Essays Aren’t Journalism but Pedants Are Pedants

PedantMy last quotation post got me interested, Why Can’t Dems Take Advantage of Rep Insanity? Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall. So I did a Google search on the starting sentence, to see if anyone had quoted more of the article. The sentence is, “That the Republican Party has worked its way to a lonely and unpopular place is not news.” There wasn’t much. But it did take me to a Linked In page by one Dennis B, How Not to Begin a Story. As usual with Linked In, information about the writer is sketchy. I was only told that Dennis B was, “Author of historical novel about the War of 1812; Chicago Tribune contributing columnist; freelance/content writer.”

His article starts with a reference to Frank’s article with the opening sentence. And then comes Dennis B’s point:

Fine. It’s where I stopped reading. If I already know it, why bother to continue? Are there no editors at Harper’s who know how to write a lead?

This comment screams, “I’m an old fuddy-duddy!” But if that’s the case, why use “lead” instead of “lede”? But okay; either spelling is fine, although I prefer “lede.” But his claim that this is how not to begin a story is preposterous. He is applying standard practice in a news article to an essay. If he had read past the first sentence, he would have known that Frank was saying that everyone knows how screwed up the Republican Party is, so it is surprising that the Democrats have not managed to take advantage of it. Thus, his essay is an attempt to explain that.

What Dennis B is doing is what I’ve come to calling “what I learned in grammar school” thinking. I see this all the time with people who have some pet grammar rule that they learned when they were young. And now they are certain that it is The Truth™ because some teacher told them it was so. My favorite example of this is that one must never start a sentence with a conjunction. But it is hard to find a great writer who doesn’t break this “rule” all the time. Opening Moby-Dick at random:

But the side ladder was not the only strange feature of the place, borrowed from the chaplain’s former sea-farings.

And Shakespeare starts more sentences with “and” than a five year old does summarizing the plot of a new Harry Potter movie:

And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me.

So I assume that Dennis B learned in journalism school that all stories should start like this, “A manhunt was underway after a gunman opened fire at an event featuring a cartoonist who had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, and another person was shot dead near a synagogue.” That would make the literary world very boring indeed. But there is something to be said for that style of writing. Perhaps I should have started this article with a proper lede:

In an embarrassing post on Linked In, a pedant mistakenly criticized the opening sentence of an essay as though it were a news story. The pedant, who goes by the moniker Dennis B, appears to have taken a journalism class. Grammar experts agree that his post is indicative of a rigid approach to writing that leads to boring copy and long conversations with bartenders about why no one willingly talks to him for more than two minutes.

Dennis B might be right. It might have been better to go in that direction.

Why Can’t Dems Take Advantage of Rep Insanity?

Thomas FrankThat the Republican Party has worked its way to a lonely and unpopular place is not news. The GOP’s congressional wing has been moving rightward since the 1980s, and in the five years of the present slump they have simply picked up the pace. Once they dealt in unpopular privatization schemes, but today they have graduated to extremely unpopular shutdowns and threats of default, and those among them who hesitate are thrown to the ravening mob. Red is the color of revolution, and today the GOP suffers under its own peculiar Reign of Terror, in which newly arisen extremists continuously outflank the extremists of yesterday — and public opinion be damned.

As sheer spectacle, this Tea Party Thermidor inspires a certain fascination and even amusement in the observer. But the larger question always returns: Why haven’t Democrats made the GOP pay for its widely despised views? Why aren’t they threatening to run up monster victories in even the safest red districts? What combination of incompetence and bad luck allowed the party of Roosevelt to fumble away the House of Representatives in the third year of an economic crisis — and then to keep on losing it even as its standard-bearing president was reelected by a substantial margin?

—Thomas Frank
Donkey Business

Chris Kyle and America’s Religious Wars

Chris KyleLast weekend, our colleague Marc McDonald over at Beggars Can Be Choosers wrote, “American Sniper”: Chris Kyle Was a Perfect Poster Boy for Bush’s War of Lies. He did an excellent job of putting Kyle into the context of Bush’s illegal and immoral war. But I was very taken with one line from Kyle’s autobiography. Apparently, he wrote, “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” That wasn’t the first time I’d read that quote. But this time it hit me in a different way.

