Disrepecting Henry Bergh

Henry BerghOn this day in 1632, the father of classical liberalism, John Locke was born. He had a lot of good ideas, but many of his very bad (and wrong) economic ideas are still with us today. But I suppose that he can be forgiven. After all, conservatives would make up the ideas if they had to. And there was nothing in Locke’s own time to indicate just how wrong he was. That’s the thing about history. Locke really was liberal at the time he was working. But that was 350 years ago when we knew a lot less. Now conservatives hang onto 350 year old ideas that have been shown to be wrong. Yet they think that they are the ones who think outside the box.

The staggeringly great neoclassical painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was born in 1780. He was very much a traditionalist and he fought hard against the Romantic movement. His great adversary in this fight was the equally great Eugene Delacroix. The funny thing is that Ingress still shows lots of Romantic influences. These philosophical fights always seem so minor from a distance. Here he is basically doing Mannerism:

Grande Odalisque

Poet Edward Carpenter was born in 1844. Inventor of the electric starter and (unfortunately) leaded gas, Charles Kettering was born in 1876. The film writer and director Preston Sturges was born in 1898. Here is a bit from my favorite of his films The Great McGinty:

The great heart surgeon Vivien Thomas was born in 1910. Actor Ingrid Bergman was born in 1915. Here she is in Casablanca:

Queen Bitch Richard Blackwell was born in 1922. The great singer Dinah Washington was born in 1924. Here she is doing Bessie Smith’s “Send Me to the Electric Chair”:

And Michael Jackson was born in 1958. He is terribly overrated. Just the same he was an incredible talent. I still like this stuff best:

Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky (who did one of my favorites Theatre of Blood) is 101 today. Director Richard Attenborough is 90. Not at all maverick John McCain is 77. Actor Elliott Gould is 75. Strong dollar idiot Robert Rubin is also 75. Really bad director Joel Schumacher is 74. Here’s an example of his work:

And Jack Lew is 58. I only mention it so I can show you this:

Jack Lew's Signature

The day, however, belongs to the great founder of the ASPCA, Henry Bergh who was born on this day in 1811. Three years ago, I compared him very favorably to Don Quixote, “Bergh spent the next twenty-two years of his life daily going about New York personally stopping animal cruelty—even arresting people and taking them to jail. If he saw a horse-pulled train that was over-crowed, he would stop it and force the riders to get off. Henry Bergh was a Victorian Don Quixote, in the sense of one man out to right wrongs, no matter what the odds.”

Unfortunately, Bergh is nothing but an icon to the ASPCA today. What the group now does is kill animals by the millions. And this is what it has become:

All of this should not stop you from giving to pet shelters. But please help a no kill shelter. Otherwise, you are just buying lawyers and lethal injections. I can assure you that that is what Henry Bergh would have wanted.

Happy birthday Henry Bergh!

What Starbucks and Whole Foods Have in Common

StarbucksIf I have to take a $10 per hour job, I do hope at least the title is something like “grunt,” “shitheal,” or the more accurate “serf.” Please don’t let it be something like “barista,” which sounds vaguely European and thus respectable. The issue comes up because Will just sent me an article in the Huffington Post, Former Starbucks Barista, Fired After Eating From Trash. It tells the story of Coulson Loptmann, a 21 year old “barista” who was fired after fishing a breakfast sandwich out of the trash to eat. This is what Starbucks calls stealing. Apparently, it is what Starbucks employees call a “benefit.”

Normally, companies have rules about taking things out of the trash because they are afraid that employees will put them in the trash for the reason of taking them out of the trash. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. In fact, although Starbucks said first that Loptmann was fired because this was “stealing” they now claim it was wrong because it violated health codes. Also: it was just the last straw and the young “barista” was a terrible employee, a fact released only after Starbucks started getting bad press over the firing.

The whole thing is corporate think from top to bottom. At most places that sell food, free food is one of the benefits of working. But at a corporate business, this is a no no, because they’ve worked out just how many dollars they lose from such behavior over the eternity that corporations exist. It’s big money and employees are only resources, no more and (Thankfully!) no less than the jar of mayonnaise.

The Post article also mentions a similar story where Whole Foods fired an employee for taking a tuna sandwich out of the trash. How proud the people at these companies must be! I mean, in the high tech world that I’m familiar with, people are paid enough that they would never go looking for food in the trash. But at these two companies, this seems to be common. And what exactly ties Starbucks and Whole Foods together? I’ll tell you: (1) they are really expensive and (2) they pay their employees really badly. I guess there is a third thing that binds them: their clientele are mostly the upper middle class who would not like the idea of the employees being paid so poorly, but not enough to drive a block out of their way to go to a local place.

