2666 : pages 51-102, and a perspective about literature

The second section of the novel has clarified things a bit for me. In my first post, I criticized the amorphous nature of Pelletier and Espinoza. It felt like a weakness at that point in my reading. However, by now it's clear that this can only be intentional on Bolaño's part. [I would like to take minute to rejoice in my ability to insert a tilde.] He frequently ascribes thoughts or motivations or actions to both, or sometimes one or the other without bothering to clarify which. Patently, we are meant to view the two as essentially interchangeable and indistinct.

This strikes me as of a piece with the overall disdain Bolaño seems to feel for the academic milieu in general, and for the critics in particular. In the last section, we had Mrs. Bubis's conversation about Grosz to give us a signal. It becomes more overt in this one. On page 62, we are told that the critics variously attend "an assembly of Germanists in Berlin, a twentieth-century German literature congress in Stuttgart, a symposium on German literature in Hamburg, and a conference on the future of German literature in Mainz." The different, high-blown terms Bolaño uses for what amount to iterations of the same concept is clearly meant to smack of the ludicrous. Pelletier and Espinoza are so mired in their academic way of thinking that they can't understand Pritchard's straightforward comparison of Norton to a well-known literary monster. And their professorial hauteur almost prevents them from learning what they most want to know about Archimboldi from Alatorre, a nobody otherwise worthless to them. I don't imagine we're meant to respect them much, and I wonder if perhaps this is Bolaño's way to telegraphing his opinion about literary criticism in general to us.

Speaking of Alatorre, it seems perhaps that the idea of coincidence is going to become a theme. Certainly, both the critics' connection to and their conversation with Edwin Johns would hint at this. The chance encounter with Alatorre and his telling them the story of El Cerdo seems highly coincidental, as is El Cerdo's connection to Archimboldi himself. It's something to keep an eye out for.

Finally, before I digress a bit, there is the idea of boredom and horror. The opening epigraph from Baudelaire presents the dichotomy right from the start, and it has already begun to percolate through. Surely, it seems to me, the critics are terribly boring specimens, enervated even in their romantic entanglements until the moment of horror when they savagely beat the taxi driver. The mummified hand of Edwin Johns in the middle of a spiral of self-portraits also resonated this way to me. I already wonder if The Part About the Crimes serves as a similar "oasis" in the larger work of 2666. (On that point, it's fascinating how enjoyable I've found the novel itself while finding the action and characters themselves so terribly blah.) It's the other thread I'm trying to follow, thus far at least.

For those of you who've stuck with me up until now, thanks! If you're not really interested in my "theory of reading," feel free to bail out now. This post is already plenty long. However, I feel like I may as well put my literary cards on the table, as it were, and let you know how I approach the experience of reading.

Because I want to stay on schedule and not risk accidentally alluding to something later in the novel before it's time, I'm only reading the allotted pages every week. In the gaps, I've been reading essays from Changing My Mind, by Zadie Smith (a writer almost exactly my age whose intellect and writing skill so surpass mine that it makes my teeth hurt). As luck would have it, I just finished "Rereading Barthes and Nabokov" (the former of whom I know nothing, and the latter only Lolita). In a footnote, she writes of the distinction between "readerly" and "writerly" authors:
[A] way of thinking about the distinction might be: there is a style that believes writing should mimic the quick pace, the ease, and the fluidity of reading (or even of speech). And then there is a style that believes reading should mimic the obstruction and slow struggle of writing. Raymond Carver would be on that first axis. Nabokov is way out on the second. Joyce is even further.
Nowadays I know the true reason I read is to feel less alone, to make a connection with a consciousness other than my own. To this end I find myself placing a cautious faith in the difficult partnership between reader and writer, that discrete struggle to reveal an individual's experience of the world through the unstable medium of language.
Just so. Which is part of why I think Joyce is for the birds.

Part of why I love David Foster Wallace so much is that, for all his gargantuan vocabulary and unanswered questions and byzantine plots, he wants you, the reader, to understand what he thinks is important. Yes, his writing is brilliant and erudite and laden with obscure references that unfold anew every time I reread Infinite Jest. (Also profoundly funny and profoundly sad.) But he cares about what the reader takes away. It means something.

Frankly, I simply do not believe that James Joyce ever gave a farthing about what the reader was able to take away from his writing. Smith's essay also quotes Nabokov decrying the "grotesquely obscure," which to my mind is Joyce to a T. (Also Pynchon, for that matter.) It seems to me that it either did not occur or did not matter to Joyce that at the end of his novel would come a person reading it, and that said reader might actually have an investment in knowing what was going on. In yet another of her essays, Smith says that Joyce's ideal reader was himself, and I believe it. Well, he's welcome to himself.

