Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Next Day

I’m not the first to notice that last night’s speech by President Obama came on the eve of the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that the two events — America’s involvement in other nations’ civil wars and the terrorist attacks — are inextricably connected.  We would not have had one without the other, even if the war was the result of lies and misdirection by an administration with an agenda that had nothing to do with preventing another attack; indeed, it bred more terrorists than it destroyed.

I’m not going to get into all of the back-and-forth between the president’s critics and supporters about the speech last night; if you want to find out what they said, there are plenty of places to read what John McCain and the rest of the Villagers thought, as if that will make a difference to the actual policy and plans for what comes next.

That said, there are a lot of people who get paid a lot of money to write things in papers, magazines and websites for their insight who are reflecting on the events of the last thirteen years.  I’m not one of them; I’m just a guy with a blog that gets maybe 200 hits a day if I’m lucky, and some of those are from people who, based on the name of this blog, come looking for pet supplies.  You get my profundities for free, and they’re probably worth the price.

I’m not going to repeat the cliche that the world changed after September 11, 2001.  Three thousand people died in New York, Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania, and countless others — friends, family, co-workers, and even the guy who sold a victim a newspaper or a bagel — were hit as well.  And yet we went on.  Not just as Americans (people from other places died, too) but as humans; wounded, yes, but recovering and changing just as any event large or small will change our life.  As Lanford Wilson said in Fifth of July, you can’t worry about the stopping, you have to worry about the going on.

We’re going on now, not knowing what will happen.  If you want to use a theatre metaphor, the future is all improv anyway.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shrink Rap

A psychologist who suggested to Fox News that the murderous shooting in California last weekend was triggered by “homosexual impulses” is out of a job as a spokesperson for a real estate company.

Dr. Robi’s comments on the tragedy in Santa Barbara do not represent the opinions of Coldwell Banker. Therefore at this time we feel it best to part ways with her as our lifestyle real estate correspondent.

Cue the wingers’ defense of the First Amendment and her FREEDOM! to be a jerk.  The First Amendment doesn’t apply — Coldwell Banker is a private company, not the government — and if you can’t take responsibility for the consequences of your own words, you probably shouldn’t go on TV and conflate being gay with being a mass murderer and expect to be a “lifestyle real estate correspondent” for much longer.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

No Third Trimester Facebook

Three bored teens in Oklahoma stand accused of first degree murder of an Australian college baseball player out for a jog.  So of course the Orcosphere wonders why the librul media isn’t going all Trayvon Martin on the accused.  That might be because the three were arrested immediately as opposed to getting a pat on the back by the cops and given their guns back.

It also leads to pop-psych from the wingers who find another reason to blame the decadence of our culture caused by gay married couples demanding abortions on Facebook.

But Fox News contributor Keith Ablow took the narrative even further toward the absurd, during an appearance on the network, suggesting that America’s disrespect for life, third-term abortions, and Facebook pushed the three teens to allegedly kill Lane.

You can mark the decline of western civilization from the moment Murphy Brown became a single mother.

Perhaps their attention might better be directed to a culture that allows teenagers to have access to weapons.  But that would be tyranny.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zimmerman Not Guilty

From the Miami Herald:

George Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday in the shooting death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin after a wrenching five-week trial that provoked a national discussion around the thorny issues of race, profiling, self-defense laws and gun control.

The neighborhood watch captain who fatally shot Trayvon in the heart during a violent struggle 17 months ago, smiled slightly after a court clerk read the verdict aloud in Seminole County courtroom 5D with Zimmerman’s family present. Trayvon Martin’s parents were not in the courtroom.

I’ve avoided writing about the trial because it was a media circus with all the sideshows included and I couldn’t possibly think of anything to say that would help.

As for the case itself and the issues of self-defense, racial profiling, and the symbolism that goes along with it, it’s a lot like theatre: an action that represents more than the characters and plot but tells us a lot about ourselves and our society.  And each one of us takes something different away when the play is over.

Feel free to do so in the comments.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Greedy Bastards

Chris Kluwe, the former placekicker for the Minnesota Vikings, is also a very good writer.  In his new book Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, excerpted in Salon, he takes on Ayn Rand and libertarians.

