Sunday, October 31, 2010

Moderation In All Things, Including Moderation

No, I didn't go to Jon Stewart's party in Washington yesterday. For one thing, as I've already mentioned, I had a prior engagement. For another, what "sanity" does Stewart propose we restore? This country has always been batshit crazy. For yet another, Stewart early on called his project a "Million Moderate March," which leaves me out: I'm not a moderate, and that puts me in good company -- better company, I'm afraid, than Stewart.

I realize that Stewart's call for sanity may be as tinged with satire as Colbert's corresponding call for fear. But only tinged. (This morning I heard someone on NPR say piously that Stewart's closing "sincere moment" showed that satire can go beyond entertainment to have a serious meaning. Duh! Satire is supposed to have teeth, and sink them deep. If it doesn't, it's just mockery pretending to be satire.) That was shown by Stewart's early announcement (also quoted in the Times) that
The purpose, he said, is to counter what he called a minority of 15 percent or 20 percent of the country that has dominated the national political discussion with extreme rhetoric. He tarred both parties with that charge, mentioning both the attacks on the right against President Obama for being everything from a socialist to un-American and on the left against former President Bush for being a war criminal.
Numerous people jumped on that last clause. Glenn Greenwald pointed out that Stewart's exemplary extremes were bogus, citing a McClatchy story which reported that
The Army general who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison accused the Bush administration Wednesday of committing "war crimes" and called for those responsible to be held to account.
(See also this post at the Comedy Central website, and notice the second comment under it, by an Administrator.)

But, well, maybe that Army general is an extremist. But any number can play that game. To wit: Some extremists say that George Bush should be sainted. Other extremists say he should be flayed alive with hot rakes and disembowelled publicly before being drawn and quartered. As a moderate, I say he should merely be hanged, as Saddam Hussein was hanged with his approval. If you disagree with me, you're the kind of extremist who has ruined political discourse in this country.

Actually, that whole paragraph from the Times was bogus, in the Car Talk sense of the word. What is laughingly known as political discourse is dominated by the corporate media, who by dint of owning the media infrastructure and spending large amounts of money get to define and occupy the Center. The extremists would be those who "reflexively" opposed Bush's invasion of Iraq, who want a single-payer health care payment system (or better yet, a National Health Service), who now oppose Obama's war in Afghanistan, who opposed the Bush-Paulson-Obama-McCain bank bailout, who do not (contrary to recurring corporate media claims) worry about the deficit as much as they worry about jobs, and -- do a lot of yelling, but are mostly not heard except by ourselves. True, the corporate media have given disproportionate coverage and support to the Tea Party Extended tantrum, but that's because calls for "smaller" government, lower taxes for the rich, and the demolition of social services and the Commons, are part of the great Center. (Greenwald also showed that "Stewart's examples of right-wing rhetorical excesses (Obama is a socialist who wasn't born in the U.S. and hates America) are pervasive in the GOP", not just in its fringes.)

I get weary when the Tea Party is treated as if it were something new in the US. Surely I'm not the only person old enough to remember the "New Right" that gave us Ronald Reagan in 1980, that considered William F. Buckley Jr. a liberal if not a leftist, that was going to sweep away liberalism like a tsunami, stop abortion absolutely, put prayer back in the schools, make us proud of our Flag again, end welfare, limit government, and roll back Communism?

The hysteria of the Democrats, who warn that a Republican victory in November will usher in a new Dark Age, is more than matched by the hysteria of the Republicans, who gleefully anticipate the new Age of Light that will bless the Fatherland when they supplant the Democrat scalawags and give America back to We the People. Just like they did in 1994!

So my right-wing acquaintance (that's RWA1) keeps linking to prematurely triumphalist articles in USA Today, plus the usual Obama ankle-biters from the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page and National Review Online. (That WSJ article was mildly amusing. It was an attack on some Democratic house scribe who wanted to depict Barack Obama as a philosopher-president. I hope I needn't reiterate my own low opinion of Obama's intellect, but I'm old enough to remember [as is RWA1] when the Journal was trying to present Dan Quayle as a serious intellectual, a reader of Plato and Aristotle, full of gravitas. Or as Richard Nixon told the New York Times, "He's a very different man than the intellectual midget that has been portrayed in much of the media.… I think he's going to make an excellent Vice President, and I believe that he's going to be a popular Vice President just as soon as the people of this country see him as he is." Riiiight.)

RWA1 also linked to this WSJ story on the birth of the Tea Party Movement, "a good account," RWA1 said, "of the movement without the hysterical baggage in the partisan media." It's nice to have a non-hysterical account of a hysterical movement, I suppose, though Fox News is surely "partisan media" and has been highly supportive of the Teabaggers, as have the corporate media generally. (It happens that NPR's This American Life did a show on the Tea Party, very sympathetic and non-hysterical, just today.) RWA1, who also went berserk over the firing of Juan Williams by NPR, considers himself a sober conservative (but don't they all?), but he isn't that different from someone like Jon Stewart in wishing to see himself as the reasonable, rational middle. And truth be told, they are probably not as far apart politically as either would like to think.

Glenn Greenwald also pointed out something important that I've noticed before.
One other point about this fixation on the "tone" of our politics. Political debates are inherently acrimonious -- much of the rhetoric during the time of the American Founding, as well as throughout the 19th Century, easily competes with, if not exceeds, what we have now in terms of noxiousness and extremity -- but far more important than tone, in my view, is content. For instance, Bill Kristol, a repeated guest on The Daily Show, is invariably polite on television, yet uses his soft-spoken demeanor to propagate repellent, destructive ideas. The same is true for war criminal John Yoo, who also appeared, with great politeness, on The Daily Show. Moreover, some acts are so destructive and wrong that they merit extreme condemnation (such as Bush's war crimes). I don't think anyone disputes that our discourse would benefit if it were more substantive and rational, but it's usually the ideas themselves -- not the tone used to express them -- that are the culprits.
I wrote about the acrimoniousness of American political discourse here, and about the way that liberals / moderates confuse calm tone with moderate substance here. And the firing of Juan Williams, which led to a lot of caterwauling in our political discourse, reminded me of a piece that the late Ellen Willis wrote for the Village Voice in 1990 when CBS' cracker-barrel philosopher Andy Rooney was suspended for making some stupidly vicious racist remarks -- but not for making stupidly vicious homophobic remarks. I haven't been able to find Willis's article on the Web, but her argument has stayed with me through the twenty years since. She argued that instead of suspending Rooney, CBS should have required him to have an on-air conversation -- debate, even -- with anti-racist and anti-homophobic writers and thinkers, to actually discuss the issues instead of merely suspending him and letting him make a typically empty apology for offending people. Willis recognized, of course, that such an exchange would never happen in the corporate media, who are dedicated to homogenizing, flattening out, and simply ignoring the issues the world faces. To address them would be, like, upsetting. Extreme. Better just to discuss Michelle Obama's shoulders, and complain for the thousandth time that the Democratic Party hasn't moved far enough to the Center.

[The photo at the head of this post comes from Roy Edroso's alicublog. I like the sign, which suggests that someone at the rally might have had irreverent thoughts about the undertaking. But the New York Times article I quoted above mentions that "Mr. Stewart also promised to supply the crowd with signs if they did not bring their own, including as examples, 'I Disagree With You, But I’m Pretty Sure You’re Not Hitler,' and 'Take It Down a Notch for America.'" The sign in the photo seems like more of that, but I still like it. Some other signs can be seen at Band of Thebes.]