Which brings us to 2666, and the kind of reader I am going to be. I am not going to pore over the text and try to decipher every last inscrutable sentence. Those of you who are reading along and would like a more in-depth analytic approach should swing by the main Bolaño page and the wonderful Infinite Zombies blog. There you'll find tracking of characters and dreams and locations, and excellent commentary by very smart people. Here, if you choose to check in, you'll find a guy of reasonable intelligence trying to make his way through a complicated novel without having to pull an encyclopedia off the shelf after every two pages, or without sweating blood over the confusing bits (of which, actually, there have been hardly any thus far). For example, after reading the descriptions of Pelletier's and Morini's dreams about Norton twice each, I've decided that (until there is further illumination from the text) their interpretation is "inscrutable dreams that are otherwise without meaning."

Will 2666 reveal its mysteries for a reader like me? Here's hoping.


Who could have seen this coming?

Oy, vey.

From ABC News:
With John Edwards' electrifying U.S. Senate win in 1998, it was his wife Elizabeth Edwards who captivated the nation. A strong, smart, resilient woman, she became one of her husband's greatest political strengths.


But behind their public persona as the golden couple, during his second run for president, there was another side to Elizabeth Edwards who was secretly dealing with the slow leakage of her husband's affair and her cancer diagnosis.

As a torrent of fresh details from the scandal cascaded into the media today, a source close to Elizabeth Edwards told ABC News that she and John are now legally separated. Under North Carolina law they can't get divorced until at least a year later. John Edwards is no longer living at their home in Chapel Hill, ABC News has learned.

I am going to give you a Moment of Truth. My friends, I may not be the very smartest political thinker of all time. All kidding aside, I am unironically embarrassed to admit that I once supported John Edwards as a national political figure. I was glad to hear a candidate for the Oval Office discussing the genuine problem of poverty in this nation, and its impact on the lives of poor Americans. True, after I heard his "Two Americas" speech one too many times, I began to question whether or not he actually had anything else to say, or was capable of varying his stump speech even a little (answers would have to be "no" and "no," I'm guessing), but I found him charismatic and appealing. I was even willing to forgive his making his millions as an ambulance chaser, given his supposed change of heart following the death of his son.

It wasn't until a couple of good friends from medical school told me about the tactics he had used to sue a hospital where they had both worked (neither was in any way connected to the case) that I began to question the quality of his character. As time has gone by, I think we can all agree that the country dodged a bullet with a very expensive haircut over the last two presidential election cycles.

In other words, I was wrong. Plain old wrong. [Confidential to GJ -- I would be grateful if you would pass up this obvious opportunity to suggest that I am similarly misguided in still supporting our current President. Thanks in advance.] Kind of painful to admit, that.

I like to criticize John McCain for foisting Sarah Palin on us. (I think he deserves it, frankly, because I still think Alaska's erstwhile governor is somewhere between "God awful" and "the pits" as far as political figures go.) But I think it's only fair to turn our eyes to John Kerry and give him similarly poor marks for making a similarly awful choice in running mate. While I still think the last four years of the Bush administration were wretched (in other words, remarkably similar to the first four years), the fact that John Edwards didn't come within spitting distance of the White House gives the 2004 election a wee, thin silver lining.

SOTU response: long program

I watched the State of the Union address last night on C-SPAN.com. (The Better Half and I moved our TV over the holidays so young visitors could watch cartoons on the same floor as the rest of the family, and can't be bothered to move it back and reconnect our cable. This has serves us relatively well, other than that I have now missed TWO AWARDS SHOWS!!! A solution must be found before the Oscars... but I digress.) It was a little unusual to watch a political speech and not be told what to think afterward.

Frankly, I liked it. Do I think it will make any lasting changes? No, not really. But I think it was good that Obama took the time to explain some unpopular decisions he made, and it helped me remember a bit why I liked him in the first place.

There were various things I particularly liked. I was glad to hear the word "nuclear" with regard to our energy needs. As a smart person I know (to whom I may or may not be related) has made plain to me over time, if one wants to eliminate fossil fuels from our energy grid, the only other realistic choice is nuclear power. ("Freeze in the dark" is probably politically unworkable.) All the rest of our power options sound nice, but simply will not power our nation. Building more plants would boost both our energy independence and create more jobs.

