Daily Archives: 22 Nov 2014

Fernwood 2 Night

Fernwood 2 NightI’ve noticed that YouTube is overflowing with quite good copies of the late 1970s television show, Fernwood 2 Night. When I was a kid, I thought it was a big deal. But I was wrong. It only played for 65 episodes during the summer of 1977. Then they did another 65 episodes in the fall of 1978 in a “national” format as America 2-Night. But I’m often impressed with just how good my taste was as a young boy. I don’t recall fully understanding the show, but I certainly understood that it was something hip and generally silly enough to enjoy.

The show had a strange birthing process. It all started with the comedic soap opera Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. I don’t know a lot about the show because it was far too dry for my young brain. Consider the following dialog from the first episode:

Loretta: She said, you know that new family over there, the Lombardies? And I said, well, no, I hadn’t met ’em yet. She says, well you should have met them while you had the chance. Because they’re gone now. Somebody just shot ’em all.

Mary: Oh my God. The whole family?

Loretta: All five of ’em plus two goats and eight chickens.

Mary: I can’t believe it. What kind of madman would shoot two goats and eight chickens? [Pause.] And the people. The people, of course.

Funny stuff and throughout the episode, everyone seems more focused on the goats and chickens than the family. But after a year, Louise Lasser left the show. So they changed the show to Forever Fernwood, which ran for a half year with all the same characters except for Mary Hartman. And then they changed it to, Fernwood 2 Night — a local talk show.

Fernwood 2 Night was hosted by Barth Gimble, who is the brother of Garth Gimble, a wife beater on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Both characters were played by Martin Mull. Fernwood 2 Night is still pretty dry fare. But it is spiced up with Mull’s sarcasm and Fred Willard clueless silliness. The show also has Happy Kyne, as the band leader — played as dour as can be by Frank De Vol. It’s all brilliant.

The first episode is, “Talk to a Jew.” In addition to the titular segment, it also has Bruce Mahler as Howard Palmer playing piano while in an iron lung, which in addition to being offensively funny is also kind of amazing. I think you can find most of the other episodes on YouTube at this time. That also goes for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and America 2-Night as well.

Democracy Loses Even When Scandals Debunked

Darrell IssaAfter two years of investigation with Darrell Issa hellbent on finding something — Anything! — to make into a scandal, the House Intelligence Committee released its report on Benghazi yesterday. And their results: nothing. Everything was just the same as the administration had always claimed. No political maneuvering. And certainly no “stand down” orders costing Embassy personnel their lives. Nothing at all.

Ken Dilanian at Associated Press provided all of the details, House Intel Panel Debunks Many Benghazi Theories. The House report found pretty much what the previous six investigations found. And it found what the eighth investigation by the House Select Committee will find. And that is because there is no there there.

But none of this means that the investigation was useless. The point of the investigation was the same as pretty much everything that Darrell Issa has investigated. The point is to generate a bunch of smoke so that everyone will think there is a fire. This has been the plan all along and it has been extremely effective. It keeps Issa in the news and it reduces confidence in the government. What could be better for a Republican politician?

Susan RiceThere is pretty much nothing that Issa can do that the mainstream media won’t pick up on. And their approach is about the same as his: write a bunch of stories questioning the government; then when it goes nowhere, just drop it. The harm has been done. Most Americans don’t know much about the “scandals” regarding Benghazi, the IRS, and the Fast and Furious program. But they have a vague idea that the government was up to no good. The Republican Party could have no greater propagandists than The New York Times and 60 Minutes.

All along, the linchpin of the Republican case was the most pathetic thing: Susan Rice’s “talking points” when she went on the Sunday news shows. The outrage about this from conservatives was palpable. And the more information that came out, the tinier their argument was. In the end, it really came down to the fact that Rice had said that the attack came out of a protest over an anti-Muslim film. This turned out to be wrong. But somehow, conservatives were outraged that the American people had been misled for a couple of days. This went along with conservative outrage that Obama said the attack was an “act of terror” rather than a “terrorist act.” This is a good indication of just how vacuous the conservative movement has become.

But now even Darrell Issa’s committee has to admit that Rice’s talking points were not part any nefarious plot:

But Rice’s comments were based on faulty intelligence from multiple agencies, according to the report. Analysts received 21 reports that a protest occurred in Benghazi, the report said — 14 from the Open Source Center, which reviews news reports; one from the CIA; two from the Defense Department; and four from the National Security Agency.

