Revolutionary Dysfunction in SOTU Responses

Ted CruzTuesday night, in all there were four responses to the president’s State of the Union address (plus a repeat of the regular one in Spanish). It’s pretty amazing when you consider that the address itself was pretty much always just a letter until Woodrow Wilson. But it speaks to just how screwed up the Republican Party is that they can’t manage to have just a single speech they can unify around. It is an outgrowth of the revolutionary nature of the conservative movement. It also speaks to the narcissism of some of their stars: most notably Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

You may have heard that Cruz accidentally released an unedited version of his talk where he is shown stopping and starting over. It is actually kind of impressive — especially if you compare it to the over-rehearsed creep show that was the official response by Jodi Ernst. Cruz manages to make his points very well without ums and uhs, on the fly. I would be surprised if 5% of the federal level politicians were capable of this feat. When it comes to this kind of stuff, there is no doubt that Cruz is a major talent.

But Cruz is also a freak. The speech that he did release is filled with the usual conservative nonsense. And it sums up exactly what conservative pundits have been complaining about since then. His big complaint is that Obama didn’t show up repentant. Republicans are really good about claiming that the last election means the American people totally support them when they won that election, and ignoring it if they haven’t. Well, as I wrote over and over after they lost in 2012: there was no reason for any given Republican politician to “moderate.” They were still in office. They didn’t lose. And the idea of a “mandate” is generally silly regardless.

In 2010, after the Republicans had a really successful election, Obama was a fool to act as though the election meant anything at all for him. The only thing that had changed was the composition of the electorate. Almost no one had changed their minds. And regardless, Obama was elected for four years — not two. If the Republicans acted as arrogant in 2009 after the landslide of the 2008 election, how dare Cruz suggest that the president should come before Congress with his hat in his hand? But I understand: it’s all politics. Cruz knows this, of course; but he also knows that he’s talking to people who hate Obama and would hate him no matter what they did.

A good example of this was Cruz’s complaint about Obama on terrorism. This is what he said:

Tonight, not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism. Those words did not come out of the president’s mouth. We cannot win a war on radical Islamic terrorism with the president unwilling even to say the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”

More generally, the conservative press has been all abuzz with the idea that Obama did not specifically mention al-Qaeda. There are always specific words that conservatives complain about the president not mentioning. It isn’t that he doesn’t talk about concepts. He mentioned “terrorist” once, “terrorism” once, and “terrorists” six times. But that isn’t good enough. He had to mention “al-Qaeda” — or according to Ted Cruz, “radical Islamic terrorism.” I wonder if “radical Islamic terrorist” would have been acceptable. This also goes along with the freak-out during the 2012 election that Obama had said “acts of terror” rather than “terrorism” after the Benghazi attack.

But this isn’t just affectation. This really gets to the heart of the revolutionary nature of the Republican Party. For outsiders, there is nothing that really separates the thinking of Jodi Ernst, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Curt Clawson, who gave the “official” Tea Party response. But inside the conservative movement, there are big disagreements. This is real Russian Revolution nonsense where the exact words that one uses indicates purity to the true (in this case) conservative movement. It is a joke. Unfortunately, it isn’t a funny one like Monty Python brought us.

Bullwinkle, Rocky, and That Damned Top Hat

What Me Pull a Rabbit Out of My Hat

I’m in the process of making a video about The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, so I thought I might put some of my thoughts down here. It was an amazing show. It was on for five seasons with highly unequal numbers of episodes. You might be under the impression that this is common today, but it was much worse back then — at least in terms of some shows. The first season had 26 episode, but then the next had 53. And then 33, 21, and 34. That’s a total of 167, although Wikipedia says there were only 163. Who know? It was a lot of television: almost 70 hours!

I suspect that the reason the number of episodes was so chaotic is that the production of the show was similarly chaotic. It was clearly made on a shoestring. And it shows that wit and charm can take you a long way. There are any number of things that just aren’t properly done. I discussed this to some extent last month, Image Inconsistency in Rocky and Bullwinkle. But it is more than that. For example, during the long (1:20) second standard end credit sequence, Rocky’s mouth rarely moves when he’s talking. It’s remarkable that a show of which more than 20% is made up of recycled content didn’t take more care with these parts. But I think they were just too busy pumping out episodes.

By far, the most iconic aspect of the series is exactly one of these “canned” segments, “Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!” It is part of a broader aspect of the series that looks back on older styles of entertainment. We see this in the almost unbelievably brilliant “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties” and the Rocky and Bullwinkle serials — some of which were as long as 40 “episodes.” But there are also a lot of references to theater. Some are rather subtle like the janitor who has to clean up the parade that sometimes starts “Peabody’s Improbable History.” But mostly, we see a lot of vaudeville, and that is where the “rabbit” sequences come in. Along with them, we see Bullwinkle fail to juggle, sing, dance. But also: the “Mr Know-It-All” sequences mock the “professor” kinds of acts that were common, and as you can see in the film The 39 Steps.

There are five “rabbit” gags, and they ran in the following order during the first five episodes of the series: bear, lion, tiger, rhino, and flying squirrel (Rocky himself). The three middle ones are pretty much the same. Rocky responds, “Again?!” And then, at the end, he says, “Now here’s something you’ll really like!” The differences are just the reveal and the reaction. For the lion, Bullwinkle says, “No doubt about it; I gotta get another hat!” For the tiger, Rocky asks sarcastically, “Wrong hat?” And Bullwinkle says, “I wear a seven and a half!” And for the rhino, it’s just Bullwinkle, “Oh! Don’t know my own strength!”

