Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Childproofing America

Tom Nichols writes in The Atlantic:

So many mysteries surround Donald Trump: the contents of his tax returns, the apparent miracle of his graduation from college. Some of them are merely curiosities; others are of national importance, such as whether he understood the nuclear-weapons briefing given to every president. I prefer not to dwell on this question.

But since his first day as a presidential candidate, I have been baffled by one mystery in particular: Why do working-class white men—the most reliable component of Donald Trump’s base—support someone who is, by their own standards, the least masculine man ever to hold the modern presidency? The question is not whether Trump fails to meet some archaic or idealized version of masculinity. The president’s inability to measure up to Marcus Aurelius or Omar Bradley is not the issue. Rather, the question is why so many of Trump’s working-class white male voters refuse to hold Trump to their own standards of masculinity—why they support a man who behaves more like a little boy.

I am a son of the working class, and I know these cultural standards. The men I grew up with think of themselves as pretty tough guys, and most of them are. They are not the products of elite universities and cosmopolitan living. These are men whose fathers and grandfathers came from a culture that looks down upon lying, cheating, and bragging, especially about sex or courage. (My father’s best friend got the Silver Star for wiping out a German machine-gun nest in Europe, and I never heard a word about it until after the man’s funeral.) They admire and value the understated swagger, the rock-solid confidence, and the quiet reserve of such cultural heroes as John Wayne’s Green Beret Colonel Mike Kirby and Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo (also, as it turns out, a former Green Beret.)

They are, as an American Psychological Association feature describes them, men who adhere to norms such as “toughness, dominance, self-reliance, heterosexual behaviors, restriction of emotional expression and the avoidance of traditionally feminine attitudes and behaviors.” But I didn’t need an expert study to tell me this; they are men like my late father and his friends, who understood that a man’s word is his bond and that a handshake means something. They are men who still believe in a day’s work for a day’s wages. They feel that you should never thank another man when he hands you a paycheck that you earned. They shoulder most burdens in silence—perhaps to an unhealthy degree—and know that there is honor in making an honest living and raising a family.

Not every working-class male voted for Trump, and not all of them have these traits, of course. And I do not present these beliefs and attitudes as uniformly virtuous in themselves. Some of these traditional masculine virtues have a dark side: Toughness and dominance become bullying and abuse; self-reliance becomes isolation; silence becomes internalized rage. Rather, I am noting that courage, honesty, respect, an economy of words, a bit of modesty, and a willingness to take responsibility are all virtues prized by the self-identified class of hard-working men, the stand-up guys, among whom I was raised.

And yet, many of these same men expect none of those characteristics from Trump, who is a vain, cowardly, lying, vulgar, jabbering blowhard. Put another way, as a question I have asked many of the men I know: Is Trump a man your father and grandfather would have respected?

Or to put it in simpler terms, would they want to country to be run by someone who has yet to demonstrate the maturity of your average teenager?

Recent events have caused me to look back at how I grew up and what was expected of an adult versus what was tolerated as an adolescent.  Even growing up in the 1960’s, when the free-wheeling culture of love, peace, and tie-dying changed the rules of child-rearing, I knew that there was a difference between what I could get away with as a kid as opposed to my responsibilities as an adult.  Even then I expected our leaders to be the grown-ups in the room, dealing with the dangers that lay out there and protecting us from them while we listened to rock and roll and experimented with everything from… well, you get the idea.  The image that Mr. Nichols speaks of — the stoic and strong while silent man — didn’t mean unfeeling and impermeable, but they also knew that there was a time when the expectations of duty went beyond their own family.  It wasn’t limited to men only.  I can think of many of the women in my own life and those of my friends who showed that the realization that adulthood meant more than independence and the right to buy a drink.  They may not have been molded in the John Wayne image, but there was the standard that immaturity and acting out was not to be tolerated.

The Constitution states that the president needs to be at least 35 years old.  When that document was written, 35 was considered to be middle-aged; life expectancy wasn’t much longer.  Now 35 is barely post-adolescent (for the record, I turned 35 in 1987 with one more year yet to go in grad school).  But it isn’t the chronological age that matters; it’s whether or not the person who is president has ever grown up.

Donald Trump is unmanly because he has never chosen to become a man. He has weathered few trials that create an adult of any kind. He is, instead, working-class America’s dysfunctional son, and his supporters, male and female alike, have become the worried parent explaining what a good boy he is to terrorized teachers even while he continues to set fires in the hallway right outside.

