DIVERSITY: AN ANCIENT WOODEN SHIP

Posted in Election 2012 on September 11th, 2012 by Ed

You're already aware that Bill Bennett is a stupid person, but he nonetheless manages to write things on a regular basis that make one step back and think, "Wow, Bill Bennett, you are a very stupid person." During the GOP Convention he wrote what I can only describe as a piece of blatant FJM bait, but it was too repetitive and silly to earn the honor. You see, Bill Bennett watched the Convention and walked away impressed at the diversity of the Republican Party.

I'll give you a second to collect yourselves. Then I'll be cruel and destroy your fragile equilibrium by subjecting you to his words:

When the Republican National Convention kicks off this week in Tampa, Florida, the nation will notice one thing before anything else: This is not your father's or grandfather's Republican Party. Rather, it's a party with leaders as diverse as the country it intends to represent.

Do you need another moment? Raise your hand if you did not think the phrase "not your father's Republican Party" was going to appear in the first paragraph.

Bennett listlessly rattles off some of the non-white convention speakers totally unaware of how much it makes him sound like an old white guy saying, "Look! We found a black!" With zero self awareness, Bennett does not appear to grasp how sad it is that the party had to drag out the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah because that is the highest position held by a black woman in the party. As for black men, well, they're not stupid enough to let Allen West go out there. In hindsight, I'm shocked that he didn't volunteer to sit in the chair for Eastwood. Might have helped Romney's numbers with African-Americans, currently hovering at statistical zero.

Despite the fact that Romney is doing terribly among women, Latinos, and basically anything that isn't White Guys and old people, the GOP has a some members from those demographics to bring out at convention time – a few female governors and some Teabagger-friendly Hispanic elected officials (or candidates like Ted Cruz). So yes, Bill Bennett is technically correct. The GOP speaker lineup featured more diversity than one might expect.

This is impressive only if you are someone (not unlike Bill Bennett) who doesn't understand the difference between diversity and tokenism, between a fairly representative cross-section of the party and a veneer painted on the outside of the box for the TV cameras. He correctly notes that there were more Hispanic speakers than usual, but how influential are they in the party? Are these Republican leaders who happen to be Hispanic or are they just whatever Hispanics the GOP could find? With an immigration policy to the right of the average drunken border militia, it's not like the party is actually doing anything to appeal to Hispanic voters. The same could be said of the female speakers. There are no women in leadership roles within the party or among Republicans in Congress. There are four female Republican Governors, one of whom (Jan Brewer) appears to normal people to be quite mentally ill. Again, the distinction between tokenism and diversity appears lost on Bennett.

The speaker list can be touted from here until kingdom come, but the pure, blinding Christian Whiteness of the convention audience says everything about a party that has shot itself in the foot with Hispanics by repeatedly appealing to anti-immigrant and nativist sentiments, done more to alienate women than the entire world supply of Tapout t-shirts, and has all the diversity of a modern soft drink commercial. That is, its "diversity" is superficial, heavily staged, and ultimately unconvincing. Any organization can comb its ranks from top to bottom and find an African-American woman or a few Hispanic people somewhere. Are they actually representative of the population within the group? Are they persons of legitimate influence and importance or were they trotted out by the old, white, male-dominated party leadership specifically so that the party did not look like the old, white sausagefest that it is? Rather than being pleased with its Potemkin Village of Diversity, the Party might want to worry that Romney's 25% support among Hispanics is the lowest for a Republican in 20 years, Obama's 20 point lead among women in key swing states, and the party's continued inability to appeal to any demographic that isn't shrinking rapidly with each passing year.

SCENES FROM A SOCIETY THAT IS FAIR AND EQUITABLE ON THE BASIS OF GENDER

Posted in Quick Hits on September 10th, 2012 by Ed

Three vignettes.

1. In Flagstaff, AZ – And I'd like to take a moment to point out that pretty much any headline regarding a news story from Arizona elicits a well deserved "Oh this oughta be good" these days – a police officer accused of sexual assault was sentenced to two years…of probation. It's OK though, because he lost his job and that's punishment enough. And more importantly, everyone involved in the case learned some valuable lessons.

The judge sentencing Evans, Coconino County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Hatch, said she hoped both the defendant and the victim would take lessons away from the case. Bad things can happen in bars, Hatch told the victim, adding that other people might be more intoxicated than she was.

"If you wouldn't have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you," Hatch said…

Hatch said that the victim was not to blame in the case, but that all women must be vigilant against becoming victims. "When you blame others, you give up your power to change," Hatch said that her mother used to say.

That's a really good point, like when President Bush told all the World Trade Center victims that if they hadn't gone to work that day, nothing would have happened to them.

