June 29, 2009
The door, which had been left open a few inches, was ajar.
“Ooh la la!” whispered Larry in French.
But my absolute favorite was this gem:
"Caramba!" exclaimed Diego de Fonseca, "a cucaracha has fallen onto the tortillas of my wife!"
Empathetic Justice: "No Vested Right to Promotion"
Even if they earned it. You've got to love that empathetic female justice:
The Supreme Court has ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.
New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.
The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide, potentially limiting the circumstances in which employers can be held liable for decisions when there is no evidence of intentional discrimination against minorities.
"Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the white firefighters "understandably attract this court's sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them."
In Loco Parentis: Safford and the Female Judge Effect
Question: 1) Does the Fourth Amendment prohibit school officials from strip searching students suspected of possessing drugs in violation of school policy?
2) Are school officials individually liable for damages in a lawsuit filed under 42 U.S.C Section 1983?
Sometimes, fact dependent. No. The Supreme Court held that Savanna's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when school officials searched her underwear for
non-prescriptionpainkillers. [Ed. note: here we have the first of many distortions of fact. The pills in question were, in fact, prescription strength versions of medications that are (at half strength) available over the counter.] With David H. Souter writing for the majority and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer, and Samuel A. Alito, and in part by Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court reiterated that, based on a reasonable suspicion, search measures used by school officials to root out contraband must be "reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction." Here, school officials did not have sufficient suspicion to warrant extending the search of Savanna to her underwear. The Court also held that the implicated school administrators were not personally liable because "clearly established law [did] not show that the search violated the Fourth Amendment." It reasoned that lower court decisions were disparate enough to have warranted doubt about the scope of a student's Fourth Amendment right.
Justice Stevens wrote separately, concurring in part and dissenting in part, and was joined by Justice Ginsburg. He agreed that the strip search was unconstitutional, but disagreed that the school administrators retained immunity. He stated that "[i]t does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year old child is an invasion of constitutional rights of some magnitude." Justice Ginsburg also wrote a separate concurring opinion, largely agreeing with Justice Stevens point of dissent. Justice Clarence Thomas concurred in the judgment in part and dissented in part. He agreed with the majority that the school administrators were qualifiedly immune to prosecution. However, he argued that the judiciary should not meddle with decisions school administrators make that are in the interest of keeping their schools safe.
Justice Steven's quote typifies the blissfully fact free reporting and over the top emotionalism this case has generated. Having read the entire opinion (something it seems few commentators bothered to do before opining) I find myself nowhere near certain that the facts in this case support the majority opinion.
Thus, I believe it might be instructive to lay out the full facts surrounding the so-called "strip search" - something not one newspaper account or TV news story I've read in the past week troubled to do. Pursuant to the Obama administration's nomination of Judge Sotomayor, there has been much discussion of the need for more female justices on the Supreme Court. In reading both the decision and contemporary news accounts, it occurrs to me that the outcome in this case was very much influenced by the arguments of Justice Ginsburg, the only female justice on the Supreme Court. What I can't help wondering is, was that a good thing?
It seems to me that this decision is a prime example of the human tendency to begin with an emotional reaction and then reason one's way to a conclusion that produces the "correct" result. There can be little doubt that the mental image of a 13 year old girl being "strip searched" for violating what most of us view as nonsensical zero tolerance policies regarding the possession of over the counter medications like Advil or Tylenol is a profoundly disconcerting one. Part of the problem is that regardless of our political affiliation, most of us find such draconian rules offensive to common sense.
Rather than beginning at the end of the story, I believe it would be more instructive to start at the beginning. Under what circumstances was Savana Redding, a 13 year old middle schooler, first brought to the principal's office? What knowledge, both of Savana's past actions and of similar incidents, did school officials bring to the table? These questions are, I believe, critical to any informed assessment of the school's actions.
1. Background: From Justice Thomas' dissent, it seems clear that the Safford school officials had reasonable grounds for concern that the unauthorized dispensing of prescription drugs by middle schoolers to their classmates posed a serious danger(citations omitted for clarity):
As an initial matter, school officials were aware that a few years earlier, a student had become“seriously ill” and “spent several days in intensive care” after ingesting prescription medication obtained from a classmate. Fourth Amendment searches do not occur in a vacuum; rather, context must inform the judicial inquiry. In this instance, the suspicion of drug possession arose at a middle school that had “a history of problems with students using and distributing prohibited and illegal substances on campus.”
2. Keeping this background in mind, how do you think school officials should have reacted when a middle school student - Jordan Romero - was caught with a prescription painkiller he claimed that he'd received from Melissa Glines, a classmate?
Some more background here (again, from the Thomas dissent, citations omitted):
The school’s substance-abuse problems had not abated by the 2003–2004 school year, which is when the challenged search of Redding took place. School officials had found alcohol and cigarettes in the girls’ bathroom during the first school dance of the year and noticed that a group of students including Redding and Marissa Glines smelled of alcohol.
Several weeks later, another student, Jordan Romero, reported that Redding had hosted a party before the dance where she served whiskey, vodka, and tequila. Romero had provided this report to school officials as a result of a meeting his mother scheduled with the officials after Romero “bec[a]me vio-lent” and “sick to his stomach” one night and admitted that “he had taken some pills that he had got[ten] from a classmate.” At that meeting, Romero admitted that “certain students were bringing drugs and weapons on campus.”
One week later, Romero handed the assistant principal a white pill that he said he had received from Glines. He reported “that a group of students [were] planning ontaking the pills at lunch.”
Question 1: how many of you read any of these facts in the news coverage of this decision?
Question 2: knowing that a student had previously ended up in intensive care after receiving prescription medication from a classmate (and that Romero had also been extremely ill as a result of taking pills given to him by a classmate, and that - according to Romero - a group of children were planning on taking these pills at lunch that same day) would it not have been negligent for school officials to dismiss or minimize Romero's report?
3. It has been widely claimed - mostly by outraged women - that Ms. Redding was being picked on for possessing painkillers commonly used to treat menstrual cramps:
On Oct. 8 of that year, vice principal Kerry Wilson ordered her to his office, where he pointed to some pills on his desk: prescription-strength ibuprofen (the active ingredient in Advil) and Naprosyn, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, both commonly used to treat menstrual cramps. Redding denied knowing anything about the pills and consented to a search of her belongings. No pills were found.
Question: are we seriously to entertain the absurd notion that the male student - Jordan Romero - was also using Ms. Redding's prescription painkillers to treat menstrual cramps?
If so, we may consider it proved that the "whiskey, vodka, and tequila" allegedly served at Savana Redding's home on the same evening Ms. Redding and Glines were observed to smell of alcohol and upon which alcohol and cigarettes were found in the girls' bathroom, were being used for purely medicinal purposes. Menstrual cramps can be so painful.
4. It has been suggested by many that the so-called "strip search" was unreasonable on its face because it was occasioned by what many consider to be unreasonable zero tolerance rules. James Taranto comments:
For eight years this column has chronicled the phenomenon of "zero tolerance"--haywire school discipline policies that either treat harmless acts as serious offenses or impose draconian penalties for trivial infractions. Yesterday, in Safford Unified School District v. Redding, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a student from eastern Arizona who was the target of such a policy.
Question: Just how trivial is an infraction that puts one student in intensive care and makes another violently ill? Should school officials simply ignore drugs that fail to kill the middle schoolers under their care?
Secondarily, how fair is it to imply that the school's zero tolerance policy was unreasonable (and hence, a search prompted by it) when (in fact) it is a crime to distribute prescription drugs? Though I see the "ick factor" inherent in a strip search (even one that isn't, strictly speaking, a strip search at all), I find it difficult to fault Justice Thomas' reasoning:
The majority’s decision in this regard also departs from another basic principle of the Fourth Amendment: that law enforcement officials can enforce with the same vigor all rules and regulations irrespective of the perceived importance of any of those rules. “In a long line of cases, we have said that when an officer has probable cause to believe a person committed even a minor crime in his presence, the balancing of private and public interests isnot in doubt. The arrest is constitutionally reasonable.”
The Fourth Amendment rule for searches is the same: Police officers are entitled to search regardless of the perceived triviality of the underlying law. As we have explained, requiring police to make “sensitive, case-by-case determinations of government need,” for a particular prohibition before conducting a search would “place police in an almost impossible spot,”.
The majority has placed school officials in this “impossible spot” by questioning whether possession of Ibuprofen and Naproxen causes a severe enough threat to warrant investigation. Had the suspected infraction involved a street drug, the majority implies that it would have approved the scope of the search. See ante, at 9 (relying onthe “limited threat of the specific drugs he was searching for”); ante, at 10 (relying on the limited “power of the drugs” involved). In effect, then, the majority has replaced a school rule that draws no distinction among drugs with a new one that does. As a result, a full search of a student’s person for prohibited drugs will be permitted only if theCourt agrees that the drug in question was sufficiently dangerous. Such a test is unworkable and unsound. School officials cannot be expected to halt searches based on the possibility that a court might later find that theparticular infraction at issue is not severe enough to war-rant an intrusive investigation.
Contrast this with Taranto's rather bizarre summation:
One children's right that is implicit in much Supreme Court jurisprudence is the right to sexual innocence.
Is the right to sexual innocence in the Constitution? Oddly, Taranto goes on to say that this case has nothing to do with sex?:
To be sure, there is no allegation in the Redding case that the school officials' motives were sexual, and it is a mitigating factor that no men were in the room when Savana was searched. All the same, inspecting someone's near-naked body unquestionably implicates sexual privacy and innocence. It seems perverse to suggest that a 13-year-old is entitled to less protection in this respect than an adult.
Except that, as Thomas notes, the search standard balancing the perceived seriousness of the offense is the same as that applied to adults. It is only the grounds for the search - reasonable suspicion in the case of children vs. probable cause in the case of adults - that differs.
I find the reporting on this case little short of bizarre. For the most part, rather than reasoning from the facts and the law to a Constituitonally supported conclusion, I see people reasoning from their preferred end state (it is tantamount to sexual abuse to ask a teen aged girl to shake out her underwear in a closed room with a school nurse and another adult female). By this rationale, we should not be surprised to find that being asked to sit in a chair for two hours is also "abusive":
Ginsburg points out that after the search, the school official in charge made things worse by making Savana Redding "sit on a chair outside his office for over two hours." She calls his behavior "abusive." Twice.
It seems perverse beyond reason to equate being asked to partially disrobe in a school nurses' office to sexual abuse, but then we would appear to live in a society where even normal parental diligence is legally actionable:
Reasonable people disagree about whether this was appropriate? How many parents strip-search their own thirteen year olds, let alone other kids? For Advil? I would guess roughly none. In fact, I daresay that if a thirteen year old came to school officials and complained that her parents were strip-searching her, the school might arrange for a home visit from Child Services.
Like Justice Thomas, I suppose I'm "unreasonable". If I found out my 13 year old (male or female) was dispensing prescription drugs to other children at school, he would be lucky to get off with a search of his bedroom and personal effects, and I don't think it's sexual abuse to make sure your child isn't hiding a small item. We aren't talking about cavity searches here. We're talking about being asked - in a school nurse's office - to pull your undergarments an inch or two away from your body and shake them out. At no time was this girl "nude" or even nearly nude, and at no time was anyone going to get more than a glimpse of anything you wouldn't see in the average bikini. Had this been a male student, I suspect the outrage would be muted or non-existent.
I, too, am uncomfortable with the idea of actual strip searches taking place in public schools. But I am also made profoundly uncomfortable by being led by the nose via fact free analyses of a major court decision with a huge impact on our children. I think reasonable people can disagree about this decision precisely because it will be cited to justify preventing school officials from taking even reasonable steps to protect children in their care.
The Court found that:
"...based on a reasonable suspicion, search measures used by school officials to root out contraband must be "reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction."
Was there reasonable suspicion? The majority found that there was reasonable suspicion to search Ms. Redding's personal effects. This is the same as saying that there was reasonable suspicion that she possessed prescription drugs that both violated school rules and (if she, as two students claimed she had, given them out to others) violated the law.
What was the objective of the search? You'd never know this from reading the NY Times, but the objective of the search was to find out whether Savana had more of these drugs in light of a report that she had been giving them out AND that a group of students were planning to take the drugs at lunch that day.
Was being asked to strip down to her underwear (and I've never seen girls' underwear that didn't cover more than the average bikini) in the school nurses' office in the presence of the nurse and a female school official "excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction"? That, it seems to me, is a judgment call.
What I do not see in the majority opinion is grounds for creating a Constitutional right to "sexual innocence". In light of Justice Thomas' citing of precedent that allows police to search and arrest adults regardless of the severity of the crime, I also don't see that Ms. Redding was afforded fewer rights than an adult in the same circumstances.
However, your mileage may differ. I suspect that it's the end state we don't like here, and I can't help wondering how much part emotions played in this decision. If that's the result of a more female-friendly jurisprudence, I can live without that.
June 26, 2009
Tap Tap Tap....
*sounds of over-amplified blown air*
Is this thing on?
Presenting the "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" Friday Tune....
*opens beer can, takes long drink*
Conyers: "But .... All The Other Reps Are Taking Theirs!"
Can you imagine the furor if this had happened while Der BusHitler were in office?
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. has backed off his plan to investigate wrongdoing by the liberal activist group ACORN, saying "powers that be" put the kibosh on the idea.
Mr. Conyers, Michigan Democrat, earlier bucked his party leaders by calling for hearings on accusations the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) has committed crimes ranging from voter fraud to a mob-style "protection" racket.
"The powers that be decided against it," Mr. Conyers told The Washington Times.
The chairman declined to elaborate, shrugging off questions about who told him how to run his committee and give the Democrat-allied group a pass.
Pittsburgh lawyer Heather Heidelbaugh, whose testimony about ACORN at a March 19 hearing on voting issues prompted Mr. Conyers to call for a probe, said she was perplexed by Mr. Conyers' explanation for his change of heart.
"If the chair of the Judiciary Committee cannot hold a hearing if he want to [then] who are the powers that he is beholden to?" she said. "Is it the leadership, is it the White House, is it contributors? Who is 'the power?'"
Remind you of anything?
“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
- Bill Cosby
Is Obama Alienating His Base? Interesting tidbit I received via email:
Democrats risk alienating one of their most important constituencies by advancing the Waxman-Markey climate change bill this week or any time before an economic recovery is underway, according to the non-partisan National Center for Public Policy Research.
The National Center for Public Policy Research bases this conclusion on the results of a nationwide poll it commissioned of African-Americans. The poll, released today, suggests anxiety in the black community over Waxman-Markey-style regulations.