Buzzword of the Day: "Historic"

I happened to have NPR's news report turned on just now, and it began with the newscaster saying that the Democrats face "historic losses" on Tuesday. Considering how often right-wing pundits and propagandists have been throwing around the word "historic" lately in connection with elections, that little word package grated on my nerves. C'mon, every election can't be historic. (Was the 2006 upset that put Democrats back in control of Congress "historic"? Kerry's defeat in 2004? Bush's theft of the election in 2000?)

And then toward the end of the short broadcast, the newscaster announced the death of longtime Democratic hack Theodore Sorenson, who, she said, helped John Fitzgerald Kennedy craft his "historic" inaugural speech. It was almost a rhyme, and an odd overuse of such a vacuous word in so short a time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How I Spent My Saturday Night

... working at the dorm Halloween Dance. This is something I've done for a good many years now, and it's not out of the kindness of my heart (I'll clear about $100 in overtime), but it's not drudgery either. I know the people (though not as well as I did in the past) and like them for the most part, and it is better than sitting at home slaving over a hot computer. The students do the decoration, setup and music; my job is to keep them supplied with lemonade and water, and do the cleanup afterward. The student organizers move the tables and chairs back into place, and I and one other worker do the rest. This is the dining hall, so it has to be ready to serve meals the next morning.

This year's theme was Sweeney Todd, as you can see.

And then we cleaned up and I went home and went to sleep. The end.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

Bruce Cumings's The Korean War again, page 196:
In the aftermath of the Chinese intervention, a staff conference with Generals Ridgway, Almond, and Coulter, and others in attendance, brought up the issue of the [North Korean] "enemy in civilian clothing." Someone at this conference said, "We cannot execute them but they can be shot before they become prisoners." To which General Coulter replied, "We just turn them over to the ROK's [the South Koreans] and they take care of them."
As Fred Kaplan put it more recently, in a bootlicking piece on the latest Wikileaks material at Slate:
Finally, the WikiLeaks documents offer abundant evidence that, while some American guards behaved horrendously toward Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, Iraqi police and soldiers have behaved much worse.

The documents reveal several instances of U.S. soldiers witnessing Iraqi abuses. In some cases, they tried to stop the abuse, to no avail. In one case, a soldier reported an incident to his superior, who wrote on the report, "No investigation required."

That's a rather selective interpretation, apparently. Glenn Greenwald put it this way:
... a key revelation from these documents: namely, that the U.S. systematically and pursuant to official policy ignored widespread detainee abuse and torture by Iraqi police and military (up to and including murders). In fact, American conduct goes beyond mere indifference into active complicity, as The Guardian today reports that "fresh evidence that US soldiers handed over detainees to a notorious Iraqi torture squad has emerged in army logs published by WikiLeaks."
Similar things happened in Vietnam, too: just turn prisoners over to the locals, and "they take care of them." Though often enough we just preferred to do it ourselves, in both places.

("January 9, 1964: a South Vietnamese soldier uses the end of a dagger to beat a farmer for allegedly supplying government troops with inaccurate information about the movement of Viet Cong guerrillas in a village west of Saigon.")

Thursday, October 28, 2010

American Exceptionalism -- The More It Changes ...

I'm reading Bruce Cumings's The Korean War: A History (The Modern Library, 2010), and will probably have some more to say about it as I go along. (If I don't get even further behind in my writing than I am already, that is.)

For now, though, I'm struck by the enduring inability of many educated Americans -- not what my RWA1 calls the "yahoos," but, y'know, real people! -- to recognize that people in other countries have interests of their own, just like we do. Cumings quotes several appalling bits from "the respected military editor of The New York Times, Hanson Baldwin," writing during the war.
Somewhat uncomfortable with North Korean indignation about "women and children slain by American bombs," Baldwin went on to say that Koreans must understand that "we do not come merely to bring devastation." Americans must convince "these simple, primitive, and barbaric peoples ... that we -- not the Communists -- are their friends." Now hear the chief counsel for war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials, Telford Taylor:
The traditions and practices of warfare in the Orient are not identical with those that have developed in the Occident ... individual lives are not valued so highly in Eastern mores. And it is totally unrealistic of us to expect the individual Korean soldier ... to follow our most elevated precepts of warfare [26].
Bear in mind, first, that when Taylor wrote of "the individual Korean soldier", he meant the individual South Korean soldier more than the individual North soldier. I doubt he meant to exculpate the brutal Commies of their atrocities on the grounds that it was unrealistic to expect them to "follow our most elevated precepts of warfare."

Second, it was not the Koreans but the Americans who leveled the North at Douglas MacArthur's orders. "Soon George Barrett of The New York Times found 'a macabre tribute to the totality of modern war' in a village north of Anyang" [30], in a scene that echoes Pompeii, maybe intentionally:
The inhabitants through throughout the village and in the fields were caught and killed and kept the exact postures they held when the napalm struck -- a man about to get on his bicycle, fifty boys and girls playing in an orphanage, a housewife strangely unmarked, holding in her hand a page torn from a Sears-Roebuck catalogue crayoned at Mail Order No. 3,811,294 for a $2.98 "betwitching bed jacket -- coral."
"Secretary of State Dean Acheson wanted censorship authorities notified about this kind of 'sensationalist reporting,' so it could be stopped."

But you know, Americans consider life cheap, as long as it's not American life. Individual lives are not valued so highly in American mores. As a result we can hardly expect the individual American soldier to follow our most elevated precepts of warfare ... You could transpose so much of these stories into contemporary Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and they'd fit all too well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Son of Elitism for the Masses

One of my right-wing acquaintances -- let's call him RWA1 to distinguish him from RWA2, though there's not much to distinguish them aside from a quarter-century in age -- just posted a Facebook Like to a National Review article called "Our So-called Experts," by one Jim Manzi. I was going to make a little joke to the effect that the so-called experts would be NR's -- that's the magazine that gave the world George Will and other great intellectuals -- but it was a bit too labored even for me.

So anyway, what have we got here? The topic is really climate change controversy and skepticism about global warming. Manzi claims that, although "public opinion in many major European democracies is surprisingly similar to that in the U.S.",
the U.S. political system is the only one that gives voice to this skepticism. After all, in a democracy, when 40–50+ percent of the population has an opinion on a topic of immense public importance, one of the parties will normally reflect this, if only to get votes.
Manzi sees "significant structural advantages for the non-elites in the U.S. versus the UK, two stand out: open primaries, and lack of membership in a supra-national organization like the E.U." Well, the US is also theoretically subject to "supra-national" constraints like NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, and our "open primaries" don't work all that well in the long run at keeping "elites" (Manzi's word) from running things. "Of course," he quips, "the reply of a progressive to this observation is presumably: Bravo, the system is working as intended." "Presumably"?

Unfortunately I must agree that there is a lot of elitism among "progressives," but this doesn't distinguish them in any important way from "conservatives." Manzi, who is "the founder and chairman of an applied artificial intelligence software company... [and] a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute" (which I guess does make him one of NR's so-called experts!), links to an article he wrote for City in which he talks about the limitations of the social sciences in making testable predictions. For an opening example he mentions liberal economists like Paul Krugman and Obama's 2009 stimulus package to support his contention in the NR article that "the elites ... have such a terrible track record of producing social interventions that worked when subjected to rigorous testing." He might also have mentioned Reaganomics and its 1981 interventions that drove US unemployment up to Depression-era levels, a result from which the country has never really recovered. He might have mentioned the neoliberal policies, called Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein, championed by Milton Friedman and other elites, which have generated huge corporate profits at terrible cost to most people. Or the deregulation policies, popular among elites of both parties, that brought the US economy crashing down in 2008. Of course, the reply of a conservative to this observation is presumably: Bravo, the system is working as intended.

