Monday, December 31, 2012

Roundup Time

Lillian Gish in Orphans of the Storm (D.W. Griffith, 1921). From Film Fanatic.
Following on the Vixen, but pushing it a little too hard as usual (she only listed five!), I've assembled a list of favorite posts of my own for the year, focusing on those that didn't attract as many readers as I thought they deserved. Poor little things! All they want is a little affection, and maybe a comment or two wouldn't hurt?

January: It struck me that the idea of Obama as our first Jewish president is more than just an easy laugh. I.e., it's an uneasy laugh. Not so much because there is something Jewish about him, though there is, as because of the way right-wingers hate him, which is modeled on classic anti-Semitism, as Clinton hatred was modeled on anti-black racism. A philosophical-semiotic followup bringing in the First Ladies is here.

Mayor Bloomberg and schools chancellor Klein commissioned a study to prove that the Small High Schools of Choice they favor are better than big high schools; just as always, when scholars know in advance what conclusions they are expected to come to, the study was full of shit, but nobody at the Times noticed. And nobody reads me, of course, but I tore the thing apart. Also I got to quote David Mamet.

February: I can't stand the way right-wingers use the term "federalist" to mean "anti-federalist", thereby associating themselves in retroactionary fashion with our progressive Constitution, which they in fact oppose (they'd be more comfortable with the Articles of Confederation). Washington and Hamilton and Adams liked them some Big Government (not fat, but tall and strong) and so did Madison and Jefferson, for that matter, except whenever they were in opposition. Here's my tirade.

This was the month I started posting "Cheap Shots" on Fridays (my New Year's blog-resolution is to get back to doing it regularly). Eventually they achieved considerable popularity, by my pathetic standards, but the early ones were not much noticed, including this one, featuring an extremely unkind Dana Loesch joke.

March: One of my biggest preoccupations since I started blogging has been the fear of a U.S.-Iran war, along with the hope that Obama really means to prevent it, which I am always trying to influence not directly, I realize these grand persons are not attending to me, but by some kind of observer's paradox effect. These posts often get a lot of attention (nobody ever leaves a comment, so I don't know why), but two of them in March that I thought were a little more coherent than usual got almost none, one on Obama's diplomatic language, and one on correcting the Israeli sense of tragedy with a Jewish sense of comedy.

April: Easter post: Our crack political team reporting from Jerusalem on the trial and execution of a certain dissident rabbi...

May and June: We lost my mom, and I lost most of my larynx and spent an unconscionable amount of time in the hospital. One of the things (beside the helpmeet and kids, and siblings, and their helpmeets and kids, who were all amazing) that brought some cheer in this desolate time was somehow the politics in France, of all places, which I found myself taking quite personally, and halfway believing in, as if socialiste really meant "socialist", and which led me to some philosophical reflections of uncharacteristic earnestness. (Mom would have been pleased about the French elections, but seeing Obama reelected would have been much better; of course she was confident he'd win.)
Jan De Bray, ca. 1627-1697, The Care of Orphans.
July: I guess I was in the hospital when I started getting obsessed with David Brooks, perhaps the most deeply dishonest of our famous political commentators. One of my favorite early efforts was this Shorter on the moviehouse massacre in Colorado, which has some renewed relevance in light of the school shooting in Connecticut.

August: Then senatorial candidate, now ex-congressman Todd Akin brought me all the way back to high Swiftian rage with his comments on the physiology of rape. Of course everybody had to write something about Akin's peculiar beliefs, but only Yastreblyansky was able to tie it in with the beliefs expressed in the Roman Catholic Catechism, to say nothing of recycling that Dana Loesch joke in a greatly improved version.

September: The big Republican pseudo-scandal of the 9/11 anniversary season was the news that Obama sometimes didn't go to his Presidential Daily Briefing. ZOMG we're doomed! Something told me it might not be that serious, and indeed, it turned out to be even less serious than that. And for the High Holy Days, a take on a hilarious Christianist approach to interpreting the Bible on poverty and government.

Also, an extended discussion of what I believe is David Brooks's most ethically reprehensible column since I've been studying him, where, as I wrote,
I don't know that David Brooks should be busted for plagiarism here, even though he fails to credit [Paul] Tough for three quarters of his material. But I don't think you can properly call what he's done "fair use" either; to use an author's words to point toward a conclusion that the author would not dream of drawing....
October and November: As Brooks grew more and more crazed with the approach of the election, I finally began trying to channel his voice directly, as in this discussion of Burkean moderation; another example from after Romney's defeat is chosen to illustrate how his broadest anthropological musings, on changing family structures for instance, can be grounded entirely in a single unreviewed self-publication by an academic grifter writing "out of a Christian worldview".

December: And finally, why do we keep denying our War on Christmas? I'm bringing mine out of the closet, and putting Baby Jesus back in his! Yule be sorry you missed it!

Happy New Year to all, from Gene Autry.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

One or two Lumps?

As the defeated Tea Party legions begin their long trek west from Moscow, out come the traditional-minded Republican senators and their cocktail friends—haven't Susan Collins and Max Baucus, for instance, been in the headlines an awful lot lately?—to see what damage they can do in the intervening chaos. Yesterday's report was of Senators Corker and Alexander (formerly known as Lamar! with the exclamation point included, anybody remember that?) to demand that the retirement age be raised, or they'll blow up the debt ceiling, trapping us all inside the building.