The survey of 800 African-Americans included 640 self-identified Democrats (80%) and 32 Republicans (4%).* 76% of African-Americans want Congress to make economic recovery its top priority, even if it delays action on climate change;
* 38% believe job losses resulting from climate change legislation would fall heaviest on the African-American community. Only 7% believe job losses would fall heaviest on Hispanics and only 2% believe they would fall heaviest on whites;
* 56% believe Washington policymakers have failed to adequately take into account the economic and quality of life concerns of the African-American community when formulating climate change policy;
* 52% of respondents aren't willing pay anything more for either gasoline or electricity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 73% are unwilling to pay more than 50 cents more for a gallon of gas and 76% are unwilling to pay more than $50 more per year for electricity to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions;
.... Ridenour added, "As the overwhelming majority of the people we polled are self-identified Democrats and Obama voters, one would expect them to largely agree with the Democratic leadership on this high-profile issue, but they don't. This may in part be why Speaker Nancy Pelosi has run into strong resistance to the Waxman-Markey bill from Democratic Congressmen representing the central states."
The full survey is here. Considering that 90% of black voters voted for Obama, he might want to listen to what they have to say. A mere 2% shift in the black vote in 2004 helped hand George Bush the election:
There's no question that the faith initiative -- combined with the administration's support for banning gay marriage and promoting school vouchers -- has already helped reshape Bush's image among some traditionally Democratic African Americans. And the change in black support on Nov. 2, though only a 2-percentage-point increase nationwide, helped secure Bush's reelection victory. The gains were greater in battleground states.
In the crucial state of Ohio, where the faith-based program was promoted last fall at rallies and ministerial meetings, a rise in black support for Bush created the cushion he needed to win the presidential race without a legal challenge in that state.
A corresponding erosion of support among gays who are increasingly angry and frustrated with the Obama administration could easily shift the nation back to the right in 2012:
Aravosis has called for a boycott of a fundraiser tonight for the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial Committees. He said gay rights may have to "punish" the Democratic party in order to move forward its agenda.
"Our people tend to have a lot of money, (and) we vote 70 percent Democrat," Aravosis said, explaining the political weight behind the gay community.
The phenomenon that may well sink Barack Obama in 2012 is the same thing that got him elected: hope. Or perhaps a better term for this phenomenon is raised expectations. This is a man who spent promises like a drunken sailor in order to cobble together the coalition that swept him into office last November.
But what helped at the ballot box may hurt him now that he's in office. Many of the constituencies that supported him have competing expectations of the man they elected. In struggling to satisfy a plethora of mutually exclusive goals, Obama risks accomplishing nothing and satisfying no one. Interestingly, the increasing disarray of a largely marginalized Republican Party is actually beginning to work against him:
In a conversation the other day with a White House official, I heard something I'd never expected from an employee of Barack Obama's. "I wish," he said, "George Bush would speak up a little more."
In the five months since he left the presidency, Bush has immersed himself in his memoir. He has stayed home in Texas and rarely spoken publicly. The result has been that he has largely disappeared from the news and -- the point the Obama aide was making -- pretty much has been forgotten.
Bush's silence has made it harder for Obama to keep the public focused on Bush as being responsible for our present difficulties -- the weak economy, the unsettled wars, the scandals of Guantanamo and the detainee program.
Without a powerful (and easy to demonize) opponent, Obama and his policies are finally beginning to receive scrutiny that should have occurred before the election:
Five months into his tenure, Obama has become the only president the American people think about. And a series of polls last week showed that when Americans think about Obama, they are becoming increasingly critical.
Complicating all of this is Obama's own lack of leadership - his lack of core beliefs, of direction; of focus:
New White Houses are always ardent for change, for breakthroughs. They want the sentence even when they don't know the sentence exists, even when they think it's a paragraph. The Obama people want, "He was the president who gave all Americans health care," and, "He lessened income inequality," and, "He took over a failed company," and other things. They wants a jumble of sentences and do a jumble of things. But an administration about everything is an administration about nothing.
Mr. Obama is not seeing his sentence. He's missing it. This is the sentence history has given him: "He brought America back from economic collapse and kept us strong and secure in the age of terror." That's all anybody wants. It's all that's needed.
It is a great and worthy sentence, the kind that gives you a second term and the affectionate memory of history. If Mr. Obama earns it and makes it true of himself, he will be called good to great. But you have to meet it, you have to do it.
To get the first part of the sentence right would take a lot—restoring the confidence of the nation, getting spending down so people don't feel a sense of horror as they look at the future, getting or keeping the dollar sound, keeping the banks up and operating. A friend says that what's missing is an adult and responsible sense of limits, that we need to remember—we need to be reminded by our leaders—that it's not un-American to see limits. It's adult to see limits, it's right and realistic.
The irony here is that Obama's election was largely a backlash against a president who, his critics said, focused too much on the war on terror and didn't listen enough to his critics. Obama seems to be making the opposite mistake: listening too much and focusing too little.
It may well be his undoing.
June 25, 2009
You've Come A Long Way, Baby
Over at Blackfive, there is an interesting discussion going on:
"The neocon agenda of using hard and soft US power to spread liberal democracy, while noble, wasn't enough of a justification for my brother to be over there, and in any case there was little evidence indicating that it was succeeding."
And while this wasn't necessarily the *main* question postited in the post, it seeemed to me that it was at least at the heart of the questions within the post.
Was it worth it?
Are we doing any good over there?
Commenter Tom W.'s answer seemed, to me, to answer the *big picture* question in admirable fashion:
"While the terrorism was certainly bad, Iraq made astonishing social, economic, and political progress the entire time and built up effective security forces, which is nearly unbelievable considering the country was fighting the most ruthless, merciless, evil enemy in the modern age. How many other countries have built armies from scratch, adopted free-market capitalism, written a constitution, and held their first free elections all while fighting a long-term war? Pretty much none, I think. The Coalition provided the security and the example, and the Iraqis improved themselves by sheer force of will. They're amazing, truly heroic people."
To his answer, I would like to offer this into evidence as to the good we're doing.
"Unlike the American campers who have played basketball for most of their lives, the Iraqi girls have played organized basketball for only a year or two....
Khoshee, a 24-year-old coach for the Iraqi team, said visiting the United States was a dream for her.
'I will tell others that the U.S. is like this: more open than Iraq, especially for girls,' Khoshee wrote. 'Girls here can even travel by themselves, and their parents are so supportive of them. It’s so much more free, and people also respect others and protect their environment.'”
As to the second...those who have tasted freedom will not remain forever grounded .
But for the Grace of God
Call me naive, call me old fashioned and unrealistic, but I yearn for the days when government was so small that if a governor disappeared for five days, it really didn't affect all that much, and a politician's private life, if it didn't impact on his job, was totally off limits.
I guess I'm a hopeless romantic.
I've been trying to puzzle out what so offended me about the feeding frenzy over Mark Sanford's absence the other day. Part of it, undoubtedly, was the notion that it's anyone other than the Sanford's business what arrangements they make regarding their respective activities. Like Miss Attila, I didn't find it the least bit odd that Jenny Sanford either didn't know exactly where her husband was, or chose not to pass on what she did know. Either way, her business. And judging from my own 30 year marriage, hardly unusual. I've always thought of marriage as more a partnership than a prison sentence:
... I just don’t get the male culture these days, and that’s part of what set me off about the early stages of the Sanford scandal, while the media was in the process of happily pounding nails into the coffin of the good governor’s marriage: the suggestion that men are supposed to ask their wives’ permission before they can do what they like. Does my husband ask me before he trains for a marathon or goes to visit his family? No. Of course not. I mean, he might double-check to make sure there’s not something on our mutual calendar that he’s forgetting, just as I do with him. But . . . permission? Say what? Is he eight years old?
Back when we lived in the hills I actually got asked things like, why did I let my husband smoke in the house? “Let”? Um, how about, he contributed half of the downpayment on the place, and was paying 100% of the mortgage at the time, and I knew when I married him that I was getting a smoker? He exiled himself to the balconies when he was trying to quit, and I supported that, too. Whatever makes him happy. Now he’s a non-smoker. Good, but that wasn’t my project.
I mean, isn’t there some kind of middle ground, here?
My husband does lots of things I'm not crazy about. I do things that don't fill him with delight either. But I don't think either of us, when we spoke those vows back in the nineteen seventies, thought that we would spend the remainder of our lives joined at the hip.
Together? Certainly. But I think both of us always understood that no one human being can fill all our needs. I think we also understood that the quickest way to kill desire is to make a prison of love - to demand that a loved one slowly chop off tiny parts of himself until he is made over into your ideal fantasy lover. This applies equally, if not far more so, to women for after marriage we often surrender ourselves to domesticity and child rearing. We forget the girl he fell in love with; the free spirit he pursued and finally won (but not easily).
This may sound as though I'm excusing Sanford's adultery. I'm not, though. One can accept the utter wrongness of his behavior and yet understand the very human impulses that led him to this pass:
Power corrupts because of the temptations it offers. Sanford’s allowing himself to cheat on his wife is just another example of allowing feelings to excuse bad behavior as was previously debated.
Sanford may indeed love his wife, but in marriage love isn’t the most important thing, it is trust. This is why all the handwringing when he first “disappeared” didn’t concern me at all. I gave the Sanfords the benefit of a doubt that if Jenny wasn’t concerned then no one should be concerned.
Love can ebb and flow in a marriage, but if trust is betrayed it is rarely recovered.
Adultery in politics is nothing new. What is relatively new, at least for the American press, is the vicious pleasure we take in exposing the human frailties of those in power; in dragging their families through the muck with them, compounding the hurt, the sense of betrayal, the embarrassment. It is this sickening sense of entitlement that allows ghouls like Andrew Sullivan to attack Sarah Palin's underaged daughters, to cast aspersions on the paternity of a tiny baby with Down's syndrome. No one is safe from our leering eyes and ears. Not even children and innocent spouses.
Contrast this with the forebearance granted to JFK:
We all know that JFK was a ladies' man but it's never boring to remind ourselves quite how many ladies the man had, continuously - he told Harold Macmillan he got a headache if he didn't go to bed with someone once every three days - and from a young age.
Here he is at 19, writing to a friend about how his father's private secretary had, on a holiday in Cape Cod, "got us some girls thru another guy - four of us had dates and one guy got f---ed 3 times, another guy 3 times (the girl a virgin!) plus myself twice."
After he married, the compulsion for quick, random sex continued unabated. A woman friend said he was as "compulsive as Mussolini. Up against the wall, Signora, if you have five minutes, that sort of thing." Another woman he dated just before he became president was told, "I wish we had time for some foreplay."
Perhaps the most frequent question I've read from disappointed Republicans has been, "How could he? He had everything."
Oddly, I don't find that one difficult at all to answer. He screwed up because he was human. The disturbing truth is that although there can be no excusing a betrayal like this, we don't know what led up to it nor what words were exchanged between Sanford and his wife.
Nor should we. None of this sad affair is any of our business. And what strikes me most forcefully in all of this is that Sanford didn't do the easy thing.
The expected thing.
Pundits and commenters alike seem outraged that this man didn't grasp at the standard male excuse for extramarital dalliance:
"It didn't mean a thing. I just used her for the sex."
It is hard for me to imagine any greater insult to a wife than to say, "I risked everything for a cheap one night stand. I didn't even have that much respect for you." But Sanford, though it makes his adultery no less wrong, didn't throw his lover under the bus. It appears that whatever else he may have done, there was something more there than casual lust. This may be the biggest tragedy of all, because all I could think when I heard the news was, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
No, I would never cheat on my husband, and I have never done so.
That's why I think rules are so important. Sometimes they are all that stands between us and self destruction. But if I have not erred in this fashion, I would never think to pretend that I am perfect or that I don't have it in me, given the right circumstances, to allow my heart or my mind to stray. Knowing right from wrong is a great bulwark against human frailty but it is hardly an infallible one. Somehow, I can't find it in my heart to rejoice at the misfortune (much less the misbehavior) of others.
Maybe that's why I find myself increasingly disenchanted with so much of what I read these days. I am left with only sorrow for everyone involved in this train wreck. And I only wish we had the decency to leave them alone while they sort this all out.
Quote of the Day
How do you lend credibility to an unexamined assumption? Attach a number to it:
Nothing is easier in politics than setting some arbitrary goal — preferably based on numbers — and go after it, in utter disregard of the costs or the repercussions. That is how we got into the housing boom and bust, by mindlessly pursuing ever-higher statistics of home ownership. The same political game can be played by making ever-higher miles per gallon the goal for automobiles, ever-more “open space,” ever-more — you name it.
The representatives of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities point to the fact that, in countries like Canada, Korea, and Japan, “more than 50 percent of young adults hold college degrees,” while only 41 percent do in the United States.
No reason is given why one of these numbers is better than another. Apparently the implicit assumption is that education is a “good thing” that it is always better to have more of. But, if that is the case, why 55 percent rather than 75 percent, 95 percent, or 100 percent?
Even food is not a “good thing” categorically, without limit. We can’t live without it but, beyond some point, it causes obesity and shortens our lives.
A certain amount of education is undoubtedly very beneficial for some people but, at some point, enough is enough, even for geniuses. For each individual, depending on that individual’s interests and dedication as well as ability, the time comes to leave the classroom and go out into the real world.
- Thomas Sowell
June 23, 2009
OMG! WE'RE ALL GOING TO.... ummm.... never mind
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford will return to the state tomorrow after spending the last five days hiking the Appalachian Trail, according to a statement released by his office this morning
You know, the Editorial Staff were really beginning to worry. You have to admit that things were looking damned serious:
Late Monday evening, Gov. Mark Sanford's office revealed that he is hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
On the face of it, that solves the mystery. But this article from The State, South Carolina's main newspaper, suggests some more troubling possibilities to the story.
The governor's spokesman would not disclose whether or not Sanford was hiking alone. And it seems that neither the governor's office nor state authorities have been able to make contact with the him since he left the governor's mansion on Thursday.
In other news, Congresscritter Barney Frank's staff have announced that he will be taking a lunch break from 12 to 1 pm today. An anonymous informant (who declined to be identified because he is not at liberty to discuss official business with us lowly blogging types) tells us Mr. Frank may not take his cell phone with him. Or a food taster. Or Band-Aids neither.
Back to Defcon 5, Folks. Don't know about you, but the Editorial Staff are all heaving a *huge* sigh of relief.
Update 1: Dark Ulterior Motive Alert!!!!
This is really weird stuff. I mean, mind-boggling kind of weird....... Taking at face value what Sanford's staff is claiming, he abandoned his security detail to hiking on the AT for DAYS - and that's okay? That's insanity. There's no other word for it. What happened if Sanford got lost? Or hurt himself? Or needed emergency medical treatment, which happens on the AT all the time? What would the Gov's office tell the press and people of SC?? How on Earth does the head of his security detail knowingly let Sanford "go alone for days" without making a big stinking deal about it? I sure as hell would...... And, again, that's taking everything Sanford says at face value. Assume, for just a moment, some dark ulterior motive ...
