America: We’re Like Everyone Else

Hamid KarzaiAfghan President Hamid Karzai has called for the removal of American troops from the province west of Kabul. He claims that the troops have been involved in torture, some even leading to death of civilians in that area. Here’s what I know: nothing. It could just be Karzai playing politics or it could be what he says is true or it could be both. American troops have done this kind of thing before. They have even done this kind of thing in Afghanistan. So it would be absurd to just dismiss the claim out of hand.

Unless, of course, you are part of the overwhelming majority of Americans who just know that we could never do any of the terrible things that we absolutely have done. The My Lai Massacre never happen, for example. That’s one of the frustrating things for most Americans: they have no idea why anyone in the world would hate America. After all, they’ve never seen news to indicate that America is anything but a force for good in the world. Those people who hate us must be insane or hate us for our freedom!

I first read about the Karzai allegations at NBC, Afghan President Orders US Forces Out of Key Province. The reporting is pretty objective. My only problem with it is in comparison with how it would have been reported the other way around. The American news media tend to take military claims as the truth. But I’m happy enough with this reporting: at this point it is just Karzai’s claim.

What was more interesting was reading the comments. I didn’t go all that far through them; I read around 50. But with one exception, they were all of the form: Karzai is just lying and we ought to get out of there anyway. But the one comment that was different was really telling. He actually believes the claims:

Why are we not surprised? I really think it’s high time that we do unto our enemies as they have and still do unto us. We don’t know what those troops are dealing with day in and day out. I say whatever it takes to make it home to your love ones. Being a retired service member myself and having served in combat I support them (the troops) 200 percent.

I feel so warm inside. I want to break into “You’re a Grand Old Flag”! After all, we’re just doing to “them” what they do to us. And we don’t know what those troops are going through, so we should support them twice as much as it logically possible. If they just want to massacre a whole village, they must have a very good reason! I need to take a breath…

When I hear people talking like this, it makes me think that it doesn’t matter how many al-Qaeda leaders we kill, they won this war long ago. It is one thing for a government to be evil—they pretty much are by definition. But the fact that people on a middle-of-the-road website cheer for torture shows that we’ve become a far worse nation than we were when I was a kid. At least then we had the ideal of rising to a higher level.

But the other commenters bother me more. They are the ones who really think they have a good bead on reality. They think they know what’s going on. They can’t imagine that they would ever fall for propaganda. And in this case, they may well be right. But the assumption they all make is that of course Karzai would lie and of course American officials tell the truth. And that is even more dangerous than the pro-torture cheerleaders.

Afterword

I almost forgot! I like that line about there never being a “boast or brag.” On one level, it is hilarious, because of course, it is a boast and brag. But on another, there used to be a feeling that we were such a great nation that we shouldn’t go around rubbing the noses of other nations in it. Well not anymore. I were to write the equivalent song today, it would be called, “We’re Number One! We’re Number One!”

Obama’s Evil Secrecy

Obama Question MarkGlenn Greenwald is one of the most important liberal journalists we have. And of course that means he works for a British newspaper. On Friday he wrote, Obama Officials Refuse to Say if Assassination Power Extends to US Soil. This is the kind of stuff that liberals would be all over if the president were a Republican. But a lot of liberals claim that they “trust” Obama to use these powers wisely. Even apart from the absurdity of the claim that anyone with Obama’s power can be trusted, isn’t it clear that Obama will not always be president? Isn’t it clear that these precedents will be used by very bad men in the future? Isn’t it obvious that a few generations down the line the president will use the exact same justifications to assassinate troublesome journalists on the streets of New York? It’s obvious to me, anyway.

Both CIA head nominee John Brennan and President Obama himself have been asked the same question, “Could the administration carry out drone strikes inside the United States?” In both cases, the answer is, “We aren’t doing that and we don’t plan to.” This is a problem. This implicitly opens the door to a future statement that, “We changed our minds!” It almost screams, “Yes, we can!”