Note the gender of the judge and perhaps reflect on how misogyny is a function of power and institutionalized prejudices, not necessarily the possession or lack of a dong. But then stop reflecting on that because, like race, gender is not an issue in our society and certainly not in the legal system.

2. Across the pond, our friends in Derry, Northern Ireland have decided to install video cameras in the city's taxi fleet to "guard against false rape allegations." The cameras are not intended to make passengers feel safer or prevent, you know, rape. Any crimes or evidence thereof recorded on these cameras will be purely incidental. They are being installed to reduce the incidence of the most serious and pervasive of crimes in the UK: the ol' "fake like the cabbie raped you" scam. Oldest trick in the book.

3. A woman who admitted to the American public that she has had sexual intercourse on occasion spoke at the DNC and then some prominent right-wing media personalities had some very cogent points to make about the substance of her address.

Oh wait. I might have gotten that wrong.

NPF: YOU CALL THAT A KNIFE?

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 7th, 2012 by Ed

You know how I love stuff about space and the internet has been ablaze with information about the Mars Curiosity Rover, a component of the Mars Science Laboratory, for the past few weeks. The comparatively large amount of publicity it has received indicates that NASA, in its sixth decade, might be figuring out Public Relations: target young people (but not children) who might be interested in, like, books and science and stuff while basically ignoring the "Hurr! Everything that costs money is bad!" crowd that cannot be pleased under any circumstances. The wildly popular landing video is brilliant marketing but merely a function of the technology being available today; had a video of a space probe landing been possible thirty years ago, it would have looked like that. In other words, the mission itself wasn't really groundbreaking. Logically, it outdid previous similar missions in technology – better cameras, more and more complex experiments, more data returned more quickly, and so on. On the surface (see what I did there?) it's not exactly the kind of mission you'd expect to grab the public's attention. It's just another thing the internet has made far more accessible.

Oh, and there was a guy with a mohawk, a probable candidate to be the first Hipster D-Bag in space. Not a dry panty in the house when he's at mission control, amirite?

As much as planetary exploration interests and excites me, I have to be the cranky old bastard for just a second and point out that NASA landed rovers on Mars that returned images and experimental data – Viking 1 and 2in 1976. And one of them continued to work on the surface and collect data for six years. It's not a pissing contest, as every mission allows new research and new insights based on the limits of technology available at the time, yet I can't help feeling that sending an orbiter to Mars and landing a rover is old hat to the folks at NASA by now. To think that they managed the same using the computer, communications, and telemetry technology of the late 1960s is a lot more impressive, for whatever that's worth.

It's great that people are interested in the space program and I'm sure the entire MSL program was challenging and time consuming for everyone involved. It must have felt great to see it succeed. But now that NASA is cool (at least momentarily) I imagine there are a bunch of old guys who were there in the Seventies looking at Mohawk Guy and thinking "Yeah, we put a probe on Mars when you were in diapers, kid. It was made of transistors, a Pong circuit board, and two cameras we bought at a pawn shop in El Segundo after we did mushrooms at Buzz Aldrin's condo."

And don't even get me started on Voyager 2, sonny. We stole half those parts from Radio Shack and that can of bolts is still working 35 years (!) and nine billion miles (!!!) later. And we didn't have the youtubes and the crazy haircuts and the memes and all that baloney. Now get off my lawn and get a nice military haircut.

A CLOSE READING

Posted in Quick Hits on September 6th, 2012 by Ed

I'm out of gas tonight but I have a brief question based on seeing a bit of the Wednesday night convention speeches: On average, how many hours per day does Bill Clinton spend reading and re-reading the Constitution trying to find a way that he can be president again?

The over/under is 4.

SCALING MOUNT AMBIVALENCE

Posted in Election 2012 on September 5th, 2012 by Ed

It is strange to think back to this time in 2008. I was at a political science convention in Boston just prior to the Republican convention, and it's difficult to describe how much the conference of 7,000 political scientists (normally a shockingly apolitical crowd – something about mixing business and pleasure) was buzzing about the election. It makes sense, as Labor Day and the conventions are the official kickoff of the general election phase of the campaigns. As reflected in the high (for Americans) rate of voter turnout, the level of interest in the 2008 election was both measurably and qualitatively high. People were interested in it. It was exciting.

It is an understatement to point out that the same dynamic is not present in 2012. This presidential election is shaping up as a re-do of 1996: two candidates no one really likes fighting not only to win your vote but also to make you feel like voting at all. The bloom is entirely off the Obama rose – too many broken promises, too much pandering to the right and "moderates", not enough firm resolve until re-election season grew near – and we could spend hours cataloging Romney's problems winning the interest and enthusiasm of his fellow Republicans. Turnout will almost certainly fall, and all of the signs of a pair of candidates desperate to get you to give one or more shits about this election are plain to see.