So I forced myself to read “Atlas Shrugged.” Apparently I harbor masochistic tendencies; it was a long, hard slog, and by the end I felt as if Ayn Rand had violently beaten me about the head and shoulders with words. I feel I would be doing all of you a disservice (especially those who think Rand is really super-duper awesome) if I didn’t share some thoughts on this weighty tome.

Who is John Galt?

John Galt (as written in said novel) is a deeply flawed, sociopathic ideal of the perfect human. John Galt does not recognize the societal structure surrounding him that allows him to exist. John Galt, to be frank, is a turd.

However, John Galt is also very close to greatness. The only thing he is missing, the only thing Ayn Rand forgot to take into account when writing “Atlas Shrugged,” is empathy.

John Galt talks about intelligence and education without discussing who will pay for the schools, who will teach the teachers. John Galt has no thought for his children, or their children, or what kind of world they will have to occupy when the mines run out and the streams dry up. John Galt expects an army to protect him but has no concern about how it’s funded or staffed. John Galt spends his time in a valley where no disasters occur, no accidents happen, and no real life takes place.

John Galt lives in a giant fantasy that’s no different from an idealistic communist paradise or an anarchist’s playground or a capitalist utopia. His world is flat and two-dimensional. His world is not real, and that is the huge, glaring flaw with objectivism.

John Galt does not live in reality.

In reality, hurricanes hit coastlines, earthquakes knock down buildings, people crash cars or trip over rocks or get sick and miss work. In reality, humans make good choices and bad choices based on forces even they sometimes don’t understand. To live with other human beings, to live in society, requires that we understand that shit happens and sometimes people need a safety net. Empathy teaches us that contributing to this safety net is beneficial for all, because we never know when it will be our turn.

I once tried to read Atlas Shrugged and gave up pretty quickly.  Not only did I find it turgid in ways that brought new meaning to the word “heavy” that we used to bandy about in high school English when we really didn’t get what the author was talking about, it was whiny and boring, much like the people who think that Ayn Rand is the inspiration for their political movement.

What it comes down to is that Randians and so-called “libertarians” are in it for themselves.  They think of themselves as so wonderful and smart that the world owes them a living and anyone who has a problem, be it a natural disaster or some other flaw of disease or disability, should just tough it out or get out of the way.  Greed is the creed and all this crap about We The People is just a slogan aimed at getting those who could never achieve greatness think they can so they’ll shut up and stop complaining about what they haven’t got.  And the best examples of libertarians that we have out there are folks like Rand Paul who are fine with letting people fend for themselves in the name of freedom as long as they don’t have a uterus to monitor or a same-sex wedding to go to.

I can’t wait to read the rest of Mr. Kluwe’s book.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cult of Personalities

As I suspected, the story about the N.S.A. leaks by Edward Snowden has turned from what he did to who he is, who are the people who reported the story, and what is the reaction from the people in charge of oversight and so on and so forth.

We’re supposed to take sides — he’s a hero/he’s a traitor — and we’re supposed to look into the depths of the souls of the players as if that would somehow explain things.

It’s at that point that I lose interest in wondering whether or not Edward Snowden did it for the notoriety, for some misplaced idea that he alone could decide what’s secret and what’s not, or whether he was finding a really different way to break up with his girlfriend.  Save it for the movie.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Reading

Obstruction — Jonathan Bernstein at Salon on why blocking every move by the president will blow up in the hands of the GOP.

It’s obvious that the unprecedented Senate Republican obstruction of executive branch nominations is bad for the president; it’s bad for the smooth functioning of the government; and it’s bad for voters who elected a Democratic president and a solid, 55-seat Democratic majority in the Senate. I’ve argued, too, that it’s bad for the Senate.

Less obvious? It’s bad for Republicans.

Now, in electoral terms, it can’t be bad for both parties, since electoral politics is a zero-sum game. Indeed, that’s sort of the problem for Republicans; obstruction of these nominations almost certainly has zero electoral effect. After all, most voters couldn’t tell you who the nominees for secretary of labor or to head the Environmental Protection Agency are, let alone the obscure rules Republicans are using to delay their confirmation.