The danger is that we may not survive the antics of this dysfunctional child.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Daddy Issues

Paul Waldman in the Washington Post on Trump and his fear of revealing his tax returns:

There are two explanations for what Trump is trying to conceal. The first is that there are scandalous or even criminal activities that he has engaged in — partnerships with shady characters, cases of money laundering — and the returns would point the way to discover them.

To understand why, you have to remember that the Trump Organization is not an ordinary corporation in the way you might think of it. In fact, it is an amalgam of approximately 500 separate partnerships and pass-through companies (which is why Trump almost certainly reaped millions of dollars in tax benefits from the 2017 tax law, which included a 20 percent deduction for pass-throughs). If we had Trump’s returns, each of those arrangements could be investigated, and no one who has reported on Trump’s business activities would say there aren’t shocking things to discover.

The second explanation for Trump’s determination not to allow the returns to become public is in some ways more innocent: that as so many have speculated, he’s not nearly as rich as he always says. Is it possible that Trump’s motives are only the most petty, shallow and vain ones? After all, we’re talking about Donald Trump.

Of course, both things could be true. Trump’s returns could show him to be less wealthy than he says, and also reveal instances of scandalous or criminal behavior. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say that’s what’s most likely.

I think the biggest reason is that Trump has spent the last fifty years or so trying to get his father to like him.

No, I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist.  But I am a theatre scholar and I spend a lot of time analyzing plays that deal with family, and this Trump story has daddy issues written all over it.

Think about it: the failed marriages, the serial lying and boasting, even the obsession with his appearance; he’s trying to win approval and be seen as a success to the one person who could make him feel fulfilled and gain acceptance.  This sort of pathology is the root of drama going all the way from Oedipus and Shakespeare and through modern drama — Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Robert Anderson (“I Never Sang For My Father”) — and on and on.  Even the bible is rife with characters seeking their father’s approval, including the big one: the New Testament.

It’s not like he’s the first president trying to win paternal blessing.  Our history has a lot of men who played out their family dynamics on the national stage as well as around the kitchen table.  But with Trump this particular drama seems to be on a tragic arc that not only drags the audience along with it but the whole world.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Trump Is No Abbie Hoffman

David Brooks is too young to remember Abbie Hoffman at his prime — he was seven years old at the time of the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 — so to compare Trump to Mr. Hoffman is based on nothing more than what he has read in the papers.  Calling Trump an antiestablishment provocateur in the mold of Hoffman and Jerry Rubin is both speculative and silly.

This establishment, too, has had its failures. It created an economy that benefits itself and leaves everybody else out. It led America into war in Iraq and sent the working class off to fight it. It has developed its own brand of cultural snobbery. Its media, film and music industries make members of the working class feel invisible and disrespected.

So in 2016, members of the outraged working class elected their own Abbie Hoffman as president.

Trump is not good at much, but he is wickedly good at sticking his thumb in the eye of the educated elites. He doesn’t have to build a new culture, or even attract a majority. He just has to tear down the old one.

That’s exactly what he’s doing. Donald Trump came into a segmenting culture and he is further tearing apart every fissure. He has a nose for every wound in the body politic and day after day he sticks a red-hot poker in one wound or another and rips it open.

Day by day Trump is turning us into a nation of different planets. Each planet feels more righteous about itself and is more isolated from and offended by the other planets.

For one thing, Abbie Hoffman was literate and had a sense of humor; his best seller Steal This Book is a page-tuner of not just countercultural wisdom but it’s funny on a scale of Al Franken.  Trump is both illiterate and humorless.

Abbie Hoffman would never have seriously run for president, and if he did, he wouldn’t run as the champion of just one class of people — the white folks.  He would have been for everybody.  Trump’s entire campaign was about the grievances of the poor oppressed white man who can’t catch a break in this world, and he hasn’t given up on that.

If Mr. Brooks is so intent on finding a 1960’s icon to compare toTrump, he’d have better luck if he went with Bull Connor.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Then What?

Michael D. Shear in the New York Times yesterday:

They are President-elect Donald J. Trump’s disrupters.

Seven men and one woman named by Mr. Trump to run vast government agencies share a common trait: once they are confirmed, their presence is meant to unnerve — and maybe even outright undermine — the bureaucracies they are about to lead.

Some of those chosen — 17 picks so far for federal agencies and five for the White House — are among the most radical selections in recent history. Other presidents’ nominees, even when controversial, were often veterans of the Washington bureaucracy and generally believed in it. But a number of Mr. Trump’s most important selections have no experience in federal government and a great drive to undo it.

Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma state attorney general who was picked to lead the E.P.A., rejects the established science of human-caused climate change and has built his career on fighting environmental regulations. At the Education Department, Betsy DeVos wants to steer government money away from traditional public schools. Rick Perry was picked to head the Energy Department — unless he eliminates it, as he once promised.