The administration has secret legal documents that justify targeted assassinations of American citizens outside the country. Most of these documents the administration won’t even show to the Senate. If this all sounds kind of familiar, it is because this is just like the Bush administration.

And who is the hero in all this? Up until recently, it was pretend libertarian Rand Paul who was all alone. He has promised to filibuster Brennan’s nomination vote until he gets an answer to the question, “Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil, and without trial?” He also says that the only acceptable answer to the question is no. In general, Paul is a total fucktard. But in this case he’s my hero. Of course, this says little about him and a whole lot about most politicians and political watchers.

I understand that all administrations are evil. But what I find most troubling about Obama’s administration is how much they’ve followed the Bush administration when it comes to secrecy. Here is Greenwald:

Critically, the documents that are being concealed by the Obama administration are not operational plans or sensitive secrets. They are legal documents that, like the leaked white paper, simply purport to set forth the president’s legal powers of execution and assassination. As Democratic lawyers relentlessly pointed out when the Bush administration also concealed legal memos authorizing presidential powers, keeping such documents secret is literally tantamount to maintaining “secret law.” These are legal principles governing what the president can and cannot do—purported law—and US citizens are being barred from knowing what those legal claims are.

He goes on to note that there is no justification for keep such documents secret. What he means is that there is no good justification. It is clear that the administration wants to keep these documents secret because the administration knows that the legal reasoning is at best questionable and that if the public knew about them, they would rebel against them. That’s the thing about the vast majority of secret government documents. They are secret because the government (or specific powerful people inside it) don’t what the American people to know about it. Government secrecy is almost never right.

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Catholic Church’s Procreation Problems

Ghanaian Cardinal Peter TurksonI read this morning over at the Bilerico Project, Top Papal Candidate Blames Child Sex Abuse Scandal on Gays. In it, John Becker quotes Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson as claiming that there are unlikely to be many pedophilia cases in Africa because the culture there just doesn’t countenance homosexuality. This is offensive in all kinds of ways, but let me start by naming two of the minor ways. First, I would think that someone from Ghana would not make the American mistake of thinking Africa is one homogeneous entity. Second, it is the most ignorant of people who think that by making homosexuality taboo a society will limit it.

What is most offensive about the comment, of course, is the old canard that pedophiles are homosexual. It turns out that generally what makes one a pedophile is not having developed a mature sex drive. Thus, they aren’t interested in adults as sexual objects at all. Of those who do, it seems to be a wash: statistically they are like the rest of the population. Now let us think: what is a good way to stunt someone’s sex drive? I can think of one way: dogmatic religious doctrine requiring priests to be celibate.

This got me wondering why Catholics are so anti-gay when in some ways they are fairly enlightened. Only part of it is the Bible, and I think they could get past that. The big anti-gay writings are in the Old Testament. The anti-gay passages in the New Testament were all written by Paul who seems to have had a hard on regarding the issue. In Romans 1:27, he’s downright pornographic, “And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” Jesus, of course, was silent on the subject. And no one at that time could have imagined the nice same-sex couples we have today with their very boring jobs, kids, and music tastes. On this issue, I think the church has to ask, “Are we really going to continue to base our theology of the bigotry of people 2000 years ago?”

The Bible is the least of the problem, however. The church’s position on homosexuality is primarily wrapped up in its totally messed up ideas about sex. But in its defense, at least it is consistent. The church claims that the pleasure of sex is only to encourage us to make babies. That’s why Catholics can’t have condoms or homosexuality. Of course, there are cracks in the philosophical edifice. The biggest is the embrace of the “rhythm method” of birth control. If God hates condoms then he also hates intended non-reproductive sex acts. Also, if God made sex pleasurable to encourage procreation, why did he make oral sex pleasurable? Why did is place the clitoris in its unusual position?[1]

The biggest problems facing the Catholic church come down to its ridiculous idea about sex being only for procreation. If that idea changes, then everything else will fall in line. The problem is that the church has spent so many centuries working out their careful “sex is fun only as a byproduct” philosophy, that they will greatly resist changing it. But they have little choice.


