Genghis Khan the New GOP Ideal Man?

MongolOver on Majority Report today, they played a bit from a recent Fox & Friends episode that featured Nick Adams. He wrote a book called The American Boomerang. The book is an Australian conservative’s idea of a “pep talk” for America. Go team! Whatever. But he was brought on the show to talk about the feminization of men in general and American men in particular. This is not, apparently, something that Adams can even pretend to be an expert on. But Fox News is pushing this narrative so they are reaching out to anyone who will agree with them.

In the small part that Sam Sedar played, the whole gang was going to town on the idea that we must teach our boys that it is okay to be themselves. And by that, they mean a totally stereotypical view of what a man is. My take on it is just the opposite. Men are acting more like they want. Most men do not not want to act like the boys in Lord of the Flies, nor do most of them dream of the days when it was fine to pinch your secretary’s butt.

The place that these ridiculous ideas of manhood come from are adolescent fantasies about manhood. This is how people assumed their fathers (and actually, more accurately, grandfathers) behaved. And I’m sure there were those kinds of men. But just as now, there were all kinds of men. Today what we call a metrosexual is what we used to call a dandy. There wouldn’t have been a word for it if it were that unusual.

There are lots of ways to be a man. But what the people on Fox & Friends are calling for is not for men to be allowed to be men. They are calling for certain men to be allowed to be assholes with impunity. So you see: no one is stopping, for example, Chris Christie, from being an asshole. We all have to deal with people like him. But these conservatives want us to pretend that the way that Christie acts is right. And it clearly has been for most of the voters of New Jersey. But it’s not right as far as I’m concerned. He’s a bully. Not because he’s a “man’s man,” but because he uses his power to pick on people who aren’t as powerful as he is. I knew such people were bullies when I was 5-years-old; I’m not going to pretend they aren’t now.

Above all, shouldn’t conservatives define the ideal of manhood as something more, you know, conservative. Shouldn’t it be someone more like Charles Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie? Isn’t a real man one who protects the weak? When did it become someone like Christie? By this logic, Genghis Khan should be our ideal. He killed a lot of men and fucked a lot of women. Is that what the ultimate conservative man is now? Or is it just that they want to thread the needle: the ultimate man is whichever conservative politician they are currently pushing. Even when it’s a woman.

Wishing for Better Than Benny Hill

Benny HillI had gotten rather spoiled the last few days with some pretty good birthdays to choose from. In fact, the great abundance of them made me give short shrift to people I normally would have spent more time on. But that’s why I’m the best at exactly what I do.

In 1820, Joseph Wolf was born. He was a great illustrator who specialized in natural history. In fact, by the middle of his life, he was the preferred illustrator of such luminaries Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates. His work is great and it makes me long for the days before photography, because of it idealized the animals. In field guides, I think that can be helpful. Regardless, check out his work.

Henri Duparc was born in 1848. He was a French composer of the late Romantic period. But we really ought to have a better name for that period, because it doesn’t sound romantic to me at all. It sounds transitional. I think you can see this in the following performance of L’Invitation au voyage, which is one of his earliest works:

Karl Wallenda was born in 1905. He was the founder of The Flying Wallendas. What I find fascinating about him is his death. At the age of 73, he was doing a wire walk across two ten story towers in Puerto Rico. But because of a screw-up in the set-up of the wire he fell to his death. I am fascinated what people think as they fall to their deaths. And I cannot read about hire wire acts without squirming, so I will move on.

Other birthdays: Revolutionary War hero and furniture maker brand name Ethan Allen (1738); Confederate general, who was only 39 when he died, Stonewall Jackson (1824); number theorist Ivan Mikheevich Pervushin (1827); co-founder and first executive director of the ACLU, Roger Nash Baldwin (1884); fashion designer Christian Dior (1905); actor Telly Savalas (1922); great actor Paul Scofield (1922); actor Steve Reeves (1926); singer-songwriter Richie Havens (1941); singer-songwriter Mac Davis (72); singer-songwriter Billy Ocean (64); sculptor Jeff Koons (59); actor Robby Benson (58); actor Geena Davis (58); and rapper Jam Master Jay (1965).

The day, however, belongs to the comedian Benny Hill who was born on this day in 1924. I know: he is probably not your favorite comedian. But there is no doubt that he was a genius. If you get past all the young models in bikinis, what you find is very well structured—and at times hilarious—comedy. The best example of this is, “Ye Old Wishing Well.” This is an example of perfect comedy writing:

Happy birthday Benny Hill!

My Mad Search for River’s Safe Word in Serenity

SerenityLast night I watched Serenity again. It is the movie Josh Whedon made after Fox canceled Firefly and then it became a huge hit. If you’ve seen the film, you know that River goes crazy, kicking some major The Matrix-style butt, and her brother, Simon, runs in at the last minute and yells, “Blah blah blah blah.” And she falls asleep. We learn all kinds of things in this movie that we didn’t know from watching the series, but the second biggest is that River has been turned into a “killing machine”—not that we didn’t have some indication in “War Stories.” (The biggest thing we learned is that the Operative character would make a cool science fiction version of Kung Fu.)