So the effects of massive, across-the-board obstruction are going to be on policy, not elections. And that’s not a zero-sum game – and it will hurt Republicans and Republican-aligned groups, too.

Obstruction backfires against Republicans because it makes it difficult, and perhaps impossible, for them to collectively use the nomination process to make policy demands. Consider, for example, what they’ve done with EPA nominee Gina McCarthy. Senators traditionally ask nominees questions in order, in part, to get them to commit to policies those Senators find acceptable. McCarthy received not the normal dozens of questions, but more than 1,000. That appears to be an extreme case, but it’s not just her, either. As the New York Times reported, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew had to answer 395. By contrast, George W. Bush’s last Treasury Secretary received 49 questions from Democrats and 32 from Republicans. When you answer hundreds of questions, you might as well answer none; by failing to focus on specific areas of policy they care about, Republicans are likely wasting the opportunity to actually win some policy commitments.

Which Was the Worst? — James Fallows at The Atlantic weighs in on which of the so-called scandals is the one that could be the worst for President Obama.

Obama’s endorsement of the seizure of phone records and investigation suggests surprising blindness to two great and not-very-hidden realities of presidential history.

One is, secrets always get out. Presidents always hate it, and they always do their best to prevent it. Usually they manage to guard the truly life-and-death, real-time operational details — for instance, in Obama’s case, the suspected whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. But always there are leaks. Always. Always. And they are nearly always less consequential than is alleged at the time.

The other great historical constant is that after-the-fact hunts for leakers always go wrong. That is because they criminalize the delicate but essential relationship between reporters and government officials. The prosecutors always come across as over-reaching and too intrusive. The reporters and their news organizations always end up in a no-win situation: sometimes spending time in jail, often put in financial distress by legal costs, always torn between their professional/personal obligation to maintain confidence with their sources and the demands of prosecutors. And no good purpose is ever served.

Obama should know this. He must know it. He must know that no president looks better in history’s eyes for anti-leak prosecutions, and that many look worse. He must know the temptations that work on any president: the temptation to steadily arrogate executive power, to become so resentful of the limits on his power in domestic-legislation fights that he is drawn toward his untrammeled international authority, to slide imperceptibly from his (unavoidable) role as the person who must make countless hard decisions to a sense that his judgment automatically equals what is best for the country. He must know what the open-ended “war on terror” has done to the balance of powers, the fabric of life, and the rule of law in our country. Obama’s (and America’s) ideal, Abraham Lincoln, infringed heavily on civil liberties in the name of wartime emergency. That war, like Franklin Roosevelt’s, had a definable end.

I think Barack Obama has made a bad mistake in endorsing this investigation. It is one of the rare times I question not his effectiveness or tactics but his judgment. I hope he reconsiders.

Pity Party — Frank Bruni says that winning in America, be it on The Voice or in politics, relies on having a hard-luck story to tug at the heartstrings.

There’s a vivid streak of this in history, from Abe Lincoln’s log home to Bill Clinton’s turbulent one. But it seems more florid now. The economy’s stubborn funk has ratcheted up our suspicion of perks and privileges and our support for underdogs, to a point where we’re less taken with what people have achieved than with what they’ve endured.

In politics and in prime time, the contestants with the most traction are frequently the contestants with the gravest trials: afflictions, addictions, lost loves, lost dogs. I’m kidding about the canines, but only slightly. If there aren’t any epic setbacks in your biography, your political consultants or your “Voice” producers will find and amplify whatever garden-variety sorrows do exist. They’re like divining rods for tears, Yo-Yo Ma’s of the heartstrings.

That’s surely why a sort of weariness and skepticism was the response among a few New Yorkers I know to last week’s revelations by Christine Quinn, the mayoral candidate, that she’d struggled with bulimia and alcoholism. They’ve grown so inured to the process of public figures rummaging through the past for hard knocks that they greet it in a jaded fashion, wondering how to tell the real aches from the exaggerated ones.

