Morning Music: James Brown

It's a Man's Man's Man's WorldI was talking to my sister earlier and she brought up “that song about it being a man’s world.” Well, I found my morning music! You just can’t start a day better than with a little James Brown. And “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” is one of the best. The lyrics of the song are about as sexist as can be, but it somehow isn’t surprising that they were written by Brown’s girlfriend at the time, Betty Jean Newsome. Nor is it surprising that on the original release of the song, only Brown got credit. No wonder the singer thinks that it is “man” who invented all those things in the song, it was because “man” forgot to give “woman” credit — just like always.

Still, it’s an unbelievably great song. I never listen to the lyrics anyway. Regardless, how ever the world is, “It wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.”

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Anniversary Post: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in WonderlandOn this day in 1862, legend has it, Lewis Carroll rowed a boat up part of the River Thames with Robinson Duckworth and the three young Liddell girls, one of whom was ten year old Alice. And during that trip, he started telling the story that would be published three years later as, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I don’t like the contrast: while Lewis Carroll was busy creating one of the most charming stories of all time, across the great big ocean, hundreds of thousands Americans were being killed because a small number of white men wanted to continue to own human beings.

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. ‘Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; ‘only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: ‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. ‘There’s plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

‘Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. ‘I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

‘There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

‘Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.

‘It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,’ said the March Hare.

‘I didn’t know it was your table,’ said Alice; ‘it’s laid for a great many more than three.’

‘Your hair wants cutting,’ said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.

‘You should learn not to make personal remarks,’ Alice said with some severity; ‘it’s very rude.’

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, ‘Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’

‘Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. ‘I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.– I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

‘Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

‘Exactly so,’ said Alice.

‘Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.’

‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

‘You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, ‘that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’

‘You might just as well say,’ added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, ‘that “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe”!’

‘It is the same thing with you,’ said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wasn’t much.

The Hatter was the first to break the silence. ‘What day of the month is it?’ he said, turning to Alice: he had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily, shaking it every now and then, and holding it to his ear.

Alice considered a little, and then said ‘The fourth.’

‘Two days wrong!’ sighed the Hatter. ‘I told you butter wouldn’t suit the works!’ he added looking angrily at the March Hare.

‘It was the best butter,’ the March Hare meekly replied.

‘Yes, but some crumbs must have got in as well,’ the Hatter grumbled: ‘you shouldn’t have put it in with the bread-knife.’

The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily: then he dipped it into his cup of tea, and looked at it again: but he could think of nothing better to say than his first remark, ‘It was the best butter, you know.’

Alice had been looking over his shoulder with some curiosity. ‘What a funny watch!’ she remarked. ‘It tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell what o’clock it is!’

‘Why should it?’ muttered the Hatter. ‘Does your watch tell you what year it is?’

‘Of course not,’ Alice replied very readily: ‘but that’s because it stays the same year for such a long time together.’

‘Which is just the case with mine,’ said the Hatter.

Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. ‘I don’t quite understand you,’ she said, as politely as she could.

‘The Dormouse is asleep again,’ said the Hatter, and he poured a little hot tea upon its nose.

The Dormouse shook its head impatiently, and said, without opening its eyes, ‘Of course, of course; just what I was going to remark myself.’

‘Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

‘No, I give it up,’ Alice replied: ‘what’s the answer?’

‘I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter.

‘Nor I,’ said the March Hare.

Alice sighed wearily. ‘I think you might do something better with the time,’ she said, ‘than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.’

‘If you knew Time as well as I do,’ said the Hatter, ‘you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. It’s him.’

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Alice.

‘Of course you don’t!’ the Hatter said, tossing his head contemptuously. ‘I dare say you never even spoke to Time!’

‘Perhaps not,’ Alice cautiously replied: ‘but I know I have to beat time when I learn music.’

‘Ah! that accounts for it,’ said the Hatter. ‘He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!’

(‘I only wish it was,’ the March Hare said to itself in a whisper.)

‘That would be grand, certainly,’ said Alice thoughtfully: ‘but then — I shouldn’t be hungry for it, you know.’

‘Not at first, perhaps,’ said the Hatter: ‘but you could keep it to half-past one as long as you liked.’

‘Is that the way you manage?’ Alice asked.

The Hatter shook his head mournfully. ‘Not I!’ he replied. ‘We quarrelled last March — just before he went mad, you know–‘ (pointing with his tea spoon at the March Hare,) ‘–it was at the great concert given by the Queen of Hearts, and I had to sing

“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you’re at!