Manzi might also have mentioned the opposition to genetically modified foods, which is much more widespread, organized and effective in Europe than the US. I don't know how public opinion on the matter compares, but I do know that US corporate elites blocked Congressional plans to require labeling of GM foods here. For our own good, of course.

Manzi quotes (and agrees with) William F. Buckley's disingenuous quip that he "would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than by the Harvard faculty", and concludes: "Our so-called experts in public policy talk a good game, but in the end are no experts at all. They build castles of words, and call it knowledge." Would the elites at the National Review or my RWA1 approve of this claim if Manzi included right-wing "so-called experts"? I doubt it. I, on the other hand, have often expressed my own reservations about our so-called experts and my criticism of elitism. (As an old-fashioned gay liberationist, I'm wary not only of antigay experts but of gay ones.) I could also point to numerous writers on the left (or "cultural left") who've been critical of expertise and argued for more democratic controls on social policy, including that informed by "science." And c'mon, with its billionaire bankrollers and exaggerated numbers drawn from the losing side of the last elections, the Tea Party Extended Tantrum is an elite group itself.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oh, If Only I Could Be Eighty Again!

I need to stop fooling around here and finish reading Queer Questions, Clear Answers so I can move on to something more interesting. So here's a video clip by the band Jive Grave.

JIVE GRAVE at rockwood music hall from Geo Wyeth on Vimeo.

I confess I found the bandleader Geo Wyeth at EastVillageBoys, a site that is one of my guilty -- well, not quite pleasures. Yes, I sometimes like to look at pictures of scantily- or un-clad skinny pretty boys (though the "overly friendly park employees" they encounter during their photo shoots interest me more), and the New York queer/art vibe that informs EVB has pointed me to artistes whom I feel I ought to know about, but can't ... quite ... muster ... much ... interest. If I were twenty instead of nearly sixty, would I connect better? I doubt it. Though I read the Voice, I never felt much desire to move to New York or the Village when I was a kid either. But I might just track down Jive Grave's music now that they've got a recording out.

I also liked the conclusion of the interview with Wyeth:
Cole: ... Moving on, when was the drunkest you’ve ever been?

Geo: My friend Keltie has a Bi Bim Bop birthday party every year where we do Karaoke in Korea Town and get Korean barbeque. It’s amazing, but they serve this drink called Soju that is basically grain alcohol (I think it’s literally used to clean the bar at night). Whatever, that is definitely the LAST time I got so drunk I couldn’t remember how drunk I got and I glazed over watching this very impressive girl sing Christian rock. The time before that was New Years Eve at the Grace Hotel, I ended the evening by taking off all my clothes, throwing down my accordion, and jumping in the hotel pool. Then I sliced my toe on a sliding shower door and limped bleeding to the train, but not before spitting in a cop’s face who was pushing around this ag butch dyke in the street - she took the train home with me and promised me courtside seats at a Knicks game (she works at Madison Square Garden).

A middlin' cute gay musician who wears a harmonica holder, drinks soju and goes to GLBT Die-Ins at Grand Central! Maybe we've made some progress after all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Kid -- We Don't Like Your Kind

Back in the Sixties, in his epic Alice's Restaurant Massacree, Arlo Guthrie told how he'd been rejected for military service because of his criminal record -- for littering.
I went over to the sergeant, said, "Sergeant, you got a lot a damn gall to ask me if I've rehabilitated myself, I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I'm sittin' here on the bench, I mean I'm sittin here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug."
Julian Assange of Wikileaks walked out of a CNN interview yesterday (h/t) when the interviewer insisted on asking questions about "internal disputes within Wikileaks" instead of the issues raised by the latest cache of documents released by Wikileaks last week, on the US war in Iraq, as he had evidently been led to believe it would be.

This exchange increases my admiration for Assange, who remains remarkably calm and rational. He puts the interviewer on the defensive immediately and keeps her there throughout. The interviewer's performance is contemptible; no doubt she was Just Following Orders, as we used to say, and CNN's treatment of these important issues is, as Assange says, completely disgusting. "I'm going to walk," he says calmly, "if you're going to contaminate us revealing the deaths of 104,000 people with attacks against my person." And then he walks.

Also disgusting has been the conduct of the US government in response to these new documents. First there was the bogus claim, recycled from the release of the Afghanistan documents (via), that Assange and Wikileaks 'potentially have blood on their hands' because the documents put US personnel and local informants and collaborators at risk -- outrageously shameless coming from a government that is wading in the blood of thousands of innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The claim about Afghanistan has been shown to be false, and so probably will be the current one about Iraq.

I imagine the CNN interviewer really felt as baffled by Assange's refusal to go along with her script as she claimed she was. CNN, like most American media, are basically tabloids, preferring to dodge issues in favor of personalities. In The Bush Dyslexicon Mark Crispin Miller describes at length how, after the third debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush in October 2000,
the "analysts" at CNN said not one word about the substance of the candidates' exchange but just kept harping on the general "statements" were putatively "trying" to make about themselves through their tone and body language.

Although a waste of time, the postdebate bull session was at least not strongly biased, nor was its anti-intellectualism too pronounced. On ABC there was a far more noxious session on the subject of the third debate.
This session, featuring Sam Donaldson, George Stephanopoulos, Cokie Roberts, and George Will, "captures perfectly the the barbarous synergy between the right and TV news, each feigning populism for its own elitist purposes." Roberts complained that the issue debated by the candidates wasn't "the important point there. ... Because that's not what comes across when you're watching the debate. What comes across when you're watching the debate is this guy from Washington doing Washington-speak" [pages 68-69]. The irony of four Beltway media insiders denouncing Al Gore for being a Beltway insider, while delicious, was totally lost on Roberts. It's a reminder of how little facts matter, but personalities do matter, to the corporate media. The New York Times' hatchet job on accused leaker Bradley Manning is another reminder.

But even a lot of liberals and progressives distrust Assange and Wikileaks and are willing to focus more on Assange's personality than on US crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Assange was accused (inaccurately, if not outright falsely) of rape in Sweden a couple of months ago, I remember some writer (on Salon, maybe? I can't find it) saying that maybe Assange just likes "rough" sex, as some aggressively intellectual or political men do, so maybe there was a misunderstanding between him and one of his partners. This writer had, if I recall correctly, no basis for the speculation that Assange likes "rough" sex; it was as if the writer was trying to give as much benefit of the doubt as possible to the people who were trying to smear and discredit him, while technically asserting his quasi-innocence. I have no idea what kind of sex Assange likes, any more than I know what kind of sex, say, Dan Choi likes. I'm quite willing to investigate personally in both cases, but until I can do so, I prefer to refrain from irrelevant speculations.