Fetishized misfortune — hardship porn — has numbed them. That’s the biggest problem with it. It equates and mashes everything into one sentimental mush, cheapening uncommon suffering by showcasing it alongside the rest. It bends all life stories into identical arcs, no matter how different those stories are.

Doonesbury — Facial recognition.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Assume the Worst

Question for you: When the news broke about the Justice Department going after the phone records of journalists at the AP, how many of you immediately thought that the government was up to no good and that we were once again on the road to a Watergate-style scandal of enemies lists and political retribution?  Or, how many of you held back judgment, waiting until the immediate dust had settled before coming to a conclusion?

I’m willing to bet that most of you — and me — went for the first option.

It’s human nature to automatically assume the worst about a situation, then, after getting more information, re-evaluate and re-assess.  Sometimes the first instinct is right.  And sometimes it turns out to be either less than we initially thought or nothing at all.  We still don’t know about the AP story, but that didn’t stop a lot of us from harking back to the Nixon White House and their targeting of political enemies, and Benghazi! brought back memories of cover-ups in places like Vietnam and Iraq.  Even if it’s a president or an administration we’re nominally in favor of, we immediately think they’re up to no good.

It’s the lizard-brain survival instinct: assume the worst and get the hell out.  Trust no one and believe nothing you hear; they’ve got to be hiding something.  Even when all the facts are in and the whole story is laid out in front of us, we have a healthy dose of skepticism.

In a way I envy the conspiracy theorists.  They have a very interesting take on life; there are nuances and complexities to everything that the average person going through their hum-drum life never see or think about, such as why are the stop lights in U.S. 1 synchronized the way they are, or who really knows anything about the guy driving the limousine in Dallas on November 22, 1963?  It really does make life an adventure, doesn’t it?

I’m not dismissing the concerns about the AP phone records, and I say we should treat everything we hear about it with the same amount of care and scrutiny that we give to late-night infomercials about the stunning breakthroughs in hair restoration and boner pills.  After all, I’ve made it through everything from Watergate and Vietnam to Milli Vanilli.  But to immediately assume the worst about our government, whether it’s run by a president we like or loath assumes the worst about us all, and I’m not that cynical.  Yet.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This Will Not End Well

David Brooks spends a column on men and women, their self-image, and the implications for society.

I know he means well, but given his history of gross generalization and psycho-babbly concern trolling, I get the impression he’s trying to pick up a turd from the clean end.

Just leave it alone, Bobo.  You’re in over your head.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dead Reckoning

In a column in yesterday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat tries to wrap his head around the fact that marriage equality is going to eventually win, but he doesn’t like it, and he tries to come up with some sociological explanation for the sudden shift in acceptance of it.

Since [David] Frum warned that gay marriage could advance only at traditional wedlock’s expense, the marriage rate has been falling faster, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has been rising faster, and the substitution of cohabitation for marriage has markedly increased. Underlying these trends is a steady shift in values: Americans are less likely to see children as important to marriage and less likely to see marriage as important to childbearing (the generation gap on gay marriage shows up on unwed parenting as well) than even in the very recent past.

[...]

But there is also a certain willed naïveté to the idea that the advance of gay marriage is unrelated to any other marital trend. For 10 years, America’s only major public debate about marriage and family has featured one side — judges and journalists, celebrities and now finally politicians — pressing the case that modern marriage has nothing to do with the way human beings reproduce themselves, that the procreative understanding of the institution was founded entirely on prejudice, and that the shift away from a male-female marital ideal is analogous to the end of segregation.

Now that this argument seems on its way to victory, is it really plausible that it has changed how Americans view gay relationships while leaving all other ideas about matrimony untouched?

So it’s the gays’ fault that straight marriage has been having a tough time for the last few generations?  Huh?  How does that even make sense even if you grant that people who once got married for the wrong reasons — unplanned pregnancy, for instance — or to prove to their families and themselves that they really aren’t gay (and end up with profiles on gay dating sites noting that they’re “discreet”) are now getting divorced or not getting married in the first place?  Straight marriage has been under attack by itself for the last 100 years without any help from the gay community.  The fall in the childbirth rate is thanks to the advances in contraception and education, and yet there still seem to be plenty of overcrowded classrooms.  Cohabitation without benefit of marriage has been going on long before Stonewall, and people have been having sex because it feels good since, well, they first discovered that it felt good.