I am willing to grant everything to these companies. Loptmann probably was a terrible employee. It really is wrong for employees to take food out of the garbage. But what I’m not willing to grant them is that they pay their employees a reasonable salary. I’m far more accepting of Walmart: they pay poorly, but at least they provide good prices. I get better prices at my local health food store than I do at Whole Foods. So all I can figure is that the employees of Starbucks and Whole Food are not sharing in the profits. It must be a good time to own Starbucks and Whole Foods. But it is not a good time for any liberal minded person to frequent these businesses.

De Facto Cannabis Legalization?

Eric HolderThere is amazing news out of Washington today. The Huffington Post reported that the Justice Department is going to stop prosecuting cannabis laws in Colorado and Washington, at least for now. There are, of course, exceptions big enough to drive a SWAT team through. But this is amazing because it is unquestionably a move in the right direction.

It wasn’t until 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act that we had any federal drug laws. Truly, if drug use is an issue, it is a local issue. But at least that was a tax act—a proper form of federal government law, even if it was just a pretense. Since then, even pretense has gone and we’ve been left with more and more laws and harsher and harsher penalties for the sole purpose of allowing politicians to appear “tough on crime” to their constituencies.

What we really need is to repeal the federal drug laws. It isn’t like the states don’t have all of the same laws anyway. It’s not like repealing these laws would create a free for all. And the feds could concentration of the transportation of drugs into the country and across state lines. Again: these are perfectly justified uses of federal power. And here’s the thing: conservatives should love this. After all, the states are supposedly the laboratories of democracy. Will legalizing cannabis destroy society? Well, Colorado and Washington will let us know!

Of course, conservatives especially will be against this. They are always against states rights if they increase the freedom of individuals. That’s why the banner “states’ rights” has always been a joke. It’s just a dog whistle for “oppress minorities.” But to actually allow states to try less punitive solutions to social ills? Forget about it! And notice: Massachusetts was used as a laboratory of democracy with healthcare reform. And it worked! And what was the conservative response: not in my nation!

The problem is not just conservatives, of course. At this point, federal drug laws have been around for such a long time no one remembers when they weren’t. Everyone thinks that they have always been there and if they haven’t, they were put in place for very good reasons. If by “very good reasons” you mean hatred of Chinese, blacks, and Latinos, then yes, they were put in place for very good reasons. Otherwise, no. Drug related problems are far worse since the laws.

So this is good news. But there are so many ways that it can go wrong, it will not shock me if it does. After all, it will only take some teen aged suicide in Colorado who is found to have smoked cannabis. I can see the headlines now, “Teen Dies Because of Colorado Pot Law.” Regardless of this kind of thing, once a Republican is in the White House, I’m sure that the Justice Department will want to reverse course on this. But there is also a good possibility that nothing will go wrong by the time we get a new John Ashcroft, and cannabis tolerance will be the new normal.

When have I ever been this positive about anything?

Afterword

A couple of weeks ago, my nephew made fun of my use of the term “cannabis.” He should have known better than say anything because then he was treated to a half hour dissertation on racist drug laws and the etymology of the word “marijuana.”

And just to head off any complaints: the new cannabis laws relate only to adults. But that will not stop people from arguing that the greater availability of the drug is leading to children getting it. And finally: I personally hate cannabis. It clearly has a more pleasant effect on other people than it does on me.

Conservatives Behind Every Curve

Mark KleimanYesterday, Mark Kleiman wrote a great article over at Ten Miles Square, Martin Luther King vs. Today’s Conservatives. It is written as a letter to conservatives. And what he is addressing is the conservative resentment that the celebration of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom isn’t presented as a national triumph but rather a liberal triumph. “After all,” the conservatives say, “We’re against racism too! We love Martin Luther King Jr too!”

Well, maybe. As Kleinman wrote, “But while [King] was alive, and for some time after his death, your faction hated him, and everything he stood for, and tried to defame him. No prominent conservative or libertarian politician, writer, or thinker supported the civil rights movement he led.” But is it even true that conservatives really love King and the Voting Rights Act today? I don’t really think so.

Over at Gin and Tocos yesterday, Ed wrote Fatigue Factor about how exhausting it was as a conservative to constantly say things that differed from what you actually believed. He specifically mentions the Lewinsky affair. Was it really true that Republicans were outraged about it? No. It was just that they didn’t like Bill Clinton, but that wasn’t likely to be accepted as a reason for impeachment.

I think the same thing is going on with civil rights. Most conservatives I talk to will admit that it was wrong to have laws preventing African Americans from voting. But their position toward all other civil rights causes is negative. Whatever the current law is, it is right—even God given. And all those black and brown skinned people should just shut up. What’s more, among older conservatives there is a strong feeling that while the cause may have been just, there was something wrong with King. He was a rabble-rouser and a communist and just generally not a true American. Of course, only the real bigots will say this in polite company.