It's also irrelevant whether Assange is "imperious," at one commenter claimed at, linking to an article from Der Speigel. If he is, that would not diminish by even one the death toll of American and American-supported violence in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would not affect the value, for better or worse, of the documents Wikileaks has released. If Assange's motives or mental state should be subjected to such scrutiny, why not extend that scrutiny to Presidents Bush and Obama, their administrations, and their many apologists? Obama has told us at length about his father issues, in print. Why not use this information to analyze his relationship with, say, Hamid Karzai? Why not speculate about the psychic health of the Bloomberg reporters who wrote about cash from Iran being funneled to the Karzai regime but managed to avoid mentioning cash Karzai receives from the US, and reported with straight faces a State Department spokesman's rebuke that "Iran should not interfere with the internal affairs of the Afghan government"? Oh no, only the US is allowed to interfere with the internal affairs of the Afghan government. But I'm being facetious.

I imagine there's a lot of stress at Wikileaks these days. The US government, along with others, will try to exploit it. It's standard operating procedure to try to discredit dissidents by calling them crazy, delusional, paranoid. But no one should fall for their game.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Contemporary Debates on the Queer Question

I've just begun reading Thomas S. Serwatka's book Queer questions, clear answers: the contemporary debates on sexual orientation (Praeger, 2010). Serwatka is an openly gay administrator at University of North Florida. As the subtitle of the book suggests, he aims to give an overview of "contemporary debates on sexual orientation," which is a fine project, but Serwatka's execution is, well, flawed.

In his discussion of Kinsey, for example, Serwatka writes:
Unfortunately, despite some of the strengths of his surveys and interviews, Kinsey’s sampling techniques left much to be desired and have justifiably generated a number of criticisms about the accuracy of his numbers. The male participants Kinsey and his colleagues used in their study were predominantly white, they voluntarily signed up to be in a study on sexual attitudes and activities, and they included a higher percentage of college students than would be expected as well as an overrepresentation of volunteers who had been in the prison system.
It takes a certain talent to pack so much misinformation into one sentence. One at a time:
The male participants Kinsey and his colleagues used in their study were predominantly white ...
In fact the participants whose sexual histories were analyzed in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male were all white. Kinsey interviewed African-Americans, but not enough for representative samples, so their histories were not used in the book. Besides, American society is predominantly white and was even more so in the 1930s and 1940s when Kinsey was collecting data, so the question for a representative sample would be whether blacks were underrepresented.
... they voluntarily signed up to be in a study on sexual attitudes and activities ...
I might read this clause more charitably and less critically if Wersatka hadn't already shown that he's misinformed about Kinsey's work. True, the informants participated voluntarily, in that they weren't compelled, but that is true of the participants in other, later surveys that Wersatka cites uncritically. It's hard to imagine how you'd get participants involuntarily.
... and they included a higher percentage of college students than would be expected as well as an overrepresentation of volunteers who had been in the prison system.
True, Kinsey began by getting the histories of college students from the Marriage class he was teaching. But he knew he needed a wider range of subjects, and traveled the country in quest of them. He buttonholed just about everyone he met, and gave lectures which concluded with an appeal for 100% participation by the audiences -- which he often got, often in churches and American Legion chapters.

The complaint about too many convicts in the sample is a perennial, presumably based on the assumption that too many prisoners would stuff the ballot box, as it were, with hot man-to-man action. The trouble is that it isn't true, and has been known not to be true for a long time. As Martin Duberman wrote in a review of a 1997 biography of Kinsey:
... Paul Gebhard (one of Kinsey's co-authors and his successor as director of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research -- he retired in 1982), himself reacting to criticism leveled against the two volumes, spent years "cleaning" the Kinsey data of its purported contaminants -- removing, for example, all material derived from prison populations in the basic sample. In 1979, Gebhard, with Alan Johnson, published The Kinsey Data, and -- to his own surprise -- found that Kinsey's original estimates held: Instead of Kinsey's 37 percent, Gebhard and Johnson came up with 36.4 percent; the 10 percent figure (with prison inmates excluded) came to 9.9 percent for white, college-educated males and 12.7 percent for those with less education.
So, the numbers dropped by less than one percent. Duberman added:
And as for the call for a "random sample," a team of independent statisticians studying Kinsey's procedures had concluded as far back as 1953 that the unique problems inherent in sex research precluded the possibility of obtaining a true random sample, and that Kinsey's interviewing technique had been "extraordinarily skillful." They characterized Kinsey's work overall as "a monumental endeavor."
Kinsey's original goal was 100,000 histories; he eventually got 18,000, and used about 12,000 of them in the two Sexual Behavior volumes. I get the impression that Serwatka believes Kinsey used every history he took, but Kinsey knew better than that, had a statistician on staff, and built his final samples with care. The result was imperfect, of course, but not for the reasons Serwatka claims.

So, what's going on here? I've gotten as far as Serwatka's discussion of "genetic" influences on sexual orientation, and he presents the contemporary debate about the issue as one between raving queer theorists and fundamentalist Christians on one side, and thoughtful scientists on the other. But he's got a good many of his facts wrong (I may write more about this in a day or two), and the gay and lesbian scientists who've criticized the "born gay" research on scientific grounds are conspicuously absent from his bibliography. I intend to try to finish the book, but Serwatka's hearty, preacher's chalk-talk style is painful to read. I'll soldier on, however.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Choose Life

While working on a long and difficult post about the gay-teen-suicide issue, I found this passage from Jennifer Terry's book An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society (Chicago, 1999, pp. 393-4).
Gay scientists and some gay leaders argue that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic, which they liken to race or skin color. Thus the reasoning follows that homosexuals, like African Americans, ought to be protected from discrimination. In the first place this way of thinking ignores the scientific consensus that clear-cut or mutually exclusive racial differences do not exist at the genetic or biological level; race, it is agreed, is primarily a social or demographic concept that at best describes cultural groups with arbitrary and varying boundaries. But in a larger political sense, the use of race as an analogy to sexual orientation relies on a strange and limited reading of the civil rights movement as well as of the current status of racial minorities. The civil rights movement, after all, focused its anti-racism efforts on grassroots actions, public marches, demonstrations, and the courts. The main goal was equality and respect for all people, regardless of race, religion, or creed; arguments valorizing the biological immutability of race were by no means central. The civil rights movement was most effective through championing social diversity and promoting humane respect for cultural differences, not by African Americans beseeching those in authority to see them as biologically different. In the 1960s, biological arguments about race had long been seen as the handmaidens of racism, just as those about gender were identified to be a central part of the architecture of sexism.
Those gay people who think that proving or claiming that we are born this way and can't help ourselves, whimper whimper, will win over bigots, are forgetting that no one doubted that black people are born that way, but that didn't deter racism in the slightest. The same goes for women, as Terry indicates. It says something about how little most people think through important matters that "not a choice" has become the mantra of the gay movement today.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Stupid Quotations of the Day

O Cthulhu, I don't feel like writing tonight, and I need to finish reading Cordelia Fine's very helpful book Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (Norton, 2010). But here are some gems from the Favorite Quotations field of a friend of a friend on Facebook:
(1)Why is it that our children can't read a Bible in school, but they can in prison?
(2)Bumper sticker of the year: 'If you can read this, thank a teacher and, since it's in English, thank a soldier.'
(3)How come we choose from just two people to run for president and over fifty for Miss America ?
No wonder this country is in trouble. Especially if you juxtapose Number 2 with this.

P.S. On the other hand, someone else had this in his Favorite Quotations:
Remember the Good Ol Days? When times were bad?

No amount of money could pay me to give up the memories of then,
No amount of money could pay me to go back and live it again
I actually agree. This guy claims to be a Republican. I don't believe him.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You Can't Sow a Million Seeds Without Reaping One Potato ...