Mr. Douthat, like a lot of conservatives who don’t embrace the Baby-Jesus-wept argument, is trying to justify his dislike for marriage equality with the last bastion of the concern troll: the “what does it do to the fabric of our society?” trope.  How will we cope with the new paradigm of societal challenges?  Will it harm the churches and the soccer teams?  The same arguments were made about desegregation and civil rights long before Mr. Douthat was born, and the same arguments were made about women getting the right to vote when my grandmother wasn’t old enough to vote.  They were dead wrong then, and they’re wrong now.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Big Problem For Chris Christie

I’m not going to make snarky comments about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s size or weight.  I don’t like it when people make fat jokes — or skinny jokes, for that matter.  It’s childish and not a lot different than making jokes about someone’s sexuality or race.  Trying to shame them into “doing something” about their appearance to make them fit into some kind of societal norm is bullying.

And it’s not as if Gov. Christie doesn’t know that his weight is a part of his public image.  He joked about it on David Letterman.  But that doesn’t give others the right to pile on, and the former White House doctor who concern trolled about him last week was out of line.

His response to the doctor was to pick up the phone, call her at home, and yell at her.  If you’re planning on running for president some day, showing that you have anger management issues isn’t exactly a selling point.

We already knew that he has a short fuse.  That may be an asset in some settings, but it’s not exactly a quality you want in a person who has aspirations to access to the nuclear codes and the 82nd Airborne.

This clip from The West Wing pretty much sums it up.

Chris Christie needs a C.J. Cregg.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

You Have To Wonder

Tony Perkins, the hatemonger at one of those kinky right-wing religious cults, has his tail all puffed up about President Obama endorsing gays and lesbians in the Boy Scouts.

This is a man who said he isn’t sure he’d let his sons play football for fear that they’d get hurt–yet he can somehow justify putting boys in physically risky situations like these? No father, including Barack Obama, would want his daughters sharing a tent with grown men in the name of ‘access’–but you don’t hear anyone calling that politically incorrect!

“Why is that when the Religious Rights hears about gay people in the Boy Scouts, the first thing they think about is sex?” — Pop quiz question in Psychology 101.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Single Shot Weapon

Shorter Mitt Romney on gun control:

Guns don’t kill people; single moms kill people.

What he actually said:

Because if there’s a two parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically. So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity, and bring them in the American system.

That’s because white folks in the ‘burbs don’t kill other people, or shoot up high schools or movie theatres.

The dog whistles make my ears bleed.

PS: As Rick notes, Mr. Romney hasn’t always been such a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment.  But that doesn’t keep the NRA from backing him without question.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Window Cracks

A lot of folks are gigglesnorting over the idea of a jet plane with operating windows (cue up the Goldfinger clip), but all I can say about Mitt Romney’s blurting out the query about opening windows on airplanes is that he must have been in some sort of panic mode when his wife’s plane had to make an emergency landing after the cabin filled with smoke.  That’s the only reason I can think of, and it’s understandable … to a degree.

But that kind of extemporaneous thinking is not something you want in a president.  It’s a continuation of the spew-forth mentality that got him into trouble after the attack on the consulate in Libya: “Well, I’ve gotta say something.”

So far, Mr. Romney has not proven to be the kind of leader you want to wake up at three a.m. and expect a cogent, well-thought out response.  Or sit next to on a plane, for that matter.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Well Are You

Whoever came up with the Reagan line “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” probably got an extra handful of jellybeans for coming up with it, so naturally the Republicans cling to it and recycle it whenever they run against a Democratic incumbent. Well, to quote the Gipper, there they go again.

I think it’s a bullshit question no matter who asks it. Who’s the “you”? Me personally? My community? My state? The nation? You can answer it in terms of economic and social issues, or you can answer it philosophically as a reflection of your natural state of optimism or pessimism.