Since the bear sequence is the first time we — or Rocky — have seen Bullwinkle try the trick, Rocky starts, “And now…” What is especially interesting about this is that Rocky disappears from the screen right after Bullwinkle says, “Nothing up my sleeve!” Was it fixed when they used it again in episodes 5, 12, 19, and for the rest of the run of the show? Of course not! It’s also a bit strange that at the end, Rocky introduces Mr Peabody.

The fifth version — the Rocky sequence — is where the flying squirrel’s impatience finally bubbles over. And it uses an entirely new performance for both characters. Rocky replies to Bullwinkle, “That trick never works!” And Bullwinkle counters, “This time for sure!” On pulling Rocky out of his hat, Bullwinkle says, “Well, I’m getting close.”

None of this is meant as a criticism. I think The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show is an amazing accomplishment. It holds up remarkably well, 55 years later. There are certainly aspects that do not age so well like the racial stereotypes, but even they are generally sympathetic unless you are German or Russian. The main thing, though, is that they let their creativity fly and didn’t get bogged down in the details. There is a lot to say for that.

FBI Creates Terror Plots to Foil Them

Glenn GreenwaldThe known facts from this latest case seem to fit well within a now-familiar FBI pattern whereby the agency does not disrupt planned domestic terror attacks but rather creates them, then publicly praises itself for stopping its own plots.

First, they target a Muslim: not due to any evidence of intent or capability to engage in terrorism, but rather for the “radical” political views he expresses. In most cases, the Muslim targeted by the FBI is a very young (late teens, early 20s), adrift, unemployed loner who has shown no signs of mastering basic life functions, let alone carrying out a serious terror attack, and has no known involvement with actual terrorist groups.

They then find another Muslim who is highly motivated to help disrupt a “terror plot”: either because they’re being paid substantial sums of money by the FBI or because (as appears to be the case here) they are charged with some unrelated crime and are desperate to please the FBI in exchange for leniency (or both). The FBI then gives the informant a detailed attack plan, and sometimes even the money and other instruments to carry it out, and the informant then shares all of that with the target. Typically, the informant also induces, lures, cajoles, and persuades the target to agree to carry out the FBI-designed plot. In some instances where the target refuses to go along, they have their informant offer huge cash inducements to the impoverished target.

Once they finally get the target to agree, the FBI swoops in at the last minute, arrests the target, issues a press release praising themselves for disrupting a dangerous attack (which it conceived of, funded, and recruited the operatives for), and the DOJ and federal judges send their target to prison for years or even decades (where they are kept in special GITMO-like units). Subservient US courts uphold the charges by applying such a broad and permissive interpretation of “entrapment” that it could almost never be successfully invoked. As AP noted last night, “defense arguments have repeatedly failed with judges, and the stings have led to many convictions.”

—Glenn Greenwald
Latest FBI Claim of Disrupted Terror Plot Deserves Much Scrutiny and Skepticism

Walter Raleigh

Walter RaleighOn this day in 1552 (or 1554), Walter Raleigh was born. You will note that I added no superlative as I usually do. Nor did I say why he is notable. This is because I don’t really know. I assume that he was a very charming guy. He was of reasonably high birth and he got in good with Queen Elizabeth. That’s really pretty much all there is. But the queen was difficult and locked him in the Tower of London for the “crime” of not getting permission to marry one of her ladies-in-waiting who he had knocked up. But after a couple of months, the queen calmed down and all was forgiven. But after Elizabeth died, he was not in favor with King James. He soon ended up in the Tower of London again — this time for over a decade. Then he went off on another expedition to America where he got into a little trouble by attacking a Spanish outpost there. As a result, Spain requested and got Raleigh put to death. “Off with his head!”

It is probably best to think of Raleigh as an explorer, but I think of him mostly as a poet. He did write quite a lot (not at all limited to poetry) — especially during that decade when he was stuck in the Tower of London. But I’m most interested in one poem. Before getting to it, however, we have to discuss a poem by Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” This poem wasn’t published until 1599, but it couldn’t have been written any later than 1593, when Marlowe died. Given that Marlowe produced pretty much all of his work from 1590 to 1593, we can assume it is from this period. It is a beautiful poem that shows Marlowe’s amazing technical strength as a poet, as well as a softer side than we see in his plays:

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

There I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair linèd slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

Thy silver dishes for thy meat
As precious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an ivory table be
Prepared each day for thee and me.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

The one thing about the poem is that it is the work of a young man. It is naive about the complexities of relationships. Walter Raleigh must have felt this way, because in 1596, he wrote, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.” He was in his middle 40s, having already spent a couple of months in the Tower of London as a result of “love.” So the nymph’s reply is a good deal more cynical and honest:

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall,

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten—
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind may move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Although it shows greater emotional maturity, it is not as good a poem as Marlowe’s. But that is to be expected. Marlowe was doubtless the greatest English language poet of that time. The fact that Raleigh is in the same ballpark speaks rather well of him.

Happy birthday Walter Raleigh!