Like...ummm.... a heretofore unsuspected need to foist an enormously expensive taxpayer funded health care system upon his unwitting constituents??? Dayum. They've really got us on this one. There's just no escaping the sordid details of this rapidly developing story. On the bright said, at last the shameful truth can be told:
[wait for it]
Mark Sanford took to the wilderness to make the case for public option health care reform. Feel free to concoct your own Dark Ulterior Motive in the comments section. But make it loony - the competition has a head start.
UPDATE II: More proof of the "public option" theory (see above) surfaces!!! A Secret GOP Plot to "disappear" troublesome state governors:
I spent years in New Jersey wishing this or that governor would disappear, but they never did.
We see how you are, Dan Riehl. Oh yes, we see....
UPDATE III: Republican governor involved in bizarre, "cult-like" Goddess-worshipping Solstice Ritual involving spiders, snakes, and oodles of nekkid, amorous lesbian biker chicks ovulating languidly by the light of a gibbous moon:
“He’s an avid outdoorsman,” Sawyer added. “Nobody’s ever accused our governor of being conventional.”
Okay, we made that last part up. But surely you see our concern here??????????
Update IV: From a blog entitled (with no little irony) [over]REACTION: liberalism unbound:
So apparently Mark Sanford, the AWOL Republican governor of South Carolina, is hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Allow me to lapse into seriousness for just a moment. Does this moron have the slightest idea what the word "AWOL" means? Of course he doesn't.
How does announcing to your staff that you're going on a vacation and then [Holy Mother of God!!!] turning off your cell phone for a few days (after warning them in advance that you'd be difficult to reach) amount to a criminal failure to report for work?
When they go to all caps, can a random but completely understandable breakdown be far behind? (looking around for the tiramisu)
HE'S THE GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA. HE HAS SECURITY. HE'S NOT JUST SOME REGULAR DUDE. HE CAN'T JUST LEAVE WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE... WITHOUT ANYONE KNOWING... CAN HE?
Translation: "Mommy! I'm scared!" But wait!!! There's more of this lunacy:
Really? Not concerned? Your husband just picks up and leaves, without telling you anything, and that's fine with you? His phones are off, he's gone for several days, over Father's Day weekend, and you're not worried at all?
Control issues, anyone? We've heard rumors of wives who don't remove their husbands' testicles before they let them out of the house each day, but frankly we don't believe them. Sadly, it goes on (and on... and on...) in this vein, eventually culminating in a shuddering Shangri-La of paranoid delusionality:
... what if there had been an emergency? Was he really reachable? Did his office really know where he was, or is still?
And who was in charge while he was AWOL?
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means...
Chris Cillizza notes, in an update, that his office still doesn't seem to know exactly where (on the Trail) he is. Even the lieutenant governor couldn't get through to him -- "that request was denied because the Governor's chief of staff does not know where the Governor is, and has not communicated with the Governor since he left South Carolina last Thursday." That according to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer himself.
Cillizza again: "Given the decided lack of concern from Sanford's office, it would appear as though there are no fears that the governor is in danger. Still, pulling a disappearing act like this -- whatever the reason -- is a decidedly odd move for someone who is seen as a likely presidential candidate in 2012."
Well... yeah. No kidding.
It's all very, very strange. And there is good reason, it would seem, to question, if not (yet) his sanity, at least his judgement.
Christ on a pogo stick. This is what happens when grownups become dependent upon government.
And they say women are irrational.
Update V: The Chavez Connection: was the Great White Hope of the GOP playing footsie with murderous dictators?
If so, we do hope they have hot dogs. We hear they're all the rage amongst the genocidal set.
UPDATE VI: OK. That does it. Now I'm really concerned:
"Sources" question governor's story.
Sweet Mother of God
Not since the junior Senator from Massachusetts threatened to raze Capitol Hill in a manner reminiscent of Le Khmer Beige have we seen such a dazzling display of cultural relevance:
As you know, I had Pakistani roommates in college who were very close friends of mine. I went to visit them when I was still in college; was in Karachi and went to Hyderabad. Their mothers taught me to cook,’ said Mr Obama.
‘What can you cook?’
‘Oh, keema … daal … You name it, I can cook it. And so I have a great affinity for Pakistani culture and the great Urdu poets.’
‘You read Urdu poetry?’
Remind you of anyone we know? Allow us to note how absolutely delicious we find it to hear the former Senator from Illinois developing a suave multi-culti patois that is... dare we say it... downright Kerryesque?
"I'm fascinated by rap and by hip-hop. I think there's a lot of poetry in it. There's a lot of anger, a lot of social energy in it. And I think you'd better listen to it pretty carefully, 'cause it's important."
And who can forget the good Senator's legendary forays into the wild and wooly depths of the faith based community:
Continuing his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, John F. Kerry addressed (by telephone) a conference convened by that racist hustler and prevaricator Al Sharpton who won, if I'm not mistaken, exactly one delegate [ouch!] at the party convention in 2004. According to The New York Times yesterday, in what appeared to be rather inchoate remarks, Kerry used Iraq as a trope but offered a ten-point plan for the nation from soup to nuts ... well, from getting Osama bin Laden to legislating lobby reform. The Times alluded to Kerry's well-known verbosity. So it wasn't surprising that he also went off and said, "Not in one phrase uttered and reported by the Lord Jesus Christ, can you find anything that suggests that there is a virtue in cutting children from Medicare." I'd actually go Kerry one further: I doubt that Jesus ever mentioned Medicare at all. Still, it's probably significant that some presidential aspirants--Kerry, for one--want to demonstrate that there are among them some real live Democrats for God. Or, as the Times said about him, he is "A Roman Catholic, who has struggled at times to talk about his own faith ...
Now at this point the half-vast editorial staff were almost moved to intervene on behalf of the hapless Junior Senator from Massachusetts, but we confess that we were helpless with laughter:Mr. Kerry also told the group that he believed 'deeply in my faith'." Now, there are many Catholics including high ecclesiastics who doubt this. But who am I to have a point of view on what is essentially an intramural fight? In any case, as it turns out, Kerry is not only a Roman Catholic but also an ecumenicist. Once again I rely on the Times: Kerry asserted that "the Koran, the Torah, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles had influenced a social conscience that he exercised in politics." My God, what bullshit politicians feel obliged to utter! Or maybe the bullshit is already second nature, or even first. But since Kerry raised it, let me ask: What hadith of the Prophet influenced him the most, and why? And here I have a personal interest: Which of the injunctions of Leviticus and who among the Prophets have the most meaning for him? Ordinarily, of course, I wouldn't ask such personal questions of a politician. In the spirit of Jesus, Kerry will certainly forgive me for doing so.
The next four years should be extremely entertaining.
These politicians. They are of the most amusing, n'est pas?
"Small Acts of Intellectual Dishonesty"
The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.
- Dante Alighieri
In a moment of transcendent irony, one of Obama's supporters heaps praise on his political acumen:
Obama probably realizes that Muslims have played a marginal role in American life throughout most of its history. He also probably believes that the U.S. economy in the 1970s suffered primarily from oil shocks and irresponsible monetary policy rather than from the absence of a Reaganesque cheerleader for entrepreneurship. But Obama's method entails small acts of intellectual dishonesty in the pursuit of common ground.
Liberals and conservatives in this country are not going to agree on major policy issues any time soon. We disagree for good reasons. We need not come to blows over our differences, but neither should we sweep them under the rug. Conflict, debate, and the ability to disagree openly and honestly, properly handled, are constructive rather than destructive qualities. They are profoundly American activities and in the final analysis this may be the most frightening thing about Barack Obama: his very likeability, because it is at the core dishonest. Obama is the perfect date; a social chameleon promising us smooth sailing; telling us exactly what we want to hear, but ultimately revealing far too little of himself and his plan for overcoming something which cannot be overcome: our fundamental disagreement on substantive policy issues.
Hope, if it is ever to be anything more than a huckster's trick, must be based on something real. It must be based on the truth, not on little white lies told to make us feel better about things we had rather not face. The kind of hope promised by Barack Obama is not empowering. On the contrary; it encourages us to avoid reality and duck confrontations, to purchase peace at the price of our principles.
What common interest, pray tell, do we share with
terrorists man caused disaster facilitators who murder innocent children? These men find the moral straitjackets of their fellow cold blooded murderers too confining. What could we possibly offer that would convince men like this to embrace restraints they have long since rejected?
Seeking, no doubt, to reassure his fellow Obama supporters that the Boss knows what he's doing and questioning authority is the hallmark of dangerous extremists, Chait draws a startling parallel:
Democratic partisans think the enemy is vicious and must be met with uncompromising force. That's exactly how conservative foreign policy hawks feel about the world. Unsurprisingly, the right-wing foreign policy critique of Obama today sounds eerily like the partisan Democratic critique of Obama during the primary.
Chait's "small intellectual dishonesty" glosses over one crucial difference between these two constituencies: the "enemies" right wing foreign policy hawks oppose are brutal dictators who openly declare their goal is to force America to convert to Islam or destroy it altogether.
The sworn "enemies" of partisan Democrats, on the other hand, are other Americans who dare to disagree with them. That is their crime. Oddly, the existential threat posed by once-patriotic dissent now merits the application of uncompromising force - the same force these people find 'illegal and immoral' when applied to terrorists who consider the murder of children an appropriate policy tool.
It is precisely this sort of "small intellectual dishonesty" that gets glossed over every time Barack Obama indulges in yet another legendary feat of drive-by transparency. Once critical differences between our avowed enemies and our fellow Americans are conveniently cloaked in the language of petite malhonnêteté, underlying issues of morality and historical fact are easily dispensed with:
Iran, remember, has no such reluctance about meddling. It endorsed Bush in the 2004 presidential race — to the delight of the Kerry campaign. For six years, it has tried to murder Americans in Iraq and destabilize the Iraqi democracy. It has killed Americans in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, and done its best to thwart democratic government in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Iraq. How odd that Iranian theocrats have no worries about violently overthrowing democracy abroad, while we are terrified of supporting democracy by words alone.
Worried? Don't be. The adults are back in charge; New Realists who will replace risky, ideologically driven foreign policy initiatives abroad with risky, ideologically driven domestic policy initiatives at home:
There is no simple solution, but one approach is close to what the government already does when it decides that some institutions are "too big to fail," and therefore must be saved - a strategy that, as we have seen recently, can cost hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. As the Treasury Department's miscalculation over Lehman Brothers demonstrated, these judgments are difficult to make and also prone to errors. But the main problem - and the reason for their immense cost - is that they are made only after a crisis situation is reached, at which point only drastic actions are available.
An alternate approach is to deal with the problem before crises emerge. On a routine basis, regulators could review the largest and most connected firms in each industry, and ask themselves essentially the same question that crisis situations already force them to answer: "Would the sudden failure of this company generate intolerable knock-on effects for the wider economy?" If the answer is "yes," the firm could be required to downsize, or shed business lines in an orderly manner until regulators are satisfied that it no longer poses a serious systemic risk. Correspondingly, proposed mergers and acquisitions could be reviewed for their potential to create an entity that could not then be permitted to fail.
But won't creating a far larger, more complex, more tightly connected network of private enterprises under the control of the same government bureaucrats who failed to avert the last financial crisis spread, rather than minimize, systemic risk?
Not to worry - remember, the adults are in charge now. Besides, would Obama lie to you?
June 22, 2009
Post of the day. And deservedly so.
Honor Thy Father
I once read that the difference between fathers and mothers is that a mother's love is unconditional, whereas a father's love must be earned.
Until today, I thought this quote was quite possibly the dumbest thing I'd ever read on the subject of fatherhood. It turned out that I was wrong:
Today's dads are more cuddly with their children than the generation before them.
At least that's what dads are self-reporting in a new survey from Lever 2000, part of its Making Every Touch Count campaign. According to the survey, up to 84 percent of dads surveyed say they show more physical affection to their own children than their parents did with them.
What's wrong with this? Apparently, every time a father gives his children a hug, what he's really doing is abandoning his role as an authority figure and ushering in the decline of Western civilization:
... the touchy-feely parenting style that started a few decades ago is not for everyone. Among its harshest critics is John Rosemond, a psychologist, author and syndicated columnist. On his Web site, www.rosemond.com, Mr. Rosemond says the nonauthoritative parenting of today has "wreaked havoc on the family, the community and the culture."
Mr. Rosemond, who bases his parenting advice on biblical Scripture, says today's permissive parenting results in arguments and fights as parents try to explain themselves rather than just demand respect and good manners from their children. Mr. Rosemond is not opposed to spanking children.
The idea that fathers cannot be affectionate and good disciplinarians at the same time is nonsense. In fact, fathers more often than not set the tone for the entire household. They are the originators of the standards families live by.
Fathers seem to have an awfully bad rap in the media. When they're not being depicted as inept or uninvolved, they are seen as unreasonably harsh taskmasters who insist upon harshing the all knowing maternal mellow. But the truth is that we mothers can sometimes be too close to our children to take a properly detached view of what is best for them. Mothers are good at teaching our children about love and friendship. We train them to respect the rights and feelings of others; to listen to their conscience and wash behind their ears. These are all important lessons. But Fathers, while no less loving, have a steadying influence on a household. They balance all that maternal care with a thorough understanding of how the outside world works and a pragmatic insistence that children learn to compete as well as compromise. They offer children a loving bridge between the accepting world of home and family and the often critical and demanding world of work, sports, and school.
Everywhere one looks these days, Fathers are taking a more active role in their children's lives:
Most of the guys I know are in their 30s or 40s and kill themselves to get home early enough from work to do bath time or catch a soccer game. Nobody goes to the gym anymore after work. Forget about seeing a father of school-age kids on a weekend. He is at three games or on a school retreat or a swim lesson. Men now are as involved in their kid's lives as women are and the stereotype of the father who hasn't changed a diaper or met with a teacher is completely passé. The reality is that most fathers have that much more to do now. They are trying to balance all their previous responsibilities and all the new ones brought about by children. Just about everything other than parenting has fallen by the wayside.
And yet they receive little credit for their many sacrifices. Over the years I lost count of the times my husband stepped up to the plate when I was at the end of my rope with our two smart (and at times challenging) sons. Raising two sons with nearly opposite personalities required every bit of insight and intuition I possessed.
It also required the active participation of a loving father whose keen observation and unfailing integrity gave me the strength to hold my ground as a parent. Today when I look at my sons I see, not their mother's influence, but their father's. Each, in his own way, strives to live up to the ideals their father modeled for them every day.
A mother probably speaks a million words to her children over the years. But a father, through his example, shows them how to live. He is the standard against which daughters will measure their future husbands and sons will measure themselves. It's hard to think of any influence more important, nor one that has a more lasting effect on a child, than that of a father.