There’s also the implication that somehow the government or a president can make you better off as compared to four years ago… or last week, for that matter. That is an odd proposition to hear from the “smaller government/more freedom” party, and if a Democrat asked it of a Republican nowadays, their response would be something along the lines of “It’s not the government’s job to make you better off.”

For every reason I can think of how I’m not better off, I can come up with more reasons why I am. And few of them have anything to do with who I voted for.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Too Severely Hip

David Brooks went to Europe to see Bruce Springsteen.

Look, I get it that us old gaffers like to indulge in retroing back to our youth; the carefree days of the 60′s… Vietnam, the draft, race riots… and the music that came from that time transcends the generations. Ad agencies are selling insurance, boner pills and adult diapers to the tune of classic rock ballads, and I see teens wearing Beatles and Rolling Stone t-shirts as if they were the latest fashion trend. If there’s a worthy ambassador of American rock, it is The Boss, who also transcends the ages; Bruce Springsteen was on the cover of both Time and Newsweek in the same week in 1975. And so I won’t begrudge David Brooks his overseas trip to see him in concert.

But does he have to be so unhip in sharing his buzz? He makes it sound like he’s on an anthropological dig:

The oddest moment came midconcert when I looked across the football stadium and saw 56,000 enraptured Spaniards, pumping their fists in the air in fervent unison and bellowing at the top of their lungs, “I was born in the U.S.A.! I was born in the U.S.A.!”

Did it occur to them at that moment that, in fact, they were not born in the U.S.A.?

And did he have to go all Field of Dreams on us?

How was it that so many people in such a faraway place can be so personally committed to the deindustrializing landscape from New Jersey to Nebraska, the world Springsteen sings about? How is it they can be so enraptured at the mere mention of the Meadowlands or the Stone Pony, an Asbury Park, N.J., nightclub?

My best theory is this: When we are children, we invent these detailed imaginary worlds that the child psychologists call “paracosms.” These landscapes, sometimes complete with imaginary beasts, heroes and laws, help us orient ourselves in reality. They are structured mental communities that help us understand the wider world.

[...]

Millions of people know the contours of these remote landscapes, their typical characters, story lines, corruptions and challenges. If you build a passionate and highly localized moral landscape, people will come.

Only David Brooks could psychoanalyze a Springsteen concert into an epistle on self-awareness. Oh, and of course he has to bring in the presidential election and how to be more hip to the groove of the hoi polloi.

The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don’t try to be everyman. Don’t pretend you’re a member of every community you visit. Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.

Oh, just shut up and listen to the music.

Too Severely Hip

David Brooks went to Europe to see Bruce Springsteen.

Look, I get it that us old gaffers like to indulge in retroing back to our youth; the carefree days of the 60′s… Vietnam, the draft, race riots… and the music that came from that time transcends the generations. Ad agencies are selling insurance, boner pills and adult diapers to the tune of classic rock ballads, and I see teens wearing Beatles and Rolling Stone t-shirts as if they were the latest fashion trend. If there’s a worthy ambassador of American rock, it is The Boss, who also transcends the ages; Bruce Springsteen was on the cover of both Time and Newsweek in the same week in 1975. And so I won’t begrudge David Brooks his overseas trip to see him in concert.

But does he have to be so unhip in sharing his buzz? He makes it sound like he’s on an anthropological dig:

The oddest moment came midconcert when I looked across the football stadium and saw 56,000 enraptured Spaniards, pumping their fists in the air in fervent unison and bellowing at the top of their lungs, “I was born in the U.S.A.! I was born in the U.S.A.!”

Did it occur to them at that moment that, in fact, they were not born in the U.S.A.?

And did he have to go all Field of Dreams on us?

How was it that so many people in such a faraway place can be so personally committed to the deindustrializing landscape from New Jersey to Nebraska, the world Springsteen sings about? How is it they can be so enraptured at the mere mention of the Meadowlands or the Stone Pony, an Asbury Park, N.J., nightclub?

