Conservative Postmodern Delusion and Harry Reid

Harry Reid in SunglassesI learned from Matt Yglesias about The Conspiracy Theory Around Harry Reid’s Exercise Accident. As you have probably noticed, Harry Reid has been wearing sun glasses all the time now. And you may know that this is because his right eye (along with the bones in his face and ribs) was badly damaged in an exercising accident. But was it in exercising accident? Could it not have been that the mafia ruffed up the pugilistic Senator? Well, if you are a right wing freak, you think so. And if you are an “establishment” conservative like Byron York, well, then you are just asking questions.

Part of this conspiracy theory is just the result of the full embrace of postmodern analysis by the conservative movement. I still find it telling that conservatives abandoned their commitment to absolute values the movement they found themselves losing the argument on substance. But it is truly bizarre that so many of them went in the opposite direction to the belief that reality is whatever you say it is. That is the basis, after all, of Fox News. They aren’t lying when they claim to be “fair and balanced.” That’s because to them, “fair and balanced” is simply defined as what they are. The words have no meaning outside their propagandistic uses.

In the case of Harry Reid, conservatives just know he must be corrupt to the core. He is, after all, a politician. And a Democrat — or as conservatives would put it: not a Republican — not our “our team.” And he’s from Nevada. They’ve all seen The Godfather Part II, so they know that the mafia control the whole state. Given all of these things, Harry Reid must just be a puppet for the mob — a real life Pat Geary. The fact that the film took place in the 1950s doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter, as Matt Yglesias noted, the Vegas mob “was largely crushed in the 1980s.”

Another thing about Harry Reid that conservatives are skeptical about is just how he got to be so rich. But as with so many examples of conservative flights of fancy, the claim is not even true. Reid is rich — there’s no doubt of that. He’s is worth an estimated $6.8 million. But before he became a Senator, he was a successful attorney with a net worth of about a million dollars. The amount of money that he has now is “about what he would have obtained had he simply put his $1 million in the S&P 500 and reinvested the dividends.” If Harry Reid is corrupt, he sure is bad at it.

But the ultimate refutation of this claim that the mob got to him is the fact that Harry Reid is one of the most powerful politicians in the United States. As such, he has a security detail with him at all times. They were with him at the time of the accident. In fact, they drove him to the hospital. The story that the conspiracy mongers would have to tell would be something from Mission: Impossible with Tom Cruise coming in through the air ducts.

In addition to this, Yglesias noted that if the mob wanted to drive a point home, there are much better ways — like threatening to harm his family or threatening to expose him. But none of this matters. Conservatives claimed that Obama wasn’t a natural born citizen, even after they were shown his birth certificate and despite him being natural born regardless of his birthplace given that his mother was a citizen. Reality is whatever conservatives want to believe. But we won’t hear much more about this thing about Harry Reid because he isn’t President and he’s retiring anyway. But even in the time that I’ve been writing this article, Breitbart News published, Why Harry Reid’s Home Exercise Accident Story Does Not Add Up. And people wonder why we can’t even raise the minimum wage.

The Loving Ending of God’s Not Dead

Neil Carter I originally titled this article “God’s Not Dead, but the Atheist Sure Is!” Because in the end they kill off the atheist. Are you kidding me? Could you be any more transparent in your wish fulfillment? In the end, most of the atheists see that the Christians are really the ones who are right, and they convert. But it takes getting hit by a car for the antagonist to see the error of his ways. He prays the obligatory prayer that Evangelical theology teaches is required for salvation as he lay there in a pool of his own blood. And as he’s choking out his last breath, the preacher who miraculously showed up at just the right moment to lead him in this prayer (but not a moment earlier so that he could have maybe prevented his getting hit) smiles and says, “It’s alright. In a few minutes you’re gonna know more about God than I do.”

I’d like to say that comforted the poor dying former atheist (Or was he even that, really?) but it was hard to make that out between the gurgling sounds and pained expressions. But judging by the swell of music this was supposed to be a kind of happy ending. I know they’ll say it’s because now his soul is safe in death, but I can’t help but think of the joke the dog tells in the movie Up, “A squirrel walks up to a tree and says, ‘I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead.’ Ha! It is funny because the squirrel gets dead!”

This ending is happy because the atheist gets dead. He “gets saved,” of course, although not in any sense that’s measurable. And the atheist girl who gets cancer “gets saved” as well, although not from the cancer. Even the Muslim girl “gets saved” although her dad still won’t look at her because of his religion. But now all of these people think correctly about a narrow field of topics, so they’re approved. Happy ending.