You know the song, perhaps?’

‘I’ve heard something like it,’ said Alice.

‘It goes on, you know,’ the Hatter continued, ‘in this way:–

“Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea-tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle–“‘

Here the Dormouse shook itself, and began singing in its sleep ‘Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle–‘ and went on so long that they had to pinch it to make it stop.

‘Well, I’d hardly finished the first verse,’ said the Hatter, ‘when the Queen jumped up and bawled out, “He’s murdering the time! Off with his head!”‘

‘How dreadfully savage!’ exclaimed Alice.

‘And ever since that,’ the Hatter went on in a mournful tone, ‘he won’t do a thing I ask! It’s always six o’clock now.’

A bright idea came into Alice’s head. ‘Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?’ she asked.

‘Yes, that’s it,’ said the Hatter with a sigh: ‘it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.’

‘Then you keep moving round, I suppose?’ said Alice.

‘Exactly so,’ said the Hatter: ‘as the things get used up.’

‘But what happens when you come to the beginning again?’ Alice ventured to ask.

‘Suppose we change the subject,’ the March Hare interrupted, yawning. ‘I’m getting tired of this. I vote the young lady tells us a story.’

‘I’m afraid I don’t know one,’ said Alice, rather alarmed at the proposal.

‘Then the Dormouse shall!’ they both cried. ‘Wake up, Dormouse!’ And they pinched it on both sides at once.

The Dormouse slowly opened his eyes. ‘I wasn’t asleep,’ he said in a hoarse, feeble voice: ‘I heard every word you fellows were saying.’

‘Tell us a story!’ said the March Hare.

‘Yes, please do!’ pleaded Alice.

‘And be quick about it,’ added the Hatter, ‘or you’ll be asleep again before it’s done.’

‘Once upon a time there were three little sisters,’ the Dormouse began in a great hurry; ‘and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well–‘

‘What did they live on?’ said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.

‘They lived on treacle,’ said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.

‘They couldn’t have done that, you know,’ Alice gently remarked; ‘they’d have been ill.’

‘So they were,’ said the Dormouse; ‘very ill.’

Alice tried to fancy to herself what such an extraordinary ways of living would be like, but it puzzled her too much, so she went on: ‘But why did they live at the bottom of a well?’

‘Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

‘I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, ‘so I can’t take more.’

‘You mean you can’t take less,’ said the Hatter: ‘it’s very easy to take more than nothing.’

‘Nobody asked your opinion,’ said Alice.

‘Who’s making personal remarks now?’ the Hatter asked triumphantly.

Alice did not quite know what to say to this: so she helped herself to some tea and bread-and-butter, and then turned to the Dormouse, and repeated her question. ‘Why did they live at the bottom of a well?’

The Dormouse again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, ‘It was a treacle-well.’

‘There’s no such thing!’ Alice was beginning very angrily, but the Hatter and the March Hare went ‘Sh! sh!’ and the Dormouse sulkily remarked, ‘If you can’t be civil, you’d better finish the story for yourself.’

‘No, please go on!’ Alice said very humbly; ‘I won’t interrupt again. I dare say there may be one.’

‘One, indeed!’ said the Dormouse indignantly. However, he consented to go on. ‘And so these three little sisters — they were learning to draw, you know–‘

‘What did they draw?’ said Alice, quite forgetting her promise.

‘Treacle,’ said the Dormouse, without considering at all this time.

‘I want a clean cup,’ interrupted the Hatter: ‘let’s all move one place on.’

He moved on as he spoke, and the Dormouse followed him: the March Hare moved into the Dormouse’s place, and Alice rather unwillingly took the place of the March Hare. The Hatter was the only one who got any advantage from the change: and Alice was a good deal worse off than before, as the March Hare had just upset the milk-jug into his plate.

Alice did not wish to offend the Dormouse again, so she began very cautiously: ‘But I don’t understand. Where did they draw the treacle from?’

‘You can draw water out of a water-well,’ said the Hatter; ‘so I should think you could draw treacle out of a treacle-well — eh, stupid?’

‘But they were in the well,’ Alice said to the Dormouse, not choosing to notice this last remark.

‘Of course they were’, said the Dormouse; ‘–well in.’

This answer so confused poor Alice, that she let the Dormouse go on for some time without interrupting it.