[1] The clitoris position is unusual from a theological perspective, not a Darwinian perspective. And from a “sex as fun” perspective, especially sex vis-a-vis mastrabation, it is extremely well placed. Now really: only an evil God would design sex organs like than and then say, “Don’t touch!”

Five Broken Cameras

5 Broken Cameras“By healing, you resist oppression.” That is what Emad Burnat learned after six years of filming the nonviolent resistance of the people of the West Bank village of Bil’in. They were working to remove an Israeli fence and get back their stolen land. In his film Five Broken Camera, he tells his story. It is personal film making, more like Sherman’s March than Harlan County, USA. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is Sherman’s March set inside Harlan County, USA. And that is its brilliance.

The politics of the film is very clear, and in many ways the least interesting part of the film. A lot of things are very clear in the film. The Palestinians and the Israelis are the same people. Culturally, they are almost identical. Watching the conflict is like watching a family feud. Unfortunately, it is a feud where one side of the family has a really powerful army. What’s also clear is that many of the Israelis have dehumanized the Palestinians. What they are doing to these people is unconscionable. I understand that the Israelis are fearful; I understand that there is a lot of history; I understand that Palestinians haven’t always been the best partners. (Nor have the Israelis, but that’s another matter.) But do these Palestinians in Bil’in deserve this? It doesn’t seem like it.

The Personal and the Political

The film simultaneously chronicles the resistance movement and the development of Burnat’s youngest son, Gibreel. Through the early years, Gibreel doesn’t have much access to the protests. Then he begins seeing them from afar. He admits to his mother that he is afraid. In fact, there are many times during the film that Burnat tells his son to not be afraid of the Israeli soldiers; they are everywhere. But then Burnat’s good friend Phil, who is beloved by all the local children, is shot and killed. Gibreel is sad and angry. He asks his father why he doesn’t kill the soldiers with a knife. His father asks him why he is angry and his son replies, “Because they killed Phil.” It isn’t hard to see where the anger comes from. Phil was killed while nonviolently protesting.

During the course of the film, Burnat is arrested twice. Once, he is jailed for a long time. And this is the interesting part: it is never clear why. What he lives under is marshal law. The military apparently arrest people just because they have crossed some vague line of annoyance. One of Burnat’s arrest is for allegedly throwing rocks. They eventually drop charges because they “lost” the evidence. A lot of people seem to be arrested for this charge, because it is the one concrete thing the military has: kids, especially, do throw rocks. But this illustrates very nicely the entire Israel-Palestine conflict. Palestinians are arrested for throwing rocks at the soldiers. The soldiers have body armor, tear gas, and semiautomatic rifles. And when they use these weapons, nothing seems to happen to them. The law, it seems, is only meant for some.

Beyond Politics: Five Broken Camera

Five Broken Camera ends with a poignant scene. Burnat has at last gotten what looks like a hundred staples removed from his chest due to an accident he was in. Afterward, since they are in Israel, they go to the beach. Gibreel is seen happily splashing around in the water. Burnat asks him, “Why are you so happy?” And he replies, “The sea!” It is the last line in the film. Despite everything, we live our lives. There is happiness and pain. There is love and hatred. And sometimes, if we are very lucky, there is an afternoon at the sea.

Obama Talks About Himself

Obama Question MarkMost of us are wise to the ways of admen, pollsters, speechwriters, and pundits. We know how high-flying words can be deployed in the service of cynical aims, and how the noblest sentiments can be subverted in the name of power, expedience, greed, or intolerance.