—Neil Carter
What I Learned about Atheists from God’s Not Dead

The Sad Fall of James O’Keefe’s Comedy Hour

James O'KeefeIt’s typical of an amazing double standard in America that James O’Keefe is not on parole after having spent years in prison. It is certainly the case that he has done far more harm to individuals throughout the nation than any drug possession convict rotting in a federal prison right now. His totally deceitful ACORN “sting” ended with hundreds of honest people losing their jobs. Rather than doing due diligence, the mainstream media just followed the conservative media without doing any, I don’t know, journalism. And despite being scammed over that, the mainstream media have continued to follow his exploits as though they are something more than just a conservative hack using any technique at all to provide a false narrative of anything that conservatives currently don’t like.

This most recent case was O’Keefe’s hit on Cornell and then Barry University shows that he’s become a pathetic shadow of his former self. I’ll admit, it must be hard. After gaining the kind of attention that he has, people are understandably reticent to say anything that might get them into trouble. This newest video involves a student trying to start a club to help the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” But clearly, doing that alone would raise red flags. For one thing: it is illegal to solicit funds for terrorist groups. But that hardly matters.

At Barry, the “undercover agent” never makes much sense. But the one thing that came across to me the first time I heard it was that she was clearly not talking about supporting the group. As Gary Legum at Wonkette noted, it is all phrased as humanitarian work for the purpose of stopping terrorist activity. Of course, in their conservative minds, the idea that terrorism has anything to do with social factors and not just “evil people” is risible. But this is how the “agent” starts talking about what she wants to do:

I want to raise like funds to send overseas and humanitarian efforts to help like the widows and like the children of people who have died over there in the Islamic State.

Much later in her rambling discussion, she mentions providing flashlights to fighters — but that is the extent of the whole thing. And given that she mutters, has nothing to say, and the poor administer is used to listening to students prattle on, I don’t think there is anything to see her. But that gets to the heart of what is wrong with the current state of the James O’Keefe “sting.” They can’t even manage a clear — if libelous — statement of bad behavior by a “liberal.” What was done in this case was something like this:

I wan ttost artaclubt hathel psth evictims ofneo-Nazis. Iwa nttog ointo neighbo rhood sandal leviatet hepo ve rtyt ha tlead sto peo plet urni ngtof asc ism. Also Iwan ttopa yf orswas tikatat toos. It’ sa re alsham etha tpe opl ege tin tot hiss tuff.

Except that it would have a lot of “like” mixed in there. But the point is that in the entire video — which is highly edited — they never were able to show that this administrator understands what the student is up to. The “agent” was clearly trying to make it clear to the viewer what she meant but most distinctly not to the administrator. Legum noted what O’Keefe and company is trying to show:

So to sum up, this dipshit undergrad presented herself as wanting to start a club to get humanitarian aid to widows and children stuck in a war zone, sprinkled in some clues that maybe this aid was really intended for Islamic fighters, and because the mid-level administrator at some Catholic school didn’t pick up on those clues scattered through her incoherent presentation and constant use of the word “like,” Barry University does not have a problem with helping America’s enemies.

And so there you have it. These bozos aren’t even aiming at the mainstream media anymore. O’Keefe has a great gig, doing the equivalent of comedy videos for the conservative movement. In this case, the “joke” is that all liberals believe that terrorism has social roots. And they know the truth that all that can be done is to bomb everyone back to the stone age. Because that’s worked so brilliantly up to now.

See Also

Are we Surprised by James O’Keefe?
Death as Public Good
O’Keefe Loses Lawsuit But Sadly Not Credibility
James O’Keefe’s Tired Cons

Rugged Individualism vs Cowardly Conformity

Alfie KohnI was reading a recent article by Alfie Kohn, Four Reasons to Worry About “Personalized Learning.” It’s about this “new” thing in education that involves forcing kids to learn the same old test-based skills but allowing them to take a “learning path just for them.” It reminds me of those old computer games where you would wander around a haunted house; you could do anything you wanted, but there was only one way to get out of the garden and so on. The whole thing is entirely typical of the modern American approach to education: treat children as though they are widgets that must all be milled in the same way. God forbid we would do something that can’t be systematized.

But he started the article by bringing up Alexis de Tocqueville. Conservatives love to quote Democracy in America because it says Americans are exceptional. But it is hardly laudatory. In particular, he noted the strange dissonance between American individualism combined with the “relentless pressure to conform.” So the government isn’t legislating that you act like everyone else; the society does it without being told. This is something I have noticed in my own life: the last thing Americans like is an actual individual. Kohn quoted sociologist John W Meyer to the effect that we are “free to expand as a standardized individual.”

This goes along with a common view of conservatives, “You are free to say anything you want — as long as you don’t say anything too outrageous.” In other words: you have freedom to say whatever you want as long as you do not, in fact, say whatever you want. In some ways, I don’t have a problem with this. I believe in the right of neo-Nazis to go around denying the Holocaust. I also believe as a society that we should we should marginalize such people. But in America, the range of opinion that is deemed acceptable — the Overton Window — is razor thin. (Although our wonderful mainstream media has done quite a good job of making extreme right-wing views far more acceptable!)