‘They were learning to draw,’ the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; ‘and they drew all manner of things — everything that begins with an M–‘

‘Why with an M?’ said Alice.

‘Why not?’ said the March Hare.

Alice was silent.

The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: ‘–that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness — you know you say things are “much of a muchness” — did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?’

‘Really, now you ask me,’ said Alice, very much confused, ‘I don’t think–‘

‘Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.

This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot.

‘At any rate I’ll never go there again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. ‘It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!’

I can just hear the snarky reply, “Well at least they weren’t pedophiles!” But I think it is clear that Carroll was no such things. But it hardly matters. The work is what it is. And what it is, is great. So happy birthday to the beginning of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, even if it is just a legend!

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So How Do You Like Scott Walker Now?

Scott WalkerAlmost from the first day of Obama’s presidency, I began seeing a really offensive bumper sticker, “So how do you like Obama now?” My reaction even at the time was, “I’m fine with him.” But my problem with the bumper sticker has always been that it was presumptuous. The implication was that Obama promised something that he hadn’t delivered. Or even more: that supporters of the president were duped by him. What it really says is, “I told you so!” But it isn’t clear what the reader is supposed to have been told. What’s really going on is that the conservative with the bumper sticker didn’t like Obama before and doesn’t like him now. There’s a shocker!

But recently, I’ve been thinking more about the “bait and switch” message of the bumper sticker. I’ve looked. There don’t appear to have been any bumper stickers that said, “So how do you like Bush now?” The only thing I’ve found is another bumper sticker that came out a bit later; it features an image of Bush with the text, “How do you like me now?” So there was a sense among conservatives that Obama had in fact conned the American people. And now they must know.

What do you think of Obama NowI’m not completely against that reading: I think that the nation as a whole (including Obama) conned itself into thinking that the Republicans were just like the rest of us and that they wanted what was best for the country. The only way that Obama misled the country was by claiming that he would usher in a post-partisan era. Well, he tried — far harder than was reasonable. But that was a pretty vague notion to start with. And regardless, that is not what conservatives were thinking of when they put these lame bumper stickers on their SUVs. They were thinking of policy. In general, they were not upset because Obama didn’t do what he said he would do but rather because he did almost exactly what he said he would do.

But now this is linked in my mind to Scott Walker. What do the voters of Wisconsin think of Walker now? Well, they aren’t as keen on him as they once were. And in that case, they have a reasonably good case: Walker did deceive them. Rather than telling the truth when faced with the subject of Wisconsin becoming a “right to work” state, Walker always brushed it aside claiming that it wasn’t in the realm of possibilities. When it was, he couldn’t get to his pen fast enough to sign it.

I’ve been critical of the people of Wisconsin — and other states as well. Anyone who pays attention to politics should have known what Scott Walker was up to. It wasn’t just his hedging on the “right to work” issue. Everything he had done in his four years as governor indicated that he would do absolutely anything he could to destroy unions. Politicians are usually pretty clear about what they intend to do. And when they won’t answer a question, it means they intend to do what is unpopular.

But most people are busy just trying to make ends meet. So they can be forgiven for not noticing some of the subtleties of politics. Obama did not intend to deceive. But clearly Scott Walker did. In fact, pretty much any Republican politician will intentionally deceive — unless they are in an area that is overwhelmingly Republican. That’s because (for the umpteenth time), Republican policies are unpopular. So it makes a lot more sense to ask voters what they think of Republicans after they have betrayed their voters.

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The Purpose of Vaccination

Elizabeth Stoker BruenigParents who identify vaccination as a personal choice made for themselves and their own children misunderstand vaccination as a concept. Most people will survive childhood illnesses without the aid of a vaccine; vaccines are not administered on behalf of these people, though they do help them avoid the non-lethal downsides of disease, such as temporary discomfort and long-term injury. Vaccines are rather administered on behalf of people who cannot receive them, and people who would not survive the illnesses they protect against based on deficits in their own immune systems. These people include the very old, the very young, and those already suffering: people with HIV/AIDS, people going through chemotherapy, pregnant women, and people who have never had strong defenses of their own. Widespread vaccination of healthy people creates “community immunity” or “herd immunity,” which prevents illnesses from penetrating groups where vulnerable people live, thus saving their lives.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
The Christian Case for Vaccinating Children

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Let’s Destroy Laudatory Confederate Monuments

Colfax 'Riot' SignI’ve been pleased of late to see that a lot of liberal writers are focusing on the Confederacy as I long have been: as an act of treason. Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money wrote two good articles about this recently. The first was, The Confederacy Won the Peace. Now, that is to some extent a distortion. The big problem with the sudden end of Reconstruction and the establishment of slavery by another name, was that the country as a whole reminded racist. As discussed in Ian Millhiser’s Injustices, it was many Lincoln appointed Supreme Court justices who allowed the south to establish a terrorist regime. The south did indeed win the peace, but only because the nation as a whole didn’t care.