“Donald Trump ran to make the governing people uncomfortable,” said Andrew H. Card Jr., who served as chief of staff to former President George W. Bush and as transportation secretary for his father. “He clearly picked people to lead some of these departments who will be challenging to the insiders.”

Okay, so basically Trump is picking people with the sole intent of pissing off the establishment.  He said he would do that, so yip yah.  But then what?

He — and the Republicans in Congress — said they will repeal Obamacare.  Then what?  So far their suggestions for replacing it sound a lot like Obamacare.

He said he was going to “fix the budget” and he’s appointed a Tea Party balanced-budget amendment advocate to do it, but he also said he was going to cut taxes massively, and that will explode the deficit.  Then what?

He said he was going to let oil and gas exploration run rampant over the nation and appointed Rick Perry, who couldn’t remember the name of the agency, to be Secretary of Energy so he could dismantle the department.  Then what?

Once again we are staring into the vacant eyes of people who are fond of giving us ten-word answers but can’t come up with the next ten or the ten after that.  All they seem interested in doing is tearing down anything with Obama’s name on it and standing victoriously on the pile of rubble they’ve created.  But then what?

The objective seems to be to make the world and America forget that Barack Obama was ever the President of the United States.  That the eight years between 2009 and 2017 were just a fevered dream of a bunch of liberals and multicultural PC police and anything accomplished was both temporary and invisible.  The idea that a white man and his cronies were shut out of power for even one moment is totally unacceptable to them and like the moment in English history when the monarchy was abolished and Cromwell ruled the land, it was a just an aberration.  It didn’t happen and any evidence of that alternate universe must be torn down.

Actually, they want to go further back than just the last eight years.  They would love to tear down remnants of many previous administrations: Carter and the Energy Department, Nixon and the EPA, Johnson and Medicare, Franklin Roosevelt and Social Security, and even Theodore Roosevelt and his agenda against “malefactors of great wealth.”

Then what?  That’s the question we should be asking ourselves because clearly Trump does not have the answers.  We have to not only resist the demolition but strengthen what we believe in.  We can’t curl up in a ball in the corner and wait for the next Barack Obama to come along or waste gallons of ink and hours of code debating “identity politics” (newsflash: all politics is “identity politics”).  We stand in front of the wrecking ball or we fight them with every legal means possible.  We use their weight against themselves.  We pursue the truth relentlessly and stop accepting the status as quo.  We elect progressives to the local school board and the county commission.  We clean up the creek behind our house and make our streets safe for everyone.  We engage our neighbors in finding the common goals of what we expect from each other, not what’s in it for me.  Most importantly, we stop trying to exploit the nameless and abstract fears that breed paranoia and distrust that lead to the ten-word answers but no solution.

Maybe then we’ll be on the way to finding out what’s what.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Here and “There”

James Fallows has a good piece in The Atlantic looking at why America seems to have a positive, even hopeful, view of their own community but sees the nation in dire straits, so much so that it elected Trump.

The “fury out there” argument was expressed by, among others, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, who was trying to rebut criticisms that his site’s tolerance for serving up popular, profitable, and wholly fictitious reports as “news” had skewed voters’ perceptions of reality, mainly toward the right. It didn’t matter that people were learning online that Hillary Clinton was about to die of Parkinson’s disease, or that violent crime was very high by historic standards when it was in fact very low. In the end, Zuckerberg said, voters “made decisions based on their lived experience.” Of course people must have been furious about their lived experiences. How else could they have voted for a man many of them viewed negatively, according to exit polls, and even as unqualified for the job? To paraphrase Trump’s famous campaign appeal to African American voters: With their lives and communities in such ruin, what the hell did they have to lose?

But just as Trump’s appeal seemed grossly out of touch with modern African American life, so does the heartland-rage theory miss the optimism and determination that are intertwined with desolation and decay in the real “out there.” I can say that because I have been out there, reporting with my wife, Deb, in smaller-town America for much of the past four years. Erie, Pennsylvania, has a landscape of abandoned factory buildings and a generation of laid-off blue-collar workers who know that their children will never enjoy the security they did at the once-mighty GE locomotive plant. (Those GE jobs, by the way, are moving not to China or Mexico but instead to Fort Worth, Texas.) But Erie also has as active a civic-reform movement as you will find anywhere in the country, led by people in their 20s and 30s who believe they can create new businesses for themselves and new life for their town. Erie is worse off in most ways than it was 50 years ago—but better off than five years ago, and headed toward better prospects five years from now, in the view of most people there. That’s also what my wife and I found in places as poor and crime-ridden as San Bernardino, California; as historically downcast as Columbus, Mississippi; as removed from the glamour of the coastal metropolises as Laramie, Wyoming, or Duluth, Minnesota, or Dodge City, Kansas.