Kyle was a sniper. He had enormous power and discretion in who he targeted. Add to this that at one point, another sniper was threatening Kyle’s record for number of kills, and suddenly Kyle found that a whole lot more “bad guys” were appearing in front of his scope. Coming from an objective sniper with no inclinations other than to do his job to the best of his abilities, this would raise troubling questions. But coming from a sniper who apparently hated all Iraqis and who thought they were “damn savages,” you end up with a very bad situation — one where there really is no doubt that many innocent Iraqis were murdered by Kyle. And his absolute certainty that everyone he shot was a “bad guy,” makes it all the more suspect.

It would seem that in Chris Kyle’s Christian fanaticism, any Iraqi that he killed was a bad guy. He starts his book by discussing his first sniper kill of a woman with a grenade, “My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul.” The irony is rich. The woman is fighting against an invading force. Regardless of what I think about what the woman did or stood for, Kyle was clueless. He was a member of an invading force and her actions were absolutely no more twisted than his own.

The most base form of tribalism in our society is religion. And this is what most bothers me about the almost total lack of a theological basis among Christian conservative faiths. All they really offer to their followers is the idea that we are “good” and they are “bad.” And the reason for the distinction is nothing more than that we are “us.” So we get comments from Kyle like, “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.” It’s just a book. Why would you want to kill every person who has that book? Because having that book indicates that they are one of those people.

I would think that the US military would filter for people like Chris Kyle. Clearly, he went to Iraq with a different agenda than the military’s stated agenda. After all, we were supposedly there to liberate the Iraqi people from the oppression of Saddam Hussein. Iraq is 99% Muslim. Imagine a country invading America to free us from the tyranny of Barack Obama. America is an 80% Christian nation. Would it make sense to have snipers who wanted to shoot everyone they saw with a Bible? It would only make sense if the “freedom mission” was just a lie. It would only make sense if it wasn’t a war for the American people, but against them.

So Marc McDonald is right — in more than one way. America allows these kinds of Christian nationalists in the military — people who believe that Christianity is The Truth™ and that our wars should be in the service of spreading their religion. In addition to this being immoral, in the long-term, it will destroy our country.

Conservatives Are the Biggest Class Warriors

Shaila DewanShaila Dewan over at The Upshot reported, States Consider Increasing Taxes for the Poor and Cutting Them for the Affluent. This is not exactly shocking. I’ve been writing about this for a good long time. These states, of course, are Republican run states. They are states like Kansas where the Republicans decided that their economies would boom if they cut taxes on the rich and on businesses. They were wrong. Their economies did not boom, but their budget deficits sure did. So what is a Republican government to do? Well, first they cut funding for the schools. But that only gets you so far. Eventually, they have to turn to taxes.

But wasn’t that what got them in trouble in the first place? What is the point of cutting taxes if you are just going to raise them later? Well, it’s very simple. The idea was never to cut taxes. The idea was to shift the tax burden from the rich onto the poor. You may remember back at the start of 2013. The Republicans in Congress were crazy mad because the Obama administration wanted to end the temporary (decade long) tax cuts on incomes over a quarter million dollars per year. The Republicans were united in their belief that this was an outrage! But at the exact same time, the Republicans were absolutely fine with payroll taxes going back up. They claimed that was just because the payroll tax holiday was meant to be temporary. But so were the Bush tax cuts that the Republicans were so angry about.

Let’s think about that for a moment. The normal payroll tax rate is 12.4%. And the payroll tax holiday brought that amount down to 10.4%. The median American worker made $51,900 in 2013. There are no deductions for the payroll taxes, so normally, this worker would pay $6,435.60 per year, but during the holiday period, paid only $5,397.60. So that was an extra thousand bucks that the worker would take home each year. That’s a nice chunk of change — 2% of her gross pay for the year.