This time, I knew that Simon was going to run in and yell what he yells, so I listened carefully and it sounded something like “et decorum noch est.” You know: something Latin. And given that I didn’t expect Whedon to know much more Latin than I do, I figured it would be easy to find the phrase given that I felt pretty confident about the first two words, which are from the famous bit of Horace, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (“It is sweet and honorable to die for the fatherland”). But no. There is nothing especially “noch”-y in Latin.

So I went to the source. I tracked down the shooting script (pdf) for Serenity. And I found the line and when I did I knew! I knew that I had no idea what language it was. “Eta Kooram Nah Smech!” Well, that’s not completely true. I knew that it wasn’t Latin, or at least, if it was, it was spelled phonetically for poorly educated screen actors. Otherwise, I was at a loss.

Luckily, I had Google Translate. And I tried its almost entirely useless “detect language” feature and it “detected” Maori, the language of the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. Not only that, it translated “eta kooram nah smech” into the English non-phrase, “eta Quorum NAH smech.” Why it capitalized Quorum, I have no idea. Ditto: “NAH.” So I went on from there trying various languages. I think I started with German, because face it, “smech” does sound kind of German. It was all a disaster. But finally, I came to Russian. (It would be great to have some dramatic music here!)

It didn’t translate the phrase at all. It just spit back the same phrase in English as it is prone to do. But, like a good Google app, it reported, “Did you mean: eta kooram nah smeh.” I didn’t know, but like so many other things in my life: I hoped. So I clicked. And suddenly, “eta kooram nah smech” was gone and “эта курам на смех” was there. Even more exciting, I got a translation, “This hens laugh at”!

That had to be it, because the phrase, “The chicken’s come home to roost,” is used prominently in the film. But would I come to you with such shoddy “Looks like I got it!” reporting? This isn’t The Wall Street Journal after all! This is a liberal blog where we at least try to be accurate and correct. So I went another step.

So I sent some email to my friend and co-technological conspirator Mikhail who just happens to have been born in Russia. Typically, it was long and probably (for him) boring. You see, I didn’t just want to confirm. I also wanted to know if the phrase was idiomatic, maybe even the Russian equivalent of “The chickens have come home to roost.” So I went on a bit about idioms, but not because I didn’t think he knew what they were. Rather, I have long been meaning to apologize to a non-native English speaker for my constant use of idioms that I know are terribly confusing. “Why do you keep mentioning chickens? We were not talking about chickens!”

According to Mikhail, Google Translate is slightly wrong. Rather than “эта курам на смех,” it should have been “этo курам на смех.” When we make this change in Google Translate, it changes to “It’s chickens to laugh.” Mikhail translated it as, “For the hens to laugh at.” To me, this is probably what you get when you translate an idiomatic phrase like “The chickens have come home to roost” into Russian and back again. Regardless, Whedon was making some kind of comment about the theme of the film: unexpected consequences of good intentions.

But here is a question to ponder. Why did Whedon use a Russian phrase? In the movie and series, Mandarin Chinese is a common second language, for a reason that doesn’t matter. But for this reason, everyone curses in Chinese. Why? I don’t know, but it does sound better than pretend cursing like, “Gosh darn!” I understand that River’s “safe word” couldn’t be English or Chinese. I mean, what if it had been, “Hello River.” She’d be falling asleep all the time. But otherwise, why Russia? I suspect it is because Whedon (the same age as I am) is a Cold War baby. And that means there are only three countries that really matter: America, China, and Russia.

After all that work, I find that I don’t especially care. Although I think it is a fine action film, it isn’t as good as I had remembered. In particular, the dialog is very often hackneyed, the plot is full of holes, and the characterizations—especially of the Operative—are inconsistent. When I saw Marvel’s the Avengers, I thought, “Why would Josh Whedon make something like this?” I now see that that is all he has ever made.


Just now, as I finished the first draft of this article, I find that the Wikipedia Page on the film does discuss this very issue. And I must have checked at the beginning of this search. But the page is long and I probably loaded it and searched for Latin and called it a day. Also: the Russian phrase is spelled differently on the page than it is in the shooting script. Regardless, my telling was more exciting. But the page does say that the phrase is a Russian idiom for “That’s ridiculous!” And this my friends, is how I waste my life!

Chris Christie’s Tiny Red Box

Chris ChristieChris Christie started his second term today.[1] I saw a bit of it. (I try to avoid these things because they are boring.) But one line really stood out to me, “We have to be willing to play outside the red and blue boxes the media and pundits put us in.” That’s interesting. I didn’t know it was the pundits that were putting politicians in these boxes; I thought it was the choice of each politician. You know: the way I’m a Democrat because I agree more with that party than with the Republicans.

Let’s leave aside the fact that it is looking more and more like Christie has run New Jersey like an old political boss from Chicago where money trumps ideology. That’s generally true of modern Republicans, anyway. But when it comes to ideology, Christie’s “moderation” is phantasmagoric. You can see it in the writings of those political pundits who Christie claims try to put him in a box, but not in reality.