Now old Lindsey-Woolsey* Graham is on board with the same extortion plan.

Sorry, I don't negotiate with terrorists.

*I have long felt that "Huckleberry", with its cornpone crackle, makes a lousy nickname for this starchy, perpetually indignant fussbudget.
First edition of Tasha Tudor's book (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946).
Why is it, do you suppose, that they're so fixated on that particular item? I mean, I can really understand the thing about cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits: it may be a bad solution, but it is to a problem that actually exists. But surely Corker and Alexander have heard by now that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit, will not be in trouble for a good many years, and will be easy to fix when it happens.

Are they just envious of retired friends and neighbors Facebooking their endless vacations, while they themselves must spend literally days every month in tedious Washington haranguing tongue-tied committee witnesses? Is it a moral issue—is our social substance being consumed by shiftless 69-year-old bucks blowing their checks on T-bone steaks, Cadillacs, and smartphones? A-and listening to that filthy bebop music?

Or are they merely representing the old Markets hungry, boss. Must feed markets, plenty fresh cash, or P-E rate go down rent-seeking institutions in their eternal quest for the money nobody else seems to be using at the moment? Because the bond market gets to play with your Social Security as long as you're not collecting it?

Be that as it may, what I was thinking about was something completely different: whether there's a relationship between delayed retirement and unemployment, such that making all us dotards keep slaving away until we're 70 will have the effect of making it harder than ever for others to find jobs—youngsters, and middle-aged layoff victims.

Because, as it happens, there's a good deal of delayed retirement going on already:
In 2009, 31 percent of eligible people signed up for Social Security, up from 27 percent in 2007. But the take-up rate has since declined to 28.3 percent in 2010 and 26.9 percent in 2011. The Urban Institute found that a smaller proportion of eligible people signed up for Social Security in 2011 than in any other year since 1976.
The rise in retirements from 2007 to 2009 was a response to the housing-and-finance crisis which put so many out of reach of ever getting a job again; the later decline reflects the changes in Social Security that have already taken place, the general crappiness of the new-style pension plans (just ask Richard Armey!), and a higher educational attainment that puts more of us in jobs that we are physically able to do until we have to be carted away into the R&R we can't afford.
Uncredited image from the apparently now defunct blog Upper Italy, in a post that reminds us that linsey-woolsey, a "garment mingled of linen and woolen", is shatnez, an abomination unto the Lord (Leviticus 19:19).
Well, Dr. Google informs me that the received wisdom among economists is that I am guilty of the Lump of Labor fallacy in expecting delayed retirements to interfere with employment growth. Or rather, that early retirements don't increase employment, as they used to believe in Europe in the 1980s and still do in France. The fact that they still believe it in France is a sign that it's a little more complicated than that.

The Lump of Labor fallacy is when** you believe that any community has a fixed amount of work that has to be done, so that for example if you hire immigrants you are taking work away from the natives. It was first used to mock the English Luddites who believed that the spinning jenny would eliminate their jobs, which of course it didn't.*** Obviously the amount of work in a given community constantly changes, the work itself being one of the factors (the more suits you make the more dry cleaners you require). When you add immigrants, you add economic activity, so the number of jobs may increase. Thus, anybody who really believes in the Lump of Labor is an idiot.

I'm no economist, but I must warn you, I have studied logic, and this putdown is a transparent, elementary straw man. You don't need to believe in the Lump of Labor to worry about the retirement system affecting the jobs market; all you need is to walk into your local Barnes & Noble and look at the grumpy 70-year-old manning a cash register, doing a job that is a godsend for a student or aspiring actor sharing an apartment and groceries with five other people, but is of very little use to this guy.

There is no fixed number of jobs in a community, but there are historical moments when there is a shortage of jobs, and they happen when there is a deficit of demand, and that comes when nobody has enough money. Like, uh, now. And if you force people to remain at an advanced age in jobs they don't want (don't look at me, I love my job), it's not going to help. Lumps of Labor have nothing to do with it.

**See the very remarkable Ecological Headstand for a splendid tirade against Professor Krugman, who seems to be somewhat on the right on this topic, a complete history of the Lump of Labor trope, and much more.

***Although, didn't England virtually have to mummify South Asia and later Africa in English cotton in order to keep the industry going?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Vagabond Scholar: Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2012

Vagabond Scholar: Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2012

Batocchio, at Vagabond Scholar, has posted some 57 self-selected best posts of 2012 from mostly small blogs at the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2012. I volunteered a David Brooks piece. Some of the stuff is lovely, and all is worth checking out.

Jon Swift was a blogger posting from the "reasonable conservative" perspective (something like Stephen Colbert only aimed at a literate audience), an imaginary creature possessing the mind of the writer Al Weisel, who died much too young a couple of years ago. His own "Best of Jon Swift" compilation is as rich as a Christmas pudding but much funnier. He was also a strong and generous supporter of little bloggists, whence the annual roundup that Batocchio has continued in his name.
Photo by Lusi, RGB Stock.


Or is it Wiiiii?

