PEYOTE BREAK AT THE RNC

Posted in Election 2012, Quick Hits on August 31st, 2012 by Ed

I'm going to have to defer NPF on account of…whatever the hell we just saw. This is the strangest non-Admiral Stockdale thing I can recall seeing in the context of a presidential election.

It's safe to say that whoever approved, "So the 82 year old loose cannon is going to go out there and ad-lib for 10 minutes" has been fired. Watching this shitshow unfold on stage must have been like water torture for the slick, highly polished, overproduced Romney campaign.

Poor Mittens. Try as he did, I'm almost certain that this is the only part of the convention anyone is going to remember.

USEFUL INFORMATION

Posted in Quick Hits on August 30th, 2012 by Ed

As usual, there are scattered reports of bad behavior among delegates and other attendees at the GOP convention. Conventions are famous – historically moreso than in the modern context – for their unruliness. Animated shouting matches, occasional physical violence, and the kind of quasi-fascist screaming/chanting/groupthink/mob mentality that is disturbing to watch on a very visceral level; all of this is par for the course.

Here is a very important thing to keep in mind when attempting to make sense of the bursts of ugliness that occur throughout the conventions: A lot of the people you are watching are drunk. Really, really drunk.

I have had the opportunity to witness two conventions up close – one from each party – and to describe it as Adult Spring Break would almost be an understatement. The level of drunkenness and the extent of the partying that these often elderly people engaged in for a week was shocking, even for someone who has attended or worked at three Big Ten universities and one in the SEC. Not only do they drink like they have John Bonham's liver stashed in their hotel suite, but they do it around the clock. I'd wager that by the time the evening speechifying begins a substantial portion of the attendees are tipsy or worse. And "tipsy" seems to be the appropriate description for those who are at least trying to behave. Some of the others are staggering around fully shit-housed by noon.

There are exceptions, of course. Some of the super church-y attendees are unlikely to partake, for example. But when you're watching at home and wondering why they're chanting like they're at a football game, blurting out really racist things in the presence of the media, or simply looking a little red-faced and weird in general, keep in mind what no news commentator bothers to point out despite the fact that it is useful information: they're probably drunk. New Year's Eve drunk in some cases. Irish Wedding drunk. 21st Birthday drunk. Oops-I-Crapped-My-Pants drunk. Don't let the pageantry and the old age of the participants fool you; this thing is little more than a massive, highly choreographed commercial taking place during a week long cocktail party. Those new items about the bars and strip clubs in Tampa cashing in on the convention might be amusing but they are also true.

AN ASTONISHING PANORAMA OF THE ENDTIMES

Posted in Quick Hits on August 29th, 2012 by Ed

A word dump on the first evening of the RNC; I would not watch another evening of this parade of the socially maladjusted for all the tea in China so if you're dying for convention talk, this is it. To say that the truth was abused throughout the evening would be an understatement; the apparent theme for the convention is luring the truth into a derelict ice cream truck with promises of candy and then repeatedly touching it in the bathing suit area.

Some highlights:

1. This lineup of speakers was a curious mix of shameless self-promoters and…no, that was it. With the exception of his wife, to whom we shall return momentarily and with great reticence, tonight's speakers barely mentioned Mitt Romney's name. They did so after endless monologues about, Surprise!, themselves and how much they have accomplished. All political figures are narcissists, but this was almost comical.

2. Here is a piece of free and sincere advice to the Romney campaign, albeit one that I'm sure they already (privately) admit: they need to lock Ann Romney in a closet for the rest of the campaign. She is just fucking awful. Again, the rich and privileged are not exactly rare in American politics, but some of them are capable of emotions like empathy. Others (George W. Bush, etc.) have mastered the art of pretending to understand us reg'lar folks or perhaps even to be one of us. Ann Romney can do neither. She is so bad at faking the personality traits she is trying to portray that it's embarrassing to watch. She makes Barbara Bush look like a warm hearted social worker. She is less a person than a caricature of the aloof, distant, pampered, and cluelessly privileged socialite who ends up getting vomited on in low budget comedies. There's not much the campaign can do with someone whose natural tone of voice is "Giving orders to servants".