One of the main ways that Christie is “different” from the GOP generally is that he accepts climate change. But as I wrote before, “Christie’s affirmation of climate change has been so weak as to be useless.” What’s more, in a Republican presidential primary, I suspect he would walk that back with something like, “Well, I don’t know, I just think we should look into it.” And that is pretty much the current state of climate change denial: we need more study! When it comes to workers rights and economic issues generally, he is absolutely ideologically pure. All that yelling at teachers? That’s not just because he’s an asshole; it is also because he hates unions. And finally, on social issues he is also absolutely ideologically pure. He’s anti-choice. He’s anti-gay.

The question logically comes up, “Why do people claim that Christie is a moderate?” I think it is simple as this: his rhetoric isn’t as extreme as that we hear coming out of Texas. The biggest part of this is that he doesn’t use religious language about sin and damnation. He talks like people normally do in New York and Washington so he seems like a regular guy. Of course, what’s really going on is that Christie just has a different approach to “fire-breathing” conservatism. It is encapsulated in what Paul Krugman calls him, “Governor Yells-at-People.”

What the current Christie scandals show, regardless of whether he is directly involved or not, is that any actual ability to “work across the isle” is nothing but power politics: forcing the other side to do his bidding. He isn’t interested in “compromise,” that vaunted end-in-itself for “centrist” pundits. Regardless, Republican executives usually get more done with Democratic legislatures than the other way around. Why? Because Democrats are more compliant. If Christie had had to deal with the Democratic equivalent of Mitch McConnell in his legislature, he wouldn’t have gotten anything done—except, of course, through his standard extortion techniques.

So it really annoys me to hear Christie pontificate about the media putting politicians in boxes. Christie put himself in a very small red box. The media have been working overtime to make it appear as though he weren’t a completely ideologically consistent Republican. The media want “bipartisanship” and “compromise.” And they have anointed Christie as the bringer of that, regardless of the facts. For him to pretend otherwise is disingenuous and, frankly, hilarious.

[1] That’s yet another Watergate aspect of this. A lot of people don’t remember, but the Watergate scandal was going strong even during Nixon’s re-election campaign. The Congressional hearings only got going later, but the scandal was out there for all voters to notice, had they been paying attention.

This Is Your Brain on Conservatism

Bret StephensYesterday, Paul Krugman wrote, The Undeserving Rich. This is a favorite issue around here. Conservatives try to argue that the poor are not deserving and the rich are. In fact, Krugman wrote a blog post about this last week that I discussed, The Rich Versus the Upper Class. (This is quite typical; if you read Krugman’s blog, you don’t really need to read his columns, although I still do.)

Anyway, in the column, he called Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal to task for just outright lying about the recent economic progress of the poor in this country, Obama’s Envy Problem. Quoting from the Census Bureau, Stephens claimed that the incomes of the bottom fifth of earners have gone up 186% since 1979. This, of course, is wrong. That is not inflation adjusted. If you adjust for inflation (which Krugman points out, the Census Bureau did in the exact same table Stephens got the 186% number from), the bottom fifth of earners have seen their pay go down.

That’s embarrassing. Really embarrassing. In fact, when that error is fixed, Stephens’ article has nothing. It is the linchpin of the whole article. He criticized Obama for talking about inequality. Basically, he was saying, “Sure, the rich are getting richer, but so are the poor!” Except, of course, they’re not. But hey, we all make mistakes. Live and learn. Yet Stephens’ article went uncorrected.

So Krugman upped the ante. Later yesterday, he called out Stephens in a blog post, Department of Corrections, and Not. Apparently, Stephens had complained to the New York Times that since he had written his original article, Stephens had put out another article on how one really ought to use inflation adjusted numbers when looking at such issues. This is one of the most chickshit things I have ever seen in my life. All Stephens would have to do is add an update, “The 186% number is not inflation adjusted. The number is actually blah blah blah.”

It has now been almost two days since Krugman’s column first came out (they come out the night before about 7:00 pm west coast time). And still, there is no correction. Forget about Stephens. What does this say about The Wall Street Journal? Have they no shame? Well, historically, The Journal’s editorial page in fact has had no shame. But I don’t see how Stephens and company live with themselves. When I find out about an error I’ve made, I’m a wreck until I correct it. But conservative “journalist” either just take down embarrassing article or pretend they aren’t wrong, which is pretty much the same thing.

Even worse than this shameful and totally indefensible conduct on the part of conservatives is the effect that this has on other conservatives. People will go on writing articles about the fact that there is no economic inequality problem and they will quote from Stephens’ article. Now, they are conservatives, so maybe they’d just do the same thing Stephens did and pick a convenient number to make their points. But one thing is clear: the conservative movement will never become fact-based if their premiere publications can’t even be bothered to correct their most egregious errors.


Bret Stephens won a Pulitzer for commentary last year. That doesn’t speak well for American journalism generally. I don’t mean to say that this one mistake makes Stephens a bad writer. Just last week, I rather liked his criticism of Robert Gates’ new book. But what he’s doing now speaks to a general sense of not caring about facts. The Pulitzer citation reads, “Awarded to Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal for his incisive columns on American foreign policy and domestic politics, often enlivened by a contrarian twist.” Contrary to the facts?