Former House majority leader Dick Armey says he took an $8 million consulting deal in return for leaving the conservative organization FreedomWorks because the group was "dishonest" and because he "couldn't leave with empty pockets."
The arrangement, he says, will allow him to "never have to work again forever."
In an interview with ABC News as he was winding down his Wii Fit workout, Armey spoke frankly and at length about his dispute with FreedomWorks, his eyebrow raising consulting contract, and the strategy of the Republican Party. (Via Jesse Singal at Political Animal)
Whatever it is, it's delicious. Jesse was reduced to helpless giggles by the detail of the Wii Fit workout, and no wonder—it made me think the whole thing must be a spoof, but the fact is you can't make stuff like that up, at least not unless you're Shakespeare or Flaubert or in that general league.
Image from The MedFriendly Blog.
By the way, Armey denies the persistent rumor that any guns were waved when he shook down his former employer. But the 72-year-old ex-congressman is hardly hiding that it's a shakedown. The payoff is from one of the FreedomWorks board members, "reclusive Illinois millionaire" Richard Stephenson, of the cancer-profiteering Cancer Treatment Centers of America, who has promised to pay Armey $400,000 a year until he's 92, as a consultant. And what is it consultants do, actually?

"So Dick was saying, 'You know, Armey, my family and I have heard your story, about how you can't afford to retire and we want to help with your retirement,'" Armey said. The former leader of the House Republicans said it was a deal he just couldn't refuse.
Image from Geek Preview.

Take your government hands off my senators

Filibusters don't kill bills, senators kill bills, according to McCain's gang of well-fed elderly mavericks (HuffPost, via ThinkProgress):
"We have so many new members of the Senate, about half of the senators have never seen the Senate work properly because they've only been here five or six years," [Sen. Lamar] Alexander said. "So we're trying to get back to the days when the motion to proceed wasn't used to block so many bills and when the majority leader allowed senators to offer almost any amendment. Most of that has to be established by practice, by good behavior, rather than by changing the rules."
Irate Chagrian senator during the Great Galactic War. From
It's just like child labor. Outlawing it missed the whole point; what they should have been focusing on was more good bosses, who would treat the little scamps with some kindness, see to their getting some kind of rudimentary education, make sure they had a nutritious lunch, and so forth. But no, liberals just couldn't resist getting involved and putting a stop to the whole thing by burdensome regulation, as usual, and what did we get?

Exactly what you'd expect, that's what. If you outlaw child labor, only outlaw children will have jobs, in fields like illegal drug retail marketing, sex trade, and worse—not to mention how much child labor simply got outsourced to places like Bangladesh and Honduras, cutting our country off from who knows what kind of economic growth.

In the same way, the senate worked just fine in the days of John C. Calhoun and Mark Hanna and silver-voiced Everett Dirksen. The problem nowadays isn't the rules of the institution, it's the inferior class of people that run it. No names, but you must have noticed some of those guys sneakily introducing legislation that could lower your ROI, and you know very well why: because the voters like it. Now they not only want to maneuver those Trojan horses into the chamber, they want to force folks to vote on them, just like in France or something. Can you imagine that? And a lot of those bills could pass!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Tooting my own Horne

It's always such a pleasure when a really well-drawn but minor character shows up after a long absence, like Thomas Pynchon's "Pig" Bodine or Chloris Leachman as Frankie Muñiz's vile crypto-Slavic grandmother in Malcolm in the Middle, so I'm gratified to report a sighting of Arizona's own White Whale, attorney general Tom Horne.

In the past, we've watched Horne as a champion in the conservative battle against racism, as when he fought bravely against the Tucson school district's Mexican-American Studies program ("It's just like the Old South, and it's long past time that we prohibited it"), or when he claimed (probably falsely and possibly perjuriously) to have participated in Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington. Now he shows up as a moderate in the struggle to arm America's schools, between the two extremes of making all the teachers pack heat (conservative) and doing nothing at all (apparently liberal?).

"The ideal solution would be to have an armed police officer in each school," Attorney General Tom Horne said in a news release Wednesday. But budget cuts have limited the number of Arizona schools with "school resource officers" on campus, he said.
The "next best solution," Horne said, "is to have one person in the school trained to handle firearms, to handle emergency situations, and possessing a firearm in a secure location." (CNN, via ThinkProgress)
The one person would be the principal, or "another designee". (I guess the real leftist extreme would be raising the property tax to pay for the real cop.)
Grandma Ida

There is awesome comedy material in this setup. Obviously nobody on the staff wants the job, if only because of the Weekend Warrior training aspect, and all the teachers are under orders from the union rep not to do it because it's not in the contract, and so it goes to the most unsuitable person on the staff, a suckup vice principal with delusions of grandeur. Presumably a man, but think Chloris Leachman. Only I don't see how it ends without some serious bloodshed.
Chloris Leachman's model? And Tom Horne's favorite music critic.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Talk of the Townhall

Thomas Sowell:
If someone wrote a novel about a man who was raised from childhood to resent the successful and despise the basic values of America -- and who then went on to become President of the United States -- that novel would be considered too unbelievable, even for a work of fiction. Yet that is what has happened in real life.
Not unbelievable, just postmodern. Anyway Nixon's been dead for years, why are you suddenly bringing him up now?

Just asking.
WFMY News, Greensboro.
And Ann Coulter:
Is it just me, or does Kwanzaa seem to come earlier and earlier each year?
That would be you, Ann. I'm guessing you've been getting that first drink earlier and earlier on December 25, so that the Kwanzaa kind of sneaks up on you.