3. That Chris Christie, he's really something. I can't recall seeing anyone who's quite that good at speaking thousands of words but saying absolutely nothing. He's part meathead fratboy, part Sopranos extra, and part O'Reilly-caliber populist. I suspect I could watch his speech a second time and still remain unable to tell you what point (if any) he was trying to make. Watching a crowd at a political rally react like slobbering dogs to an orator is not unusual, but they were leaping to their feet and applauding stuff that didn't even make sense. Watching someone as repulsive in all aspects of appearance and personality as Christie treated like a charismatic rock star was…unusual.

4. I liked Ted Cruz's speech better the first time I heard it – in German.

5. Whoever the RNC paid to write all of the awful Joe Biden jokes they've been dropping for the past week (and presumably throughout the convention) needs to go back to telling knock-knock jokes at whatever Open Mic Night in Lubbock he came from. The laugh lines in these speeches are terrible even by political standards. The Capitol Steps wouldn't be caught dead with this material.

6. Thank god for the Ron Paul people, the C3-PO of Republican politics – always on the spot to supply comic relief.

Wednesday night is a bunch of B-squad crap followed by Paul Ryan's acceptance speech, but the real excitement is on Thursday when "remarks by Newt and Callista Gingrich" are preceded by a "Reagan Legacy video montage". Must-see TV.

THE NARRATIVE

Posted in Election 2012 on August 28th, 2012 by Ed

It doesn't take an expensive survey or a tremendous amount of insight to realize that as a campaign Obama 2012 is going to lack the unprecedented wave of enthusiasm that carried Obama 2008 to victory. Regardless, we might be on the verge of a historical anomaly: a sitting President with an approval rating under 50% who, Palin-esque momentary surge of interest in Paul Ryan during Convention week aside, appears to be on the way to a comfortable (if not exactly overwhelming) victory in the Electoral College.

In 2008 and 2009 I taught classes about the 2008 election at one of my previous institutions, and I was often asked what the long term forecast held for 2012. I said that for a president elected in a recession, such predictions are not exactly rocket science: either the economy would get better and 2012 would be Obama's coronation, or the economy wouldn't get better and he'd be in real trouble. The wild card, which was apparent even back in 2008, was the GOP's lack of an obvious quality challenger. Their best hope at that time appeared to be the emergence of some heretofore unknown superstar between then (2008/2009) and now. It didn't happen, and they were left to choose a candidate from a pool of old, recycled losers. They had to spend months seriously considering nominating Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich; if that doesn't scream "We've scraped clear through the bottom of the barrel into the foul-smelling swamp beneath it" then I don't know what does.

I'm generally pretty bad at predictions but this was an easy one. Here we are four years later with an economy that, some tout-able statistics aside, is still mired in a recession with high unemployment. Obama is predictably suffering on account of that (along with his general lack of effective leadership and his baffling decision to pay a stratospheric price for the pitiful wages of moderation and centrism) and by historical standards appears ripe to go down in flames after one term. But the best candidate the Republicans could find is a guy that even they can't stand. Much as in 2004 when the Democrats nominated their own "Yeah, there's no one else so I guess the rich guy with name recognition will do" candidate, there is no such thing as Romney Supporters right now. His "support" is merely people who hate Obama so much that they literally will vote for anyone but.

This is setting up one hell of an amusing post-election narrative on the right. If Obama wins – certainly no slam dunk, but if you had to bet your life savings on the race right now you'd probably put your money on him – we might expect a right wing meltdown that will put the shitshow that was November of 2008 to shame. I think we will be disappointed, however. The narrative is already being constructed: There's nothing wrong with our ideology. It was all Romney's fault. It's painfully obvious that conservative newspapers, magazines, and bobbleheads are laying the groundwork for countless post-election "None of us actually liked this guy, and you didn't either" pieces. The funny thing is that they will actually have a point; nobody likes this guy. When bastions of communist agitprop like the Wall Street Journal and The Economist are opining that, you know, we want to like this guy but we really can't find a reason, it's fair to say that the candidate was a big part of the problem.