Kohn noted, “how our pitiful individuality was screwed to the backs of our cars in the form of customized license plates.” That does have an appealing rigidity to it: in California at least, the “individual” is allowed up to 7 characters — which can now include a “heart” symbol! But I actually think it is worse than that. People now pay for the privilege of advertising corporations. At least with a license plate, the “individual” has to use the system to say something about themselves. With the corporate t-shirt, she only has to decide that she too uses that product. She’s a “Duck Dynasty” person or a “Miller Light” person or for the truly “outside the box” thinker, an “Ubuntu” user.

Along these lines, Kohn also mentioned the Burger King “Have it your way!” campaign, “[W]e were now empowered to request a recently thawed slab of factory-produced ground meat without the usual pickle — or even with extra lettuce! In America, I can be me!” Sadly, I’m afraid that in his sarcasm, he’s right. In my experience, my fellow countrymen are an incredibly banal lot. There is something about this country that tends to sap our innate differences.

Terry Eagleton discussed this in his last book, Across the Pond (see my review):

The British dislike authority not because they are opposed to the state on principle, but because they want to be left alone to breed pigeons or attend classes in flower arranging. They do not want to be free of regulation so that they can aspire, rise through the ranks or accumulate profit, but so that they can putter about as they please. They are not so much individualist as idiosyncratic.

It is disheartening to think that, like so many things about us Americans, our loud-mouthed declarations of our individuality are just a cover for what we know to be true: we are a bunch of cowardly conformists. I’m not suggesting that we change. We are who we are. But we either need to stop claiming to be individualists or accept those among us who do stray outside the razor-thin breadth of what all red-blooded Americans think.


And yes, I do consider myself an actual individual, although I have been hammered into a more compliant shape from decades of good ol’ American “individualism.”

Morning Music: Chizh & Co

Chizh & CoIn my never ending efforts to not be boring, I came upon the Russian rock band Chizh & Co. And I know nothing about them other than that they formed in 1993. But their music is really good. It’s got a classic rock sound to it, but there is a lot of jazz in there as well. I guess it is what we would call fusion.

The following song is “Crossroads” (or “Перекресток” if you prefer). Like a lot of the music of theirs, it is Latin inspired. (Alert Vermont!) It’s the kind of music that makes me feel good: sufficiently complex to engage me, professionally rendered, and with more content than style. Check it out; it’s really great:

Anniversary Post: Washington Irving

Washington IrvingOn this day in 1783, the writer Washington Irving was born. So let’s discuss “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” — about the only thing of his that anyone knows about anymore. When I read it as a kid, it totally confused me. I didn’t deal well with ambiguity when I was that age. Although I don’t think it was completely my fault. Who writes a story that long all for the sake of a joke?

The story is actually quite clear. In fact, you might even say that it is offensively clear. The story goes out of its way to highlight the fact that Ichabod Crane is highly superstitious. So when Brom Bones seeing that Ichabod is making a bit of progress in wooing the rich Katrina Van Tassel, he sets to work bringing the “headless horseman” legend to life, causing Ichabod to flee for this life. It is a clever little story, filled with sly wit. I think it could rather easily be updated and I’m surprised that it isn’t done more often.

What makes the story difficult for me is that the characters are not well developed. Ichabod is just horrible. There is really nothing to like about him. He’s a misanthrope who’s too weak to even verbalize it. His interest in Katrina is only because of her money and status. He is less likable than Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me. As a hero, he leaves everything to be desired.

Brom, on the other hand, leaves everything to be desired as the villain. He’s just too perfect. Everyone loves Brom. It would be totally unbearable if it weren’t for the fact that we all know that kind of guy. And unlike what Irving says, he really is mean and he abuses pretty much everyone. But clearly, if someone has to win in the conflict between the two men, we would prefer Brom because Ichabod simply has no positive personality traits.

And then there is Katrina. What can we say about her? Nothing. Because Irving said nothing. Really. In 12,000 words, she might get a hundred. She is wealthy and she is pretty. And given that she is wealthy and nubile, of course she is pretty. Regardless, even if she were ugly, Ichabod and Brom would want to marry her because she is the most advantageous marriage in that area.

So there you go. A clever plot and well written. But lousy characters, at least for a modern audience. But you can definitely see why the story is still read.

Happy birthday Washington Irving!

This post is an edit of last year’s birthday post. I’m just too depressed about the state of California to spend much time writing. Although it was exactly forty years ago that Bobby Fischer forfeited the World Chess Championship to Anatoly Karpov. I think it is clear that Fischer would have won. But in 1978, it is hard to see him not beating Fischer. Karpov would have become champion eventually — there is no doubt of that.