... And even Andrew Sullivan makes sense now and then. He posted this blistering rejoinder to Juan Williams's vicious remarks on FOX:
"Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous," - Juan Williams.

No, Juan, what you just described is the working definition of bigotry.

What if someone said that they saw a black man walking down the street in classic thug get-up. Would a white person be a bigot of he assumed he was going to mug him? What percentage of traditionally garbed Muslims - I assume wearing a covered veil or some other indicator and being of darker skin - have committed acts of terror? And, of course, the 9/11 mass-murderers were in everyday attire, to blend in. So was the Christmas Day undie-bomber. The Fort Hood murderer was in US military uniform, for Pete's sake.

The literal defense of anti-Muslim bigotry on Fox is becoming endemic. It's disgusting.

Glenn Greenwald also weighed in. Like Greenwald, I don't think Williams should have been fired by NPR for saying these things -- NPR has its own blind spots on the Middle East after all. I just think he should be shunned for life by all decent human beings. Or as Tom Carson once wrote in another context, someone should hire a mimic to follow him around and say "You're dethspicable" in the voice of Daffy Duck every time he opens his mouth.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Press "1" for Inglish, I Mean Englihs

This sums up so many things so neatly.
(Apparently taken at a Tea Party rally somewhere, swiped from here)

I Want to Vote for a Democrat! (Are There Any Around?)

The more Democrats and their shills demand that I vote for the Democrats on November, because the Republicans will do terrible things if they regain power, the more I remember what the Democrats have done.

Heaven forbid [via] that the Republicans win on Nov. 2!

They might escalate in Afghanistan and fake a withdrawal from Iraq.
They might pass a bogus health reform law written by the insurers, thereby entrenching them in the system for many years to come.
They might put EFCA (labor rights reform) on a back burner.
They might step up deportations of undocumented workers.
They might expand the military budget to an all–time high.
They might retain Bush’s apparatus of repression, including torture and assassination of US citizens by White House fiat.
They might keep Guantanamo open and tighten the blockade of Cuba.
They might threaten war with Iran.
They might cave in to Israel and the Israel lobby, and neglect Palestinian rights.
They might throw billions of our tax dollars at mega-bankers, but do little or nothing for ordinary homeowners.
They might tolerate a 10 percent unemployment rate, with jobless rates double or triple that for youth of color.
They might start overthrowing lawful elected governments in Central America.
They might start raiding the homes of leftwing antiwar activists.

I count my lucky stars for leaders who understand that the Republicans are the ultra right, and we must all vote Democrat to isolate the main enemy.

... and the more I consider throwing up my hands and staying at home on election day.

But I'll vote anyway. It's good exercise to go to the polling place, and it will entitle me to give me an extra slap to Democrats who will say darkly, "I'll bet you didn't even vote" when I criticize Obama.

Come to think of it, listening to Democrats warn about the horrible things the Republicans will do reminds me of an old joke from the USSR a friend told me in the 1970s. It's an elementary school classroom in the Soviet Union, and the teacher is telling the children how miserable people are in America: they suffer from racism, poverty, disease, and so on. While in the glorious Soviet Union, everyone has useful work, enough to eat, a comfortable place to live, free medical care, and everyone is equal!

A little girl bursts into tears. "What's the matter?" the teacher asks. "I want to move to the Soviet Union!" the little girl cries.

The application of this joke to the coming elections may be left as an exercise for the reader. But there's something else as well. To an American, the joke is funny, because everyone knows that the American standard of living is second to none! That's why communism failed! That's why people from all over the world want to move to America, where we have freedom and a great medical care system and amber fields of grain to feed the world and the streets are paved with gold! And that's why I don't just want to vote for a Democrat -- I want to move to America!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I the People

I've noticed a lot of people defending the Tea Party Extended Tantrum by claiming that it's about "We the People", as in What ever happened to We the People?, or, as the great orator Sarah Palin calls it in the video clip below, "this 'We the People' message".

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And I thought: Wait a minute! I'm one of the American People too, and I don't support the Tea Party, let alone the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. The repetition of this mantra puts the lie to the recurring claim that the Republicans care about and support ordinary citizens: "conservatives’ vision is grounded in the belief that Americans are competent, decent, and hardworking, and it is the heavy hand of government that threatens to squelch American virtues." Only some Americans, and far from a majority; only some of "We the People", but, you know -- the right Americans.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Lose-Lose Situation

Professional Leftist Paul Krugman quotes himself:
We’ll never know how differently the politics would have played if Obama, instead of systematically echoing and giving credibility to all the arguments of the people who want to destroy him, had actually stood up for a different economic philosophy. But we do know how his actual strategy has worked, and it hasn’t been a success.
I've been harshly critical of Obama on many occasions and I'm not likely to stop any time soon. But it might not be inappropriate to mention that on one level I never wanted him to fail. That's the level where success is measured by (for example) getting the US out of the economic hole it's in, bringing our armed forces home and letting innocent people abroad go on living unscathed by drone missiles. If success is measured instead solely by keeping the Democrats in control of Congress and Obama in the Oval Office while pursuing destructive policies, I could hardly give less of a shit. Of course Obama and the Dems would like us to believe that things can't get better without them in the driver's seat. But as Krugman says, Obama's "actual strategy ... hasn't been a success," either in making things better for most people or, it seems, in maintaining Democratic political hegemony. So I guess the question to ask someone who accuses someone else of 'wanting Obama to fail' is "Fail at what?" If his goal is to give us a third Bush term, then he ought to fail; unfortunately, he seems to be succeeding. But Bush's policies failed for him, and they're failing for Obama -- and for the rest of us.

By the way, Gore Vidal recently lamented that Obama is "incompetent. He will be defeated for re-election. It’s a pity because he’s the first intellectual president we’ve had in many years, but he can’t hack it. He’s not up to it. He’s overwhelmed." So much for intellectuals! Vidal should have read more of Noam Chomsky on intellectuals and the state, but I think he seriously overrated Obama's intellectual prowess.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fashion Advisory: The Trappings of Manual Labor

Just over two years ago, I commented here on a blog post celebrating the apotheosis of the scrawny, undernourished boy model on the runways of the US and Europe. "The meek truly shall inherit the earth," gushed the blogger. "Until next week or whenever the fashion changes again, that is," I jeered.

Well, it took a little longer than a week, but now the New York Times reports? decrees? proclaims the gospel which shall be of joy to all nations that "the boys of recent memory have been transformed overnight into men." Well, not men, really, more like models who've bought "an interview suit and a package of Gillette Mach 3 blades ... men who certainly look as if they’ve never been waxed or had a manicure" but who in fact probably have. The article is full of pretentious tripe that might have fallen from the lips of Robert Bly.
"Men have always been defined by their jobs — always," said Joe Levy, the editor in chief of Maxim. When the economy was flush, consumers were content to indulge designer subversions of age and gender expectations, he added. That was before the recession lodged in the landscape like an errant iceberg taking its own time to thaw. "Suddenly the notion of having a job or a career is in doubt," Mr. Levy said. "So you fall back on old notions of what it meant to be a man or to look like one."
The more it changes, the more it is the same! Thanks to commenter jethrosexual at Who Is IOZ? for the link.

