Odds and Ends Vol 16

Odds and EndsIt is time to clean out some of the old stuff that is cluttering up my computer for another installment of Odds and Ends. This is mostly images. And it was coming upon that last image that got me to post all this now. I somehow didn’t want it sitting on my hard drive; it’s such an amazing political statement.

Otherwise, this is just a grab-bag — as usual.


Someone posted this following cartoon about bullying on Google+. I find the style quite compelling — and familiar. But I haven’t been able to find out who the artist is. It’s very sweet. On the other hand, if that were the extent of bullying, we would have a far kinder society.

Bullying - Father's Birthday

Radical Republicans

I’ve already written about the extremism of the Republican Party, A Conservative’s Disingenuous Desperation. But I found the following graph in an article by Christopher Ingraham, This Astonishing Chart Shows How Moderate Republicans Are an Endangered Species. It is taken from the standard Vote View data that everyone is aware of. But this graph shows what has happened to the parties. It takes the range of views in the parties at any given time and then ranks individuals where they are relative to their own parties. And the results are jaw-dropping:

House Non-Moderates - Vote View

I also really like the title of the graph, which is a reference to the play No Sex Please, We’re British — which was apparently also made into a movie.

Rat in the Box

In 1983, Firesign Theater made the mistake of making a film, Nick Danger in the Case of the Missing Yolk. It has its moments, but actually seeing the ridiculousness that I had always imagined while listening to their records made it all seem too obvious — too forced. If you want, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube. But the only thing I was really taken with was what I think is a very cute rat image in the commercial for “Rat in the Box”:

Rat in the Box

Edward Snowden

Charlie Pierce was nice enough to remind us, There Would Be No USA Freedom Act Without Edward Snowden. It’s amazing that we know so much because of Snowden and Chelsea Manning, yet the mainstream media have been really reluctant to acknowledge that. It reminds me of a segment on Piers Morgan Live with James Risen, Glenn Greenwald, and Jeffrey Toobin. Toobin takes the really annoying line that Snowden should be thrown in prison for decades, while admitting that such discussions are good. Risen responds, “We wouldn’t be having this discussion if it wasn’t for him.” The same thing is true of the USA Freedom Act. But instead, Snowden isn’t mentioned and Rand Paul gets all the credit.

Rick Perry

On Thursday night’s The Daily Show, Jon Stewart offered up the best campaign slogan ever for Rick Perry:

Rick Perry - Risk the Consequences

Still Not Asking for It

I found this over at the Amanda Taub page on The Over-Think Tank. I was struck by just how powerful it is: a single picture that destroys the idea that rape or other forms of physical and verbal assault are somehow earned. I do, however, wish this young woman weren’t smoking!

Still Not Asking for It

I had wanted to finish off this edition with the most recent image of Pluto, but we continue to get very little to look at. But I will continue to provide updates about the planet as they come in — probably as their own articles. Otherwise, we are finished with this installment of Odds and Ends. I will see you next time.

Dennis Hastert and the Destruction of Congress

Norm OrnsteinBut no speaker did more to relegate the regular order to the sidelines than Hastert. As Tom Mann and I describe in detail in our 2006 book “The Broken Branch,” Hastert presided over one of the worst moments for a deliberative body in modern times, the nearly three-hour vote in the dead of night to pass the Medicare prescription-drug bill — a vote that under the rules was supposed to last 15 minutes. The arm-twisting on the floor turned to something close to outright extortion, resulting in yet more admonitions for Tom DeLay. Under Hastert, amendments from Democrats and Republicans alike were squelched by a strikingly pliant Rules Committee; conferences were rarely held, and if they were, it was late at night and they were closed to input from all except loyal lieutenants; and provisions were sometimes added to conference reports that had never been in either House or Senate bills without notice to other lawmakers, among other indignities. And, of course, Hastert presided over the informal “Hastert rule,” doing whatever he could to avoid input from Democrats, trying to pass bills with Republicans alone. The House is a very partisan institution, with rules structured to give even tiny majorities enormous leverage. But Hastert took those realities to a new and more tribalized, partisan plane.