The likely result is a Republican Party that once again doubles down on its entire platform and if anything moves even farther to the right in preparation for 2014 and 2016. That worries me, especially considering that they have a potential 2016 candidate (Marco Rubio) who legitimately has the charisma, personality, and self-presentation to do very well in our modern media-driven elections. The Democratic opponent, conversely, either will be a recycled name from the Oldies but Goodies pile (you know who) or a still-to-be-discovered superstar who will emerge over the next few years. I'm not so sure that the latter exists.

SPRAY AND PRAY

Posted in Rants on August 27th, 2012 by Ed

So, funny story: it turns out that the mass shooting outside the Empire State Building late last week was actually one guy shooting his co-worker and nine people being wounded by police bullets while they shot at the assailant. In what can only be seen as an unprecedented show of restraint on the part of the NYPD, the two responding officers only fired sixteen rounds. Some of them even hit the intended target.

We can assume that this sorry total would have been larger and more appropriate had more officers been present to join in the contagious shooting. Still, sixteen rounds for two cops isn't half bad. When you're pulling the trigger that rapidly, who has time to aim?

Living as we do in a society filled with classic authoritarian-follower personality types it does not take long for the full time Cop Apologists to make their voices heard in the few instances in which police shootings actually get heavy news coverage. It is unavoidable; every news segment, every internet forum, and every casual hey-did-ya-hear conversation will include the same stock quotes brought up like clockwork. So let us go ahead and address them up front.

Yes, police have to respond to things under pressure. Yes, they had every right and reason to have their weapons drawn at an armed man who had just killed someone. No, I wasn't there. Are we done? Good.

We as a society create and pay the police to respond to these situations better than you or I would. The arguments about fear and pressure and "If that was you, I doubt you would have done any better" are specious precisely because those things are true. We have police for the same reason that airlines pay a pilot rather than soliciting a volunteer from coach to fly the plane. The police are supposed to respond appropriately, not in fear, panic, and ineptitude like untrained citizens would. If the police can't deal with a suspect without beating him or work a shift without taking a bribe or draw their weapon and use it appropriately, then they aren't really law enforcement. They're just a bunch of regular-guy assholes with a license to shoot at you or otherwise ruin your day. Yes, if there was a situation in which I was responsible for stopping an armed killer I would probably pull out my gun and pull the trigger until it was empty, hitting basically nothing. That's why it's a pretty goddamn good thing that I'm not entrusted with that responsibility. Or a gun.

If New York or any other city has armed officers on the street who can't do any better than Spray & Pray, even the most ardent NRA-loving, authority worshiping people among us must find that unacceptable. Right? Is there some sort of right wing paranoid argument in favor of police being lousy shots that I'm missing? If we can't do anything about police being increasingly militarized and increasingly reliant on force (which, again, appears to have been well justified in this situation) we can at least insist that they hit what they're shooting at.

Oh, and on the subject of militarization, this is a great example of why police are meant to use standard police calibers rather than the military-style "MOAR POWER!" rounds they've been gravitating toward in recent years. If a bullet misses and strikes a bystander or hits the pavement, shatters, and then strikes several bystanders, pistol-type rounds are used to reduce the odds that those unintended injuries will be fatal. Imagine the body count if these had been among the frightening number of NYPD units with .223 rifles or other quasi-military weapons designed to penetrate walls and kill people on the other side.

THE GREAT BEYOND

Posted in Rants on August 23rd, 2012 by Ed

Although the clamoring has died down, we all will mentally associate Chik-fil-A with either "Hates the gays" or "Good, God-fearing Christian business to support" (depending on our perspective) for a long time. Those of us who are conscientious about such things now know better than to give Chik-fil-A our money.

I struggle with the logic behind that. Stick with me for a second.