The Queen of America Goes to Washington City

My friend the ambivalent Obama supporter sent me a link to an article from the Washington Post called "Five Myths About Sarah Palin." That sounded like a come-on, but also mildly diverting, so I clicked through. It turns out Five Myths is a series at the Post: "A challenge to everything you think you know." Oh, really?

I felt a sinking feeling when I looked at number one: "Palin cost McCain the 2008 election." Of course, the author says not: "CNN's 2008 national exit poll, for example, asked voters whether Palin was a factor when they stepped into the voting booth. Those who said yes broke for McCain 56 percent to 43 percent." This is a bit unclear. The writer takes it to mean that people "for whom Palin was a factor" (what kind of factor?) weren't bothered by her, but it also means that people who liked Palin voted for McCain -- who were they going to vote for, Obama? -- but not enough people liked her to swing the election. "In the end," the writer concedes, "it's impossible to know how McCain would have performed if he hadn't selected Palin -- politics does not allow for control experiments." So this isn't a "myth" after all, though it isn't gospel either.

Resigning as governor was rash. Ditto: The writer makes a case that resigning the governorship wasn't totally nuts, but not that it wasn't "rash"; it may have saved her political career, such as it is. It's arguable that without the "liberal media" slobbering over her with prurient fascination, she'd have a much lower profile than she does.

Palin and the tea party are destroying the GOP. Not so!
In the wake of Obama's historic victory, she and countless other grass-roots activists could have abandoned the GOP and turned the tea party into a conservative third party. They didn't. They decided instead to refashion the Republican Party from the ground up, pressuring it to live up to its limited-government ideals. Now, two years after Obama's win, Republicans are poised to reap major gains in the midterm elections. Palin and the tea party haven't hurt the GOP one bit.
As the writer concedes, the GOP was in such bad shape after Obama's election that destroying it was the least of anyone's worries. However, as a former governor and vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin is not "grass-roots." Nor is the Tea Party a grassroots movement, with its tycoon funding and the boost it gets from national right-wing media -- and from the supposedly liberal corporate media, which has inflated Tea Party numbers and exaggerated its impact from the start. "Countless"? Hardly. As for the coming midterms, it isn't that the Republicans and their (snort) "limited-government ideals" have suddenly become popular again, it's that the Democrats have alienated many past supporters:
This year isn't getting away from the Democrats because voters are moving toward the Republicans en masse. But the enthusiasm gap is turning races that would otherwise be lean Democratic into toss ups, turning toss ups into leaning Republican, and turning leaning Republican into solid Republican.
Four: Palin is extreme. This is a judgment call, and the writer doesn't make a good case, relying on polls tracking how "the public has moved to the right -- not on just one or two issues but on a whole constellation of them" but that don't, in fact, support his case very well. The Gallup Poll that found a bare majority (51%) of Americans labelling themselves "pro-life," for example, though that one showed a large majority (75%) of respondents still supported legal abortion under different conditions. Only 23% opposed legal abortion absolutely, so the poll mainly indicated confusion about what "pro-life" means. "Extreme" is a null word anyway.

Palin is unelectable. Another judgment call, and since the writer concedes Palin's unpopularity, all he really say to the contrary is that things might change -- Hope and Change, baby, Hope and Change. I myself don't think she necessarily is unelectable; I just hope it never happens.

Bonus round, six: The author, Matthew Continetti, is opinion editor at the ultraright Weekly Standard, which is like being a biggie at Fox News or the Washington Times -- what's he doing in the allegedly ultralib Washington Post?
He's also the author of a pro-Palin tract published by the right-wing Penguin imprint Sentinel HC, a sort of stealth Regnery Publications. The piece is practically an infomercial.

P.S. According to Joan Walsh at, Palin is in California, but the major Republican candidates are avoiding her. That could be because
More than half of California voters in last week's Field Poll -- and two-thirds of independents -- said Palin's endorsing a candidate would make them less inclined to vote for that candidate. A larger proportion of Californians say Palin's not qualified to be president, and yet the state's right-wing faithful could be crucial to a Palin presidential run, with both money and primary votes.

One Less Desirable Aspect of a Democracy

I've just begun reading Graham E. Fuller's recent book A World Without Islam (Little, Brown, 2010), and it looks very promising. Fuller's a former Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, but despite his terrorist ties he makes a lot of sense. For example, this is on page 7:
In what may otherwise often be intelligent analysis of a foreign situation, the focus of each study is invariably the other country, the other culture, the negative intentions of other players; the impact of US actions and perceptions are quite absent from the equation. It is hard to point to serious analysis from mainstream publications or think tanks that address the role of the United States itself in helping create current problems or crises, through policies of omission or commission. We're not talking about blame here; we're addressing the logical and self-evident fact that the actions of the world's sole global superpower have huge consequences in the unfolding of international politics. They require examination.
Notice the word "mainstream" in that paragraph, though. Serious analysis from non-mainstream writers and publications does often address the role of the US, but that's why they are non-mainstream. It's not a conscious refusal to engage the fact but, as Orwell put it, an uneasy tacit recognition that "it wouldn't do" to go there. It's to Fuller's credit that he is willing to do so, though I suppose it has something to do with the fact that that he's no longer in the Company.

Fuller continues:
There is a further irony here: How can a nation like the US, which expresses such powerful outpourings of patriotism and ubiquitous unfurling of the flag on all occasions, seem quite obtuse to the existence of nationalism and patriotism in other countries? Washington never fared very well in the Cold War in understanding the motives and emotions of the nonaligned world; it dismissed or even suppressed inconvenient local nationalist aspirations, thereby ending up pushing a large grouping of countries toward greater sympathy with the Soviet Union. This was a kind of strategic blindness ...
Aren't all local national aspirations "inconvenient", though? The Soviet Union was no more sympathetic to local nationalist aspirations in its own sphere of influence than the US was. I'm also not sure that "sympathy with the Soviet Union" was involved for those nonaligned nations as much as simple movement to the only powerful source of economic, political, and military support that was available to them. But it's normal for people to rationalize such moves, which may have produced "sympathy."
When we do not like a foreign adversary, we tend to denigrate them in strong, sometimes nearly apocalyptic terms. One less desirable aspect of democracy is that it seems to require serious demonization of the enemy if the nation and public opinion are to be galvanized sufficiently to pay a serious price in blood or treasure at war. And the message as to why we are in confrontation or at war must be simplified enough to fit on a bumper sticker.
Here Fuller makes a significant use of the blind passive: "to be galvanized sufficiently" by whom "to pay a serious price in blood or treasure at war"? It appears that he's thinking in terms of persuading a reluctant populace to go to war against an "enemy" by whom they don't feel particularly threatened to begin with. It may well not be in their interests to go to war with that "enemy," but someone thinks he knows better (perhaps because it is in that someone's interest to go to war), and all's fair in love and war so it's okay to tell a few little white lies for the good of the nation. Someday they'll be grateful...

So it's hard for me to see why Fuller characterizes this as "one less desirable aspect of a democracy." Indeed, going to war against the wishes of the populace is anti-democratic, as is government lying to try to persuade them, and it seems that Fuller has within a paragraph forgotten what he just wrote about strategically ignoring the impact of one's own country's policies and actions. Fuller appears to assume that the wars he's talking about are desirable, but that has to be argued, not assumed.