And the extraordinary Robert Knight on the difference between charity and socialism,
in which income is forcibly seized and then redistributed to groups and individuals favored by government officials. Socialism is rooted in the formula from Karl Marx—“from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.”
That’s a fine arrangement when voluntary, such as in families, churches and private charities. However, when imposed by force—and socialism is always accompanied by force since it violates human nature—it is soft tyranny masquerading as charity. 
I think if you accept all these premises you can prove that charity doesn't exist—it's not socialism if it's voluntary but it's never voluntary—but I won't swear to it. It could be that it violates human nature for government officials to give stuff to people outside their own families or religious affiliations. You could distinguish between homoagapism or giving to one's relatives and pew partners (the belief that charity begins—and ends—at home) and heteroagapism or giving to those who are not our sort, dear, which is necessarily violent, though also soft, i.e., socialism. I trust this is clear. In traditional political theory, of course, charity to one's relatives (nepotagapism) is the conservative mode of government.

From World News.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Skepticism and sifting

James, the Snooker Kid, at the Conservative Club; London, 1997. From Fast Mikey's Pool Page.
The Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, Mgr. Ross Douthat:
Like so many members of that class, Bloomberg combines immense talent with immense provincialism: his view of American politics is basically the famous New Yorker cover showing Manhattan’s West Side overshadowing the world, and his bedrock assumption is that the liberal paternalism with which New York is governed can and should be a model for the nation as a whole.

It’s an assumption that cries out to be challenged by a thoughtful center-right. If you look at the specific proposals being offered by Bloomberg and others, some just look like reruns of assault weapon regulations that had no obvious effect the last time they were tried. Others still might have an impact on gun violence, but only at a cost: the popular idea of cracking down hard on illegal handguns, for instance, would probably involve “stop and frisk” on a huge scale [....] But instead of a kind of skepticism and sifting from conservatives, after a week of liberal self-righteousness the spotlight passed instead to ... Wayne LaPierre.
So the Monsignor thinks LaPierre is a clown, and he's wondering how the right can come up with a dignified opposing partner to that leftist Bloomberg—more cosmopolitan than our bumpkin mayor (who lives on the East Side, thanks very much), with his Massachusetts accent, and equidistant from that imaginary center. He's not exactly sure what's called for, but he has an idea how it smells: "skepticism and sifting".

It's the urbane conservatism of yore! Remember? Brandy and cigars after dinner, and gossip about poor people, blacks and Jews, racehorses and actresses. People are savages, what can you do? Take away their guns and they'll kill each other with tire irons.

Your vulgar new-money conservatives seem to be all about doing things all the time; they didn't quite get the message that government is the problem. It'll be a terrible idea—build moats around all the schools, with alligators!—but an idea nevertheless. Your true clubbable conservative knew better: the job of the rulers is to cover their mouths while yawning, and be mildly amused.

But then some feel that when a bunch of little kids are murdered, mild amusement is not the appropriate response. Indeed Rabbi Jesus himself says something of the sort.

Showdown on Fiscal Bluff

As our national legislature seems to be intent on rolling its little red wagon over that fiscal pavement cut—bump!—Jared Bernstein has an idea why. They could pass that deal tomorrow, and Bernstein thinks it would be pretty good, as I have been predicting (but I've just been making it up, he has actual sources):
extend tax cuts on 98% of households; allow expiration for top 2% over $250K;
–suspend sequester (i.e., shut off automatic spending cuts)
–extend unemployment insurance, patch AMT and doc fix (I think that’s right on those last two–the latter refers to scheduled negative spike in payments to docs who see Medicare patients).
But they're not doing it now, because by God that would be raising taxes on Paris Hilton, as they say, and they weren't by God elected to do that.

So what's different on January 2? It's the perspective, stupid. That's when everybody's tax rates have gotten high and partying like it's 1999. If they do the deal then, Boehner can say he's presiding over the biggest tax cut in American history. And he will!
From QutaibaProtocol (really!).

Monday, December 24, 2012

An irony of unimaginable proportions

On the conservative Liberty Counsel radio show Faith and Freedom, hosts Mat Staver and Matt Barber discuss the fact that an elementary school in Jackson County, Fla., removed a nativity scene while allowing Santa Clause and Frosty the Snowman to remain. “What an irony at this time of year, where Jesus gets put in the closet, and in California, where we’re litigating out there, where they’re wanting to make homosexuality the preferred method or topic of counseling discussions, but anything contrary to that would be banned,” said Staver.
“This is just an irony of unimaginable proportions,” he went on. “When we say there’s a war on Christmas and somebody says ‘oh,’ mockingly, ‘oh there’s no war on Christmas,’ this is a war on Christmas. This is discrimination, it is viewpoint-based discrimination.” Then Barber argued that as “people who are engaged in all form of aberrant sexual behavior” come out of the closet, “Christians are being forced into the closet, and here literally the baby Jesus is forced and crammed into the closet."
(Via Raw Story)
Houses of Parliament, London, February 2009. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe.
If homosexuality is the method of the counseling discussion then it's not the topic, and if it's the topic then it's not the method, because anything contrary to that is banned, but you don't have to have counseling discussions at all, honestly, and most of us don't. At worst you can just have counseling. Let the record show that.

