Dude That’s Rude

Dude That's RudeI’ve been thinking about profanity all day. It all stems from a single comment on my article, Fourth Time: Reality TV Is Not Real. The commenter wrote, “Both your column and that guy’s video make some good points; unfortunately they are obscured by expletive-heavy language that draws attention (mine, at least) away from the message.” I addressed his specific concerns in the comments and you can read them there. I want to discuss something more general.

Such comments are always written as an appeal to civility, but they are by their very nature rude. They say, “I don’t like the way you write; let me tell you how I think you should write.” Imagine such behavior at a dinner party and ask yourself, “What would Miss Manners say about that?”

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind. I love comments regardless of whether someone disagrees with me or not. I’m just saying that such people do not have the moral high ground that they think they do. They come to my blog, welcome, but uninvited. Then, rather than engage with my ideas, they complain that I don’t write in a style that they prefer. This is the very definition of a rude guest.

The irony, of course, is that such people (and the recent commenter was hardly the first) think it is the other way around. They have come to my site, welcome, but uninvited. They have paid absolutely nothing for their visit. And this horrible host had the temerity to use words they didn’t like. But instead of just passing it off as yet another example of the moral decay of our society, they decide the polite thing to do is to lecture the host.

The reason for this irony is that people who try to hold on to “the old ways” usually think it is given that they hold the moral high ground. This is why grammar pedants are so annoying. But whether it is what words one may use or which infinitives one may split, these are simply matters of opinion with the consensus always changing. So such people are on very thin ice with their pronouncements, regardless.

But imagine a different situation: one where an absolute truth is known. Take, for example, astrology. Because I used to teach introductory astronomy, I made it a point to learn astrology really well, because students were always asking me about it. Enormous amounts of research have been done on every conceivable aspect of astrology and there is absolutely nothing to it. Sometimes I’m at a dinner party and someone is chattering on about how they are “totally like that” because they are a Libra or whatever. But I don’t lecture them about the fact that astrology is bunk. And do you know why?

Because I’m not an asshole.

Obama’s Social Security Privatization Scheme and Roadshow

Obama in East RoomOne of my most hated memes is “Obama’s Katrina.” Any time anything happens that is bad or at least seems bad for Obama, the Katrina analogies come out. But here’s the thing: I was glued to the radio during Hurricane Katrina. While it’s certainly true that Bush got some bad press, it wasn’t that big a deal. In the pantheon of Bush’s screw up, it hardly makes the top ten. Bush came into office with a relatively low approval rating in the mid-50s. His approval rating only spiked twice, ironically, for two of his biggest blunders: the 9/11 attack and the invasion of Iraq. Otherwise, his administration is the story of a steadily declining popularity, primarily because, you know, he was a terrible president.

But after his re-election, it did look as though Bush would muddle on for the rest of his term in the low 50s and high 40s regarding approval. But then something happened that really turned the people against him. And it was not his response to Hurricane Katrina! The American people where quite used to Bush being at best ineffectual. Anyway, there was lots of blame to go around for Katrina. No, my friends, what turned the nation against him was his push to privatize the most popular government program in American history: Social Security.

George W. BushJonathan Chait discusses this briefly in a very good article about a more recent, but no less absurd, Obama meme, Barack Obama Is Not George W Bush. He point out that Bush’s approval rating started going down fast in 2005—before Katrina. I was glued to my radio at that time too, and I remember. It wasn’t just that Bush was trying to cram the Holy Grail of conservatism down the mouths of Americans. It wasn’t even that his PR campaign was so heavy handed and hyper-aggressive. It was that it was so hypocritical.

Bush campaigned primarily on keeping America safe from terrorists. (You know: the ones he hadn’t managed to keep us safe from?) And there was lots of Karl Rove work getting anti-gay-rights issues on the ballots of various states to get the Christians to come out. Bush certainly did not campaign on privatizing Social Security. And regardless, at least half the people who did vote for him did not vote for him thinking he would do so. People felt tricked. And that was especially fatal to Bush who was supposedly authentic. But here was clear proof: he wasn’t an earnest Christian who might thus have some unfortunate opinions; he was just a hack fronting for the rich and powerful.

Remember what conservatives said about Obama in 2012? Sure, he’s reasonable now. But just wait until he’s re-elected and then you’ll see the Kenyan socialist we’ve been telling you about! It’s called projection. Conservatives do it a lot: assuming liberals must be behaving some way because that’s how conservatives behave. And that’s exactly what Bush did. Suddenly “compassionate conservatism” was gone and in was “crony conservatism.” This was really helped by the widespread (and accurate) reporting that privatizing Social Security—while having unknown consequences for retirees—was going to be a huge windfall to Wall Street brokers.

