Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Reading

Burning Down The House — Joan Walsh in The Nation on what Mr. Boehner and Mr. McCarthy hath wrought.

The chaotic House GOP leadership battle—if it can be called a battle, when virtually no one wants to be leader—is normally blamed on fractious right-wing extremists in the so-called “Freedom Caucus.” But when House Speaker John Boehner and his would-have-been successor Kevin McCarthy wonder who’s to blame for their troubles, they should start by looking in the mirror.

Since Boehner came to power in 2011, his leadership team has encouraged the far right in its crusade against government, governing, and compromise. They’ve fostered the extremists’ delusions that they can do things they simply can’t, with a Democrat in the White House—repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood, hold the debt ceiling hostage to force huge budget cuts.

Boehner and McCarthy (and before him Eric Cantor, who was defeated by a far-right primary challenger last year) can do the math: time and again they turned to Democrats to pass measures to keep the government open and avoid disaster, but only after they tried and failed to mollify the far right. This only encouraged the “Freedom Caucus” members in their delusions of power—and enraged them that they were being kept from wielding it.

There’s a further irony in the fact that, back in 2010, McCarthy and Cantor (along with House Budget Committee Chair and 2012 vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan) recruited a lot of the folks tormenting them now. A photo of the three “Young Guns” made the rounds on Twitter on Thursday, with the young men dressed in pleated slacks that looked like hand-me-downs from Dad. Now two of the Young Guns have been defeated, and the third, Ryan, is being begged to step in as Speaker and save the party.

Ryan doesn’t want the job either—though as I write, there’s reporting that he may bow to pressure from Boehner, McCarthy, and others and take the job. But what happens then? The minute he does that, the guns of the right, young and old, will be aimed at him. Ryan, the man behind the cruel Ryan budget that would slash programs for the poor and voucherize Medicare; who wants an abortion ban with no rape exception, won’t be far-right enough for the crazies—at least once he stepped in as Speaker. By definition, if he does it, he’s doing the establishment’s bidding. He’ll be tainted by reports of the two Boehner phone calls to lure him; by McCarthy himself saying Ryan should do it; by the whole roster of Republicans who said he’d save the party.

The Republican base doesn’t want to save the party. They want to burn it down.

Killing The Coral — Karl Mathiesen in Mother Jones reports on the imminent death of a vast amount of coral reefs.

Scientists have confirmed the third-ever global bleaching of coral reefs is under way and warned it could see the biggest coral die-off in history.

Since 2014, a massive underwater heat wave, driven by climate change, has caused corals to lose their brilliance and die in every ocean. By the end of this year 38 percent of the world’s reefs will have been affected. About 5 percent will have died forever.

But with a very strong El Niño driving record global temperatures and a huge patch of hot water, known as “the Blob,” hanging obstinately in the north-western Pacific, things look far worse again for 2016.

For coral scientists such as Dr. Mark Eakin, the coordinator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Watch program, this is the cataclysm that has been feared since the first global bleaching occurred in 1998.

“The fact that 2016’s bleaching will be added on top of the bleaching that has occurred since June 2014 makes me really worried about what the cumulative impact may be. It very well may be the worst period of coral bleaching we’ve seen,” he told the Guardian.

The only two previous such global events were in 1998 and 2010, when every major ocean basin experienced bleaching.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia, said the ocean was now primed for “the worst coral bleaching event in history.”

“The development of conditions in the Pacific looks exactly like what happened in 1997. And of course following 1997 we had this extremely warm year, with damage occurring in 50 countries at least and 16 percent of corals dying by the end of it,” he said. “Many of us think this will exceed the damage that was done in 1998.”

After widespread devastation was confirmed in the Caribbean this month, a worldwide consortium of coral scientists joined on Thursday to somberly announce the third-ever global bleaching event—and warn of a tenuous future for the precious habitat unless sharp cuts were made to carbon emissions.

Since the early 1980s the world has lost roughly half of its coral reefs. Hoegh-Guldberg said the current event was directly in line with predictions he made in 1999 that continued global temperature rise would lead to the complete loss of coral reefs by the middle of this century.

“It’s certainly on that road to a point about 2030 when every year is a bleaching year…So unfortunately I got it right,” he said.

Why We Loved That Comic Strip — Sarah Boxer in The Atlantic on the history of Peanuts.

Peanuts was deceptive. It looked like kid stuff, but it wasn’t. The strip’s cozy suburban conviviality, its warm fuzziness, actually conveyed some uncomfortable truths about the loneliness of social existence. The characters, though funny, could stir up shockingly heated arguments over how to survive and still be a decent human being in a bitter world. Who was better at it—Charlie Brown or Snoopy?

The time is ripe to see what was really happening on the pages of Peanuts during all those years. Since 2004, the comics publisher Fantagraphics has been issuing The Complete Peanuts, both Sunday and daily strips, in books that each cover two years and include an appreciation from a notable fan. (The 25-volume series will be completed next year.) To read them straight through, alongside David Michaelis’s trenchant 2007 biography, Schulz and Peanuts, is to watch the characters evolve from undifferentiated little cusses into great social types.