As to whether it's a war or not, that's a matter of perspective, isn't it? But to my way of thinking, there's something awfully violent about the concept of a war and it doesn't represent the way I feel, which doesn't even have anything directly to do with Christians and Christmasites; it's more about our own traditions and families, and preserving them the way they've always been.

I've been around Christians all my life, eaten and drunk with them, forged deep friendships. Hell, I've spent unforgettable nights with Christian girls—that was back in the seventies, of course, when the boundaries were a little looser than they are now. When women are Christian, it doesn't feel quite as unnatural, somehow; if I were a woman I might well be a Christian myself, because there really is something attractive about that church-lady combination of sweetness and competence. Sexy, even, as she wrestles you into position in the telephone tree or car pool.

With the men, there are the old stereotypes: the furtive, rabbity look, the damp hands and reedy voices, the inexplicable interest in organ music. But it was never more than a caricature. Indeed, nowadays Christian dudes all seem to be gym bunnies, with arms like duct pipe! Star athletes, too, and fighter pilots, and politicians, giving it up for Jesus after making a 70-yard touchdown run or passing a bill to cut off somebody's food stamps. A little intimidating, to tell the truth.

We're a Frosty (or Frostine) family, essentially. I mean like anybody else, we enjoy all the different aspects of the Yuletide, all the way through the Long Advent from Hallows to Isaac Newton's birthday on December 25th; and my mom's a grammarian by profession, so we have a special veneration for Santa Clause (we recognize her as a female in spite of her long white beard, and at Yule we do a wassail procession, chanting the Sanctae Clausulae from house to house). But it's the Snowman that gives the real, deep rhythm to our lives, in the recurring form of his annual sacrifice, from rolling up to melting down, so that his love can explode from the fields in the form of asparagus, and radishes, and lettuce and so forth, all the way until the Frost kisses the season's last pumpkin to sleep.

That's what Brother Martin always said, when he came around for a cup of wassail on Newton's Eve with real-snow Jack wax (what some call maple taffy) and doughnuts for us kids. If there'd been a good snowfall, as there always seemed to be at Yule when I was a kid, we would have rolled a fresh Frosty, and he used a Sharpie to dot its button eyes, bringing the Snowman to life, and he and my parents sat around drinking for a while and telling winter stories, and we'd stay up so late that we never remembered when he left or how we ended up in our pajamas, in bed, the next morning.

Bringing Baby Jesus into it—in his little corncrib, as if he were being fed to the cows—seems so incommensurate with the emotional tone of the whole thing. Happy barn-birth and merry massacre! It ought to be no wonder why we prefer him in the closet. Call it viewpoint-based discrimination if you will, but have a little compassion for a tradition in danger.
Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival, Harbin, China, January 2011. Photo by Sheng Li/Reuters.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

From Greenland's icy mountains

Greenland. Image from Guide of Travels.
Sen.  John Barrasso (R-WY), via ThinkProgress:
We need to look at all of the issues, because what Wayne LaPierre and what the President of the United States agree on is that in this country, we have a culture of violence. [...]

I’m a strong supporter of our Second Amendment rights. I want to find real solutions. I want to find real solutions that work and Washington is not necessarily the place that you’re going to find those solutions. They will be found in our families and in our faith and communities and medicine and health care.
Fox News, via Crooks & Liars:
Malkin went on to address another topic: the fights that have erupted in malls over Air Jordan sneakers in several states, including one incident in Texas where two people were killed.
For instance, we know very well that guns don't people, people kill people; but does that mean we have to ban people altogether? Only a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C. would come up with a wrong-headed idea like that, a liberal eco-freako dream of Utopia, inhabited by every animal except for the species that keeps and bears arms—
What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
That approach would be like hunting gnats with an AR-15. I like to take my AR-15 out after squirrels, incidentally, because it blows them away so completely there's no cleanup. They're like nothing but fertilizer. But as I was saying, it's not just anybody that kills people, you see; it's bad people:
The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters,” [LaPierre] said. “People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day."
That's what we learn from our faith. And not only are they bad, but they are armed.

So we've spoken about Air Jordans. We've talked about rap music. We've mentioned Mortal Kombat and Murphy Brown. And I'm sure you know what that means. If we're going to put an end to this culture of violence we're going to have to exterminate them all.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

False Equivalency Department

William Hogarth, The Laughing Audience, 1753. From
From the "news analysis" by Michael Shear in today's Times:
And many Republicans remember well when the tables were turned. After Mr. Bush’s re-election in 2004, Democrats eagerly thwarted his push for privatization of Social Security, hobbling Mr. Bush’s domestic agenda in the first year of his second term.
That's right! Jeez, what a bunch of spoilsports we were, back in the day! Wouldn't even let him privatize Social Security, for Pete's sake! And now look at us complaining, just because they don't happen to feel like helping us save our economy from imminent collapse, is that ironic or what?