And it's hard to think of anyone more taken for granted.
Monday's Moment of Zen
For all two of you who haven't seen this yet:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Obama Orders Stephen's Haircut - Ray Odierno|
June 19, 2009
Your Entirely Predictable Friday Objectification Moment
Fausta has the quote of the day for today:
You can tell from the headline the guy’s a democrat. If it were a Republican he’d be “shirtless hairy old coot with no respect for the office he represents.”
One of the funnier moments in blogging of late. And no, the Editorial Staff are not posting it here. We have standards, you know.
Just Call Them Both, "Johnson"....
What is the deal lately with these uppity females?
If you want to score a meeting with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), know this: His scheduler/office manager, Elizabeth Becton, is to be addressed by her full name — not Liz or any other variant.
An executive assistant at McBee Strategic recently learned this the hard way. A few weeks ago, the assistant e-mailed Becton seeking a meeting with McDermott and a client, JPMorgan Chase. Days later, the assistant checked back in and unfortunately began the e-mail with “Hi Liz.”
Becton curtly replied, “Who is Liz?”
When the assistant wrote back with an apology, Becton turned up the heat. “I do not go by Liz. Where did you get your information?” she asked.
The back-and-forth went on for 19 e-mails, with the assistant apologizing six times if she had “offended” Becton, while Becton lectured about name-calling.
Becton told the assistant that if someone said using “Liz” was acceptable, then “they are not your friend”, and “If I wanted you to call me by any other name, I would have offered that to you.” Plus, it’s “rude when people don’t even ask permission and take all sorts of liberties with your name,” she said, adding: “Please do not ever call me by a nickname again.”
But the tirade didn’t end there.
Jeez, lady. Get a grip:
What are the odds that a guy who’s spent decades addressing his superiors as “sir” would address a woman senator as “ma’am”? I actually went back and skipped around in the video of the rest of the hearing to see how he interacted with male senators and caught him answering Vitter’s questions with “yes, sir” a number of times. Is Boxer’s ego so fragile and her method so imperious that she’d publicly humiliate a guy whom she has no reason to believe is being anything less than respectful?
Initially, my take was pretty much the same as John's, but there is no reason to be rude about it. This is exactly the kind of thing that discourages people from being polite, and in particular discourages men from showing courtesy to women in the way most men were raised to do.
And the notion that being called "Ma'am" means you are old is just plain silly. Ever since my husband was a boot 2nd Lieutenant, Marines (both enlisted and younger officers) have almost invariably called me "Ma'am". I never took offense - if you want to be called something else, the correct response is, "I appreciate the courtesy, but if it doesn't make you uncomfortable, please call me Cass". That thanks them for being polite and lets them know you are willing to dispense with the formalities if they are. And you may have to accept that they may not feel comfortable doing so. That is perfectly fine. But at least you've made the offer.
Someone needs a spanking.
Update: Just call her "Czarina". Hysterical.
I want to be the Czar of Snark.
June 18, 2009
Thoughts on Love and Marriage
Aspasia reasoned thus with Xenophon's wife and Xenophon himself:
"Please tell me madam, if your neighbor had a better gold ornament
than you have, would you prefer that one or your own?"
"Well, now, if she had a better husband than you have, would you
prefer your husband or hers?" At this the woman blushed.
"I wish you would tell me Xenophon, if your neighbor had a better horse than yours, would you prefer your horse or his?"
"Now, if he had a better wife than you have, would you prefer yours or his?"
And at this Xenophon, too, was himself silent.
"Therefore, unless you can contrive that there be no better man or
finer woman on earth you will certainly always be in dire want of what you consider best, namely, that you be the husband of the very best of wives, and that she be wedded to the very best of men."
- Cicero, De Inventione
I've been thinking a lot about marriage lately for two reasons. One is that I sometimes find myself dismayed by the Internet.
It's a contagious medium. Ideas and emotions flit like kamakaze bottleflies from one site to another. They bounce off the narrow walls of tiny pop up comment boxes, growing increasingly frantic as each new contributor enters the fray. Temporary alliances form and are suddenly shattered. Seemingly innocuous debates suddenly flare into full blown arguments and subside just as quickly as they arose.
I rarely comment on other sites any more. I used to wade into online conversations with lusty abandon but these days I find myself holding back; unwilling to say what I think. The things I read, more often than not, either disturb or fail to interest me. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground any more.
Yesterday I found myself reading a comment thread on a site I usually avoid because it always leaves me with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach. There's not much I can't laugh at, but there is something about this place. Something dark. Some of the commenters seem so bitter:
There is something going on here. I wouldn't suggest it was a "mental illness," not just because I wouldn't want to be insulting, but because I don't believe that it is. The only "mental illness" I believe actually exist are the ones with physical, observable causes, which can be corrected. That's an illness, and part of the proper field of medicine. What we're talking about here is not illness with a medical solution, but something else.
What we're talking about here is not part of the mind, but of the psyche -- which, so many have forgotten, is not the mind but the soul. These are people who have lived lives of remarkable peace and plenty, in a land now ruled by their preferred and chosen officials and policies, and who yet find themselves ruled by fear, by shyness, and by anxiety; and therefore by a kind of seething anger, which is the natural compliment of fear.
What is needed is not a diagnosis, nor a drug. It's a way of learning to live boldly; and a way of embracing joy, even if destruction lays overhead.
Their words are harsh. Unforgiving. But worst of all is the pain. I recoil from it like I'd jump back from a poisonous snake. These are people who have been deeply hurt. But rather than healing over time, growing stronger gradually as the bad memories fade and the pain slowly subsides, they are still nursing ancient grievances - some decades old. In place of a fading scar that only aches when it rains, there's a brittle, hard protective shell covering a festering wound they're fiercely protective of.
And so, because I can't bridge the yawning gap between their anger and my optimism, I remain silent.
I read another article this morning: one that stayed with me as I worked:
I remind myself of the phenomenon of unconscious overclaiming; i.e., we unconsciously overestimate our contributions or skills relative to other people’s. This makes sense, because of course we’re far more aware of what we do than what other people do. According to Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis, “When husbands and wives estimate the percentage of housework each does, their estimates total more than 120 percent.”
I complain about the time I spend organizing babysitting or paying bills, but I overlook the time my husband spends dealing with our car or grocery shopping. It’s easy to see that overclaiming leads to resentment and an inflated sense of entitlement. So now when I find myself thinking, “I’m the only one around here who bothers to …” or “Why do I always have to be the one who …?” I remind myself of all the tasks I don’t do.
Second, I remind myself of the words of my spiritual master, St. Therese of Lisieux: “When one loves, one does not calculate.” That precept is the basis for my 11th Personal Commandment: No calculation.
This is what I saw in the comments on that site the other day: the keeping of scores that so often results in anger and bitterness. It's so easy to over-calculate our own contributions to a relationship and undervalue what we receive from others. We enter marriage with a lot of fine theories about how love will be, but few survive contact with the humdrum monotony of daily life or the thousand tiny fault lines left by arguments, unstated grievances, a careless word or frown that may have gone unnoticed by the speaker but which rubbed us raw at precisely the wrong moment. We guard the tiny wounds assiduously lest we be hurt again.
I married young. Too young, most people would say, but then I've never had much use for rigid formulas. In the beginning, unsurprisingly, it was mostly I who fed the relationship. I planned surprises, cooked special dinners, picked flowers, remembered every occasion with a card even though I had to walk 3 miles to the store with a 30 pound toddler in tow to do so. It seemed important to put effort in - this, after all, was a relationship I expected to last for a lifetime. And so I tried to keep our lives interesting, both in and out of bed. I tried to be patient and cheerful, no matter how I felt. When you have no money, fun is important. So is a sense of hope.
And the young are not afraid of life yet. Or at least I was not afraid when I was younger: not afraid to make a fool of myself, or screw up, not afraid to be a bit of a clown if that would earn a smile or even a laugh. Not afraid of being wrong or being rejected.
Not afraid of being hurt.
As the years went on, I continued to be the relationship keeper. But somewhere deep inside, small hurts began to accumulate. While my brain chose to ignore them, my heart never entirely forgot all the times I'd gone out of my way to please and ended up feeling slightly taken advantage of.
If someone had asked if I kept a hidden tally I'd have said no, but deep inside of me the counter was ticking away and the debt kept growing. It was a sum far too large to repay in the brief moments we had together, crushed between deployments, soccer games and camp outs for the boys. And so, because I didn't want to become bitter or angry, I put up walls around the hurt places. It was a coping mechanism. I kept trying, but I was more careful.
When our sons left home, something changed.
I went to work, and suddenly it was my husband and not I who aimed to please, who thought to bring me a cup of coffee in my office each morning and flowers at night; who began to woo me again as he had when we were in high school, who wrote love poems and sent pretty baubles when he was thousands of miles away. Suddenly, the man who was constantly at work started coming home early, taking leave frequently to whisk me away to some tropical beach or country inn.
I would like to say that I enthusiastically reciprocated in kind, but that would not be true for suddenly I had new interests and responsibilities. My world expanded and I began to understand what it must have been like to be him, all those years. More detached, but not necessarily less loving. Just... different.
But also, there were those walls in my heart. They had taken a long time to build and I wasn't anxious to tear them down just yet. You always find a use for something right after you throw it away.
Yesterday morning I listened to those bitter people and I heard a long litany of grievances with no recognition that there might have been another side to the story - that perhaps their wives had been hurt too; had been disappointed. That perhaps the hissed "she" had walked away from the relationship with her own grievance list?
What I heard, over and over, was "me, me, me". And this isn't something only men do. You can go over to Pandagon and listen to bitter women complain about how all men are insensitive and inconsiderate brutes who only think of their own selfish wants and needs. That doesn't strike me as a particularly thoughtful position, nor one likely to allow any kind of hurt to heal.
For some reason I found myself thinking this morning of the piano I grew up with as a child. It was not new, and certainly not a Steinway. Not my dream piano. But it was mine.
It took care and skill to coax the sounds I wanted to hear from those yellowed keys - hours of patient effort and loving attention. One or two never would hold their tune and struck unexpectedly sour notes when I hit them, so I learned to adjust. To work around them. I wrote in other keys or slid the song up or down an octave. I practiced over and over again until what I heard pleased me. It wasn't always the music in my mind. But it was music, nonetheless.
With practice I learned to avoid the sour notes and apply just the right touch for each moment; to produce music that was serene and soothing or stormy and passionate, that delighted the ear and lifted the spirit.
The thing is, I don't think any of us acts in isolation. We play, and are played upon by those we love; responding to the ambient temperature and the threat of storms just as my old piano did.
I have an electric piano now. It has none of the faults of my childhood instrument but I don't enjoy playing it as much as I did that old one - the one that, if I wasn't paying attention sometimes rewarded my earnest efforts with a discordant clang or false note. You can't play a piano and hold anything back. If you don't take risks - hit a few false notes, let the passion inside you come out even if it makes you feel slightly foolish, the music becomes stale and flat and you find yourself playing mechanically; just going through the motions.
The older I get, the more I think that the keys to a good marriage are pretty simple. It's harder, playing an old piano. You have to put more effort in than you would if you had a shiny, new perfect instrument. But in life, perfect instruments are a rare thing and as it turns out simply making an effort every single day to step outside yourself and learn everything you can about the person you're with, to learn what makes them happy or what they want instead of assuming they think just like you do, to see things through their eyes, gives you an entirely different perspective on the world; one you'd never obtain on your own.
You'd never have to make that kind of effort if you had a perfect partner. But the challenge is what keeps you interested - and interesting.
Birds are Weird
So I'm minding my own business, knee deep in the thrilling world of Apache mod-rewrite directives, when I hear a soft, rhythmical 'plop'.
Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop.
I look around my office but the Savage Weiner Beast is fast asleep inside my sweater, which he pulled off the daybed. His head is inside one sleeve and the body of the sweater is artfully wrapped around his torso, leaving only his butt and one hind leg exposed. He is snoring softly into the elbow of my left sleeve.
OK. Dogs are weird too.
Finally I manage to extricate myself from the lurid charms of Notepad++ and decide to investigate. Trudge down the hall towards the kitchen sipping a cup of coffee along the way.
A flash of red catches my eye. My kitchen door has solid panels on the bottom. The upper half is a single, paneless window. Since we live in the woods, we had all paneless windows put in so the view of the woods and lake would be unobstructed. A large male robin is flying into the top window of my kitchen door, bouncing off, then flying over to land momentarily on the railing of the long deck outside the kitchen door before again hurling himself like a tiny missile at my kitchen door.
Plop. Plop. "You want a piece of this?"
I trudge back down the hall to my office, step over the dog's butt, and sit down. Doubtless it is only a matter of time before that cheeky male 'pecker commences to drumming for lady woodpeckers using my chimney as a sounding board. We're under siege out here in Western Maryland.
Nature is out of control. If that unbearably perky little ribbon snake living in my stone wall starts up, I'm outta here.
June 16, 2009
Give Me A Freaking Break
So may the outward shows be least themselves;
The world is still deceived with ornament.
- Bassanio, The Merchant of Venice
Ay yay yay :) I willingly passed up the opportunity to say "I told you so" when Ms. Prejean was fired by the Miss California pageant recently:
Why can't we ackowledge that Miss Prejean did right to refuse to back down before an inappropriate and intentionally politicized question? But she did wrong when she lied to her employers on multiple occasions and she did wrong when she chose to violate the terms of her contract by representing NOM. And these distractions have nothing to do with whether or not gay marriage is a good idea. When righty bloggers applaud her more admirable actions and ignore or excuse away the less admirable ones, it only makes us look hypocritical and biased.
Sadly, I'm beginning to believe that if Carrie Prejean robbed a bank in broad daylight and a security camera caught her dead on, some conservatives would still claim she was being "victimized" because of her opposition to gay marriage. I thought conservatives opposed the victim mentality? Whatever happened to responsibility and accountability?
When will we face the inconvenient truth? Is everyone on the planet persecuting her, or is it just possible that the problem may lie with Ms. Prejean's behavior rather than her opinion on gay marriage?
Former Miss California USA Carrie Prejean has lost another contract. The controversial ex-beauty queen lost her endorsement contract with a clothing brand just days after she was fired from the crown.
Sledge USA decided to end their contract with the 22-year-old blonde beauty after she allegedly didn't hold up her end of their deal.
Brand manager Vered Nisim told E! News, "She did not keep her appointments at all. She refused to confirm a time and date, even though we were on a very tight schedule."
Imagine that. This company was perfectly happy to sign a clothing contract with her, defense of traditional marriage notwithstanding. Are we seriously to believe they are now punishing her for an opinion that didn't bother them previously? Note that their reasons for firing her are exactly the same as those given by the Miss USA Pageant.