Yet Donald Trump has won. How could his message of despair and anger about the American prospect, and disrespect for the norms that made us great, have prevailed in a nation that still believes in itself at the local level? How can Americans have remained so confident and practical-minded in their daily civic dealings, and so suspicious, fearful, and tribally resentful about the nation as a whole?

This runs parallel with the theory Thomas Frank put forth in his 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” where he found that people will vote against their own economic interest at home if they are convinced that there are larger forces at work to destroy or disrupt their lives emanating from Washington or Hollywood, even if they are abstract fears such as same-sex marriage or single-payer healthcare.  It explains why the “throw the bums out” sentiment about Congress wins a presidential election yet 98% of incumbents are returned to office.

This love/hate relationship between home and away has been part of the American psyche since long before there was an America.  It is part of our human nature to envy and mock and fear the outside world — I can point you in any number of directions to see evidence in history and especially in examples in art and the theatre.  It is as fundamental as our tribal instinct and as irreversible as our need to find someone or something else to explain — or blame — our troubles on: hence organized religion and reality TV shows.

Nearly a century ago, Walter Lippmann wrote that the challenge for democracies is that citizens necessarily base decisions on the “pictures in our heads,” the images of reality we construct for ourselves. The American public has just made a decision of the gravest consequence, largely based on distorted, frightening, and bigoted caricatures of reality that we all would recognize as caricature if applied to our own communities. Given the atrophy of old-line media with their quaint regard for truth, the addictive strength of social media and their unprecedented capacity to spread lies, and the cynicism of modern politics, will we ever be able to accurately match image with reality? The answer to that question will determine the answer to another: whether this election will be a dire but survivable challenge to American institutions or an irreversible step toward something else.

I think we’ll get past this era just as we got through other disturbances in our past such as the Red Scare and the Moral Majority.  It’s not unfettered optimism in the inherent goodness in human nature; it’s more the acceptance that a country that cannot bring itself to accept the metric system or figure out how to drive through a traffic circle will not be so easily turned by a vulgar charlatan whose own attention span seems to be matched only by that of a sugared-up eight-year-old.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Generally Speaking

We’ve had high-ranking military men serve in high-ranking offices in our government since the beginning of the country, starting right off with George Washington through Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Colin Powell.  But it’s beginning to look like Trump is surrounding himself with an awful lot of them, and some of them seem to have had issues with both their temperament and civil liberties.  Not unlike the man who is hiring them.

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post:

Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly to run the Department of Homeland Security, a post that will have great consequence in a Trump administration, given Trump’s vow of a much tougher approach to combating illegal immigration and internal terrorist threats, both areas that DHS oversees.

In that context, there is a quote that Kelly delivered in 2010 that libertarians and civil liberties experts see as troubling, and in need of further clarification. The Post account describes it this way:

Kelly learned firsthand the pain and loss suffered by many military families. His son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly, died in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban in 2010. Four days later, the general delivered a passionate and at times angry speech about the military’s sacrifices and its troops’ growing sense of isolation from society.

“Their struggle is your struggle,” he told a crowd of former Marines and business people in St. Louis. “If anyone thinks you can somehow thank them for their service, and not support the cause for which they fight — our country — these people are lying to themselves. … More important, they are slighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to this nation.”

That quote, which was about members of the military fighting against the terrorist enemy, seems to suggest that one cannot criticize a war without being seen as anti-troops. That said, it could also mean that one cannot criticize the broader act of defending this nation without being anti-troops.

Gen. Kelly is just the latest; as TPM notes, he joins Gen. James Mattis at Defense and Gen. Michael Flynn — he of the “fake news” inflammation — as the national security advisor, and possibly Gen. David Petraeus at State.  There’s enough brass there to make an army of spittoons.

There are a couple of reasons why this is just a bit disturbing.  First, based on some of the statements and actions these men have made and done, I’m not sure we’re getting the best the corps have to offer.  Second, it makes you wonder why a president with no military experience but a history of authoritarianism and a disregard for civil rights would be so eager to enlist from a profession where authority is never questioned and surrendering civil rights is a part of the deal.