But then again,
New polls suggest that Mr. Obama’s popularity has surged to its highest point since he announced the killing of Osama bin Laden. In the latest CBS News survey, the president’s job approval rating was at 57 percent.
See, the thing is, those voters totally hated the idea of privatizing Social Security, and they actually like the idea of saving our economy from imminent collapse. It's kind of why Obama won the election, because he didn't do the one and he did do the other. Call them saps if you like, but they're the ones who pay for the whole show (it's true! the donors only pay for the campaigning part), and Democrats always like to give them a little of what they came for.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Inventory control problem

From Cornell Publications, Brighton, MI.
Our canny retail entrepreneurs—Riverview Gun Sales in East Windsor, Connecticut:
In a video obtained by Eyewitness News, Jordan Marsh, 26, of South Windsor, can be seen stealing an AR-15 with a scope just four days earlier.
Marsh was caught stealing a 50-caliber long gun from the Riverview Gun Sales on Saturday. Police found the AR-15 in a duffel bag in a room at the Hartford Hilton that day.
Police said Riverview Gun Sales had no idea the AR-15 Marsh stole was missing. Management at the store didn't know about 11 guns that Marsh had allegedly stolen last year until they were notified by detectives.
Inventory control issues at Riverview Gun Sales have occurred before. In 2007, state police raided a Somers home and found a bunch of stolen guns from the store.
"It was found that the same Riverview gun store was missing upwards of 30-plus guns," said East Windsor police Detective Matthew Carl.
The owner of Riverview Gun Sales repeated what he said Wednesday that he was saddened that a gun sold at the store was used in the Newtown massacre.
(WFSB TV,via Crooks & Liars)
Yes, that was where Mrs. Lanza got her AR-15. An adorable little shop where everybody seems to be out to lunch, in one way or another. Wish they'd open up a bank in my neighborhood, some people have all the luck.


He was farther out than you thought, with a vengeance. From Christianist News Service (just kidding, Cybercast News Service) News:
Speaking from Capitol Hill on Friday morning after the lack of support for the plan, Boehner was asked, “What went wrong?”

He said, “Listen, there was a perception created that that vote last night was going to increase taxes. Now, I disagree with that characterization of the bill.  But that impression was out there.”

“Now we had a number of our members who just really didn’t want to be perceived as having raised taxes,” he said.  “That was the real issue.”

Boehner continued: “One of my colleagues the other night had an analogy of 100 people drowning in a pool and that he was the lifeguard.  And because he couldn’t save any of them, does that mean he shouldn’t have done anything?  And his point to them was, if I can go in there and save 99 people that are drowning, that’s what I should do as a lifeguard.”

“But the perception was out there, and a lot of our members did not want to have to deal with it,” he said.
Hold that analogy a second, I think it's trying to get away!
Image from Swimming Pool Safety News.
I figure Boehner meant to say "because he couldn't save all of them", because if he couldn't save any of them then he couldn't have saved 99. Obviously for a working lifeguard saving 99 lives in a single pool is a pretty big deal, and worthwhile even if one refractory swimmer goes and drowns anyhow.

But what's the analogy to, actually? Who's in danger of figurative drowning? Because I hadn't heard of the proposals of Plan B being meant exactly to save anybody, unless, well, the Republican members of the House, whose failure to participate in finding a way around or over that fiscal declivity might bring about their figurative extinction.

Or are all the members really lifeguards? Are the potential drowning victims the figurative 99 taxes that are getting lowered against one that is also getting lowered but is getting the perception created that it is getting increased? Or is it really getting increased, and hence a drowning victim, and creating the perception that all of them are getting increased by synecdoche, creating the lifeguards' weary negativity?

Or am I just vainly trying to separate the sheep analogies from the goat analogies? Baaa.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Call for support

Starlingskies Zombie Pops
Erik Loomis, who teaches history at the University of Rhode Island and blogs at Lawyers, Guns & Money, sent a Tweet last week to the following effect:

I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.

Now those apostles of nonviolence and compassion, Glenn Reynolds, Michelle Malkin, and others, want to see him punished for this savage and insurrectionary language, and indeed his career has really been threatened. He writes,
what really bugs me is that because of my intemperate language, we are talking about me and what others said about me instead of the policies of unrestricted ownership of killing machines that led to the death of 26 people in Connecticut last week and thousands around the United States and Mexico every year. I look forward to moving the conversation back to what really matters–regulations on guns.
Antique hand-painted doll's head. From Etsy.

That he did not threaten Wayne LaPierre's life in any way should be obvious to anyone who speaks English. Reynolds and Malkin and the rest are perfectly familiar with phrases like "heads will roll" and "I want his head on a platter". They are simply anxious to cause someone pain.

(You can support Eric Loomis here.)

Of human bandage

From  ThinkProgress.
On the radio this morning: Brian Lehrer interviewing Judith Rodin, who is the president of the Rockefeller Foundation and co-chair of the NYS2100 commission to improve the resiliency of infrastructure, and they found themselves wondering, with reference to global warming, why it is that people find it so much easier to contemplate adapting to the crisis rather than mitigating it; building higher berms and levees, and so on, instead of just using less carbon. Both are equally expensive (and economy-stimulating), both equally require a lot of government. The biggest difference is that one will save millions of species from extinction and billions of humans from intense and permanent discomfort, and the other one won't.

I've mentioned before my paranoid idea that somebody positively wants it that way, namely the corporate interests that have been panting for a Northwest Passage for the past five centuries and mineral rights in the Arctic for at least five decades. Just as they didn't mind destroying the Brazilian and Indonesian forests for disposable chopsticks and particle board furniture, so they don't object to letting the whole planet go, in some future generation, for the sake of this generation's profits.