Coincidence? Or just a massive conspiracy against a victim powerless to control her own behavior?
Let's face a few inconvenient facts. According to the terms of the contract she signed, Prejean agreed that the pageant would have SOLE CONTROL over her publicity and personal appearances. She also agreed not to become the spokesperson or make representations on behalf of any group without first receiving written permission from the Pageant. She clearly breached that contract when she agreed to become the spokesperson for the National Organization for Marriage. This is not even a grey area.
The contract she signed is here. Note that Prejean was required to separately initial every single clause. She cannot credibly claim not to have seen them.
None of them is long and all are written in plain, easily understandable English. How willing was she to abide by the contract she signed? Read her emails, and contrast her tone with that of Keith Lewis:
From: cprejeanXXXXSent: Friday, May 29, 2009 7:57 AMTo: Keith LewisSubject: Re: Messages
You do not cooperate with me, and you pick and chose the the things YOU want me to do. That is not happening anymore. Stop speaking for me. I have MY own voice. What are u gonna do fire me for volunteering for the special olympics hahaha ur crazy No I am doing this appearance. You do not need details. Its for the SPECIAL OLYMPICS!!! You just need to know I will be doing it alright
You will not facilitate this appearance
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
Unbelievable. Does this sound like someone who was trying to fulfill her obligations in good faith?
Precisely what part of the fact that she granted the pageant SOLE CONTROL over her appearances did Ms. Prejean not understand?
Conservatives are always complaining about feminists who demand equal rights under the law but refuse to accept equal responsibilities. It would seem that all those lofty conservative values fly right out the window when a pretty woman in a bikini pays lip service to them and then refuses to abide by what she has promised to do.
Carrie Prejean is being punished for her honesty? Hardly.
Just Fifteen Words...
...to open a story. Provide a 15 word opening line for the great American novel - something that will invite the reader to give free rein to his or her imagination. Here are a few lines to get you started:
Just east of Liberty, Kansas, there extends an open plain, blank as every memory written.
As her car careened off the guardrail, Devon wished she'd gone to Brakes 4 Less.
The door opened and the scent of honeysuckle crowded him like a suddenly remembered promise.
Few lights had so blinded him with such scant intensity, but that was Helen's gift.
The train was hot and close, and his excuse had melted long before her station.
I don't know why I keep on believin' you need me,
When you've proved so many times that it ain't true,
And I can't find one good reason for stayin',
Maybe my leaving would be the best for you,
But these rose colored glasses, that I'm looking through
Show only the beauty, cause they hide all the truth,
And they let me hold on to the good times, the good lines,
The ones I used to hear when I held you,
And they keep me from feeling so cheated, defeated,
When reflections in your eyes show me a fool
But these rose colored glasses, that I'm looking through
Show only the beauty, cause they hide all the truth,
So I just keep on hopin', believin that maybe,
By countin the many times that I've tried,
You'll believe me when I say I love you and
I'll lay these rose colored glasses aside.
June 15, 2009
Obama's Economic War on Marriage, Women in the Workplace
One of the most appallingly dishonest memes spread by prominent progressives is that income inequality is the result of unfair economic policy that allows the selfish rich to prosper at the expense of the deserving poor. I've refuted this afactual argument at length before, but Russell Roberts over at CafeHayek deals the meme a well deserved whack with the clue bat:
Over at Freakonomics (HT: Planet Money), Justin Wolfers cites this graph as proof that the rich have gotten most of the income gains in the last 35 years:
... Starting in 1973, and it's not a coincidence, the divorce rate in the United States began to rise. The number of families increased dramatically simply because of divorce. There was also an increase in the number of families headed by single women with children. The quintile breaks-points changed, not because the economy was growing or shrinking but simply because of changes in the types of families.
The chart is highly misleading. It implies that poor people have done poorly while rich people have thrived. Rich people have thrived. But so have poor people. If you look at longitudinal studies of the same people (the Michigan PSID for example) you get a totally different picture than this one. And that's because this one is designed to fulfill a political agenda. It's a beautiful example of how facts by themselves are not meaningful. There is nothing dishonest about the chart, just its interpretation.
Many other economic studies support his point. A study on the effect of working wives on family economic mobility concluded:
Over the past 30 years, married women in the United States have significantly increased their labor market activity and become an integral factor in their families’ ongoing economic wellbeing. This change raises questions about the economic impact of two-earner families becoming the norm. Do American families now need both a working husband and a working wife to have any hope of getting ahead or to keep from falling behind? How much does a wife’s labor market activity (participation, hours, and earnings) matter in her family’s ability to make income gains, hold its place relative to other families, or avoid losing ground? ; Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, this paper focuses on married-couple families during three ten-year periods (1969-79; 1979-89; 1988-98) to see whether favorable family income mobility outcomes are associated with greater wives’ labor market activity and finds that they are. Wives in families that moved ahead or maintained their position had high and rising employment rates, work hours, and pay. Moreover, the annual earnings of wives in upwardly mobile families increased relative to those of their husbands. The popular perception that families needed to work more hours just to hold their own relative to other families is confirmed, and almost all of the increase in work hours came from wives.
There are two important points here:
1. Upwardly mobile families improved their economic status due to the entry of wives into the workforce.
2. Men's earnings were stagnant, but women's annual earnings and total hours worked increased.
A Pew study reported similar results:
The report on the comparative economic mobility of men and women, highlights the fact that the growth in family incomes is largely due to the fact that far more families now have two earners. Male earnings have been stagnant over the past generation. The report found that sons and daughters have approximately the same likelihood of moving up or down the economic ladder. The exception is women whose parents were at the bottom of the income distribution. Partly because they are more likely to be single mothers, nearly half (47 percent) of daughters born to parents at the bottom remain at the bottom, compared to 35 percent of sons.
As I demonstrated a while back, the "unfair" income inequality progressives ranging from Barack Obama to Paul Krugman want so desperately to fix is not the result of unfair tax policy. On the contrary - households in the top two income brackets differ markedly from those in the bottom three in their behavior:
America's most prosperous households do one other thing differently from their poorer neighbors: they are, to an overwhelming degree, married:One frequently overlooked dimension of the gap between the "rich" and the "poor" is how much it is affected by marital status. As Chart 10 shows, only about 30 percent of all persons in Census's bottom quintile live in married couple families; the rest either live in single-parent families or reside alone as single individuals. In the top quintile, the situation is reversed: Some 90 percent of persons live in married couple families. In this case, equalizing the numbers of persons within the quintiles makes little difference; even after each quintile is adjusted to contain the same number of persons, 85 percent of persons in the top quintile continue to live in married couple families compared with one-third in the bottom.
If you want to know what upwardly mobile families and families at the top 20% of the income distribution do differently, this chart spells it out:
As Walter Williams has pointed out time and time again, there is a strong correlation between certain behaviors and economic prosperity:
For the most part, long-term poverty today is self-inflicted. To see this, let's examine some numbers from the Census Bureau's 2004 Current Population Survey. There's one segment of the black population that suffers only a 9.9 percent poverty rate, and only 13.7 percent of their under-5-year-olds are poor. There's another segment of the black population that suffers a 39.5 percent poverty rate, and 58.1 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.
Among whites, one population segment suffers a 6 percent poverty rate, and only 9.9 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. Another segment of the white population suffers a 26.4 percent poverty rate, and 52 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.
What do you think distinguishes the high and low poverty populations? The only statistical distinction between both the black and white populations is marriage. There is far less poverty in married-couple families, where presumably at least one of the spouses is employed. Fully 85 percent of black children living in poverty reside in a female-headed household.
Poverty is not static for people willing to work. A University of Michigan study shows that only 5 percent of those in the bottom fifth of the income distribution in 1975 remained there in 1991. What happened to them? They moved up to the top three-fifths of the income distribution -- middle class or higher. Moreover, three out of 10 of the lowest income earners in 1975 moved all the way into the top fifth of income earners by 1991.
Poverty is not caused by racism, sexism, or unfair government policy. When individual behavior is taken into account, the supposed effects of racism and sexism disappear. People who make economically efficient decisions, regardless of race or sex, are upwardly mobile. It turns out that it really is that simple. Avoiding poverty requires just a few critical decisions:
1. Finish school.
2. Get a job and work full time.
3. Avoid teenaged pregnancy.
4. Get married and stay married.
To these prescriptions, economic research has added one more:
5. Pool your incomes: two earner household (and particularly married two earner households) account for 90% of the top 20% of the income distribution in this country. When one considers that women, on average, work fewer hours than men and that two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women, it's begins to look as though it is the choices women make rather than sexism that accounts for the disparity between the standard of living experienced by women and that of men.
But rather than level with the American people, rather than tell them the long established facts showing that successful and upwardly mobile families owe their prosperity to a small and well identified set of decisions, the Obama administration has chosen to blame economic inequality on unfair tax policy and selfishness.
If getting married, completing college, working full time, and allowing women to work - the keys to achieving the American dream - -are unfair and selfish, the Obama administration is right to discourage these behaviors with punitive tax policies.
On the other hand, if stable two-parent families and economic freedom for women are things the government wants to encourage, the Obama administration sure has a funny way of showing it.
June 12, 2009
Judith Warner Guest Blogs!
Ladies and gentleman, I'm thrilled to be able to bring you Ms. Judith Warner of the NY Times. So without further ado:
It is all sooooooooo familiar.
A lone gunman takes a life in a hate crime. Law enforcement officials say he acted alone.
But enough facts. Why should we believe Obama’s justice department when we can indulge in baseless speculation? What I desperately need to believe is that this maniac was not alone — not in spirit, at least.
Like Scott Roeder, the man charged in the shooting of George Tiller nearly two weeks ago, James von Brunn has no recent links to extremist groups. But don’t let this lack of evidence fool you. His violent hatred — of Jews, blacks, the government — is universal among right wing extremists. Like Von Brunn, they just "happen" to have no links to violent extremism.
Coincidence? I think not. People like my 97 year old neighbor Doris, a “sweet grandmotherly type” who openly admits to voting Republican and who - as I type these words - is almost certainly planning to behead us all in our sleep.
Though statistically Von Brunn is an outlier — disturbed, deranged, disavowed by those I’m desperately trying to paint with the same broad brush — the strength of my baseless conviction allows me to completely ignore any statistics which undermine my case. And so should you.
Like facts, numbers are cold, hard, difficult to manipulate: unfeeling as a registered Republican with a semi-automatic rifle and a belly full of hate. These people are nothing like us. By nature, we progressives are tolerant, confident, open minded. Unthreatened by alternative modalities and lifestyles. And because we're so secure in our own skins, we loathe conservatives for the fear mongering way they make us wet our pants by simply brandishing their scary differences of opinion.
All this free thinking is downright un-American.
Progressives are rational and logical. This means we can afford to disregard the facts and allow fear to take over. We don’t need evidence to conclude this lone gunman is merely the tip of a vast, sociopathic iceberg known as the Republican party. They’re everywhere. Tiller’s murder followed months of harassment and intimidation at abortion clinics: a chilling sequence of events that never happened before a black man ascended to the Oval Office. The obvious connection between insane abortion activists and insane, Christian hating Nazi anti-Semites is so self-evidently self evident that there's no need to establish a link between them. In fact, it's the absence of a tangible connection that proves our case beyond a reasonable doubt. Under our system of checks and balances that's all we need to lock these folks up for the duration.
Our groundless certainty allows us to view the acts of a crazed extremist as logical extensions of the far milder views of nutbars like my neighbor, Doris "Granny" Finkelbacher. If you doubt the logic of this statement just look at the link between expanding White supremacist groups and Fox News, whose presence only fuels the seething paranoia and rage of people like mysel… ummm… of cruel and disgusting right wing whack jobs.
It should surprise no one that hate group membership grew steadily over the Bush years. But the continuance of this trend under Barack Obama can only mean one thing: Republicans are nothing but a bunch of closet racists. Especially the black ones. Only now with the blinding clarity of hindsight can we see how early those twisted haters had to start to throw us off their foul scent.
Let’s face it: who is more likely to break the law than a bunch of law abiding, stodgy middle aged white guys outraged by non-enforcement of existing laws? The beauty of this circular argument is that it neatly allows me to ignore gaping holes in my own logic. And then there’s the U.S. Department of Homeland Security report of this past April.
It was not only wrong, but wrong/bad to profile Muslim extremists who committed nearly 70% of terrorist incidents in this country during the past decade. But we can still redeem ourselves in the eyes of the Muslim world by immediately continuing the failed criminal policies of the past eight years. One has to applaud the refreshing competence of the Obama administration. The decision to profile military vets, though even DHS admitted it had no empirical reason to suspect them of doing anything wrong, now looks downright prescient. After all these people have guns. And they won't stop clinging to them. That is the beauty of the statistics I ignored earlier when they undermined the point I was attempting to make. Connect any two dots, and BAM! You have a trend you can use to shore up even the most threadbare argument. True, you might have to leave out an inconvenient data point or two if it
shoots your premise straight to hell ruins your nice straight line. But the average reader is far too stupid to notice such mathemagical sleights of hand:
But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient.
Convincing, isn't it? Why the R squared on that straight line is nearly perfect! And if we extrapolate from our two data points, we can prove it’s only a matter of time before this racially motivated destruction and intimidation produce a bloodbath the likes of which we haven't seen since we left the Arab world no choice but to murder 3000 innocent Americans.
There’s one additional, highly disturbing parallel between von Brunn’s white supremacist shooting rampage and the “pro-life” killing of George Tiller: In both cases, at least some (I don’t need to tell you which ones) core beliefs of these psychotic extremists were echoed, albeit in completely different language, by right wing news commentators! Thus, it’s entirely reasonable for me to conclude that if you respect life and want abortion laws changed through the democratic process, you’re secretly broadcasting instructions to deranged madmen saying there's no need to respect life or wait for the law to change on its own. It’s OK to KILL KILL KILL. KILL EVERY AFRICAN AMERICAN, JOO, AND PERSON OF CHOLER UNTIL THERE ISN'T A SINGLE DEMOCRATIC VOTER LEFT IN THE WORLD.
Mind you, I can’t accuse Beck or Limbaugh of actually inciting violence. But fortunately, “coded language” allows me to insinuate what would otherwise be far too ridiculous to say openly. Rush Limbaugh's unequivocal denunciations of rdr and Von Brunn gave people who are dangerously near the edge — the sort of “guy that could not take it anymore” as one poster on the white supremacist forum Stormfront.org, described von Brunn — all the validation they need to release their pent up rage.
“The pot in America is boiling,” Beck said this week in a clear reference to the well known Republican belief that women should be kept barefoot, pregnant, and chained to their Easy Bake ovens. “And this is just yet another warning to all Americans of things to come.”