My best theory is this: When we are children, we invent these detailed imaginary worlds that the child psychologists call “paracosms.” These landscapes, sometimes complete with imaginary beasts, heroes and laws, help us orient ourselves in reality. They are structured mental communities that help us understand the wider world.

[...]

Millions of people know the contours of these remote landscapes, their typical characters, story lines, corruptions and challenges. If you build a passionate and highly localized moral landscape, people will come.

Only David Brooks could psychoanalyze a Springsteen concert into an epistle on self-awareness. Oh, and of course he has to bring in the presidential election and how to be more hip to the groove of the hoi polloi.

The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don’t try to be everyman. Don’t pretend you’re a member of every community you visit. Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.

Oh, just shut up and listen to the music.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You Don’t Have To Be A Dick

Charlie Pierce, on his way to a well-deserved romp over Mitch Albom, sums up America.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Republicans seem to be on a crusade to free Americans to be as dicky as possible to their fellow Americans. It is now okay to be a dick to immigrants. It’s now okay to be a dick to your letter carrier. It’s now okay to be a dick to firefighters and schoolteachers. (Thanks, Scott Walker!) And have I mentioned recently what a colossal dick Rick Santorum is? And he’ll be at the GOP convention this summer. And it’s even okay to be a dick to the president of the United States on his own lawn. The unbridled liberty be a dick is sweeping this this great nation.

FREEEEDOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!

I had a recent opportunity to be a dick, but I chose not to be. Here’s what happened: I accidentally sent Florida Power & Light a bill payment that was meant for another creditor. Not only was it way too early, it was an amount that I couldn’t afford to spend. (Yes, I did pay the other creditor the right amount and on time.) I caught the mistake only after the payment had been posted, so I had to go through FPL’s customer service phone system to get to a live person to tell them that I had made a mistake and that I really needed to get the money back. At first the customer service agent told me that I had to wait fourteen days until the payment actually showed up in their account before they would even consider issuing a refund, which might then take another week before they could cut me a check and mail it.

I had two choices. I could have gone off on a rant and been a dick. That probably would have felt good for the moment and I’d have a great story to post about on my blog about how I’d shouted down some nameless faceless minimum-wage earning customer service mouthpiece for the evil corporate monopoly that is FPL. Or I could have patiently explained that it was a stupid mistake on my part, that I really needed the money back, and was there any way they could help me? The agent put me on hold for a long time (wow, FPL, you really need to work on your on-hold Muzak), then came back and said that she had tried several ways to see if they could do it any faster. She had no luck, but then she put me through to an account supervisor. I explained the situation again, making a few self-deprecating comments just to lighten the mood. The gentleman was both polite and understanding, and he said that a check would be issued that day.

So, kids, the lesson is that by not being a dick, I got the result I wanted even though the corporate policy said I shouldn’t. I stood my ground and made my case, but I was nice to the people I was dealing with and they were nice to me. We both won: I’ll get my money back in days instead of weeks, and I made FPL look good in public.

This policy of not being a dick has worked in the past for me. I have gotten a lot of things, including upgrades to first class on airlines and discounts or free passes to events, just by being a nice guy. What I don’t understand is why a lot of other people don’t get that.

You Don’t Have To Be A Dick

Charlie Pierce, on his way to a well-deserved romp over Mitch Albom, sums up America.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Republicans seem to be on a crusade to free Americans to be as dicky as possible to their fellow Americans. It is now okay to be a dick to immigrants. It’s now okay to be a dick to your letter carrier. It’s now okay to be a dick to firefighters and schoolteachers. (Thanks, Scott Walker!) And have I mentioned recently what a colossal dick Rick Santorum is? And he’ll be at the GOP convention this summer. And it’s even okay to be a dick to the president of the United States on his own lawn. The unbridled liberty be a dick is sweeping this this great nation.

FREEEEDOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!