Because the payroll tax is extremely regressive, it worked very differently for a rich person. Consider Mitt Romney. Since 2013 was after the 2012 election, we can assume that Romney’s gross income was back up to its usual amount. We’ll go easy on him and just assume it was $20 million. I’m not sure if Mitt Romney’s income consists of any earned income at all. So he may pay none. But let’s just assume that he earned $113,700 that year — the maximum amount that payroll taxes apply. So he would have normally paid $14,098.80, but with the holiday, it would have only been $11,824.80. So he would have another two thousand bucks to spend. Maybe he’d buy an extra shirt or something. But the difference in his taxes wouldn’t be 2%. It would be just over 0.01%. So you can see that Mitt Romney and his class wouldn’t care about the payroll tax holiday, even though it was much better for the economy than the lower top marginal tax rate that the congressional Republicans were so worked up about.

Shared Sacrifice

So we’ve known for a very long time that the Republicans are not against taxes. They just don’t want their rich friends to be taxed. And the interesting thing is that Republicans are always the first to cry “class warfare” whenever inequality is brought up. But the entire basis of their ideology is class warfare. Now if you ask them, they will claim that they just want the tax system to be fair. And by that, they mean that everyone should have to pay the same percentage of their incomes in taxes. That is preposterous, of course. A young person living on $10,000 per year cannot afford a 10% tax rate the way that, for example, Mitt Romney can. But the situation is worse than that.

Conservatives are only in favor of an equal tax rate right now. Look at the way that they think the payroll tax is just fine. That’s a tax that I pay 12.4% of my income on — and always have. But Mitt Romney pays a rate of 0.07%. I pay almost 200 times as high a rate in payroll taxes as the Great and Mighty Trust-Fund Bully Romney. This is why you never hear Republicans complain about the payroll tax. If they ever managed to enact a single income tax rate, the Republicans would immediately start pushing for an equal tax: every person would pay the same amount in taxes. After all, regardless of how rich or poor a person is, she can only use one road at a time. Why should the rich person have to pay more for it?

Conservative thought nominally goes back to Edmund Burke. But he was just pushing a far older idea that the rich really are better than the rest of us. So it is not surprising that conservatives will always be pushing for more and more taxes to be borne by the poor. And the end result of that is for the rich to pay no taxes. Ultimately, for conservatives, the government should be replaced by the rich. They are our betters. They will take care of us out of their sense of noblesse oblige. (Modern definition of “noblesse oblige”: greed is good!) And rule by the people will ultimately lead to the Reign of Terror. This is why conservatives don’t believe in democracy. It is all part of the same package.

Paul Krugman responded to Shaila Dewan’s article, Naked Came the Class Warriors. He noted, “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I can’t take talk about ‘reform conservatism’ seriously.” Of course. I’m not sure why people ever took “reform conservatism” seriously. It is an oxymoron. But more important, the idea of conservatism is not to make society better and more just through conservative policy. It is quite simply to give more power to those who already have the most power. And this is simply because conservatives think that the powerful are better. But the rest of us must wake up to reality: conservatism in anti-American. And if it succeeds, it will destroy the nation. It’s already gone a long way in accomplishing that goal.

Ion Andreescu

Ion AndreescuOn this day in 1850, the great Romanian painter Ion Andreescu was born. By his early twenties, he was already a noted drawing instructor. He was clearly influenced by the works of the impressionists. In his work, I see a lot of Édouard Manet. But it is hard to say, given his relative isolation in Romania. Regardless, in 1878, he moved to Paris where he was immediately recognized as a peer of painters such as Monet and Renoir.

Unfortunately, he caught tuberculosis in Paris and was forced to return to Romania in 1881. He died the following year at the age of only 32. Here is one of his stunning works, which I unfortunately do not have a title for:

Title Unknown - Ion Andreescu

Happy birthday Ion Andreescu!