—Norm Ornstein
This Isn’t Dennis Hastert’s First Scandal

The Real Threat to Academic Freedom

Amanda TaubLast weekend, I wrote, Public Shaming and the Power of Employers. In it, I argued that public shaming did great harm primarily because it leads to job loss. The issue is not so much that people are just awful to each other, but rather that workers in modern America have little control of their work lives. In the example that I used from So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, a white man ended up with very little harm done because he immediately got another job. The black woman, however, was still unemployed years after her public shaming. As usual, our society refuses to engage with the injustice of the economic system itself.

A couple of days ago, a guy writing under the pseudonym Edward Schlosser wrote an article at Vox, I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me. The article quickly became a big deal. Jonathan Chait was right on top of it with yet another of this articles, “See, I was right!” And conservatives everywhere just love this because they want to claim that the real intolerant ones are not people who want to deny rights to others, but rather liberals who informally police speech. To be honest, I find the whole thing exhausting.

Let’s start with the fact that young people yelling at old people is a rite of passage. For my entire life there have been college students making grand statements about how their college professors are offensive and just don’t get it. Even Jonathan Chait admits that the political correctness that he talks about is just a “wave.” The exact same complaints date back at least to the 1960s, but apparently Chait doesn’t know anything before his time. As far as I can tell, there have been student rebellions for as long as there have been colleges. I don’t see any reason to think this “wave” is any worse or even different from earlier “waves.”

Amanda Taub wrote a great response to Professor Schlosser’s article, I Was a Liberal Adjunct Professor. My Liberal Students Didn’t Scare Me at All. She gets at what I was talking about regarding shame. The issue isn’t that the students are particularly horrible. And it most certainly isn’t that the students have more power. It is that the professors have far less power than they used to — relative to the administration. She quoted an amazing statistic from the American Association of University Professors: only 24% of professors are tenure or tenure track. The rest are adjuncts, which are generally temporary positions that pay poorly and have no benefits — the minimum wage job of the PhD crowd. And that means that tenured professors are afraid because “there’s a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place.”

Taub summed up the issue well:

The problem isn’t the substance of student complaints — the problem is that university lecturers are so terrified of the effect student complaints could have. That’s a problem to be solved by universities having faculty members’ backs, not by somehow silencing the debate over identity politics.

She then went on to discuss the way the whole issue gets distorted. It strikes me as very American. People in most nations look at the world very much in terms of class. But we have a bias against that. We want to see everything as individual against individual — or at least one group against another group with roughly equal power. As a result, we have ended up with the ridiculous system we have where those with actual power are never held to account or, as in this case, even blamed.

Students are as they ever were. After the power elite spent decades attacking teachers at all levels, it isn’t surprising that teachers at all levels would find they have greatly reduced power. What is outrageous, however, is that people like Jonathan Chait and Edward Schlosser would focus on an irrelevance and ignore the real power that is hurting professors and academic freedom.

Conservative Response to Automatic Voter Reg

Daniel FosterJonathan Chait is right about this, Hillary Clinton Calls the Republican Bluff on Voting Rights. It’s about Clinton’s call last week for automatic voter registration. The summary of the article is, “A new idea to make voting easy that Republicans will have to come up with a reason to oppose.” Because that really is the issue. Republicans have come out big in recent years for making voting as hard as possible. It is always posed as fighting against “voter fraud.” But in fact, it is just a way to get as few people voting as possible because the more people who vote the better liberal politicians and ideas do.

At the end of his article, Chait highlights Daniel Foster in National Review, who wrote, Don’t Make Democracy More Like The Internet. He claimed that automatic voter registration would be “a terrible idea” and “not just because it would certainly be devastating to the electoral prospects of conservatives.” And then he goes on to explain why democracy is a bad thing and it should be limited to those who care enough to jump through all the hoops. He claimed that sure, “dolts” (his word) ought to have the right to vote if they are willing to do everything that Republicans do to stop them, but “that doesn’t mean we have to encourage” them.