In the years since, some participants in the attack have said they were motivated by the video. The attackers were a mix of extremists and hangers on, the investigation found.

“To this day,” the report said, “significant intelligence gaps regarding the identities, affiliations and motivations of the attackers remain.”

But what will Issa himself say? Well, the release of the report on a Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving should give you some idea. But I’m sure that Issa will now claim that this was always about the intelligence failures. But that isn’t true. The investigation was always political. Issa’s idea was that he could use Rice to show that the administration had manipulated the talking points to assure Obama’s re-election. (Note: Republicans still think the election was ever in any doubt.)

This morning over at Washington Month, Martin Longman wrote, What Fair & Balanced Would Look Like. He suggests that after the media spent two years pushing what was always a farcical scandal, they should spend the next two years falling over themselves to explain that there was no scandal. I like the idea. But it would never work. Regardless of getting the people to understand that there was no Benghazi scandal, the damage has been done. People have been given more (but fake) evidence that says that governments are incompetent and corrupt. No amount of counter-evidence on a single issue will reverse that.

Darrell Issa-1; Democracy-0.

Low Greek and the New Testament

What Jesus MeantThe marketplace Greek of the New Testament — koine (“common denominator”) Greek — is not elegant. When Alexander the Great conquered his huge patchwork quilt of different peoples speaking different languages, the only way the defeated could communicate with Macedonian officers, and with other parts of the empire, was in fumbling attempts at the rulers’ Greek. When the Romans succeeded the Greek imperial forces, they had to use the language in place, not their own Latin. As Cicero said of the Roman empire, “Greek is read in practically every nation, while Latin is hedged within its own narrow confines.”

In koine, as in any pidgin language, niceties tend to be lost. Words are strug together, often without connectives to get across a basic meaning. Most of the gospels are written in this basic language, used equally by Romans like Pilate and by Aramaic speakers like Jesus and his followers. Sentences sometimes fumble clumsily at meaning. “What to me and to you, woman?” says Jesus to this mother (John 2.4). “Nothing to you and to that just man,” says Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27.19). “The law and prophets up to John” (Luke 16.16). “I must be at my father’s” (Luke 2.49) — his father’s what? Commentators quarrel. Definite articles, used according to subtle rules in classical Greek, come and go confusingly in koine: the Lord’s Prayer open with an address to “Our Father in the heavens,” but a little later in the prayer we get “in heaven and on earth.” Tenses shift randomly.

When the meaning is obscure in such a simple language, it is less often because of any sublime meaning conveyed than from mere linguistic clumsiness. Grammar can be muddled, if not neglected altogether. The Book of Revelations is especially ungrammatical — Nietzsche, a trained classicist, said that if God wrote the New Testament, he knew surprisingly little Greek. Except in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the complex sentence structure of classical Greek is rarely evident. We get a simple stringing-on of independent clauses (parataxis) linked repetitively with the boring kai (“and”). Dialogue has no elegant variation. It is a matter of “And X say… And Y says… And X says…”

Most of the words used are common. The infant Jesus is laid in a hay trough (phatne). But translators know that people expect a “biblical English” in the gospels. They make the hay trough more dignified by using a foreign word (French manger, for food) instead of “hay trough.” When Jesus answers Pilate, “So you say,” they try to find a more elegant form of answer — though “So you say” exactly replicates the Greek. Translators try to give more churchiness to the evangelists, to teach them their linguistic manners. Jesus should not say to his mother, “What to me and to you, woman?” So they do not let him. Almost every translation into English tries to hide the “faults” of the New Testament. They straighten out the grammar, make the tenses more uniform, break up the repetitions.

—Garry Wills
What Jesus Meant

Rand Paul’s Process Argument All About Policy

Rand PaulDigby wrote a very interesting article yesterday, Power and Process. It follows off a statement of concern from Rand Paul about President Obama’s executive action on immigration. According to Paul, “[T]here are instances in our history where we allow power to gravitate toward one person and that one person then makes decisions that really are egregious.” And his example, “The president issued an executive order. He said to Japanese people ‘we’re going to put you in a camp.'” Rand Paul is a classic subgenius: he is smart enough to be dangerous, in part because he greatly overestimates his intelligence.