The only difference between Chik-fil-A and any other fast food chain – or any other large corporation for that matter – is that we know exactly what objectionable cause our money is being put toward. The CEO has chosen to be explicit about the ways in which he is using his obscene wealth to advance a specific right wing jihad. "Unfair" is the wrong term because it's entirely fair to criticize him for whatever opinion he chooses to express if you find it offensive. But why single them out just because you know while continuing to spend money that ends up funding equally objectionable causes without your specific knowledge?

In our plutocracy corporate-dominated economy we dump our money into black boxes all day, every day without any knowledge of what happens to it down the line. Can you even imagine what the money ends up doing when you buy gas? Coke? Anything from Wal-Mart? A car? Clothing? You're funding everything from gay-bashing to Koch Bros. style Teabagging to environmental degradation here and abroad to ethnic conflicts in underdeveloped countries to child slavery. The CEO of Chik-fil-A is either brave or dumb enough to have told you the specific ways in which he is a loathsome person. But you're not naive enough to think that the others about whom you know nothing (Quick! Name Target's CEO. You can't. His name is Gregg Steinhafel and he hates the gays too) are using your money to plant flowers, feed the poor, and teach blind children how to read.

I question the logic or effectiveness of targeting a specific fast food chain with a loose boycott (which is unlikely to accomplish much) when it is merely a symptom of an entire system that is rotten to the core. Unless you're living the college activist completely-off-the-grid lifestyle you are going to continue to funnel money to awful, awful people. Most of us deal with that through willful ignorance. Can you even imagine what oil companies and their executives are doing with the billions they've made? I don't want to know, and if it's anything less than murdering endangered seals with weapons fashioned from the bones of slightly less endangered seals I would be stunned. I don't say that to guilt anyone into feeling bad about their buying habits; it is only to emphasize that cutting one head off of the hydra isn't going to kill it.

Ultimately we all do what our conscience permits in these matters and social consciousness not high on the priority list of many Americans when they spend their money. If people could learn one thing from the Chik-fil-A ordeal, "Don't eat there because they hate the gays" isn't bad, but "Oh my god, our society concentrates wealth into the hands of an implausibly small number of completely amoral people who have no sense of social responsibility, place no value on human lives other than their own, and use the money they siphon from us to make our lives more miserable" would be superior.

AKIN CODA

Posted in Quick Hits on August 22nd, 2012 by Ed

Tomorrow is my first day of classes with my new employer, and combined with a large amount of time well spent chatting with friends and loved ones on Tuesday night (technology is a poor but serviceable substitute for being near people you actually know) the intended Wednesday post did not get finished. You'll see that on Thursday, and it's one of those posts. Honestly I'm curious to see your reaction. Usually I don't give a shit.

I kid, I kid.

In its stead, Eve "Vagina Monologues" Ensler has what is hands-down the best response yet to Todd Akin, and I strongly encourage you to read it. I must confess that the long, overwrought personal gut-spill essay is not my favorite form of commentary on social and political issues, but given the nature of the Congressman's comments (and the author's ability to be effectively restrained and objective about a deeply scarring and personal issue) makes this incredibly effective. Read it.

I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you are on your bed or up against a wall or locked in a small suffocating space. Imagine being tied up there and imagine some aggressive, indifferent, insane stranger friend or relative ripping off your clothes and entering your body – the most personal, sacred, private part of your body – and violently, hatefully forcing themself into you so that you are ripped apart. Then imagine that stranger's sperm shooting into you and filling you and you can't get it out. It is growing something in you. Imagine you have no idea what that life will even consist of, spiritually made in hate, not knowing the mental or health background of the rapist.

Then imagine a person comes along, a person who has never had that experience of rape, and that person tells you, you have no choice but to keep that product of rape growing in you against your will and when it is born it has the face of your rapist, the face of the person who has essentially destroyed your being and you will have to look at the face every day of your life and you will be judged harshly if you cannot love that face.

Side note: In college I was participating in a workshop with numerous student organizations when the question, "How can feminism move forward?" was posed for our consideration. My best friend at the time, a lesbian of the Butch type who vocally led a women's group on campus, rose and said "We can start by admitting that 'The Vagina Monologues' kinda suck without feeling bad about it." I've not once heard the VM mentioned without thinking of this and chuckling on the inside.