A good example of this comes from an article that Lemieux quotes, from sociologist James Loewen, Why Do People Believe Myths About the Confederacy? Because Our Textbooks and Monuments Are Wrong. He noted that Kentucky officially stayed with the Union. The people were split, but not that much: 72% fought on the side of the Union. Yet “the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.” That’s staggering. But it probably doesn’t have much to do with the failure of Reconstruction.

Traitor Jefferson DavisI think that Confederate monuments and indeed, the Confederate flag itself, are the results of later efforts. For example, the Jefferson Davis Highway didn’t exist until 1913. The final part of this, Washington State Route 99, wasn’t so named until 1939. Similarly, the Colfax Massacre — more or less the beginning of terrorist rule in the south — saw the despicable “Colfax Riot” sign put up in 1950. I’m not saying that any of these things were necessarily celebrated elsewhere in the nation. But by and large the country got on with its business. There was really only one group in the nation with a real incentive to rewrite history — and that was the traitors in the south and their ideological followers.

In a second article, Scott Lemieux wrote, Why Honoring Jefferson Davis Is Unacceptable. In that article, he pointed out something that is profound and part of this whole tendency for us to ignore both the south’s treason and its continued disinformation campaign. One of the “liberal” arguments in favor of accepting the Jefferson Davis High School, for example, goes like this, “Davis was a slaveholder, but we have slaveholders on the $1 and $2, a white supremacist on the $5, a slaveholder and ethnic cleanser on the $20, and so on. Why is Davis different?”

I’ll admit, the argument has a certain resonance for me. I’m not too keen on the founders of the country. The only one who I hold in high standing is Thomas Paine. Washington and Jefferson were major slave holders. Adams was a royalist. And later, Jackson was truly horrific. There are things I like about them all, but they are soiled. Lemieux noted that there is a clear distinction: there’s only one reason that Jefferson Davis has roads named after him. And that reason is because he committed high treason against his country — in the name of one of the vilest of human behaviors. And we reward him with roads and public schools? It’s shocking.

It is all part of a larger effort to exonerate the south for the Civil War. And it is hard to believe that there aren’t people who think that the south will indeed rise again. They effectively reversed slavery; they’ve reversed history; they now have a small majority on the Supreme Court and complete control of one of the two political parties. What can they not achieve? I’ve long been on record for getting rid of Confederate generals’ names from our military bases. But as Lemieux implies, we need to go much further than that.

I know that going around closing public monuments to the Confederacy might seem like a vicious thing to do. But I discussed this last week, Confederate Flags and Nazi Tattoos. After the Civil War, the nation took a “look forward” approach to the south. The south returned this favor by doing nothing but looking back. Under normal circumstances, Jefferson Davis would have been hanged after the fall of the Confederacy and that would have been that. But he really wasn’t punished at all and he was allowed to go back to his old life, eventually dying rich and widely admired — for his treason.

After the fall of Iraq, we toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein. After the fall of the Soviet Union, statues of Stalin came tumbling down. It just makes sense that we should destroy laudatory monuments to the Confederacy. They are a pox not only on the south but on the whole nation. The only thing we might want to think seriously about is how we allowed such things to be built up over the last 150 years.

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Court on Death Penalty: Let’s Be “Tough”

What was Samuel Alito Thinking?Over at The Intercept Tuesday, Liliana Segura wrote, What Justice Breyer’s Glossip Dissent Exposes About the Death Penalty. It is about Glossip v Gross, the case that questioned the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection death penalty procedure. On the right, the response was, “Yippee, we get to continue killing people!” On the left, people have been focused more on Justice Alito’s callous comment, “While most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.” It is a shocking statement: people burn to death in fires so we should execute people by burning them alive?