Besides, even rulers of the most authoritarian states find it necessary to work up their subjects into a lather of bloodlust in order to go to war, so it's not as if this "aspect" is specific to democracy. If, having overcome this less desirable aspect of a democracy, a superpower's government is free to rain bombs and missiles on another country -- let's call it Afghanistan off the top of our heads -- there's not much need to "galvanize" people in that other country into demonizing the force that is killing and maiming them, and it's not because they don't live in a democracy. The superpower will be demonizing itself, thanks to its disinclination to think of the people it is killing and maiming as people.

After the September 11 attacks, many Americans were in a frenzy of fear and rage, a free-floating source of demonization looking for a target, and they'd been demonizing ragheads at least since OPEC put a crimp in their gasoline supply in the 1970s. Our government, eager to distract attention from its own problems, was happy to put the pieces together, and it was easy to get support for the invasion of Afghanistan. But was it in the real interests of most Americans to support that war? Or the invasion and occupation of Iraq?

I Heart Hate (And So Do These Guys, Though They Pretend Otherwise)

Hey! Yo! This video is Not Safe For Work! (And what are you doing, surfing the Internet while you're working?)

This is a cute and very well done video, but it's also smug and self-congratulatory, even self-righteous. Yeah, I like the "Get Over It" refrain, which comes from Queer Nation circa 1990. Why not quit the pretense and admit that hate is a valid human emotion? Why pretend that you love those you hate? The satirist and mathematician Tom Lehrer nailed it in this 1965 song:

... Yeah, I'll bet. Me, I want a "I Heart Hate" t-shirt.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Whore Dervs? Door Herbs? Oh, Wait a Minute ...

It's Homecoming Weekend, and the town is jumping. I was leaving a film showing in the student union building (Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, which was very good) when I saw this sign in the hallway outside a dance. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around "H'orderves." But hey, it's French, and a few years ago it would have been "Freedom Snacks" or something. I count my blessings.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thought For the Day

In just about every book of Terry Pratchett's I find a short passage that I have to copy out and ponder. (Or ponder and copy out.) His latest, I Shall Wear Midnight (Harper), is no exception. On page 230, the young witch Tiffany Aching has been sent to the dungeon. Accompanied by Brian, the captain of the guard, she reflects:
Should I blame him for what he's been ordered to do? she wondered. After all, you can't blame the hammer for what the carpenter does with it. But Brian has got a brain, and the hammer hasn't. Maybe he should try to use it.
With the hysterical jingoism of some of my Facebook friends echoing in my virtual ears, I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Which Side Am I On?

from alicublog:
One of the great things about Kudlow being such a hack is that you can make a decent post just by putting in the relevant facts he leaves out. But in this column the Republican Party's second-most-famous former cokehead goes beyond the usual card tricks to remind us of what the GOP is really about.
Of course, Obama never mentions the unions, including the SEIU and AFL-CIO, and all their foreign money from their big international affiliates. Instead, he extends his own cast of villains, attacking special interests, Wall Street banks, corporations, the oil industry, the insurance industry, credit-card companies, AIG, and ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil? What did they do? Oh, they’re an oil company.

Phew. Kind of anti-business, wouldn’t you say?
I was with him on the "all their foreign money from their big international affiliates" -- oh-yeah-what-about-the-other-guy is a time-honored electioneering gambit. But in this the year of the Tea Party, isn't it a little weird to be defending Wall Street banks, credit-card companies, and big business in general? I thought it was all about the grassroots overthrowing the "ruling class." And then:
Obama then blasts millionaires and billionaires, waging war on capital and investors, too. Next he talks about getting young people, African Americans, and union members to the polls. Even more division. Even more class warfare.
It's divisive for Obama to invite these people to vote? I thought working people were the bedrock of the Tea Party movement, and all the cool kids were wearing tricorner hats. And minorities -- why, Perfesser Glenn Harlan Reynolds has a whole scrapbook of tea-partying black folk photos!
A series of investor-related polls shows how totally detached the president is from the nearly 100 million folks who directly or indirectly own stocks.

A survey conducted by Citigroup Global Markets of 100 mutual-fund, hedge-fund, and pension-fund managers...
Hedge-fund managers!
Well, yeah, hedge-fund managers -- the Real America behind the faux Real America of the Tea Party. Where did you think the Tea Party gets their funding?

Teh O'Bama made a bad blunder in the way he went after the Chamber of Commerce. Not because they shouldn't be gone after, or because his approach was "McCarthyite" -- again, Joe McCarthy is a martyr of the American right. It's because the Democrats are every bit as dependent on big money and foreign money as the Republicans, and everyone knows it. They may even remember a few such scandals involving the Democrats in the recent past.

But that's okay, because as Jane Hamsher reports (via), the Democrats' own pollsters report that the party is pursuing a losing strategy in this campaign:

On Wednesday [Stan] Greenberg and James Carville released a research report summarizing the results of their extensive polling on messaging that is working for Democrats in this election cycle. It won’t surprise most people to learn that protecting Social Security, creating American jobs and opposing NAFTA-like free trade agreements are the messages most likely to persuade people to vote for Democrats.

(Remember, though, that the Obama administration wants to whittle away at Social Security, favors NAFTA-like free trade agreements, and has done a piss-poor job of creating American jobs, though it has done quite well at boosting corporate profits.)
But curiously, they left something out of their summary that set off red flags for a lot of Democratic insiders when they issued it as a Democracy Corps”Alert” on September 20. The Alert said quite emphatically that Democrats needed to change their framework in order to win in November. Greenberg buried the lede, but his polling reached a very clear conclusion: Obama’s “go forward, not backward” message actually moves voters over to the GOP ...
As Avedon Carol at the Sideshow Party puts it, "And the message reminds them [i.e., voters] that things have become worse, not better, since Obama took office."

Hamsher quotes Greenberg's explanation:

Because a “go forward” framework implies that Democrats and Congress have made progress those voters do not feel, the message re-enforces the Republican framework for the election – a referendum on the Democrats’ performance on the economy. In the experiment described above (where voters read the two Republican messages and the two Democratic ‘go forward, not back’ messages), votes shifted to the Republicans not only on which party can best handle the economy but also on the congressional vote. The 5 percent who shifted to the Democrats was exceeded by the 7 percent of voters who moved to the Republicans – a net negative 2-point worsening of the race.
Party loyalists keep telling skeptics that Obama and the party leadership know what they're doing, so the rest of us should shut up, put our shoulders to the wheel, and get the vote out in November. I'm not of the party, so this doesn't move me; I don't need the machine to get me to vote anyway. But the interesting thing is that those wise eleven-dimensional chess players are trying to shoot themselves in the foot. (Again.) Of course they aren't going to listen to Professional Leftists like me, or to silly-billy Democrats who see the glass as 90 percent empty instead of 10 percent full, but they're ignoring insiders, their own people, the very people they assigned to tell them what is going on and direct their tactics.

Hamsher has an earlier post giving the "Top 10 Reasons The Democrats Might Do Better In 2010 Than You Think," and they're good reasons, but that hasn't stopped various party hacks from attacking her. Avedon cites a prog blogger who warns, "At some point people need to consider the possibility that Hamsher doesn't have the administration's best interests at heart." (The entire post is even battier.) Like I said, for the Democrats this is about the Party and the Administration, not the American people, but the evidence is that the administration doesn't even has its own best interests at heart. -- But there I've succumbed to a significant confusion myself: the interests we're talking about here are winning elections, which are vital to a political party, but the best interests of citizens are different. Of course both parties work hard to convince their members and the country that, by an amazing coincidence, their interests and your interests are the same. I think it's fair to doubt it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Standup Comedy

Some things never change, do they? Another right-wing acquaintance of mine passed along this cartoon on Facebook. He commented, "Because freedom isn't free."