—Barack Obama, without a hint of irony
The Audacity of Hope

Avik Roy: Healthcare Apologist

Avik RoyAvik Roy was on Up with Chris Hayes this morning. He is something of a healthcare expert. But you know what “expert” means when it comes to a conservative: effective apologist for the status quo. And he didn’t miss a beat this morning. He started right out cherry picking studies that showed that having Medicaid is worse than having no insurance at all. Hooray for the broken US healthcare system!

The problem, of course, is that Roy and his corporate friends don’t think, “Medicaid has problems, let’s fix it!” Instead, it is, “Medicaid has problems, let’s kill it!” This is what you get when your guiding philosophy is that the poor are morally repellent and so should just be allowed to die. (This is not an unfair characterization. Conservatives want the poor to just go away. I’m not suggesting they want to do it with a gun. But depriving them of healthcare is the same result by different means.)

Last week, Roy and Douglas Holtz-Eakin wrote an article for Reuters, The Future of Free-Market Healthcare. In it, they claim that maybe Obamacare isn’t that bad, but they would like to make some changes that will make it truly a free-market system. And so they pull out Switzerland and claim that we should be more like them.

Aaron Carroll, the medical economist, took them to task on this argument. He concludes, “I don’t think the Swiss health care system is what they think it is.” They claim that the Swiss system is better because it doesn’t have a public option. This doesn’t make any sense at all. First: neither does the United States! How does that make it more free-market than America? What’s more, Carroll points out that they are wrong on this point even still. The Swiss system requires private insurance companies to provide non-profit healthcare products. In other words, “Yeah, they effectively have a public option.”

Next, the dynamic duo claims that the Obamacare state exchanges are terrible because they are “larded with costly mandates and regulations.” Carroll really doesn’t like this bit of chicanery:

Do they know that the Swiss health care system has an individual mandate? Do they know that the Swiss health care system has arguably more regulations, such that they can’t even charge a 25 year old and an 80 year old a different price (like you can in Obamacare)? Do they know that the Swiss health care system regulates drug prices and fees for lab tests and medical devices? Do they know the most someone can pay for insurance in Switzerland is 8% of income (which is less than Obamacare allows)?

There are other problems. But the biggest problem is their claim that the Swiss healthcare system is cheaper than the American system because—Wait for it!—it is more free-market. Carroll points out that it is cheaper because doctors get paid about half as much there. On top of this, Paul Krugman reported that they were greatly underestimating the cost of the Swiss System, because so much of it is private. This is an old conservative claim: if we don’t pay for Medicaid, we’ll save money! Well, the government will save money; the country will end up paying far more.

Look at the following graph from Krugman’s first article about the Holtz-Eakin and Roy paper:

Healthcare Costs By Country

Do you notice something interesting in this chart? The only country that pays more for their healthcare than Switzerland is the United States. And despite this, Switzerland is ranked 20th by the WHO.

Take a moment to think about this. Avik Roy and all his pals are committed to a particular form of healthcare. What works well is not the issue at all. The only thing that matters is to keep corporate profits high. Note: this isn’t about giving the rich the best healthcare available. They will always have that. Even in countries like France, the rich can still buy private insurance. The problem from the standpoint of Roy is that all his buddies might make a few dollars less. And when you compare a couple of dollars in profit for the already wealthy to tens of millions of people without access to healthcare, the conservative answer is clear: the dollars matter far more than the people. Because, hey, the people are poor; they don’t matter at all.

Update (23 February 2013 4:12 pm)

In the segment Now We Know, Avik Roy talks about how even with Obamacare there will be 30 million people without healthcare. As I recall, it is now looking like it will be a lot less than that. The main problem is that there will be a lot of people who will qualify for it, but won’t know it. Regardless, when Roy said that, he seemed like he was going to burst out laughing. I often have conversations with conservatives who now complain that Obamacare is (1) too complicated and (2) non-universal. This is rich! It is exactly because of conservatives like Avik Roy that we have a system that is (1) too complicated and (2) non-universal. At this point, it seems that Roy is thrilled that his dastardly plan worked so that he now has a “multi-year project for us to try to make the case to conservatives that actually universal coverage is the path to getting our fiscal ship in balance.” I’m sure it will be very lucrative at the same time it won’t provide a single person with healthcare.