Indeed. That just about says it all, doesn’t it?
Laugh for the Day
Via spd :)
Anyone seen BillT lately????
In other news, nothing says "I'll love you forever" like a giant bag 'o bones.
Who's a Terrorist?
Watching the right and left sides of the blogosphere squabble over whether James Von Brunn more closely resembles a pachyderm or a jackass is the comedy gift that just keeps on giving:
It's hardly been 24 hours since James Von Brunn allegedly walked into the Holocaust Museum and shot museum guard Stephen Johns. But already conservatives from Rush Limbaugh to Red State have started advancing their latest up-is-down meme: Von Brunn -- a white supremacist consumed by hatred of Jews and blacks, who has called for President Obama to release his birth certificate -- isn't really a right-winger -- in fact, he's a lefty.
Let's count off the examples:
Yesterday, a guest from the "Ayn Rand Institute" argued to Fox News's Glenn Beck that because Von Brunn is a racist, he must of course be "a phenomenon of the left." In response, Beck accepted that logic, and wondered: "How did it happen that you look at people that are Nazis and you say that those are right wing? It doesn't make any sense whatsoever!"
Yes, it's totally baffling.
Not to be outdone, Rush Limbaugh too declared Von Brunn "has more in common with the marchers and protesters we see at left-wing rallies," according to video just aired on MSNBC.
But it's conservative bloggers that have really taken this idea and run with it, though. Yesterday, Eric Erickson of Red State tweeted:
I am sorry but I find it utterly impossible to take any post seriously that contains the words, "So-and-so tweeted". I am sure that Eric Erickson is a very nice young man but grown men simply do not tweet.
That aside, did someone drive a wooden stake through the beating heart of irony while I was at lunch?
I realize that in certain circles it is considered the height of tolerant, enlightened sophistication to wallow in the astonishing parallels between mere political disagreement and paranoid schizophrenia. But surely even the irony impaired ought to be able to grasp the frothing idiocy behind playing Pin the Ideology on the Deranged Psychopath? Oops, spoke too soon. Dare I suggest that bursting into a public building and wasting innocent bystanders is perhaps not the act of a rational soul with a coherent world view? Furthermore, mass murder seems just.a.tad higher on the scale of Things That Should Earn You A Very Loooooooong Stay In Prison than ... oh gosh, I don't know... voting Republican?
At any rate, all this posthumorous registering of dead whack jobs to the other party to score political points (or tut-tutting about how a government report that warned that in the future, right wing whack jobs might recruit returning OIF and OEF vets was vindicated by some 90 year old, WWII-era PT boat geezer because, as Jean-Fraude so notably informed America, milvets all have raging PTSD, receive paramilitary and explosives training, and are mentally scarred from torturing helpless puppies) got me wondering: who were most of the terrorists and terrorist conspirators over the last 10 years?
The answers are pretty interesting:
The categories are fairly arbitrary because some of these nutbags had more than one reason for committing or planning terrorist acts and in some cases I had to make a judgment call. Some of them were a real doozy. But stereotype away!
The list I used is below the fold. It may be missing items since it took FOREVER to compile, but then I'm not getting paid for this. It's an amalgam of several lists online. Enjoy.
1. Jan-00 2000 Millenium Attack plots* al Qaeda
2. Oct-00 Firebombing. Temple Beth-El destroyed Ramsi Uthman
3. Oct-00 Molotov Cocktails, Temple Adnath Israel Mazin Assi
4. Apr-01 2000 terror attack white supremacists
5. May-01 Burned building, UWA ELF eco terrorists
6.Sep-01 WTC, Pentagon 19 Islamic terrorists
7. Sep-01 Anthrax Bruce Ivins
8. Dec-01 Plot against Darryl Issa, King Fahd Mosque* JDL
9. Dec-01 Shoe bomber* Richard Reid
10. May-02 Mailbox pipe bombing Lucas John Helder
11. May-02 Dirty bomb* Jose Padilla
12. Jul-02 Shooting, El Al ticket counter, LAX Hesham Mohamed Hadayet
13. Sep-02 Lackawanna Six* Faysal Galab Sahim Alwan Yesein Taher Shafal Mosed Mukhtar al-Bakri Yahya Goba
14. Oct-02 Beltway Sniper shootings John Allen Muhammed
15. May-03 Brooklyn Bridge Plot* Iyman Faris
16. Jun-03 Va Jihad Network* Ali al-Timimi
17. Aug-04 NYSE bombing plot* Dhiren Barot
18. Aug-04 MSG Subway plot* James Elshafay and Shahawar Matin Siraj
19. Aug-04 Murder of Pakistani diplomat NYC - plot* Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain
20. Aug-05 LA NG Plot* Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh
21. Aug-05 LAX bomb plot Assembly of Authentic Islam
22. Dec-05 Oil attacks plot* Michael C. Reynolds
23. Feb-06 Toledo bomb conspiracy* Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, Zand Wassim Mazloum
24. Mar-06 UNC Chapel Hill - car attack Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar
25. Apr-06 Sears Tower, FBI bombing plots* Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Rotschild Augstine
26. Jul-06 NYC train tunnel plot* Assem Hammoud
27. Jul-06 Jewish Federation shootings Naveed Afzal Haq
28. Jan-07 Liquid explosive plot* 24 British Muslims
29. May-07 Fort Dix plot* Jordan, Turkey and Yugoslavian jihadists
30. Oct-07 IED attack Mexican consulate Unknown
31. Feb-08 UC Santa Cruz animal rights
32. Mar-08 Torched homes ELF eco terrorists
33. May-08 Pipe bombs - Fed. Courthouse unknown
34. Jun-07 JFK bombing plot* Russell Defreitas Abdul Kadir Kareem Ibrahim
35. Jul-08 Church shooting Jim D. Adkisson
36. Aug-08 Firebombing, UC Santa Cruz animal rights
37. May-09 Tiller abortionist killed Scott Roeder
38. Jun-09 Little Rock recruiter shooting Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhamma
39. Jun-09 Holocaust Museum shooting Wenneker von Brunn
40. Jun-09 Video Terror plot* Syed Haris Ahmed
You Can't Say That: A Partial Defense of Letterman/Playboy
Apparently, free speech is so over when the masses rule the media: "It's only OK if I think it's funny. It's only OK if it fits my politics. It's only OK if I say it is." I wish Playboy hadn't pulled it. Censoring the piece doesn't make it any less real, any less politically incorrect, any less true. Attempting to police human nature is the real joke here.
It's rare for such a brief quote to contain so many juicy ideas just waiting to be untangled. To my mind there's a fair amount of confusion expressed here, though a few lines seem awesomely intelligent if for no other reason than that they validate my extraordinarily insightful reasoning processes.
Let's take it line by line:
Apparently, free speech is so over when the masses rule the media: "It's only OK if I think it's funny. It's only OK if it fits my politics. It's only OK if I say it is."
The first part of this statement is just bizarre. Yet variants of the old slippery slope argument lie thick upon the ground these days (particularly on the InterTubes). First, let's deal with the disturbing whiff of a censorship 'plaint. It isn't censorship when a public figure says something stupid and private citizens (as opposed to government) become so offended that they push back or decide to take their money elsewhere. Freedom of speech is not threatened because no one was prevented from hearing the offending sentiment. They heard it. Now it's their turn to talk back.
That the speaker or his employers may find this responsive speech unpleasant to listen to and voluntarily self-censor in the future, so as not to provoke more unpleasant reactions, does not present a bar to free expression. In this case Playboy can continue to publish articles that offend large numbers of people. No one's stopping them. What they cannot do is dictate the reaction of the general public, nor expect to be rewarded for having pissed people off.
On the part about the masses ruling the media: well of course they do. They're providing the revenue stream which keeps the media in business. Contrary to their frequent attempts to remind us how indebted we are to them for deigning to inform and entertain us, the media do not provide these services gratis. Nor do they haul tuckus to work each day through rush hour traffic out of a high minded desire to ram the manparts of FreeSpeechdom or afflict the comfortable. That's just what they tell themselves when they've had a lousy day at work. "It's all worth it, because without us the universe would be taken over by bitter, gun clinging wingnuts and the snake handling cretins who run FoxNews."
No, the media are in business to turn a profit. That's tough to do if you expect people to throw wads of filthy lucre your way for the privilege of having their sensibilities outraged. The huddled masses who pay his salary aren't terribly interested in Keith Olbermann's Edgar R. Murrow fantasies. They expect articulate, spittle flecked rants that neatly confirm their pre-existing biases.
But I agree with the second part of that statement: "It's only OK if I think it's funny. It's only OK if it fits my politics. It's only OK if I say it is." I've been beating this particular dead horse like a rented mule lately. We humans are fickle. And loyal. And fiercely partisan at times. We erupt in fury when The Other disrespect Sarah Palin but see nothing odd in searching for nude photos of a married female Governor online or idly commenting that she's one hell of a MILF and we'd give our left hand for an hour with her in a dark room. Of course we'd still respect her in the morning, because after all we're conservatives and unlike the other side, we have principles.
The thing is, political differences and human foibles aside, most of us share an elemental sense of fairness. That's why the Playboy article was an equal opportunity offender for the left and the right. No matter where you sit, two things were pretty obvious.
1. The hate-f*** reference was creepy and inappropriate. It's the conflation of anger and sex that disturbs.
2. Though modern culture relentlessly sexualizes everything from kindergarteners to grandmothers, none of the Playboy women did anything to invite the demeaning treatment that was meted out to them (except dare to offer their opinions for public consumption). We can rationalize talking about someone else wife or daughter like a piece of meat because after all, she's getting paid and presumably enjoys being looked at and talked about in the altogether. She offers, and we are free to accept what is offered or politely decline. But publicly conscripting women who never consented to such treatment into our imaginary YouPorn universe seems like a particularly obscene back door draft (pun fully intended).
So, should Playboy have pulled the article? Should Letterman be fired and banished to an airless cell in Gitmo so the frilly panties of feminist outrage can be repeatedly pulled over his screaming maw?
I'm not sure. Or more accurately, I think the decision should be up to Playboy enterprises and CBS. Like Jeff Goldstein, I don't necessarily see this public morality play as a bad thing:
... so while it may have been unfunny to those with certain sensibilities, the only “justification” necessary is that someone thought it funny enough to make public, and we (thankfully) still have the right to make those kinds of decisions ourselves.
This is what is great about America - we have the right to offend others, the right to choose to exercise self-restraint and consideration, and the right to erupt in volcanic explosions of outrage when one of our sacred oxen is gored. What we're being offered is the opportunity to think - to examine our values and priorities, and to remember that even in this cynical age there's still considerable common ground between the right and left.
How far we've come. When I was a child Letterman's remark would have been censored out long before we ever heard it. There are times when I think the world would be a better place if we weren't so darned resistant to the notion of limits and standards of decency. But on the other hand, sometimes it takes someone stepping outside the boundaries of common decency and courtesy to remind us that it's time for our annual gut check.
On to the last sentiment in our short quote:
Censoring the piece doesn't make it any less real, any less politically incorrect, any less true. Attempting to police human nature is the real joke here.
I hear this argument a lot online too. "You can't legislate morality" (never mind that no laws are involved in either of these stories). "Men/women are wired that way - there's no point in trying to change them." (Hoo boy - toddlers are wired to grab toys and food from each other and pitch temper tantrums too. Fortunately, at least some of their parents understand this behavior is unlikely to promote social harmony if allowed to continue unchecked.) We are constantly fighting a battle between our basic instincts and higher brain functions like morality and reason. Partly as a result of technology and the affluence it brings with it, many of us have forgotten that we can't really go it alone.
We are part of a tightly interconnected social matrix which provides most of our basic needs with less effort and more security than at any other time in history, but the comforting haze of affluence lulls us into a false sense of independence. The Internet doesn't help. Online we regularly do things that in real life would earn us a horsewhipping or a punch in the mouth. And so we forget that our narrow view of the universe isn't the only one; that the technology which dutifully serves up our every whim also connects us to others in a way that makes isolationist fantasies (whether played out on a national or individual scale) more than just quaintly antiquated. A lowly beer commercial becomes a cultural bellwether that further blurs the swiftly eroding line between public and private behavior and makes it harder to argue that any man is an island:
The ad, which quietly appeared in February as part of a viral campaign, has attracted little notice thus far, but because it comes from a highly respected American brand, it seems to mark some kind of cultural tipping point, where pornography has soaked so far into the fabric of mainstream culture that it's no longer seen as a stain. The phenomenon, known as porn creep, is also evident in ads from such companies as American Apparel, Carl's Jr. and Quiznos.
To some, it's funny. I'll admit that I laughed in parts. But it's also (as with our ill fated discussion on prostitution last week) a phenomenon that men and women are likely to see through the prism of their respective experiences. Men (and I've read hundreds of comments on the ad) almost invariably think it's hilarious. They laugh at the Bud buyer's embarrassment and think, "Man, I've been there". And embarrassment is funny - the stuff of thousands of skits and movies and ads that have gone before. But I couldn't help noticing the woman's body language. I wonder how many guys would even see it? Watch the ad and note how she draws into herself and crosses her arms protectively as she realizes she's sandwiched in between two guys who obviously like porn a lot.
Part of what makes the commercial funny is that even in today's anything goes culture, the buyer is ashamed and embarrassed. What made part of it unfunny is that the other guy sees nothing wrong with going on and on about what would normally be a pretty private subject in mixed company. Like Time, I find the increasing mainstreaming of porn disturbing because I don't relish the thought of explaining graphic or perverse sexual references to my grandson or my mother. I'm not happy about our growing need to overshare, to be tethered 24/7 by cell phones and wireless access and then claim we act in a vacuum and therefore need accept no limits on our personal conduct from the rest of society:
Sure, I could settle for a routine in which only traditional social skills are required, but where's the fun in that? I long ago mastered not talking with my mouth full and placing a napkin in my lap, and still felt the world needed people like me--pioneers of electronic propriety--to make tough choices. Is my personal hygiene regimen or lack thereof fit for public consumption? Probably not. What about a pictorial on the proper position for a keg stand? Not a good idea, regardless of my prowess. Does my social circle need to know that the sour cream at Chipotle tastes "a little off"? Tough call. Could be a public health issue.
It's a daily game of public Frogger, hopping frantically to avoid being crushed under the weight of your own narcissism, banality, and plain old stupidity. Just as it took Alexander Graham Bell a couple of tries on the telephone to realize that "Hoy! Hoy!" simply wasn't going to work as the standard greeting, so it took a brave South African man to discover that calling your boss a "serial masturbator" on Facebook will get you fired. There are thousands oversharing online as I write, paying the price with a gradual erosion of their dignity, so you don't have to.