This is a standard argument that I have heard from conservatives for decades. But it is fundamentally wrong. Older people are more likely to vote than younger people, but that doesn’t mean that they care more about voting. Older people have — on average — huge advantages that make voting easy for them: they don’t have children to care for; they don’t have jobs to go to; they don’t move often. So arguments like those of Foster are not about who cares the most about politics; they are about which demographics are seen as better because they are more likely to vote for conservatives.

In general, when people complain to me about voters who don’t understand the issues, it turns out that the complainer is extremely ignorant about the issues. The argument really only ever means, “These people don’t agree with me!” Of course, Fox News has made this infinitely worse by allowing its addicts to think that they are being well informed when they are actually being well disinformed. The people who just watch the nightly news are usually better informed that Fox News viewers — except when it comes to Solyndra and Jade Helm.

Democracy is an extremely humble form of government. It is dependent upon the idea that none of us has a monopoly on the truth and so we are better off getting everyone’s input. Conservatives have never much liked this idea. They see democracy as mob rule. And indeed, it can be. But not having democracy leads inexorably to tyranny. The alternative to democracy isn’t some perfect as yet undisclosed system. But conservatives continue to push against democracy because they ultimately believe in monarchy — just one that they are in control of.

At the same time that conservatives are pushing for less democracy, they are undermining the very idea of absolute truth. This is what is behind their war science. So they aren’t even making the argument that the masses get certain issues wrong on a factual basis. Conservatives don’t even care about the factual basis of their claims. They just want the world to work a certain way, and if that isn’t true, they don’t care. They are the ones who define reality. That’s why Sam Brownback claimed that cutting corporate and other taxes on the rich would increase revenue for the state, and after the opposite happened, he continues to stay the course.

The question is whether the conservatives will come up with a better argument than Daniel Foster did to counter Hillary Clinton’s idea to make voter registration automatic. My guess is that they won’t. They will just bluster their way through it. They will never say that democracy is bad, but they will make their “only people who care” argument. They will throw in a little “voter fraud” and how we can’t do a thing until there is not a single fraudulent vote in the nation. And they will just move on. Don’t expect the media establishment to question them.

Morning Music: Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté

In the Heart of the MoonMali is one of the countries occupying large parts of the Sahara Desert, which we Americans don’t think much about. Most of its 15 million people live in the south of the country near the Niger and Senegal rivers. In 2005, two Mali musicians, Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté, produced an album based upon the music from both the north and south of Mali as well as from Guinea to the west, In the Heart of the Moon. It’s mostly just the two of them playing: Touré on guitar and Diabaté on the kora — a kind of harp with 21 strings.

The album must have been a big hit, because it won the Grammy award for “Best Traditional World Album.” I tend not to like the term “world music,” because it makes me think of people who have no taste in music — they just listen to whatever album is featured on PRI’s The World. The music itself is usually great. So here are the two of them performing the first cut off the album, “Debe,” in Brussels. Only a few months after this concert, Touré died of bone cancer, so he must have already been sick. It adds a bit of poignancy to the event.

Anniversary Post: Tetris

TetrisOn this day in 1984, Tetris was first released. I’ve long been a major critic of video games. This is because they mostly suck. I blame it on Doom. It wasn’t the first first-person shooter game by a long shot. But it was the one that caused the game development business to go haywire. It was no longer necessary to do anything new. It was all just minor changes. Bored running around abandoned buildings shooting people? Try running around an abandoned ship shooting people! Or Nazis! Or Nazi Zombies! I’ll admit that I don’t stay up with it, but every time I revisit the subject, I find that there really is nothing new going on.

Now that’s not to say there is nothing new going on in the game development community. People continue to be creative. It is just that first-person shooter games are the bedrock of the industry. That’s because humans — especially men — are really horrible. Apparently, we continue to have wars because men really love them — at least in the abstract. Regardless, Tetris has always stood out to me as showing how much one can do with almost nothing. Remember: it came out years after more complex games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Q*Bert. It also came out a decade after the prototype for first-person shooter games, Maze War.

The point is that what interests us is not complexity. Certain stories require complexity to tell. It depends upon the story. But making Tetris three-dimensional did not improve it. I’m sure that some people are out there using the tools of first-person shooter games to do interesting things. But these are not the games people are lining up at game stores to buy.

Happy anniversary Tetris!