the Red Dawn looks into you

Or: "How we became the enemy."

Interesting article by Slate's David Plotz on the Cold War era movie "Red Dawn" (according to Plotz, the Cold War movie most durable next to The Terminator), on how this warrior-death-cult movie about Russians, Cubans & Nicaraguans invading Calumet, Colo. (I know, I know, the hell?) and the nihilistic resistance force that pops up amongst the American teens. (Football players, apparently -- so Battlestar Galactica's "Pyramid" playing resistance force is seemingly a Red Dawn homage -- color me heretofore in the dark on that one.)

The line from the existential conservative fears of the Cold War to us becoming the Cold War-like Soviet behemoth inspiring existential dread in Iraqis is an interesting, and possibly brilliant one. Or maybe, having never seen Red Dawn, I'm eating up Plotz's thesis because it appeals to me, but it's incredibly inapt. Could be the latter, considering I have a generally low opinion of Plotz and am somewhat nonplussed at unironically praising him, but hey, go see for yourself.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

...martingales will play. A funny way to analyze the financial crisis.

Slate's Jordan Ellenberg likens the financial crisis to flipping a coin in a cogent and wry way. Read it.

Also quite good was an article he linked to about a Stanford professor who started as a high school-dropout traveling magician and went on to be a discipline-crossing intellectual matchmaker of a statistician. (He also, apparently, proved that flipping a coin is only ~49% fair.)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Solidarity Gone Awry

File it under yet another "Unbearable Lightness of Being Center-Left." Or perhaps just "The Unbearable Lightness of Analysis at Slate."

Whatever the case, Emily Bazelon's recent article disappoints. Me, at least.

Charitably, I can see how hard it is to watch a woman flub on the national stage and worry that we've all been set back some (well, all us feminists, but more importantly I suppose, women and specifically women feminists especially -- Wom Fems?). It is, similarly, hard for me to watch black people make a fool of themselves (See: All Wayans family members post-1995ish -- and no, it doesn't matter to me that they're suppposedly funny or just pretending, minstreling is minstreling, aiight? Though yes, it would be worse if it were a national politician.*) So I guess, just in this instant thinking about that, I can sympathize with her position.

But the thing is, Slate is not (nominally) a confessional -- it's a news outlet for analysis and debate and reporting. And while reporting the embarrassment wim-fems and their supporters might feel about Palin, she does seem to fail to engage much beyond that. Just as I don't believe Hillary Clinton did all that much to advance feminism or women's issues -- just being a woman close to the presidency was an important symbol, but one without substance, she being hardly a Shirley Chisholm or Ruth Bader-Ginsberg or Joan Williams, i.e., feminists I respect for their actual ACTIVISM and not just womanness -- I don't know how much Palin is taking away from it. It is, after all, institutional sexism as much as anything else at this point maintaining male dominance, and institutionalized discrimination relies much less on the outward symbols and prejudices that make up much of the substance of historical discrimination (which in turn allowed present discrimination to occur more discretely, once the institutions to maintain it were set up on discriminatory foundations).

Perhaps I'm wrong -- perhaps I'm underestimating symbolism. I sometimes/often do. But it shouldn't require me to ask Bazelon to do her job -- which is not just to sound agonized, indecisive and inactive (which I SWEAR, must be the Slate house style these days, except when they're being decisively smarmy) but to ANALYZE things. Get to the MEAT of it. Bazelon's lack of engagement in the deeper structures of sexism is nigh-unforgivable -- similar to the media's coverage of Iraq. Because I ask you, what would be more valuable to the American people -- coverage of the play-by-plays of politics in the Iraq war, and the body count, or actual substantive coverage of the HISTORY of Iraq, a major undertaking in educating the public about the culture and people of Iraq, such that we could responsibly interpret what's going on there? Or, to the point, a responsible history and analysis of sexism and progress in the US and, hey I know, it's crazy to even ask for it -- other countries (many of whom have already had female heads of state and so maybe could shed some light on... oh, never mind).

I'm not saying such an undertaking was ever likely to be in the offing in the US MSM; I'm just saying, people like Bazelon are smart enough to know it should be, yet so rarely use their pulpits to even CALL for such an undertaking; and if they do call for it, they would certainly do it in the best spirit of the Slate political gabfest and call for someone ELSE to do it...

Uggghhh, I'm spent.

(*I'm not sure if I'd count, say, Alan Keyes. He's horrible, but he's obviously intelligent -- just IN-SANE. So I guess I don't have a ready straight parallel to Palin in mind... though is that because I can't think of any, because there are more black "embarassments" in entertainment than politics, and/or because there aren't ENOUGH blacks in US politics to have much of a diversity of them...? Oh, actually, there was William Jefferson...)

Moore Stuff about Nader

This is well worth reading both in itself as a polemic to Michael Moore, and for the series of comments following the article among many people who do believe in the the importance of supporting Nader/third-party candidates, because they believe, as I do, that in the long run the dangers of not doing that are greater than the dangers of the short term.

I've yakked on about this before, and even though I'm inclined to vote for Obama this race, I realize it's for rather facetious reasons. That is, as with Democrats in general, I find it so much more soothing for a President that says things I believe in, even if, like Republicans, he will go ahead an do just about everything I don't believe in, at the benefit of perhaps marginally slowing the downward spiral of inequality and environmental destruction. I believe that, at least for the moment, people won't turn from the two parties without a) massive grassroots work that affects the levels much below the presidency more than the presidency itself, rendering the presidency more symbolic than central to the struggle, and/or b) another major crisis, this one with the Democrats fucking up as badly from an executive standpoint as GWB has. (This is not at all implausible -- Gore war reportedly for war with Iraq during the Clinton presidency; also, if the reality of what Dems have done were common knowledge, people'd realize that, at least foreign policy wise, they already DO fuck things up on a similar scale, not to mention that the Dems have avoided far more blame than they deserve to for fucking GIVING GWB THE BLANK CHECK HE FUCKING CASHED IN RE: IRAQ. He might've gone over their heads had they not voted with him and fought Iraq anyway, but we'll never know since the Dems caved on the Use of Force and PATRIOT ACT resolutions -- but since they weren't the executive, they've gotten away pretty clean in our unspoken-monarchy-obsessed country.) Change likely won't start at the top, and since my analysis of history is that a truly populous grassroots movement is enough to sway almost any president, regardless of party... well, that's how I rationalize how voting for Obama isn't at cross-purposes with what I believe in. (It really and truly is, if you look at his actual politics, but damn it, it's been so long since someone even sounded inspiring...)

I'm just saying

h/t to the ornery Captain Plaid on the first video.

The ornery Southern Scot also had this gem:

He asks some questions similar to my recent post on why so many lower-income/rural folks support Republicans; I'd like to see him delve into this deeper in the future.

(Ooooo, this just in! He apparently has some thoughts on it somewhat similar to mine...)