Ironically, the antidote I've found for my own tendency to overshare online is more sharing online. Everything on my Facebook and Twitter pages is openly available. It's amazing how reasonably you act when everyone you know (and many you don't) is watching you.
I make a conscious decision to broadcast my life every day, and I accept the consequences. In a way it's a quintessentially conservative formula: The extent to which you take personal responsibility for your actions dictates the risks and benefits of your online existence.
As with the debate on blogospheric anonymity/pseudonymity, I think the freedom of the Internet poses the ultimate character test. It's the virtual answer to that old question: would you do this if no one was looking? The problem, of course, is that someone is looking and online we need answer only to our own sense of integrity. Some of us will self-regulate.
The question is, how does an increasingly hetergeneous society handle those who won't self-regulate - who, indeed, refuse to entertain the idea that there are or ought to be any limits on their behavior? The answer, I think, lies in what we've just seen with Letterman and Playboy: outrage and responsive speech. We can do and say what we want.
What we absolutely cannot do is prevent others from responding, and at least at present there would seem to be some issues on which the right and left still loosely agree.
It's a comforting thought, just as it comforts me that people can choose to pay the price if they're willing to swim against the tide of societal opprobrium. The interesting question for the future will be whether any standards - or any society - can survive the erosion of law, morality, and authority.
It will be interesting to find out, no?
June 11, 2009
Dave, You Ignorant Slut...
Here's a clue for you: when even your own side thinks you stepped over the line, that's generally considered to be a bad sign:
UPDATE. Letterman’s bosses knew that the joke was wrong: The remark was aired live, but CBS removed it from the transcript it makes available to media, including the New York Times, which publishes Letterman’s opening monologue on its blog site.
Update: To add a thought and the Letterman video from last night - Letterman claimed he didn't see a problem and was unaware of this until "today." But someone at CBS edited that transcript before this even became a public issue. Someone at CBS, possibly on Letterman's staff, was the first person to have a problem with this. Letterman is lying here, I believe
I happen to think Letterman's lying too, but since I can't prove that I don't see how it benefits anyone to accuse him. Of course you just *knew* the jackassery would continue, didn't you?
I'm about to make everyone mad again. First of all, Letterman's jokes were offensive and tacky. His subsequent attempts at self beclownment only make him look like a bigger ass, though unkind observers might have thought that was impossible (at least, before he managed to one-up himself with that arrogant and snotty non-apology). I don't think children or family members of politicians are EVER appropriate fare for nasty partisan sniping. But then I can get my whole self-righteous jones on because I've already objected to equally-if-not-more-tacky and disgusting "jokes" made by conservatives for precisely the same reason: you don't gratuitously and viciously insult a politician's family because it's easier than going after the politician on the merits. I've noticed exactly zero outrage on the right about what amounts to the same indecent behavior.
And yes, I'm going to be tiresome and keep reminding people why it matters just as much when we do it.
People ought to be able to see the larger principle at issue here. If it becomes acceptable to target the families of politicians, no one but sleazeballs who lack the decency to protect their own families from this kind of slime will seek public office. How is that a win for anyone?
So my question to you all today is this. There has been a huge amount of outrage directed at Letterman. I absolutely think all three jokes were tacky and inappropriate no matter who they were directed at. Machts nichts. Willow makes a slightly more outrage-a-licious target because she's underage. It seems more than mildly idiotic to joke about statutory rape. But even if Bristol were the intended target (and I don't believe for one moment she was), how would that make it any better? What did Bristol Palin do that justifies the insinuation that she's an easy target for any jerk who wants casual sex... so easy, in fact, that she can be casually knocked up during the 7th inning stretch?
Oh yeah. She did exactly the same thing Letterman did: comprise one half of a long term relationship that produced an unintended pregnancy. Hmmm. Does this mean Letterman - at 62 - is a slut, too?
Well of course not, silly. We all know there's no such thing as a male slut. We don't even have a word for that.
That said, I also think the accusation that Letterman was joking about the rape of a minor is a bit overblown. First of all, if it were truly a rape joke it wouldn't matter if the target were Willow or Bristol. But I don't see even the slightest hint that he meant it to be a rape joke, and pretending it was to bolster an already justifiable sense of outrage only obscures the real point: why is referring to any of these women in crudely sexual terms "OK"?
What makes the rape thing hyperbole? Last time I checked, A-Rod hasn't been accused of raping anyone, though I'll admit I haven't closely scrutinized his sexual history. It's reasonable to interpret both the A-Rod and Spitzer jokes as being directed at the men involved rather than Palin's daughters. Both men demonstrated loose morals and a serious inability to keep their trousers zipped. The problem is that the jokes also portray the Palin daughter(s) as easy prey for men everyone knows have the morals of an alley cat - in short, as promiscuous ditzes who lack the sense or the willpower to keep their legs shut.
And while we're on the subject, juxtaposing "slutty (flight attendant look)" with the name of a state Governor who has never been credibly accused of any kind of sexual licentiousness or misconduct is just as inappropriate and offensive as going after her daughters. This is not edgy political humor. It's just plain nasty.
Innuendo is an ugly thing. Because no one ever spells out the intended point explicitly, it's subject to interpretation - and consequently far too easy to deny. Letterman is dead guilty of acting like a colossal ass. On the other hand, what makes Letterman's joke any different from literally hundreds of similar comments and even posts I've read on conservative blogs?
The real issue here is that people on both sides of the political aisle don't see a problem with reducing women to sexual objects. It's a way of dismissing their real accomplishments: suddenly the "value" they offer is purely sexual.
Jokes like this are merely crude variants on, "Don't worry your pretty little head about that, sweetie." They're dismissive and contemptuous, and until people on both sides of the political spectrum get fed up with sexist and patronizing behavior, it will continue because it validates the view that respectable women can be treated this way with impunity.
It's a perfectly reasonable point: they can. We permit it.
It continues because society at large has no problem with it (until it's done to someone on their side, that is). Then we go all outrage-y... sort of. I'm not sure whether this nonsense continues because decent people - male and female alike - are afraid to speak up or because the majority of Americans secretly agree that it's perfectly acceptable to equate the Governor of Alaska to some porn star. After all, both are great to masturbate to aren't they?
Ha ha ha. I kill me, sometimes.
To be honest, I see very little daylight between Letterman and the folks on the right and the left who, every time Palin's name comes up, can't wait to make some moronic joke about hoping to see her tits, seeing her naked, f***ing her, or hoping she'll do porn.
And of course it's always passed off as just a joke. Humor truly is subjective, isn't it?
Update: Oh. Dear. Lord. What is it about this story that seems to bring out the stupid?
This makes sense:
"I think that when a woman is running for public office we should avoid sexualizing her"
Hmmm.... do ya think? But then she has to go and ruin a perfectly sensible comment:
"... maybe when you play the flirt and invite males to see starbursts bouncing off the walls (Lowry again), then maybe you invite the sexual punchline."
You have it straight from the horse's mouth ladies. Whatever you do, avoid the wink.
You're just inviting sexual slander.
CHRISTIANISTS!!!!!... umm.... not
Quote of the day on the Holocaust Museum shooting:
I took a Facebook thing the other day that said my Spirit Guide was a Bear. I didn’t start eating honey pots and hanging out with a donkey named Eeyore. If you search for your identity, and it is “crazy bomb building lunatic” maybe you should just walk away.
Not a sermon, just a thought.
I meant to link that yesterday, but the spouse and I were busy plotting the glorious resurrection of the Aryan Nation. My bad.
Food for Thought
Via Kbob in Katy:
"Remember that when you lose your temper, you are out of control. And when you are out of control, you have lost control. That means that someone else now has control, and you are under their control. Think before you cede control. Think before you lose your temper. Think before you lash out in anger."
Related (and very good) thoughts here:
Ah – La Politesse. You know how annoying the French can be – That je-ne-sais-quoi that gets under your skin and makes you want to drop-kick the French right into a gutter? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. You just have to learn to love that very Parisian form of social jujitsu: La Politesse.
La Politesse is a tacit code of social conduct which demands politeness in all social situations (well almost). The French use it mostly to genuinely express kindness to others. It is what makes a bustling city like Paris function civilly and with decorum. Without it, Paris would have all the charm of The South Bronx. [Warning: Strong Language] In France a humble: “excusez-moi, madame” will go a long way in winning friends and gaining respect.
La Politesse is also used in situations where every fibre of your being wants to throttle the neck your fellow man, but you don’t. It keeps and resolves confrontations before they turn ugly and violent (for the most part). The French do not like direct confrontation. Instead they prefer to attack the resistance to their problems and issues tangentially; in other words passive-aggressively. They still achieve their goals of smacking some one down, or overcoming a bureaucratic obstacle, but without all the nastiness and overt drama. Because of this the French are masters of irony, sarcasm, and double entendre. Once they break-down the resistance on their opponents, they can then deal directly and frankly with their issues (but always politely). The goal is to win people over to your side, without drawing blood.
On occasion, the French will become violent; but only when their opponent is waaay over bounds: physically violent, or egregiously insulting. They will also escalate to direct confrontation if while being polite, your opponent doesn’t get the point. They will however do so only after a final warning. It may go like: “Monsieur, it would be of bad form if I cast aside mon Politesse, to get my point through to you”. Then and only then if you don’t get the point, you will bring out the old Vercingetorix out of them.
VDH illustrates this concept nicely via an anecdote:
I came back to Selma thinking, “I am not going to be the grouch my grandfather was, yelling at neighbors, worried all the time, nervous, seeing the world as rather hostile, hoarding a tiny stash of savings, worried as if bugs, the government, hired men, weather, and markets were out to destroy him. I’ll farm with my Bay Area manners and sort of think, “I will reset the farm, and things will at last work as they should” (not thinking that my grandfather raised three daughters, sent them to college while mortgaging the farm in the Depression, and spent on himself last, and was a saint compared to my pampered existence in the university).”
One small example of my late coming of age. A rather brutal neighbor (now dead and not to be mentioned by name (de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est)), an immigrant from an impoverished country, a self-made man, veteran of infamous fights and various bullying, shared a communal ditch. We talked and exchanged pleasantries–at first–at the standpipe gate. He lamented how rude my late grandfather had been to him, and even had made unfounded accusations that he was less than honest (he was also sort of playing the race card, remarking about the prejudicial nature of California agrarian culture).
I'm sure you can tell where this is going:
... after about 3 months of sizing me up (at 26, I confess looking back I was not 1/8th the man my grandfather was at 86) he began stealing water in insidious ways: taking an extra day on his turn, cutting in a day early on mine, siphoning off water at night, destroying my pressure settings, watering his vineyards on days that were on my allotment. Stealing no less! And in 1980!
Here’s how I rushed into action. First, I gave a great Obama speech on communal sharing and why the ditch would not work if everyone did what he did. Farmers simply would perish if they did not come together, and see their common shared interests. He nodded and smiled-and stole more the next week.
Eventually, though, La Politesse proves ineffective. Sometimes, no matter how we try, we can't avoid a show - and possibly the application - of brute force. But the end of the story is worth noting:
In an hour he drove up in a dust cloud. He was going to smash me, get his football playing son to strangle me, sue me, bankrupt me, hunt me down, etc. He swore and yelled-I was a disgrace to my family, a racist, a psycho, worse than my grandfather. He was going to lock my gates, steal all my water, and indeed he leveled all sorts of threats (remember the scene in Unforgiven when Eastwood walks out and screams threats to the terrified town?-that was my neighbor). I got out with large vine stake and said something to the effect (forgive me if I don’t have the verbatim transcript-it has been 29 years since then), “It’s locked until you follow the rules. Anytime you don’t, it’s locked again. Do it one more time and I weld it shut. Not a drop. So sue me.”
He got up, screeched his tires, blew a dust cloud in my face, and raced down the alleyway-honking even as he left.
For the next ten years until his death, he was the model neighbor. He would stop me with, “Victor, I shut off tomorrow, half-a day early-why not take my half day to jump start your turn?” And indeed we finally began to have philosophical discussions (he was widely read) about Sun-Maid, Carter, Reagan, the US, literature, etc.
Yesterday, after having dealt with a particularly unreasonable client, one of my sales guy friends said something that amused me:
"We should call you The Client Whisperer."
I've been in one form of customer service or another for nearly 3 decades. Often by the time a client gets to me, he or she is angry, frustrated, and not at all inclined to listen to reason. Rarely, they are belligerant or personally insulting, though that is rare because I seem to be able to project some indefinable air which whispers, "You don't want to go there."
In all the time I've worked, I've never had a single encounter that didn't end well. And yet I've also said things to clients that most people (including, at times, my bosses) wouldn't dream of saying. All without permanently alienating them.
I believe that a huge part of this is that when people do wrong by you, part of them knows what they're doing and knows it's wrong. They also know just how they'd react in your place. If you upset that assumption by treating them fairly, but most importantly if you refuse to stoop to their level, it's often possible to nudge them into grudging respect and even elicit an apology. There are two keys here:
1. You must project a credible willingness to back up what you're saying with action. Showing any sign of weakness is a fatal mistake. Consider your position carefully and then refuse to renounce that stand. This is where the GOP goes wrong all the time - they bluster up front and then capitulate and apologize even when they shouldn't.
2. Begin by giving your opponent the benefit of the doubt but if you're pushed to the wall and conflict escalates, leave them some way to save face.
No one likes to lose, but if you haven't done anything unforgiveable and don't rub your opponent's nose in the fact that he just lost, you may be surprised with a huge attitude change. It's all about that principle of matching force I mentioned yesterday.
If people think you can be pushed around, they'll take advantage of you.
If you go nuclear on them without sufficient provocation, you'll make a lifelong enemy who will be waiting for the chance to slip a knife in your back.
But if you use just the right amount of force - especially if your opponent knows you gave him the benefit of the doubt until that was no longer possible - a surprising number of people will gauge what just happened and conclude that it's in their best interest to back down.
June 10, 2009
When Adults Act Like Children
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.
- Romeo and Juliet
I've been mulling this post over for several months. This is something of a departure for me because in over five years of writing online I've almost never hesitated - even for a moment - to take on a fight I believed in with all my heart and soul. But the truth is that I'm tired. I am finding that the longer I spend on the Internet, the more my faith in human decency and common sense are eroded.
During most of a largely misspent youth I leaned to the Left politically. The reason for my youthful liberalism can be summed up in a single word: empathy. When I saw another human being in trouble, pain, or need it seemed only natural to offer my help and support. Since the world is full of struggling people - far more than one sympathetic young woman could ever hope to assist - it seemed reasonable to extend my own moral guidelines to government. In my youthful estimation the world would be a far better place if everyone could just agree to pitch in and help those in need.
But as I grew older and began to put my principles into practice I noticed a troubling thing. Empathy based decision making rarely produced the results I expected.