But Stephen Breyer (along with Ginsberg) argued that the entire death penalty is cruel and unusual. This idea was dismissed by the majority, of course. I think there is something fundamental here. There are simply some people who really want to kill other people. It is like Dick Cheney’s idea about having to work the “dark side.” Or Tom Clancy Combat Concepts. It’s about being “hard” and “tough.” Americans — men especially — are terrified to be seen as weak. I’ve always found it bizarre in a country that is so Christian. Americans apparently don’t go in much for sissy Christian concepts like mercy and grace.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that Breyer’s dissent is fact based. He talks about various problems with the death penalty: its racist application; its randomness; prosecutorial misconduct; and the fact that we kill innocent people all the time. The majority brushes all that aside. To them, as long as the states give it the old college try, it doesn’t matter if people are tortured to death or that we kill innocent people. Justice isn’t a matter of something that happens to individual people. It’s really just about the process. If innocent people have to die in the name of Americans feeling tough, well that’s a small price to pay. Besides, that kind of thing would never happen to someone Samuel Alito knows.

What’s notable about all of this is the lack of empathy when it comes to the death penalty. For a long time, I thought that The Mythical Perfect Government Killing Machine would make the death penalty untenable to most Americans. Once people saw that the system wasn’t perfect, they would rebel against it. After all, it would be one thing to be put to death by the government if you were guilty. Most people imagine they would never be in that position because they would never murder anyone. But being put to death when you are innocent? Well, that could happen to anyone.

But it turns out that even an argument based upon self-preservation doesn’t work. They think (rightly) that getting railroaded is something that happens almost exclusively to the poor and those with darker skin. The odds are already relatively low that one will be put to death. It is even lower that one will be innocent. And it is lower still that either of those things would happen to a nice middle class white person. So they just don’t care. The deaths of innocent people are just not that big a deal compared to being “tough.” And apparently, the conservatives on the Court don’t think any more deeply about this than the American people themselves.

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Morning Music: The Surfaris

Wipe Out - The SurfarisI seem to have surf music on my mind a lot these days. Perhaps I will get over it after this heat wave ends (assume it does end). But today, I bring you “Wipe Out” off The Surfaris’ first album, Wipe Out. Nominally written by the four original members of the band, it is almost exactly the same as Barrett Strong’s song “Money (That’s What I Want).” But that’s the way with blues, and you can’t copyright a chord structure.

What’s most notable about “Wipe Out” is the very energetic drumming by Ron Wilson. But I like the whole sound of it. Too often, music gets more boring the more complex it gets. But songs like “Wipe Out” and “Wild Thing” never lose the joyousness of their purity. Here is a video mashup of various live performance, with a single live track behind it. This band includes only one of the original members of the band, Bob Berryhill. That’s his wife on the bass. I’m not sure who the others are.

But see if you don’t find yourself singing, “The best things in life are free…”

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Anniversary Post: Operation Cyclone

Operation CycloneOn this day in 1979, President Carter signed a “presidential finding” that authorized funding the Afghani guerrillas who were fighting the Soviet presence (the invasion didn’t happen until later that year). You know: the same people who would be fighting us just two decades later! The enemy of my enemy is usually not my friend. As a matter of fact, at that time, the Soviet Union was bringing to Afghanistan a whole lot of things that we agreed with. The people who we were funding were not good people and in no way supported what we think of as American or western values. This was the true beginning of the decade long Operation Cyclone.

Of course, the CIA made the decision to back the most militant and backwards of the groups in Afghanistan. This is because the CIA usually doesn’t know what it is doing. It still boggles my mind that the most incompetent parts of our government are the parts that Americans think most highly of. In addition to generally being involved in the most vile of activities, the CIA has shown itself to be hopelessly incompetent in most of what it does. Think: “Bay of Pigs.”

But what’s most amazing me about the CIA is that even what they are capable of doing is fairly minor. It is nothing that any group of people couldn’t put together given the time and resources that the agency has been given. But thanks to spy books and movies, people think it has amazing capabilities. Not really. An ex-CIA agent recorded a commentary for the film RED. He noted two things. First, it is very easy to kill anyone you want to. Second, the most important ability to have if you are a field agent overseas is car stealing. I can well imagine: after you manage to destabilize a country, it is often necessary to get out of them ASAP!