Jonathan Chait had a great catch yesterday, Conservatives Think Racism Is Dead. They’re Wrong. He compared the National Review then and now. On 15 September 1963, white supremacists bombed a black church. Four children were killed in the bombing. National Review said, “And let it be said that the convulsions that go on, and are bound to continue, have resulted from revolutionary assaults on the status quo, and a contempt for the law…”

But that was then. They’ve apologized for it! And that’s true, but they are still blaming the African American community for its problems. Chait explained:

National Review’s editorial today pithily summarizes the contemporary line of the conservative movement on civil rights. The civil-rights movement was wonderful. It even concedes, as right-wingers usually fail to do, that the old generation of conservatives wrongly opposed that movement. (“Too many conservatives and libertarians, including the editors of this magazine, missed all of this at the time.”) But it proceeds to argue the evils the civil-rights movement fought against have been “vanquished,” and those that remain are “lousy schools, a thriving drug trade and a misguided governmental response, the collapse of marriage.”

Again with the bad schools! First, as I’ve noted, the huge improvements in education in the African American community have not improved their economic standing. Second, conservatives do everything they can to make the schools of the poor even worse. They are totally behind the idea of local taxes supporting local schools, which means that poor students get fewer educational resources than rich kids. But it is all the fault of the black community!

Beyond that, this is just the same argument that conservatives always make: if blacks are suffering it is their own damned fault. Yes, the rhetoric is less vile. But that’s learned behavior: they know they would be ostracized if they were still justifying church bombings. As Ed indicated, the issue here is that the conservatives never say what they mean. And what they mean now is the same thing they meant then: they just don’t care. They are fine with the status quo and they want minority communities to just shut up.

Mark Kleiman finished up his article by noting that conservatives can’t co-opt King’s legacy:

Martin Luther King died while on a campaign to support a public-sector labor union. You’re entitled to say that he was a bad man and a Communist, as your faction did while he was alive, and that his assassination was the natural result of his use of civil disobedience, which is what Ronald Reagan said at the time. You’re entitled to say that he was a great man but that his thoughts are no longer applicable to the current political situation. But what you’re not entitled to do is to pretend that, if he were alive today, MLK would not be fighting against you and everything you stand for. He would.

I think that conservatives should just avoid the subject all together. The philosophical foundation of conservatism is the end of history. This is the idea that we have arrived at the perfect society (give or take). And so of course civil rights was a just cause in the 1960s. But when the 1960s was in the present tense, it was not a just cause for these very same conservatives. What this means is that in 20 years, conservatives will look back at now and say, of course marriage equality was a just cause. In 50 years (if we are very lucky) they will look back and say of course income inequality was a just cause. But they will always and forever be behind the curve on these issues. They will always and forever be apologizing for previous opinions. And they will never figure it out.

Afterword

I think I may have been too kind to the conservative movement here. I don’t think that the voter ID laws are primarily about getting electoral advantage—at least not among the conservative base. These are deeply racist laws that demonstrate a world view where whites are the “real” America. And they are, after all, just poll taxes by another name. So maybe it is better to say that conservatives are fine with the status quo with a bit of racial animus thrown in.

Syria Intelligence “Undeniable” but Not “Slam Dunk”?

SyriaThis morning, the Associated Press reported, Intelligence on Weapons No Slam Dunk. And it’s first sentence is a doozy, “The intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack is no ‘slam dunk,’ with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria’s chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence officials say.” Now I don’t want to get all metaphysical here, but that sure doesn’t go along with Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that the intelligence was “undeniable.”

I was directed to the article by “bloody good war” proponent Jonathan Chait who is now a bit concerned about the whole thing, Obama Better Have the Goods on Syria. His caution is understandable. Even if Syria used chemical weapons on its people, the United States doesn’t have a great justification for bombing them:

The clearest justifications for military action don’t apply. This is not a case of self-defense, or defense of an ally, or the prevention of genocide. There is an international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons against civilians, but Syria didn’t sign it, perhaps correctly calculating that it would one day need to use such weapons. We would be enforcing an informal norm against the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Chait goes on to explain that he still thinks that enforcing this norm is a good idea. But you have to wonder: does the United States have the moral authority to do this? After all, we’ve done nothing while chemical weapons were being used in the past. In fact, we’ve even provided at least tacit approval. That doesn’t stop us from starting a new policy, of course. But I seriously doubt that we would do anything if it was a despot we liked better or even just one that isn’t on The List.

Supposedly, the Obama administration is going to present its evidence against Syria today. And I understand that people like Chait really do care that we get this right. But does it really matter? Remember Colin Powell’s slam dunk at the United Nations? It doesn’t much matter what the administration says. If they say it forcefully enough, the US press will shout headlines like “Undeniable!” And intelligence officers will privately shake their heads and mutter, “Here we go again.”