By now you have probably seen the smug news item about how "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" beat the GOP convention in TV ratings last Wednesday. That might be amusing, but the much more important statistic is that overall viewership of the convention was down a staggering 30-40% from 2008 – and remember that Republican enthusiasm for the nominee was not exactly in the stratosphere back then either. I'd caution everyone not to spend too much time guffawing at the poor ratings received by Romney and Friends; this week's convention may not do much better. How many people could honestly expect to hear anything new from Obama at this point? What audience the conventions do attract at this point is most likely drawn from the Preaching to the Converted pile.

It is possible that I am projecting my own considerable ambivalence and malaise toward this election, although I'm fairly certain that it has some basis in reality. An incumbent with a 45% approval rating is being challenged by a Massachusetts Mormon with no definable position on any major issues. This feels like an election to be tolerated, endured, or trudged through. Even the most zealous partisans appear to be drawing their enthusiasm mostly from hatred of The Other Guy rather than genuine fondness for their own candidate.

There are many problems with the idea that Obama won in 2008 because of a surge of new young and/or minority voters, principally the fact that Obama won every single demographic except white males over 40. While participation among young, black, or Latino voters did rise, he succeeded because he convinced a lot of the people who always vote to vote for him. You don't win Indiana as a Democrat simply by turning out a few more college kids. This is relevant because lower turnout won't necessarily imply bad news for Obama. Instead his problem is that the white lower-class voters that he managed to win in 2008 appear to have gone Full Teabag since then and they're unlikely to support him again.

Attempts at analysis aside, the most outstanding feature of this election so far seems to be how little attention we are paying to it as an electorate. My personal feelings are much closer to "Let's just get this goddamn thing over with" than any genuine curiosity or excitement about the outcome. The faithful of the respective parties are already decided. Undecideds are few and uncertain to the extent that they dislike both candidates. Sprinkle this whole mess with millions (billions?) pf SuperPac dollars that will be blown on annoying, sub-moronic advertising and you've got yourself a fine recipe for a campaign we will all be doing our damnedest to ignore while the candidates and media go through the motions.

(PS: Surely I have matured beyond recognition; I changed the original title, "Scaling Mount Who-Gives-a-Shit")

THE SPREAD

Posted in Rants on September 4th, 2012 by Ed

As many of you know I recently moved out of Georgia and back to the flatlands from whence I came. Having spent my entire life in the Midwest with the exception of the last three years in Georgia there is no culture shock or adjustment period upon returning. It is as I remember it, which is to say that it's equal parts comfortable and depressing.

The city in which I live now is a perfect example of what people on the coasts think about the Rust Belt. If you look up "post-industrial" or "urban decay" you might not see an actual picture of where I live, but it would be hard to tell the difference. Even if you have never been here, there's a great chance that you've been to one of the dozens of places exactly like it across the Midwest or New England. If you've seen one Youngstown you've seen 'em all – cities that were awesome in about 1958 and everything has gone downhill since then. The factories all left, everyone with the means to do so left, and now the downtown area looks like a set for one of those movies wherein the protagonist wakes up to find that everyone else is gone.

What surprises me about this city is that the population has fallen over that time but it is spread over an area that has doubled in size. The population density has plummeted and left us with the familiar "donut" pattern: an empty shell of a downtown surrounded by unplanned, idiotically sprawling suburbs. As a result, a city that could be somewhere that people actually want to live feels like a ghost town. Just imagine if everyone actually moved back to the city. Wouldn't that be neat?

But that would entail suburbanites living near, like, black people and poor people and stuff. And they wouldn't be able to have those giant yards they don't actually use. And the houses might not all have 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms (which is the minimum necessary for four people). And if you don't have to drive absolutely everywhere, how are you going to show off the car? Who wants to live so close to other people? What are we, peasants?

All the policy solutions in the world – tax incentives, harebrained "renewal" schemes, endless/fruitless talk about luring "high tech" industry to the city – can't overcome the warped attitudes and preferences that led us to the current state of affairs. We don't care if we never see or talk to our neighbors; in fact we prefer it. When people think the bugs are actually features, it's hard to expect any logic from their collective decision-making.

WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, WE DIDN'T WORK ON LABOR DAY

Posted in Quick Hits on September 3rd, 2012 by Ed

There are a lot of new readers these days, and for Labor Day I want to turn back the clock to 2008 to one of my favorite posts ever: Battered Worker Syndrome. Four years of Koch-o-nomics later, we're one step closer to the goal of complete powerlessness in the workforce. I guess the unemployment rate will start to go down just as soon as it's no longer beneficial to the few people who hold political and economic power in this country to have a surplus of nearly every conceivable form of labor to ensure a cheap, obedient, chronically unhappy workforce.

IN THE YEAR 2000

Posted in Quick Hits on September 2nd, 2012 by Ed

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