Political Poetry

Confidence FairyI’m not Calvin Trillin, but I’ve written a couple of political poems recently. The first sums up the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent the conservative movement. As you may recall, reproductive rights were more a Republican issue around the time of Roe V. Wade. And in the 1950s, voting rights were at least widely supported in the party. But the Republican Party has been committed to the interests of the rich in modern times. This has meant that they’ve been forced to make some unholy alliances. In the 1960s, it was with racists (although it took a while to pry that voting block away from the Democrats). In the 1970s, it was with the Christian fundamentalists.

Republican Coalition

Give those tax cuts to the rich
Show war mongers your big dicks
Pander to the racist hicks
Vaginal probes for all the chicks!

This next one I wanted to do with illustrations, but it was not to be. I also thought I would make it longer. You’ll get the idea. It is about the Confidence Fairy. This is a mythical creature that Paul Krugman invented. It is based on the belief of austerians and other assorted Deficit Scolds who claim that balancing the federal budget will instill confidence in the markets and cause growth. It is a nice idea, but the economy just doesn’t work that way, as the last 4 years have shown throughout the world. Krugman claimed that these people believed in the Confidence Fairy who (like the Great Pumpkin) will magically appear to reward good economies who balance their budgets.

The Confidence Fairy

The Confidence Fairy
Her powers will shock
Bond rates sink lower
She’ll goose up your stock!

She makes businesspeople
Regain confidence
Their non-hiring ways
They learn to repent.

She pours fairy dust
In all shoppers’ eyes
No longer afraid
They shop till they die!

The Confidence Fairy
She may be a myth
But she’s still effective
At helping the rich.

That’s all for now kiddos. As usual: if you don’t like the content, you get your full money back! And if you want to read real poetry, why are you here? Go over to The Good Typist.

The Oreo Felon

Penny WintersThis is a picture of Penny Winters. I always wonder about these things. It is a “mug shot.” And yet, Ms. Winters has been convicted of no crime. But somehow, the “justice” system seems to think it is just fine to release her photo to the world.

I present her photo to you as an example of an entirely typical victim of our fascistic corporate welfare injustice system. This 63 year old woman is facing felony theft charges for eating multiple unauthorized cookies while working at Walmart. Most recently, the management caught her eating Oreos. But if Walmart is like places I’ve worked, the management is busy going over months of video tape to see just exactly how many cookies the felonious Walmart employee ate. Is it any wonder that Walmart’s profits slipped from $16.4 billion in 2011 to $15.7 billion in 2012?!

In all seriousness, what Ms. Winters allegedly did was wrong. But such “leakage” is common and accepted. If her total cookie intake raised her cost to the company by as much as 1%, I would be surprised. Walmart’s profits are falling because people like Winters don’t have as much money to spend at places like Walmart. And a high profile felony prosecution of an employee for filching some cookies is not going to do anything to improve their bottom line.

This is justice in the United States. Winters could go to prison for years for her crime. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for a single banker to go to jail for their fraudulent games that caused the current depression. I’m so very proud.

And the la-hand of the Freeeeee!
And the hoooome, of thhhhhe, braaaave!

Marco Cruz

Marco Rubio - Ted CruzYou can think of handsome devil on the left as Ted Rubio, if you want; I like to think of him as Marco Cruz. He is my pathetic Photoshop attempt to combine Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in one photograph. But there’s something that these two guys have in common. It is pretty obvious, but give that some thought while I give you a little personal history.