Roosevelt wasn’t acting in a vacuum. Congress wanted the internment and passed a law to enforce it. The people wanted the internment. If it had gone for a vote, it would have passed. And when the Supreme Court ruled on the matter, they upheld it. So how exactly would collective action have helped? How was “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” and its mentally retarded brother the House of Representatives going to make this situation better? Digby rightly noted that Paul’s concern here is all about process. So his statement is really vile. The problem with the internment of ethnically Japanese citizens was wrong not because it represented the majority oppressing a minority, but because it wasn’t done the right way.

I realize he didn’t put it that way. He is claiming that when everyone is involved, such things don’t happen. History shows otherwise. Jackson was one of the most popular presidents in history and he oversaw the Trail of Tears and numerous other outrages. The truth of the matter is that like all conservatives, Paul just hates Roosevelt so he wants to put the whole thing on him. Because only Democrats are tyrants. The bottom line is that Paul has the causation wrong. All that was necessary to intern the Japanese-Americans was an executive action because it was hugely popular.

And in the case of Obama today, the executive action was finely crafted. As Greg Sargent noted yesterday, “[I]t shows that the proposal’s legal rationale is tightly circumscribed to reflect that Congressional intent [to relieve humanitarian hardship endured by US citizens].” So the idea that the president is just doing whatever he wants is ridiculous. But that won’t stop the Republicans from screaming about it.

Digby noted that a big part of Rand Paul’s claim here comes from the fact that he simply wants the government to get nothing done. In this way, he is no different from other conservatives. Boehner’s pleading to allow the legislative process to do its job is just another way of saying, “Let us block anything getting done!” And that is another aspect of Mitch McConnell’s plan to make Obama a one term president: stop everything possible until the Republicans are back in power.

Arguments about process are always arguments about policy. We know that Paul would be much more understanding of executive action if a Republican were in the White House. And he would be entirely in favor of it if he were that Republican. So we should forget about these arguments about the right and wrong way to do things — at least so long as we actually do have democratic institutions that set limits. These process arguments are just a cover for people to argue against policy they don’t like but can’t be seen as attacking. Digby put it well:

I no longer fetishize the legislative process because it’s mostly just kabuki anyway. At this point, I’ll take decent outcomes wherever I can get them and be thankful for it since they happen so rarely.

Roosevelt’s executive action was wrong because the policy was wrong. Obama’s executive action is right because the policy is right.


To be clear: the argument here is not that process never matters. It is just that in almost all cases, process arguments are disingenuous. Ultimately, the question is policy.

George Eliot

George EliotOn this day in 1819, the great writer Mary Ann Evans was born. You probably known her better as George Eliot. It is often hard to fully appreciate older authors. For example, people often miss much of the social commentary in Jane Austen, who is read as little more than a particularly witty Harlequin romance. And don’t even get me started on Shakespeare, who almost no one gets much out of. But Eliot doesn’t so much have this problem because of her deep characterizations.

Another aspect of this is how she approaches people on the margins of society. That’s especially true in her first three books. The crux of Adam Bede is Hetty’s desperate and foolish behavior leading to the death of her baby and the ramifications of that. The Mill on the Floss if mostly about Maggie’s isolation and the results of it. I’ve never understood why Tom and Maggie have to die at the end of the book. I guess it was the style of the time, but the book is hardly a tragedy. And Maggie’s sins are minor — even by the standards of time.

Both of these books seem to me just a lead up to Eliot’s masterpiece, Silas Marner. Okay, I admit it: I’m just a soft touch who is easily charmed by an infant melting the heart of a miser. But there is so much more in that little book. Above all, it is highly positive but still realistic rendering of community. People can be very messed up, but in a situation like this, I think this is how people behave. Of course, it is still 19th century literature, so we have to have villains like Dunstan Cass and low-born opium addicts like Molly Farren.

I guess I have to stop there because I haven’t read anything else by Eliot. She is also known for her German translations and for her work as a left wing journalist. She also led quite a scandalous life. She rejected Christianity. And she lived in sin with philosopher George Henry Lewes for twenty odd years. And then, at the age of 60, she married John Cross who was twenty years younger than she was. On their honeymoon, he apparently tried to kill himself. And then when they returned, she caught some kind of infection and died a couple of months later. But hell, she lived a hell of a lot longer than the much better behaved Jane Austen and all the Brontë sisters.

Happy birthday George Eliot!