Anyway, the Bulletproof Backpack mentioned in ThinkProgress (link with picture above) is another case of putting a Band-Aid on a viral infection that clearly has little or nothing to do with oil companies. There's a psychological disposition, I'm afraid, to feel that we really can't change anything, that the best we can manage is to protect ourselves, and maybe a couple of other people. The Bulletproof Backpack doesn't even protect against assault weapons, just ordinary handguns, but it's apparently selling like Iowa deep-fried buttersticks.

Be it never so umble

Notes from the Yale Professor of Humility:
gun control laws have never been that effective in controlling crime or killing. Everybody can pick out their favorite study to prove this or that point, but the C.D.C.  did a comprehensive review of the literature overall and they didn’t find sufficient evidence to show that gun restrictions work. That doesn’t mean the laws don’t work. It just means that the effect isn’t big enough so that the 51 studies under review could pick it up.
Afraid I can't give you any marks on that one, Professor Brooks. It means the CDC (in 2003) found the studies in its brief generally weren't well done enough to demonstrate anything:
In conclusion, the application of imperfect methods to imperfect data has commonly resulted in inconsistent and otherwise insufficient evidence with which to determine the effectiveness of firearms laws in modifying violent outcomes.
And if you want to know why, you might look at your own newspaper:
The reality is that even these and other basic questions cannot be fully answered, because not enough research has been done. And there is a reason for that. Scientists in the field and former officials with the government agency that used to finance the great bulk of this research say the influence of the National Rife Association has all but choked off money for such work. (Michael Luo, New York Times, 1/25/2011)
Note that in this gig, where he poses as Gail Collins's slightly conservative next-door neighbor, having some coffee with her in the breakfast nook and proving that folks can get along even if they differ in political views as long as they respect each other, he is not lying to prove a point, since he's already devoted several paragraphs to explaining how he's in favor of all sorts of gun control laws, even though he apparently doesn't believe they work. He's either lying out of reflex, or simply unable to read a social science research document, or (of course) both.
From Bob Enyart Live.
More on this especially vile column from Driftglass.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I'm telling you now

John Amato at Crooks & Liars sees the Republicans unable to come together to pick up their victory with Obama's latest reach across the aisle, with pleased astonishment:
Did Christmas come early?... I didn't think the GOP and Boehner would be this crazy and let it all slip away, but the lunacy of the TeaBirchers knows no bounds.
Ah, maybe Amato didn't think so, but perhaps there were those who did, because I think I've seen this game before, and it's not exactly 11-dimensional—more like a Fool's Mate, which Obama uses again and again: making offer upon abject, humiliating offer ("take my shirt! take my daughters!")  while the Republicans, getting greedier and greedier, hold out, thinking, if he's ready to give us that, what's next?
Batman and Wonder Woman. From The Thought Experiment.

And then when people are starting to get really angry and the Republicans dare not hold out any longer, that last offer isn't there any more—Lucy sweeps the football behind her back and the Republicans are on their collective ass, looking bewildered; the deal is far less dreadful than we'd been led to expect. Just wait! It'll turn out that chained indexing doesn't kick in till 2032!

For a more coherent and better defended statement, see the formerly Angry, still Black, always a Lady Imani Gandy's great piece.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Evil Hindu proselytes

Precious beyond belief: the Times story (by Will Carless) about the first graders of Encinitas, Cal., who are getting 30-minute yoga lessons in school, and the terrified group of Christianist parents who object to this even taking place (being allowed to opt out isn't enough for these tender consciences), and protest outside.

The project is funded by the Jois Foundation, dedicated to Krishna Pattabhi Jois, the founder of the Ashtanga school of yoga, which openly admits the physical practice of yoga is inseparable from  "a broader spiritual quest."
“They’re not just teaching physical poses, they’re teaching children how to think and how to make decisions,” [protesting parent Mary] Eady said. “They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort. They’re using this as a tool for many things beyond just stretching.”
Another program, bikram yoga in Lodi. Photo by Dan Evans, Lodi News-Sentinel.
And those kinds of sectarian behavior certainly have no place in a public school! Thinking and making decisions? Looking within for peace and comfort? You might as well come right out and say, "Kids, your parents' religion is stupid."

(The last laugh will be on me when the Latter Day Saints start paying for swimming classes, and they'll be clandestinely baptizing all the pupils.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Occupied and preoccupied

Some stuff that doesn't appear to be appearing in the US:
Muhammad Ziad Awad Salaymah of Hebron on his 17th birthday, the last day of his life.
This was December 12th. Muhammad's mother sent him to the bakery to get more cake, but on his way he was stopped at an Israeli army checkpoint. According to the border policewoman who shot him, he pulled a gun from his pocket, grabbed a policeman, and held the gun to his head, so she fired at him, three times. Only on the third shot did he relinquish his hold on the officer and drop the gun to fall to the ground. The gun turned out to be a toy.

None of Muhammad's friends and family had ever seen the toy gun before. Also Muhammad was hard of hearing. I find I can't make the effort to imagine how the official story could be true; it seems more likely that he failed to respond to an order and was killed for that, and that the toy gun came from—somewhere else. Video of the incident exists but has not been released.

My version of the story comes from Noam R. at +972blog. Other sources spell Muhammad's surname Salima. A good roundup of Israeli mainstream press coverage from all political perspectives, including Yedioth Ahronoth (who refers to Muhammad as "the terrorist") is at the Americans for Peace Now NewsNosh website. There we learn that he was the third boy from Hebron to be killed by uniformed Israelis in the past month.