I had a recent opportunity to be a dick, but I chose not to be. Here’s what happened: I accidentally sent Florida Power & Light a bill payment that was meant for another creditor. Not only was it way too early, it was an amount that I couldn’t afford to spend. (Yes, I did pay the other creditor the right amount and on time.) I caught the mistake only after the payment had been posted, so I had to go through FPL’s customer service phone system to get to a live person to tell them that I had made a mistake and that I really needed to get the money back. At first the customer service agent told me that I had to wait fourteen days until the payment actually showed up in their account before they would even consider issuing a refund, which might then take another week before they could cut me a check and mail it.

I had two choices. I could have gone off on a rant and been a dick. That probably would have felt good for the moment and I’d have a great story to post about on my blog about how I’d shouted down some nameless faceless minimum-wage earning customer service mouthpiece for the evil corporate monopoly that is FPL. Or I could have patiently explained that it was a stupid mistake on my part, that I really needed the money back, and was there any way they could help me? The agent put me on hold for a long time (wow, FPL, you really need to work on your on-hold Muzak), then came back and said that she had tried several ways to see if they could do it any faster. She had no luck, but then she put me through to an account supervisor. I explained the situation again, making a few self-deprecating comments just to lighten the mood. The gentleman was both polite and understanding, and he said that a check would be issued that day.

So, kids, the lesson is that by not being a dick, I got the result I wanted even though the corporate policy said I shouldn’t. I stood my ground and made my case, but I was nice to the people I was dealing with and they were nice to me. We both won: I’ll get my money back in days instead of weeks, and I made FPL look good in public.

This policy of not being a dick has worked in the past for me. I have gotten a lot of things, including upgrades to first class on airlines and discounts or free passes to events, just by being a nice guy. What I don’t understand is why a lot of other people don’t get that.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Growing Up in America

Mitt Romney and the truth are barely on speaking terms.

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Rachel Maddow’s point is well-taken: what does it say about you when you’re caught in a lie and don’t care to correct it? Aside from the obvious character flaw of not being ashamed of lying in public to advance your own interest, it also suggests a glaring lack of maturity.

How could a man who, at the age of 65 and with a wife, kids, grandchildren, a vast fortune, and a career in business and politics, still behave like a snotty rich adolescent who isn’t above torturing a gay kid in high school — and still laugh about it fifty years later? Simple; Mitt Romney is still that kid. He’s never really grown up, he’s never really faced life-changing challenges that test his character in stark terms, and he’s used to having his own way — and telling others how to live their life — without being held accountable for anything.

I’ve known people like that all my life. Indeed, I spent a lot of time among them. (Yes, some of my best friends….) So I know what drives them. When he told ABC News in February that the Obamas should “start packing” because “it’s our turn,” he meant it not just in the political sense; he has a sense of entitlement that comes from being part of the elite that believes in the inherent right of the upper class to rule the nation. It’s not based on merit or accomplishment; it’s because he believes he is owed it.

This also explains why he and a lot of Republicans view Barack Obama — and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter before him — as outsiders, as “others.” It’s their common middle-class upbringing and lack of pedigree that makes them unworthy of the office; they’re not members of the ruling class. (This in spite of the fact that Mr. Romney’s family history indicates that they are newly arrived off the Mayflower, so to speak. Being exiled to Mexico isn’t the same as wintering in Boca Grande.) Barack Obama compounds it by being “exotic” and therefore incapable of “getting it” when it comes to the economy or whatever quality it is that Mitt Romney and Karl Rove thinks he lacks to lead the nation. (Ironically, if Barack Obama had grown up to be a Republican, he would be lauded by the GOP for overcoming poverty, hardship, and Affirmative Action to become the embodiment of the American Dream. And his name would be Herman Cain.)

Maturity requires self-awareness and the ability to see yourself in the third person. How you live your life is based on more than just “what’s in it for me.” I have yet to hear from Mr. Romney any vision of leadership beyond the end of his own reach. (Even Ronald Reagan, for all his flaws, at least was able to do that.) The lying is just the tip of the iceberg. His inability to be honest with us in terms of the things he says about his opponent or explain his own failings or those of his surrogates (we’re still waiting for him to explain Donald Trump) demonstrates a profound lack of maturity and wisdom that disqualifies him. He needs to grow up.