Another thing that is interesting about this is that Carter was a very big Cold War politician — much more so than Reagan was. Yet Republicans have created this mythology of Cater being weak in terms of foreign affairs. I’m not too keen on a lot of Cater’s politics. But this is all very typical of Republicans. Reagan was “strong” because he was bellicose; Carter was weak because he wasn’t. Talk is cheap, but it is all that matters to Republicans.

So 36 years ago, the US government started backing the wrong people in Afghanistan. And 22 years later, we started fighting them. This is because as a nation, we are usually clueless and do things for stupid reasons.

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Publishing Schedules and Lonely RSS Feeds

RSSI’ve gotten into a kind of a work routine around here. In the morning, I get my tea and read through all my standard websites. Then I spend most of the day on my paying work — with plenty of breaks for tea drinking and the occasional food. Then I take a break, cook dinner, and spend the rest of the evening writing for Frankly Curious. It works pretty well, because it gives my subconscious the whole day to think about what I’m going to write. The old way could be frustrating with me thrashing around looking for something to write about.

But I’ve noticed something strange. I have an RSS feed with about a dozen blogs that I follow. Yet through most of the day, all that’s going on is Frankly Curious. I’ll look up and see something has come in, and then be let down, “Oh, it’s only me.” There just aren’t that many people around who are as crazy as I am. But there are some. Ted McLaughlin at Job’s Anger, for example. He generally pumps out six articles per day. He’s a good complement to me. He’s more free-wheeling and more graphics oriented. More and more, I’m just bitter and very wordy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Our nation could use a few more thoughtful scolds.

I’ve added him to my RSS feed, but it won’t help my feelings of screaming alone into the ether. He seems to do a dump of the day’s posts right around midnight each day. I’m not sure why. I used to be pretty constrained myself when I used Nucleus as the CMS here. If I scheduled a post, for example, the automatic twitter alert would go out before the article was up. Thankfully, with WordPress, everything works as it should. And that has allowed me to distribute my wisdom on an orderly schedule.

There are, of course, writers I read regularly, but who I don’t RSS with. One of them is Ed Kilgore at Political Animal. He grinds out 12 posts per day — most of surprisingly high quality. I’d love to get alerts from him throughout the day. But my system requires me to load pages, and his site (Washington Monthly) is such a pig because of the overabundance of advertising. A single page is about 3 megabytes and can take several minutes to load. I don’t think people realize just how much traffic they lose for the sake of squeezing a couple of extra pennies out advertisers. It’s better for me to just wait until the end of the day and check what Kilgore had to say all at once.

Similar to Kilgore is Steve Benen at Maddow Blog. But MSNBC only allows one to sign up for their “latest headlines.” Like I want to be inundated with MSNBC garbage all day long. But I have found some RSS feeds worth adding. P M Carpenter’s Commentary keeps up a good schedule, and posts throughout the day. The same is true of No More Mister Nice Blog. And how about I finish it out with Lawyers, Guns, & Money — even though a lot of people write for it. These should all make me feel less alone. Although they may get in the way of my other work…

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People Like ACA Subsides and Same-Sex Marriage

Ed KilgoreThe first national poll out there measuring reactions to last week’s two big SCOTUS landmark cases is out, from CNN/ORC. Unsurprisingly, it showed a majority of Americans agreeing with Oberkefell v Hodges, though the percentage was higher than one might have guessed, at 59%. But surprisingly, an even higher percentage — 63% — said they agreed with the finding in King v Burwell that “government assistance for lower-income Americans buying health insurance through both state-operated and federally-operated health insurance exchanges is legal…”

Now earlier polling had shown big majorities of the public having no clue that this constitutional challenge to Obamacare was coming. So the numbers CNN/ORC is showing represent another confirmation that the ideas incorporated in Obamacare are a lot more popular than the name, especially among those who are not necessarily responding to partisan cues. This is something Republicans better pay attention to when designing their replace/repeal agenda.

—Ed Kilgore
Obamacare Subsidies More Popular Than Same-Sex Marriage?

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LGBT Rights Movement Isn’t Easily Replicated

Rainbow FlagIn an article last weekend, Jonathan Chait took on Ross Douthat, Same-Sex Marriage Won Because Its Opponents Never Had an Argument. Overall, it is very good; he’s right: Douthat’s argument against same sex marriage is stupid — and he’s the best the conservatives have. But it shocks me that smart people like Chait don’t understand why LGBT rights have made such quick progress in this country. Chait noted, “The movement owes its success to any number of things, but surely preeminent among them is the clarity of its core rationale.” Not really — not a number of things, and the clarity of its core rationale surely doesn’t have much if anything to do with it.