Now, I understand. “Obama’s Social Security Privatization Scheme and Roadshow” doesn’t have the zing of “Obama’s Katrina.” But “Obama’s Iraq” might work. It at least has a little relevance. But I don’t even understand why anyone would seriously compare Obama to Bush. There are presidential comparisons that could be made: FDR, Johnson, Nixon, even Reagan. But Bush? You’ve got to be a very disappointed conservative to be thinking that Obama’s legacy will be anything nearly as bad as Bush’s. As I’ve written before, I don’t think history will be that kind to Obama. They’ll throw him in the middle. But Bush is like Hoover. Even after 5 years out of office, his approval numbers are under water. And this is before the historians really go after him.

The main thing is to stop using Hurricane Katrina as an analogy. It was not a major event[1] in the eight dark years that Bush was president. It is not the primary reason we think so little of the man. And the only way that Obama becomes Bush is if extraterrestrial pods start showing up around the White House. (Actually, even that would be an improvement on Bush.)

[1] Let me be clear: Hurricane Katrina was a major and unnecessary tragedy. But when we are talking about Bush the junior, his administration’s incompetent reaction to it was about par for the course. But killing well over 100,000 people and starting a civil war in Iraq for no real reason is worse. In the case of Katrina, Bush mostly did nothing. Doing nothing was what he excelled at. And we saw the tragic consequences over and over. But when he actually did something was when things went really wrong.

The Glory of Mike Watt

Mike WattChristmas preparations are already getting in the way of work. But it’s all food related, so at least it is stuff I enjoy. But that means I haven’t posted anything today for my many bored fans. And this birthday post ain’t gonna be great either. It’s just not a great day for birthdays, although there are some pretty interesting (And yes, Andrea: great!) people. But I don’t have a whole lot to say.

The great physicist David Bohm was born on this day in 1917. He made important contributions to quantum theory. He is best remembered today for his ontological beliefs. He believed that because of quantum effects, thinking was not localized in the brain. That may sound bizarre to you, but if you accept Richard Feynman’s work, you really can’t deny it. As we burrow down into the reality at its extremes (small, fast, high energy), we see more and more that reality is not what we think of as reality. And why would it be? It all leads me back to Schopenhauer and the idea that consciousness is just a trick. But I don’t see it as a trick that the Will plays on us, but rather a trick that we play on ourselves. But I’m not sure Schopenhauer would actually disagree with that. One could take a pantheistic approach to the Will and say it is just the sum total of all of us. Regardless, Bohm understood this kind of stuff. I would have loved to have known him. (Note, however: I get pretty tired of spiritual types talking to me about quantum mechanics. They pretty much never understand it. And they make the mistake of thinking that quantum mechanics defines some reality. It doesn’t. It’s just a bunch of tools. Philosophers have been trying to figure out what quantum mechanics “means” to the nature of the universe for a hundred years. As I note all the time: there are no answers to those questions—just better questions. God was once a clock maker based on Newton. Now “the eternal spirit” exists because of quantum mechanics. It’s all hogwash. The best you ever get is a great big existential, “Wow!”)

The great film director of my youth, George Roy Hill was born in 1921. He directed a number of films I enjoy to this day: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and (Keep your comments to yourself!) A Little Romance. All of his films are quite watchable. He comes from a tradition where directors just did their jobs—think of people like Edward Dmytryk. There was no buzz that he was some kind of creative genius. He was just great at his job, and a big part of that was working with a lot of other people who were great that their jobs.

Other birthdays: the great Dutch Golden Age painter Pieter de Hooch (1629); cricketer with unfortunate name Bill O’Reilly (1905); lyricists Paul Francis Webster (1907); actor John Hillerman (81); magician Uri Geller (67); and one of my favorite character actors Michael Badalucco (59).

The day, however, belongs to musician Mike Watt who is 56 today. He was more or less the leader of one of my very favorite bands, Minutemen. Since then, he’s gone one to do a lot of fine work, most notably with Minutemen drummer George Hurley in Firehose. But the death of D Boon, really did end a great thing. Here they are at their peak, doing “The Glory of Man” from Double Nickels on the Dime, probably my favorite of their albums:

Happy birthday Mike Watt!