When I was 8 or 9 years old, my family took a trip to Texas to visit relatives. We stopped at some little dinner along the highway one night. There we all were: mon, dad, and four kids. My father is Portuguese. In California, he doesn’t look exotic. He could probably pass as Italian. But he certainly isn’t pasty white. And in Texas, apparently, he looked downright foreign. At the dinner, two good ol’ boys began discussing my father’s ethnicity very loudly. They couldn’t decide whether my dad was Spanish or Mexican. Eventually one said, “Hell, I don’t matter anyway.”

He was not indicating that all of us—Mexicans and Spaniards alike—are brothers and so it didn’t matter what my father was. Rather, he was saying that regardless of what my dad was, he was one of “them” and therefore not to be trusted. It was a very tense time. We paid our bill and left. The good ol’ boys followed in their truck. They tailgated the car all the way to country line. Then I guess they got bored, having struck a blow for the white man in their little town.

My point with telling you this is that my father’s last name (Moraes) had nothing to do with that little interaction with the “real” America that Republicans like so much. It had everything to do with the fact that my father’s skin is a little dark. He’s got that ethnic look.

Now look at Marco Cruz above? Do you think that he would be the subject of good ol’ boy speculation? I don’t. I think the only thing ethnic about him is his name. And that gets right to the heart of one of the many problems that Republicans have in reaching out to the Latino community. These guys are the future of course: in not so many decades, there really won’t be much of a correlation between skin color and ethnicity. They are on the leading edge. But I don’t think it is any accident that the two major Latino Republican figures are only slightly less pasty than Newt Gingrich.

So let’s see. The Republican Party has a economic platform that Latinos generally hate. They have a pretend immigration plan that most of their party hates in a very public way. And they have Latino candidates who look like they grew up in Chelsea. How’s that Latino outreach going, guys?

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Ridiculous Deficit Scolds

Greg SargentGreg Sargent asked a couple of questions of the deficit hysterics, Questions for the “Blame it on Both Sides” Crowd. But I think he may be a little confused about who he’s talking to.

His first question is reasonable enough, “What is it exactly that you think Obama could do to make Republicans compromise?” This gets to the core of Matt Yglesias’ idea about BipartisanThink. This is the principle that the center is always by definition halfway between the Democrats and the Republicans. So if Obama said we had to replace the Sequester with only tax increases, then the “serious” position would be halfway between that and the Republican position. Thus: half spending cuts and half tax increases. But given that Obama has now compromised and accepted the old “serious” position of half and half, there is a new “serious” position: three-quarter spending cuts and one-quarter tax increases.

Sargent’s second question gets at the absurdity of this BipartisanThink. He wants to know what the deficit scolds actually think. As we all know, they currently think that a mix of spending cuts and tax increases is the right way to go. Thus, they should be complaining that the Republicans are absolutely against even a penny in new taxes. This is where I think Sargent is missing what is really going on. The Very Serious Scolds want the two sides to come together. That position will always be elusive until a deal is reached.

What is horribly, horribly wrong with this idea is that it rewards people who will not compromise. The more one party compromises, the more they lose. Basic psychology should tell the deficit scolds that this only makes reaching a deal harder. And once that deal is reached, it will be far closer to the least reasonable party. Of course, none of that matters to the deficit scolds. If it did, they wouldn’t be deficit scolds. The very idea that reaching any deal is more important than reaching a good deal is ridiculous. As are the deficit scolds.

The Hot l Baltimore

Hot l BaltimoreWhen I was a kid I loved plays. There were a lot of reasons for this. One of them is that I have a very good ability to imagine the play in my head. I don’t need or even particularly want a lot of detail: I’ve got that covered. Plays are by their nature kind of the Elmore Leonard style of writing; and given how popular his novels are, I think a lot of people feel the same way. The biggest reason that I read plays when I was young is related to this. I did (and still do) suffer from both forms of dyslexia. As a result of this, when I was young I was a painfully slow reader. But I could read a play in one night. And so I did: very many of them.