Fears in Israel have been that a Third Intifada may be beginning, although it sounds so far more like a police uprising. Some youths have attempted to storm IDF checkpoints but the Palestinian police have stopped them. Nevertheless, a Hebron group is now distributing (since the 15th) a video claiming that the Third Intifada has already begun, led by a joint command of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and PFLP members.

The IDF is certainly getting jumpy, in Hebron in particular. Noam Sheizaf reports that the day after Muhammad's murder, Yousri al Jamal and Ma'amoun Wazwaz, Reuters cameramen driving to the same checkpoint, in a vehicle clearly marked "TV" and "PRESS" on their jackets, were stopped by an Israeli foot patrol, forced out of the car and punched and beaten with gun butts, accused of belonging to the human rights group B'Tselem (which is not illegal, much as some might wish it were), and made to strip to their underwear and kneel on the road, hands behind their heads. The patrol then lobbed a tear gas cannister among them and ran away. (Reuters's own report is here.)

One of B'Tselem's biggest achievements in documenting the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories has been equipping Palestinians with their own video cameras. One IDF soldier has been quoted as saying that
the cameras on the ground undermine the forces’ efforts. “A commander or an officer sees a camera and becomes a diplomat, calculating every rubber bullet, every step. It’s intolerable, we’re left utterly exposed. The cameras are our kryptonite.” (Ynet via +972) 
So the story that the patrol mistook these cameramen for B'Tselem volunteers is probably true. Horrible, though.

One more thing that seems to be going on is an unprecedented number of suicides among IDF personnel, with the IDF covering up numbers and details. This was the discovery last spring of the Israeli Facebook blogger Eishton, who has now been picked up and interrogated by Israeli military police, and released with a gag order—he is to say nothing regarding the subject of the interrogations. Thus we don't actually know what he was being interrogated about, but Richard Silverstein gives good reason for thinking it must be about the suicides.

Something that bears further investigation is the question of psychic trauma caused to a person who harms others, as in the case of the severe PTSD suffered by American soldiers who took part in torture in Afghanistan and Iraq. I'm wondering if these excesses, on patrols and at checkpoints in Palestinian territory, aren't doing some terrible damage to the psyche of the young Israeli—the reason for these deaths that the IDF is trying so hard to keep quiet.

Oh, and on the lighter side (by Israel-Palestine standards of what constitutes "light"), from Ami Kaufman:

This went up on the Facebook page of the Israeli embassy in Ireland as a nice little Xmas message. It's been taken down since and the embassy has apologized to "anyone who may have been offended." And by the way, how many lynchings of Jews have there been in Bethlehem over the past—oh, 60 years? Can't find any numbers online, wonder why that is? Maybe Jews are welcome in Bethlehem and Jericho, though Jewish Israeli citizens are not.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Egypt: The next India or the next Israel?

Thomas P. Friedman, aka Thomas L. Friedman, the Erzschnurrbart of the Zeitgeist, has learned to his amazement and delight that India is a multiethnic and multireligious country in which members of non-majority groups frequently ascend to high political office, though only when the Congress Party is in power:
India’s prime minister and its army chief of staff today are both Sikhs, and India’s foreign minister and chief justice of the Supreme Court are both Muslims. It would be like Egypt appointing a Coptic Christian to be its army chief of staff.

“Preposterous,” you say.
I'd say it's more like Dublin having a Jewish mayor ("Only in America!" my dad liked to say), not all that preposterous, whereas Egypt having a Christian army chief would be pretty interesting. Still, why not? Iraq had a Christian deputy prime minister under the Baath party leadership, and my country, in which about 13% of the population is black, just re-elected its first black president.

Would it be preposterous for Egypt to have a Christian army chief?
Well, yes, that’s true today. But if it is still true in a decade or two, then we’ll know that democracy in Egypt failed. We will know that Egypt went the route of Pakistan and not India. That is, rather than becoming a democratic country where its citizens could realize their full potential, instead it became a Muslim country where the military and the Muslim Brotherhood fed off each other so both could remain in power indefinitely and “the people” were again spectators. Whether Egypt turns out more like Pakistan or India will impact the future of democracy in the whole Arab world.
I have no idea what makes Friedman bring up Pakistan in this context. No doubt it has become somewhat less comfortable for Christians than it was in the glory days of the 1960s, when A.R. Cornelius presided over the Supreme Court, but still. I expect it was a bizarre slip of the fingers when he meant Israel, where no Christian has ever served in the government, the little token minority positions in governments of the "left" being reserved for Muslims and Druze—and where Christians and Muslims alike are passed up for national service, under the assumption that they are naturally traitors.

Yes, of course that's it. Rather than becoming a democratic country where its citizens could realize their full potential, instead it became a Jewish state where the military and the Orthodox clergy fed off each other so both could remain in power indefinitely until somebody still more cynical came by and ate their lunch. And if Israel has a Christian foreign minister or a Druze running Mossad or maybe one Reconstructionist rabbi conducting weddings ten years from now, maybe democracy will be a success there too!
Theatrical release poster, 1928. From Wikipedia.
P.S. I should have taken a screen shot but now it's too late: the original version of Friedman's column referred to Amartya Sen as a "Noble Prize-winning economist".