You can see why we were friends.

UNBALANCED HUMOURS

Posted in Rants on August 21st, 2012 by Ed

Bill Burr is a very funny man and he has a great bit about white sportscasters who try to comment on the disproportional racial composition of most of the popular American team sports (football, baseball, basketball, etc). Every single person who does so ends up getting fired – something of an exaggeration, but within comedic license – despite having good intentions and attempting to talk about the subject matter-of-factly. They bring up things like the higher density of quick-twitch muscle fiber in the average African-American, then something about slavery, then something about selective reproduction…and all the while the other announcers are slowly inching away from their self-immolating colleague. Quick cut to the next scene, a tearful white guy behind a podium apologizing and collecting his final paycheck.

The underlying truth that makes it funny is the compulsion some of these broadcasters feel to editorialize on a subject about which their knowledge is limited to bits and pieces of pseudoscience. Hell, it would take the collective knowledge of five or six different fields – sociology, biology, economics, etc. – to come close to a half-decent answer to a question like this. What you are going to get from a football announcer is the kind of appeal to common sense analysis that you'd find in a 200-word magazine sidebar on the topic. The bottom line, of course, is that if these guys were smart they would just keep their mouths shut. They don't know anything about the subject, their statements are likely to offend someone, and we don't tune in to a basketball game to hear a lively discussion of racial eugenics anyway.

As hard as it is to believe of a group of people who are supposed to be among the nation's elite leaders, I'm starting to think that Republican elected officials should adopt the same "Better silent than sorry" policy about anything having to do with reproduction, or perhaps the whole human body in general. For a group of highly educated people who in many cases are also quite wealthy and successful in non-political endeavors, I am not entirely confident that they'd do well as a group on a high school standardized test in science.

By now we've all heard Rep. Akin's explanation of how women cannot get pregnant if they are "legitimately" raped (The body determines whether it is being raped by looking at your clothing; if you are dressed like a whore you obviously had it coming and kinda wanted it) and my mind cannot shake the experience of listening to Rush Limbaugh explain how birth control pills work (apparently you have to take one every time you have sex).

This is about more than social conservatism, pro-life rhetoric, social stigmatizing, or misogyny – the more basic issue is that I really don't think that these two people understand how the female body works. I think people like Akin and Limbaugh lack the kind of 6th Grade Health Class understanding of the female reproductive system that no one should be able to leave adolescence without. I fear that for many of the ancient white guys attempting to legislate about abortion, birth control, and other similar topics, their explanations of the reproductive process would contain one or more major factual errors. Do we have any way to prove that? Of course not. But look at Newt Gingrich and tell me that you see a man who honestly knows what happens after he gets too drunk to pull out.

My guess is that any test of knowledge about reproduction in Congress, irrespective of party and possibly even of gender, would produce a series of responses ranging from "Hey, that's actually pretty good" to some downright medieval medical science. The most likely source of an answer including humours, bile, leeches, and a map of the human brain would be 89 year old Texas Republican Ralph Hall, although I'd pay just about any amount for the privilege of hearing John McCain's response.

The point is that an alarming percentage of these people appear to lack a junior high understanding of science or human physiology once we exclude Bible-based theories. So, you know, maybe shut the fuck up about it.

GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE!

Posted in Election 2012 on August 20th, 2012 by Ed

(Foreword: If you didn't read the title like this, you did it wrong.)

Bill Kristol is the most accurate prognosticator in the media by far; when he predicts something, it is 100% guaranteed not to happen. Take it to the bank. Nothing he has predicted has ever happened. At social functions, when he says "Excuse me, I'm going to use the restroom" he actually ends up outside working on his car. When he says "I think I'm coming down with a cold," it turns out that he's just horny. He is spectacularly wrong, and with the kind of consistency that makes an atomic clock look erratic. Here is just a partial list of highlights from his long career as the Amazing Kreskin's bipolar opposite, and it omits perhaps his most brilliant bit of prescience so far: his hand-selection of Sarah Palin as the next superstar of the GOP and as John McCain's savior in 2008.