If you want to understand why LGBT rights have had such unbelievably great success compared to other civil rights causes, all you have to do is look at Dick and Lynne Cheney. They are two of the most conservative people on the planet. But they were among the majority of Americans who were happy to see marriage equality be the law of the land. This is not because they are evolved on this particular topic. It is because they have a daughter Mary Cheney, who is a lesbian. It is hard to maintain your hatred for “the other” when that “other” is your own daughter.

The smartest thing the LGBT community ever did was decide that they had to destroy the closet. As long as people thought that “gays” were just horrible men having unprotected sex in the bath houses of San Francisco, it was trivial for people to vilify them. But once the LGBT community was everywhere — our sons and daughters, our friends and acquaintances, our postal delivery people and the bag boy at the supermarket — it was impossible to discount it as “those people” who show up only in our fever dreams.

What’s sad is that most groups do not have the luxury that the LGBT community has. Trans-gender people are born everywhere. But our society has done an outstanding job of keeping African Americans and Latinos cut off — living in their own ghettos. The fact that there is the occasional African American and Latino outside the ghettos only highlights the difference. Unless these outliers knew the “rules” of the ruling class, they wouldn’t be allowed outside the ghettos — even though everyone could learn the “rules” if given the chance.

I’ve said it before a lot, “The Cheneys could never give birth to a poor child.” They will never have direct access to the inequities of poverty. So they will never know what it is like and they will never care to find out. It’s great that the LGBT community has the special attribute of being equally distributed throughout society. That has made the recent search for equality easier. But there is no special lesson to be learned from its success. Other groups — poor groups — must try to engender empathy from afar. And that is a far harder sale. Just look at any of the Republican presidential candidates.

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The Hill: McConnell Reasonable Filibuster Hero

The HillWe don’t hear much about the filibuster these days, because there is nothing to be done about it. There is a Democrat in the White House, the Republicans have control of the Senate. There is nothing to be gained from cutting back on the filibuster. The only question ever was whether Mitch McConnell might make the calculation that the next president will be a Democrat and the Senate might slip back into the hands of the Democrats. In that case, McConnell’s having restored the full filibuster might make it more toxic for the Democrats to again cut it back. But frankly, I don’t think politicians ever think that strategically. And if things go better for the Republicans in 2016, such a move could ties their own hands.

So I wasn’t at all surprised when The Hill reported Monday, Senate Republicans Slam the Door on Scrapping the Filibuster. They have absolutely no incentive to do anything else. If they find themselves in control of the White House and Congress in 2017, they will absolutely get rid of the filibuster. And they will blame it on the Democrats — who did, after all, make it far less powerful. The fact that this was done because the Republicans had abused it so excessively will not matter in the least — especially to our pathetic press corps.

Mitch McConnellLet me explain how this works. The Republicans have become the “by any means necessary” party. That’s why they’ve spent millions of dollars looking for any way available to destroy Obamacare. They’ve always known that as long as Obama is president, they won’t be able to do it legislatively. And so they’ve clogged up the courts with the most ridiculous of attacks. Too many liberals now seem to think that John Roberts is on the right side of history. He clearly isn’t. His decision in King v Burwell was really one of exasperation. He was saying, “Stop bugging me! There are some things that you need to do the old fashioned way. Go out and win some elections.”

So if the Republicans find themselves in control of Washington in 2017, they will not let a little thing like the filibuster — that they have so depended upon for decades — stand in the way of the kind of sweeping changes that they want to make. They will lower the top tax rate to 25%. They will savage safety net programs. They will abolish the estate tax. They will fill our courts with ideologue judges who make Clarence Thomas look reasonable. But all of that is on the table only if they maintain control of the Senate and gain control of the White House. There is absolutely no reason to do anything right now.

What’s sad is that The Hill article makes it like the Republicans in general, and Mitch McConnell in particular, are reasonable when it comes to the filibuster. Back in 2005, McConnell thought that the Democrats were abusing the filibuster. He was also in favor of the “Nuclear Option,” which he has more recently claimed is such a terrible thing. This is not a reasonable man. This is a man who does whatever is in his immediate best interests. Right now, it is in his best interests to claim the high ground. The moment that changes, the filibuster is gone. The Hill and everyone else should know this.

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