There’s some kind of envy going on there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sore Winners

There’s a rash of bad behavior among people who voted for Donald Trump.  Here in Miami a guy went on a rant at a Starbucks because he didn’t get something or other and he claimed it was because he voted for Trump.  Then last week a passenger on a Delta flight took issue with people he perceived to be Hillary Clinton supporters and went on a tirade that got him banned for life from the airline.  The latest is a woman in Chicago who went a racist rant at a crafts store, once again citing Trump as the reason she was being “discriminated against.”

I suppose there could be some deep psychological reason these people are being so obnoxious about their candidate winning an election; pent-up anger at having to put up with a Democrat in the White House for eight years of economic growth and no scandals can do that, right?  Perhaps, like the dog that chases a car and finally catches it, they’re freaked out because now they don’t know what to do and when things turn rotten under Trump they’ll have to figure out a way to blame it on someone else.  Or maybe, as Digby explains, it’s not enough just to win; they need to see an end to opposition to Trump’s reign.  Only then will they be happy.  If ever.

Or maybe they’re just assholes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Myth America

Patrick Thornton at Roll Call says it’s time to stop making the heartland the “real” America.

The Road to the Quarry 09-24-11I’m from the rural Midwest. I now live in Washington, D.C. All of this talk about coastal elites needing to understand more of America has it backward.

My home county in Ohio is 97 percent white. It, like a lot of other very unrepresentative counties, went heavily for Donald Trump.

My high school had about 950 students. Two were Asian. One was Hispanic. Zero were Muslim. All the teachers were white.My high school had more convicted sexual predator teachers than minority teachers. That’s a rural American story.

In many of these areas, the only Muslims you see are in movies like “American Sniper.” (I knew zero Muslims before going to college in another state.) You never see gay couples or even interracial ones. Much of rural and exurban American is a time capsule to America’s past.

And on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, they dug it up.

The first gay person I knew personally was my college roommate — a great man who made me a better person. But that’s an experience I would have never had if I didn’t go to college and instead decided to live the rest of my life in my hometown.

That was when I realized that not supporting gay marriage meant to actively deny rights to someone I knew personally. I wouldn’t be denying marriage rights to other people; I would be denying marriage rights to Dave. I would have to look Dave in the eye and say, “Dave, you deserve fewer rights than me. You deserve a lesser human experience.”

When you grow up in rural America, denying rights to people is an abstract concept. Denying marriage rights to gay people isn’t that much different than denying boarding rights to Klingons.


To pin this election on the coastal elite is a cop-out. It’s intellectually dishonest, and it’s beneath us.

We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.

We must start asking all Americans to be their better selves. We must all understand that America is a melting pot and that none of us has a more authentic American experience.

With a few changes to the narrative (I’m the gay roommate and I live in Miami, not Washington), this is my story, too.  I grew up in a nice quiet suburb of Toledo.  It was pre-1960 Norman Rockwell with the 99.9% white Christian population, the soda fountain, the bakery, and everyone voting the straight Republican ticket.  The other difference is that my parents knew it was a bubble and encouraged me and my siblings to get out of town as soon as we could.  (I remember my mother being disappointed that I went to Miami because my grandmother lived twenty miles from campus.  Yeah, like a 19-year-old theatre major is going to hang with his grandmother.)  But for the rest of it, Mr. Thornton and I are on the same page and I concur wholeheartedly.

I also know that this part of the country has had it rough, not just in the last twenty years and not just economically.  They have seen jobs go away, shipped overseas by large corporations; agriculture taken over by big business, and kids graduating from high school take off for Minneapolis or Denver or Miami because they want to find a better place to be themselves.  A lot of them have done it not in defiance of their upbringing in rural America but at the urging of it.  Ask most people in small town America if they don’t want their son or daughter to have a chance at a good education if not at Harvard than at The Ohio State University.  In short, they aspire to become coastal elites.

Yes, they worry about the coarsening of the culture, of the changes that multiculturalism has wrought in the society as seen in the films and on TV, but they’re also the ones with the satellite dish and the subscription to People and can name the Kardashians by height and hair color.  But they’re not hypocrites; they’re human.  It’s natural to be curious about other ways of life as long as theirs is still safe to come home to.  (If you think I’m being elitist or over-generalizing, I refer you to John Steinbeck’s observations of America in Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962).  Steinbeck was many things, but an elitist he was not.)

We all come from small towns.  Even if you grew up in a neighborhood in the Bronx, Liberty City in Miami, or the South Valley of Albuquerque, you had a community of family, neighbors, schoolmates, church/temple/meeting that was your small town.  The values they share are not that much different than those in Perrysburg, Ohio, or Van Meter, Iowa: safety, security, companionship, and hope.  To say that one experience is better than another only enforces the walls of the bubble.

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.