What, I wonder, is the point? It seems to be that because our freedom to dissent was bought by the blood of patriots, we should never actually use it. I've heard that one since the Vietnam era, and I'm sure it was old then. It's especially humorous coming from a right-winger, since they feel quite free to dissent (against Democratic Presidents, anyway) whether they've shed blood for America or not, and usually they haven't. Our wars aren't sacrosanct either, as long as they are the work of Democratic politicians -- Republicans objected vociferously to Bill Clinton's war in the Balkans, for example -- but no one had better object to Republican wars.

I've written before -- here, for example -- about the inconvenient reality that the US has not fought a defensive war in my lifetime; certainly the Iraq War, probably the one in which the class's visiting Marine lost the ability to stand, had nothing to do with defending Americans' rights not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance (an act of idolatry which this country managed to survive without for its first century and more). And it's often been noticed that wars tend to be associated with the suppression of freedom at home.

The deepest irony about this cartoon, though, is that the biggest threat to freedom in the US comes not from outside our borders, but from inside them: from people who try to impose conformity either gently, as in this cartoon, or violently, as seen in many assaults on protesters and dissenters. (I've been looking online for a copy of the photograph of an American veteran, Howard Gottesman, being hit by eggs thrown by pro-war goons during a protest against the Vietnam War in 1966. No luck; it can be seen on the first page of the photo section of Jerry Lembcke's The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam [NYU Press, 1998]. As Lembcke writes, it was opponents of the war who were spat on, not returning veterans, and they were spat on by those who supported the war.)

Notice, too, that there is no context in the cartoon for Kevin's refusal to stand. I think his posture is meant to indicate insolence and even laziness, as though he's refusing to join in the Pledge simply to be different, or cool. But compare a real American kid who refused on principle to recite the Pledge of Allegiance: Will Phillips. His teacher was angry and some of his all-American classmates called him a gaywad, but he stuck by his decision. Here's a nice piece from an Arkansas newspaper in Phillips's support; the writer even questions the validity of the Pledge, though finally he says it's "harmless" while supporting the boy's refusal to go along with the practice. Much better, and more thoughtful, than the cartoon above.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sinking to the Right's Level

My right-wing Facebook acquaintance has posted a couple more funny links in the past few days. The more recent was "Democrats' attack ad sets new low for midterm mud", a column by David Zurawik, the TV critic for the Baltimore Sun, deploring incivility in this election season. The funny part is the writer's complaint that
The Democratic National Commitee [sic] is using the same sort of tactic and logic that Sen. Joe McCarthy used in the 1950s: Level a headline-grabbing and unsubstantiated charge, like the State Department is filled with communists, and then say it is up to the State Department and the employees so charged to prove it is not true.
He says that like it's a bad thing! Putting the burden of proof on the opponent is, of course, typical for political advertising and political "debate", but what really grabbed me was the McCarthy comparison. To the American Right, Joseph McCarthy is an unjustly maligned hero in the fight against World Communism, yet conservatives keep whining about new McCarthyisms of the Left.

"Is this not a direct appeal to fear?" Zurawik cries, rending his garments. Of course, the Republicans would never appeal to fear, and they never have. And if Obama and the Democrats succeed with this appeal to fear, then the Terrorists Have Won and the Homosexuals will marry your son and the Mohammedans will build a mosque on the Sacred Turf of Ground Zero.

I believe this is what is called "concern trolling": a partisan expresses dismay at the bad tactics of his or her opponent, offering sincere advice on how to do better and win the contest. There is one small problem with Zurawik's complaint, though: according to the New York Times article he cites, the Democrats are "outmatched in advertising sponsored by groups that do not have to disclose their donors under a Supreme Court decision issued earlier this year, Mr. Obama has suggested that the sponsors of campaign advertising have sinister motivations." That is "evidence" right there: the Republicans are relying heavily on money whose sources they don't have to disclose. Of course, Obama won election beholden to big money too, so he's in no position to cast the first stone, but neither are the Republicans.

Zurawik concludes:
And this admninistration [sic - doesn't the Sun have spellcheckers?], with this attitude toward unsubstantiated charges and standards of proof, wants to control the press and determine whether a news organization should or should not be considered legitimate.
The first commenter writes "The President of the United States simply cannot - CAN NOT - stoop to these types of tactics. It's beneath him." How dreadful: Obama is sinking to the Right's level. "If the Democrats want to engage in this type of slash-and-burn tactics let Biden or the DNC do it. Not the damned President."

Earlier my acquaintance linked to this column by Peggy Noonan, the Reagan hagiographer and speechwriter whom Roy Edroso calls the Crazy Jesus Lady. She begins by talking about the deterioration of Greece, where, according to an article in Vanity Fair (Vanity Fair!? isn't that one of those liberal-elite house organs?), "'It is simply assumed . . . that anyone who is working for the government is meant to be bribed. . . . Government officials are assumed to steal.'" Wait a minute -- that's something new? That's specifically Greek? "Thus can great nations, great cultures, disintegrate, break into little pieces that no longer cohere into a whole," Noonan intones. (I thought it was because the Greeks were, like, sodomites.) "America is not Greece and knows it's not Greece," thank goodness,

Because Americans weren't born to be accountants. It's not in our DNA! We're supposed to be building the Empire State Building. We were meant, to be romantic about it, and why not, to be a pioneer people, to push on, invent electricity, shoot the bear, bootleg the beer, write the novel, create, reform and modernize great industries. We weren't meant to be neat and tidy record keepers. We weren't meant to wear green eyeshades. We looked better in a coonskin cap!

There is, I think, a powerful rebellion against all this. It isn't a new rebellion – it was part of Goldwaterism, and Reaganism – but it's rising again.
"Write the novel"? Do pioneers in coonskin caps "write the novel"? And since great modern industries need record-keeping, who's going to keep the books if Americans weren't born to be accountants? Foreigners, I suppose. (I should have called this post "Born to Cook the Books.")
For those who wonder why so many people have come to hate, or let me change it to profoundly dislike, "the elites," especially the political elite, here is one reason: It is because they have armies of accountants to do this work for them. Those in power institute the regulations and rules and then hire people to protect them from the burdens and demands of their legislation. There is no congressman passing tax law who doesn't have staffers in his office taking care of his own financial life and who will not, when he moves down the street into the lobbying firm, have an army of accountants to protect him there.
Except that the Tea Party movement is bent on protecting the elites from the tax man. Not the Teabaggers themselves, mind you, most of whom will never see $250,000 a year, the point at which higher marginal rates kick in, but the elites who would consider themselves impoverished if their income dropped within hailing distance of $250,000 a year. The elites George W. Bush called his base, and rightly so. The corporate media elites who fund the Tea Party Tantrum.
This is part of why people dislike "the elites" and why "the elites," especially in Washington, must in turn be responsive, come awake, start to notice. People don't like it when they fear you are subtly, day by day, year by year, changing the personality and character of their nation. They think, "You are ruining our country and insulating yourselves from the ruin. We hate you." And this is understandable, yes?
And Yes I said Yes I do Yes. But Noonan's man Reagan was firmly on the side of those elites, as was George W. Bush. And these, dear readers, are further examples of what my right-wing acquaintance evidently considers "sober" conservatives.