One of those plays I read was Lanford Wilson’s Hot l Baltimore. I remembered it as being a funny play. When I was a kid, I was so impressed with people who could write humor; it seemed almost magical. So I think I remember comedy more than the other things. Well, I just read it again and I would certainly not call it a comedy, even though it is an amusing read and would be quite funny performed. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be “poignant.”

It tells the story of a bunch of people living on the margins in the rundown old Hotel Baltimore. That’s where the title comes from: the “e” in the hotel sign has burned out. About midway through the first act, we learn that the hotel is going to be demolished and everyone is being evicted. But that doesn’t particularly matter, although there is much talk about it. The eviction is just part the fragility that is all their lives. It reminds me of Melissa Harris-Perry’s counter to the meme that the rich should be rewarded for their risk taking:

What is riskier than living poor in America? Seriously! What in the world is riskier than being a poor person in America? I live in a neighborhood where people are shot on my street corner… I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky. No. There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you and catch you and catch you! Being poor is what is risky!

But like all people on the margins, the characters in Hot l Baltimore keep pushing forward because they have no choice. The play culminates with April, an aging prostitute, forcing stunted Jamie, whose sister has abandoned him, to dance. It ends with them dancing as April shouts to the night manager about the radio, “Turn it up!”

What I probably didn’t understand when I was a kid was that these people’s lives were already over and they knew it; they were just keeping up appearances. There are multiple assertions from the characters, “I have plans!” The climax of the play, leading up to the end of the second act, is then “Girl”[1] informs Jackie that the land Jackie’s bought in Utah cannot be used to farm because it is a salt desert. Jackie claims she is lying, but Jackie knows the truth; Jackie probably always knew the truth.

If you aren’t going somewhere, then you’re just treading water. Soon, you’ll get tired and drown. Until then, “Turn it up!”


[1] She is the only character without a name. She is perhaps the only one who hasn’t given up. Instead, she is forever disappointed in the world. She is especially upset that the trains don’t run on time. She is a frightening reminder that disappointment is just a phase we go through on the way to hopelessness.

Righting Write

There TheirYesterday, Matt Yglesias wrote a sentence that needs to be shared, “I continue to think that conservatives are write to believe that the tax code should in fact favor the accumulation of production equipment…” I bring it up because Yglesias is a very smart man. He certainly isn’t ignorant of the difference between the words “write” and “right.” Yet there he is, writing “write” when he means to write “right.”

I do this all the time. As I do a quick read through before publishing an article, I often find these kinds of errors (and often don’t find them, even though they are there). My biggest problem is with “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” By default, I tend to type “their.” So I’m especially on the lookout for that. But not that long ago, a reader noted that I used “cite” when I meant “site.” That error is strange, because I’m not in the habit of typing that word. But she was right, even though I certainly know the difference between “cite,” “site,” and “sight.”

I think the reason we do this kind of thing is because once you type well, you don’t really type letters. I don’t so much have the keyboard memorized anymore. When I’m presented with an onscreen keyboard, I have to hunt around for the letters, even though I know that left third finger up is “w.” Now, when I think of a word, it just gets typed. I’m not conscious of it.

The problem exists because the word patterns on the keyboard seem to interact fairly directly with my homophone information rather than my meaning information. This isn’t totally the case, because under most circumstances, I do get the right homophone. But there are enough incorrectly typed words, that I’m sure that there is a very strong connection between the sound of a word and the keys that I type.

I found an interesting discussion of this over at MetaFilter. No one seems to know, but the more compelling ideas basically come down to what I proposed above. One person, however, mentioned a friend who wrote “Boston” when he meant to write “Austin.” I can’t remember any examples, but this happens to me too. It goes along with more obvious errors like typing “other” instead of “another.”

I write this as a kind of self-justification. When I see others like Matt Yglesias do it, I totally understand. I don’t think less of them. But it is hard not to feel that other people think I’m a total idiot when they read me writing “their” when I mean “there.”