But here's the good part: Kristol heartily approves of the choice of Paul Ryan, who he is certain will energize the race and make the moribund Romney campaign compelling to voters. I've tried to help you out by editing it, but read as much of this detritus as you can tolerate:

(M)aybe Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan won’t end up making much difference. But we think it will. The selection has changed the nature of the 2012 presidential contest. It means we now have a big campaign, about big issues and big choices. During the summer months, the Romney campaign was fighting and losing a trench warfare battle. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket has a good chance to win a large-scale electoral war of maneuver.

Just want to pop in quickly to point out that the last sentence is never explained, nor is the "large-scale war" metaphor carried forward. Nothing. No explanation of how this will be accomplished or why we should expect it.

Furthermore, Ryan will help in the Midwest—as Gephardt would have in 2004. The addition of a bold reforming conservative gives the GOP ticket a new character, even more than Clinton’s addition of Gore helped confirm a changed Democratic image in 1992. And the selection of Ryan is a strong, self-confident pick, reflecting well on Romney, as the pick of Bush in 1980 spoke well in a somewhat different way of Reagan.

But perhaps the most important effect of the Ryan pick is this: It turns the GOP effort from a campaign into a movement. It transforms a mere electoral effort into a political cause. The Romney 2012 campaign no longer brings to mind its Republican predecessor, the McCain campaign of 2008. Instead, Romney-Ryan could end up more closely resembling Obama 2008.

In 2008, Obama was the young forward-looking reformer, running on a big (if gauzy) message. He was able to capitalize on opposition to the Bush administration without seeming merely oppositional. He was able to enliven his campaign by his own presence and skills. Now it’s the Republicans who are running on a newly bold conservative message, presenting a hopeful choice for change rather than mere opposition to the status quo, and on a ticket enlivened by Ryan’s presence and skills.

Until last week, the Romney campaign was a few hundred operatives working hard in Boston trying to win a presidential election. Now Romney-Ryan is a groundswell of citizens spontaneously writing, volunteering, and proselytizing on behalf of a cause. The first was going to be a grueling uphill climb. The second could be more like running downhill with the wind at your back. Even in the second instance, of course, the candidate still has to jump the hurdles and avoid the obstacles. But it's a lot easier to prevail when you stand for a cause citizens are eager to join than when you're engaged in a campaign voters may diffidently support.

And there you have it, straight from the horse's ass. If anything expressed in this piece existed in any reality outside of Bill Kristol's febrile imagination I would be panicking. As is stands, though, the Kristol stamp of approval on the arranged marriage between Ryan and Romney is an unqualified positive for Obama.

NPF: AUGUST POTPOURRI

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 17th, 2012 by Ed

I do "here's a bunch of links"-type posts rarely – the last one was months ago, and before that in February and January- usually due to time constraints but also because I collect entertaining things I want to share but don't have a ton to say about. Sometimes I have to admit defeat and say, OK, here's a thing. Just enjoy it.

1. For those of us who are 12 years old mentally, enjoy this compendium of vintage comic panels that are unintentionally perverted. The 1950s really were a more innocent time, weren't they? "Boner" had a lot more non-penile uses back then.

On a side note, I read Archie comics religiously as a child (and I flipped out if my dad dared to leave the grocery store without one) despite the fact that they were never, ever funny. Never. To this day I don't understand it.

2. Here is a LiveJournal (side note: LiveJournal still exists, apparently) of vintage "cutaway" drawings of industrial and commercial buildings. It's difficult to describe, but trust me on their level of awesomeness. It's similar to those panels in superhero comics detailing the underground lair of the villain. How can you resist titles like "How a Modern Hotel Operates", "How a Modern Brewery Works", and "How Ice Cream is Made"? You can't.

3. Amidst all the talk about NASA over the past two weeks, here is a free downloadable eBook about the one topic that seems to fascinate all of us regardless of age: space food. Those guys in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo must have lost a lot of weight in space.

Damn. Now I wish I had some astronaut ice cream.