In the stone age of Peanuts—when only seven newspapers carried the strip, when Snoopy was still an itinerant four-legged creature with no owner or doghouse, when Lucy and Linus had yet to be born—Peanuts was surprisingly dark. The first strip, published on October 2, 1950, shows two children, a boy and a girl, sitting on the sidewalk. The boy, Shermy, says, “Well! Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown! Good ol’ Charlie Brown … Yes, sir! Good ol’ Charlie Brown.” When Charlie Brown is out of sight, Shermy adds, “How I hate him!” In the second Peanuts strip the girl, Patty, walks alone, chanting, “Little girls are made of sugar and spice … and everything nice.” As Charlie Brown comes into view, she slugs him and says, “That’s what little girls are made of!”

Although key characters were missing or quite different from what they came to be, the Hobbesian ideas about society that made PeanutsPeanuts were already evident: People, especially children, are selfish and cruel to one another; social life is perpetual conflict; solitude is the only peaceful harbor; one’s deepest wishes will invariably be derailed and one’s comforts whisked away; and an unbridgeable gulf yawns between one’s fantasies about oneself and what others see. These bleak themes, which went against the tide of the go-go 1950s, floated freely on the pages of Peanuts at first, landing lightly on one kid or another until slowly each theme came to be embedded in a certain individual—particularly Lucy, Schroeder, Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy.

Doonesbury — Daydream believer.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Reading

Punching DownwardDoonesbury creator Garry Trudeau on free speech, satire, and the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo.

I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority—her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened. Using judgment and common sense in expressing oneself were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech.

And now we are adrift in an even wider sea of pain. Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

The White House took a lot of hits for not sending a high-level representative to the pro-Charlie solidarity march, but that oversight is now starting to look smart. The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

As Seen on TV — Charlie Pierce on what happened in South Carolina.

No video, no crime.

That’s the simple truth of it. That’s all you know and all ye needs to know about the cold-blooded slaying of Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina. No video, and Slager drops his Taser by Scott’s body and probably gets away with what he did. No video, and Scott goes down as just another of the many semi-hoodlums that are occupational hazards to our brave men in blue. No video, and Slager’s doing three nights a week on Hannity’s show by next Monday. No video, and Slager’s half-a-hero, while Scott remains dead.

But there is a video and Slager is shown both killing Scott, and appearing to try to cover it up in that most ancient of cop ways — with a drop piece. He is seen handcuffing a dying man. So let us not have any explanation containing the phrase “isolated incident.” Let us have no talk of “split-second decisions” or the “heat of the moment.” What we see in the video is Slager’s almost instantaneous response to what he’s done. Drop a weapon. Concoct a story. Rely on your brother officers and ginned-up public opinion to mount your defense. Rely on the fact that you’re a white man with a badge and the person you killed was clearly neither one. In everything we see on the video, Michael Slager was following…procedure.

There is a video, so Michael Slager will face murder charges in this case, and that is as it should be, but the systemic problem goes merrily on.

North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city, with a population of about 100,000. African-Americans make up about 47 percent of residents, and whites account for about 37 percent. The Police Department is about 80 percent white, according to data collected by the Justice Department in 2007, the most recent period available.

The country has to decide what the function of its police forces actually is. Is it their function to protect and to serve all citizens, or is it to respond with overwhelming deadly force to placate the fears that one sector of the population nurses toward The Other? Are our police custodians of ordered liberty or some sort of Praetorian Guard of established privilege? I’m sympathetic enough to the average officer to believe that many of them want to be the former, but are trained too thoroughly in the techniques of the latter. I hope the villain of this piece doesn’t turn out to be the guy who took the video, but I’m not sure that won’t be the case. There shouldn’t have to be video, is what I’m saying.

In extremely related news, the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri turned out in admirable numbers to begin to change the essential nature of their city government yesterday. For all the noise and bother, this is how you do it, one phone call at a time, one more door on which to knock. This is how the culture changes. This is how we get our police back.

The Spending Begins — Andy Borowitz on the unconscionable waste of money yet to come.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The two major political parties’ unconscionable waste of money officially commences this weekend, as Democrats and Republicans will soon begin spending an estimated five billion dollars of their corporate puppet masters’ assets in an unquenchable pursuit of power.

The billions, which could be spent rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, improving schools, or reducing the scourge of malaria in Africa, will instead be squandered in a heinous free-for-all of slander and personal destruction, alienating voters as never before.

The media will inevitably focus on the personalities of the bloated roster of narcissists lusting after the White House, but scant attention will be paid to the Wall Street bankers, industrial polluters, and casino magnates whose grip on American democracy will remain vise-like.

While attention this weekend turns to the Democrats, the Republicans remain quietly confident about their chances of purchasing the nation’s highest office. In the words of one top operative, “Our billionaires can beat their billionaires.”

Doonesbury — Sure-fire investment.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Conscience Clauses

Last night over dinner — two slices of pizza at an outdoor table on Miami Beach waiting for my play reading (it wasn’t as fun as it sounds thanks to idling tour buses and loud traffic) — Bob asked me how I thought the Supreme Court would rule on the Hobby Lobby case.  I said I thought it would narrowly rule against the corporations, but who knows.

Apropos of that, here’s a cartoon via Digby that predicts what could implausibly happen if the Court rules that Hobby Lobby can dictate religious practices to its employees.

Mcfadden 03-30-14

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saturday, December 28, 2013