A year or two of helping friends who seemed to reel from one self-induced contretemps to another raised disturbing doubts in my mind. Empathy as an overarching guide for human behavior was often counterproductive. Not only did it not help; in some cases it seemed to be actively harmful.
Over the years I noticed that rescuing friends from serial disasters of their own creation didn't encourage them to make smarter decisions. If anything, my interventions skewed the risk/reward calculation we use to select the best course from a range of alternatives. By stepping in and helping each time friends chose poorly, I made it harder for them to learn from their mistakes. They continued to do predictably self destructive things and then look for someone more responsible to bail them out.
Over time I realized I couldn't keep substituting my judgment for theirs. The natural world punishes bad decisions. This natural feedback mechanism helps us distinguish what works from what doesn't. But I was subverting the learning process; unintentionally rewarding bad decisions and encouraging more of the same. With the best of intentions, I had produced the worst of results.
And so I became a conservative. I embraced the idea that people make the most efficient and productive choices when they base their decisions on the way the world *does* work, not the way they wish it would work. I came to believe subjectivity, empathy, and tribalism make extremely poor foundations for building a society or governing one's personal conduct because they elevate subjective feelings over objective experience and morality. I learned to separate my personal feelings and loyalty from notions of right and wrong, responsible and irresponsible. I learned that even though I often chafed at them, rules are not always bad. Centuries of accumulated human experience have resulted in some pretty smart guidelines for getting along with each other and achieving our goals.
I learned that sometimes, the best way to help someone you care for is to hold them accountable.
This is difficult and often unpleasant. We humans are a clannish species. It's only natural to view those we like and agree with more charitably than those outside our social circle. Women, in particular, tend to shrink from confrontations (especially with friends and colleagues). It seems disloyal, somehow. But balanced against these natural feelings was the chastening effect of experience. Discounting principle for empathy hadn't produced the results I'd thought it would. I had learned a valuable lesson: if you care about a person, institution, or nation you encourage it to be the best it can be. You want those you care about to make good decisions, not irresponsible and counterproductive ones.
But elevating principle over natural sympathy or personal loyalty has a steep price tag. Sometimes you find yourself taking positions which make you unhappy or uncomfortable. Attempting impartiality can make friends angry and conflict with your personal desires or sensibilities:
Like most people, Justice Holmes had empathy for some and antipathy for others, but his votes on the Supreme Court often went against those for whom he had empathy and for those for whom he had antipathy. As Holmes himself put it: "I loathed most of the things in favor of which I decided."
After voting in favor of Benjamin Gitlow in the 1925 case of Gitlow v. People of New York, Holmes said in a letter to a friend that he had just voted for "the right of an ass to drool about proletarian dictatorship." Similarly, in the case of Abrams v. United States, Holmes' dissenting opinion in favor of the appellants characterized the views of those appellants as "a creed which I believe to be the creed of ignorance and immaturity."
By the same token, Justice Holmes did not let his sympathies with some people determine his votes on the High Court. As a young man, Holmes had dropped out of Harvard to go fight in the Civil War because he opposed slavery. In later years, he expressed his dislike of the minstrel shows that were popular at the time "because they seem to belittle the race."
When what is popular doesn't coincide with what is right, it becomes difficult to stick to your principles. But I became a conservative because traditionally conservatives have upheld the notion that there are objectively discernable standards of right and wrong; standards whose application does not and should not depend upon personal loyalty or natural sympathy.
Perhaps that is why I find sentiments like this so perplexing:
You guys get a pass. I have different standards for people I like.
Yes, I understand it may have been a joke. But it also happens to illustrate a troubling trend. In a post entitled - with unintentional irony - "Nation of Seventh Graders", an old and respected friend manages to defend every single thing I dislike about the blogosphere:
I don’t understand why Whelan needs to apologize for identifying a law professor who thinks he can engage in public debate and orchestrate a targeted attack on Whelan under a false name. I think the law professor’s employers should be taking a close look at such low ethical behavior, and consider what kind of example he is setting for aspiring lawyers, who will operate in a very public world, governed by personal responsibility and consequences.
It's rare when I disagree with Jules, but on this occasion it's hard to find much I agree with in his post. Outing Publius did nothing to rebut a single argument he made. The act was intended to inflict personal damage and quite possibly to retaliate for statements Ed Whelan objected to. The problem is that generally accepted principles of self defense dictate the principle of matching force. If you are confronted with deadly force, you may use deadly force to defend yourself.
If you are called names or insulted, however, you do not get to deploy the tactical nukes. It makes no sense to argue that if a blogger "attacks" another blogger (good luck defining "attack" - there's a subjective standard for you), anything you do to him in retaliation is justified. I also disagree - vehemently - with characterizations like this:
Unfortunately, as the law prof who aggrandizes himself as Publius reportedly states, identity-masking pseudonymity is an accepted norm on the blogosphere, and given how much of our lives is being conducted in cyberspace, it is in danger of becoming a societal norm. That raises the prospect of our (accelerated) evolution into a nation of seventh graders, making prank hangup calls and writing things on walls.
...anyone who has professional reasons for not expressing an open opinion, as the law professor seems to think he does, may want to consider whether doing it by pseudonym doesn’t corrupt whatever standards and ethics he thinks pseudonymity is allowing him to maintain.
It isn't anonymity by itself that contributes to objectionable online behavior. It's the fact that online, we can do things we'd never get away with in real life. At first blush that might seem like a good argument for "outing" pseudononymous bloggers. Punish them for writing things you don't like. Make the argument personal. Hit them where they live - make them pay for angering or offending you.
But self defense doesn't require such drastic measures. The remedy for objectionable speech is not to damage your opponent personally. The remedy is opposing speech: cogent and coherent refutation of the offending idea.
The notion that writing under ones' own name forces bloggers to behave responsibly or decently is unsupported by experience. After all, Ed Whelan was writing under his own name and yet that didn't stop him from responding to a battle of words with an act that brought near universal condemnation from both the right and the left. Jules writes under his own name. Somehow, I suspect that in real life he'd think twice before applying words like "coward" to those who blog under a pseudonym. That's a thinly veiled ad hominem argument which appeals to the sad tendency of human beings to substitute bias and knee jerk reactions for careful consideration. We've heard this argument before. The Left use it all the time:
"Just ignore what he said. He's a wingnut/Republican/Faux News watcher/sexist/homophobe/chickenhawk. Because of who he is, it's perfectly acceptable for me to gloss right over his argument and substitute insults for a well reasoned rebuttal."
I've blogged under a pseudonym for years. I do it for reasons I consider well thought out and worthwhile. My husband is a senior Marine officer. I don't think either the Marine Corps or he ought to be associated with my opinions. I don't think I should have to worry that some unprincipled person will dig up and publish personal information about my family in retribution for some opinion I've expressed that offends them. If I do something unfair, unwise, or embarrassing, I think it should be only me who suffers.
And at times, I have suffered. The idea that using a pseudonym shields a blogger from scorn, ridicule, disagreement, embarrassment or correction is frankly silly. I have a comments section where anyone is free to take apart my arguments. I publish my email address too. I've been harrassed, threatened, and had my site hacked more times than I can count. In fact, though it may seem convenient for conservatives to attack the messenger rather than consider an unpleasant idea, women online are far more likely to experience vicious personal attacks than men:
On some online forums anonymity combined with misogyny can make for an almost gang-rape like mentality. One recent blog thread, attacking two women bloggers, contained comments like, "I would fuck them both in the ass,"; "Without us you would be raped, beaten and killed for nothing,"; and "Don't worry, you or your friends are too ugly to be put on the black market."
Jill Filipovic, a 23-year-old law student who also writes on the popular blog, Feministe, recently had some photographs of her uploaded and subjected to abusive comments on an online forum for students in New York. "The people who were posting comments about me were speculating as to how many abortions I've had, and they talked about 'hate-fucking' me," says Filipovic. "I don't think a man would get that; the harassment of women is far more sexualised - men may be told that they're idiots, but they aren't called 'whores'."
Most disturbing is how accepted this is. When women are harassed on the street, it is considered inappropriate. Online, though, sexual harassment is not only tolerated - it's often lauded. Blog threads or forums where women are attacked attract hundreds of comments, and their traffic rates rocket.
That's why a lot of us use pseudonyms. It's not as though readers don't know who we are or how to contact us. Pseudonyms just make it a tiny bit harder for the nuts in this world to hurt those we love.
Oddly, when the name "Deb Frisch" comes up most people think of Jeff Goldstein. But long before the Goldstein/Frisch brouhaha consumed most of the available oxygen in the blogosphere, Deb hung around VC. She was here for months. Like Jeff, both my readers and I were insulted, stalked, threatened, and generally harassed. My server was hacked. But unlike Jeff, I chose not to turn what on balance was merely an unpleasant experience with a troll into a three ring circus.
I've objected to uncivil behavior many times over the years regardless of whether it was perpetrated by liberals or conservatives:
If you have any doubts whatsoever about this, all you need do is imagine the look on one of the Obama girls' faces as they are confronted with the term 'bukake' or 'raped' in conjunction with their mother. They don't even need to read it themselves. Children are cruel - someone might easily tell them about it just as someone told me about this post.
Was this really necessary? Standards. They are supposed to apply to both sides.
The response - as often, lately, from conservatives as from liberals - has been depressing.
Rather than respond to the case for evenly applied standards of decency, some conservatives and some liberals seem to prefer nasty personal attacks. I rarely recognize anything I read about myself in their so-called rebuttals: I hate men. Or I hate sex. That one's an eye roller. I must be fat, ugly, or a lesbian. Or I want to control what other people do. That is arguably my favorite.
It is also arguably the most stupid thing I've read in all my years on the 'Net.
How on earth does merely expressing an opinion equate to forcing another adult to do what I want? When did women obtain the magical power to control helpless grown men via the written word? I must have missed that memo. When other bloggers disagree with me, are they trying to control me too? Odd - I thought they were simply expressing opinions contrary to my own (something they have a perfect right to do). I don't get my pantyhose in a wad, even when people on my side choose to resort to insults rather than reasoned rebuttals. In the world I live in my actions are my own responsibility. So long as what I do comports with my own values, I can sleep at night.
Conservatives - and especially conservatives online - need to think about what kind of world it is we want to live in. If what we want is a bare knuckle free for all where personal attacks are not only condoned but applauded (but only so long as the attacker is firmly on "our side"), that's one thing. But if we want to have any credibility when we object to our opponents treating conservatives and their families with contempt and derision, we might want to consider actually practicing what we preach.
We might want to consider not calling women who dare to voice opinions we disagree with sluts and whores; to consider speaking up when some on our own side forget themselves.
We might want to take a long, hard (heh... she said 'long and hard') look in the mirror, because our online community - any community - is what we decide to make it. Standing up for civility is not political correctness and it's not wimpy. In fact, there's quite a bit of evidence for the proposition that there are times when taking offense plays an essential part in maintaining a well ordered society:
You could say our lives as social beings are ruled by the three R's: respect—the sense that proper deference has been paid to our status, reputation—the carefully maintained perception of our qualities, and reciprocity—the belief that our actions are responded to fairly.
...Being on the alert for scoundrels is exhausting, and confronting those who violate social rules is potentially dangerous. But humans feel compelled to do it because without vigilance, fairness and cooperation break down. Gazzaniga cites experiments that show that individuals who take the risk of punishing cheaters enhance their own reputation within a group. (Here's a real-life example.)
Humans' sense of indignation is not just limited to violations against us. Even if you're able-bodied, think of how offended you feel when you see another able-bodied person pull into a handicapped parking spot. Most of us will just walk on, quietly irate, but a few will yell at the driver. These moral enforcers are vital to society. Frans de Waal writes that experiments with macaques show that if you remove the individuals who perform this policing function, hostilities increase among the entire band.
Perhaps this is why, unlike Jules, I was encouraged by Ed Whelan's decision to apologize for outing Publius. I was encouraged because whatever one thinks of his actions up until that moment, Ed Whelen did the right thing. He acted the way I expect a conservative to act. He elevated what was right over what was personally expedient.
And that took enormous courage, because in so doing he had to admit that he was wrong. That takes integrity, a quality I see all too rarely on our side of the blogosphere these days.
Ed Whelan made me proud to be a conservative.
His actions, and those of conservatives who urged him to do the right thing, gave me hope that perhaps we do stand for something after all. They gave me hope because if conservatives continue to condone the substitution of personal attacks for civil discourse when it suits our purposes, there will be no place for people like me on the Internet. They will be driven away and the only voices left will be the ones who enjoy shouting and feces flinging. The conservative side of the blogosphere will be blissfully free of dissent or thoughtful discussion. We'll become the echo chamber the Left makes us out to be: a place where only those willing to defend and agree with the tribe are heard.
I've taken my share of lumps over the past five years and contrary to the brash talk of the bare knuckle crowd I've held my own just fine. I've chosen not to take the name callers and the trolls seriously and though I can't claim I've never been hurt or angered, I haven't let silly personal attacks stop me from writing or rock my world.
But while incivility doesn't frighten me, it has worn me down. What I find most distressing is when my own side scream like banshees over some perceived insult from the Left and then proceed to dish out the same or even worse. I can't - and won't - defend such people.
Even though they're supposedly on "my side". And contrary to what many on the right seem to think, simple disagreement is not an "attack". It's not personal and it's not disloyal, and calling those on your own side crybabies, wimps, sluts or whores doesn't make you a brave warrior for truth (much less do anything to advance conservative ideas). Arguing that a blogger should "know better" than to advance unpopular opinions because conservatives will "just attack you"; that we lack the ability to control our own behavior or rise above our instincts is a pretty depressing indictment of our claim to be the party of ideas.
Of course these tactics do generate a lot of traffic. And perhaps, in the end, that's the point. I suppose we all have to decide why we're doing this. All I know is that when my own side abandons its principles, the cost of blogging begins to seem unacceptably high.
June 09, 2009
Back Door Draft?
Of course now that photos of returning coffins from Dover will be in the public domain, perhaps they could substitute a nice, tight shot of someone's dead son or daughter. It would be so much more relevant.
I know that I said I'd be back Monday, or make a decision, or something to that effect.
Work is really insane right now and I just don't have the time or the desire to write at the moment. Anyway, I didn't want to have people wondering what was going on. Thanks to everyone who has written. I truly appreciate the kind words.
Anyway, I did want to get something up. Not trying to cause a fuss. I'm just busy right now.
June 02, 2009
I have been doing a little thinking and I think it would be best for me to step away from the keyboard for a while.
I don't want to create a lot of drama, or leave people wondering what is going on. So in the interest of lucid, Obama-like transparency and openness, I'm going to take a bit of a break. When things become too fraught or nasty, it takes all the joy out of it.
I will see how I feel about things on Monday, June 8th. Until then, take care :)