I was glad to hear the President call last week's Supreme Court decision what it was -- bad. Likewise, I was glad to see him offer blunt criticisms to both parties. To the Democrats, he offered the admonishment to do their jobs and stop being such pansies. (I'm gay... I can say that.) To the GOP (with an appropriate degree of incredulity in his voice), he said that if they're going to filibuster every single piece of legislation before them, they'd better be willing to come up with better ideas for policy. ("Lower taxes and less spending" is not a jobs package. "Suffer" is not a health care plan. Etc.) I was glad to be rid of some of the sugar coating.

And, of course, I was glad to hear Obama discuss the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. About time, Mr. President. I might consider giving your party money again if it happens, though.

As for the jobs package he described, it all made sense to me. I don't know if it will work, and I think his fortunes (and those of his party) depend on those unemployment numbers more than anything else. Here's hoping his plan is effective.

SOTU response: short program

Every so often, I'll criticize the Democrats for being wishy-washy on their promises regarding gay rights. The support of my fellow 'mos has seemed a wee bit on the "taken for granted" side, and it's been a notable frustration. As a response, the question has been put to me why I don't consider supporting the GOP. Mentions are made of Cindy McCain and Cheney, Dark Lord of the Sith. Perhaps, it is posited, the Republicans are turning around on gay issues.

To which I would simply draw one's attention to the response last night to the President's statement that Don't Ask, Don't Tell should be abolished this year. (Will it happen? Sully is skeptical. I'm optimistic.) One party stood and applauded. One sat in stony silence, apparently in support of an idiotic policy that is destined for the dustbin of history. (Because, y'know, gays are allowed to serve openly in Israel, and Israel doesn't take national security at all seriously.)

(Also, there's point eight on that pesky purity test.)

Anyhow, I think it demonstrates why I continue to stick with my poor, hapless Democrats. They frustrate the ever-living crap out of me, but at least they want to make things better. The GOP? Not so much.

Update: Also, there's this.


Confidential to Joe Lieberman

Sweet merciful crap, man, just GO ALREADY!!

This is not helpful

Via an off-topic comment by Official Bleakonomy Gadfly John, I came across this little gem in Slate:
I am trying to decide what exactly is so disturbing about this Cindy McCain ad against Proposition 8. Is it those dead drug-addict eyes? The strategic placement of the tape to hide any frown lines? The sanitarium background? The anorexic fade into nothingness?

It goes on a bit from there, but not upward.

So, to Hanna Rosin, I pose this question -- how on earth is this helpful? Do you think we proponents of marriage equality are just drowning in our scads of supporters, such that we can now sneer at the ones we don't like? Particularly those whose politics we otherwise don't endorse? Because the move for marriage equality is going so [obscene participle] well?

How about this? How about we express some basic human decency and gratitude for a woman who has chosen to do something helpful for a cause we champion? How about we avoid rubbing our hands in child-like glee over the dysfunctions of her deeply dysfunctional marriage, and instead respond with grace? How about we don't shoot ourselves in the foot by alienating supporters we can't afford to lose?

Because this? This we don't need.

I'm no economist, but...

I'm pretty sure this stinks:
President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.


The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, including air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.

But it would exempt security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit: The estimated $250 billion in savings over 10 years would be less than 3 percent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.

My interpretation? Obama is going to take a page from the Republican political playbook. The effect on the actual deficit will be negligible. Set for the federal Frigidaire are programs designed to help people, which are of particular importance during a time of 10% unemployment. For the purposes of "sending a signal."

As I conceded readily in the title for this post, I'm not an economist. But it's my understanding that cutting government spending during a recession is exactly the wrong thing to do. (If anything, the stimulus that was passed in 2008 may have been too small.) Am I wrong in thinking this is precisely the kind of tactic that Hoover tried during the Great Depression? (That's not actually a rhetorical question -- anyone with a firmer grasp of economics and history than me [this means you, third-graders] should feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)

You can count me among those liberal quondam supporters of the POTUS whose support for this plan is "tepid."

Update: Yglesias offers a somewhat measured response. Benen and Coates are skeptical. Judis isn't impressed.

Update II -- Son of Update: Also not a fan? Paul Krugman. (Surprise, surprise.)


But they've kept the seat warm and everything

Well, well, well. Via HuffPo:
Beau Biden announced Monday that he will not seek election to the U.S. Senate seat long held by his father, Vice President Joe Biden, putting another Democratic-held Senate seat in jeopardy and dealing another blow to President Barack Obama's flailing party.

Why has he decided not to run?
The Delaware attorney general told supporters in an e-mail that he will run for re-election to his state post instead of running against GOP Rep. Mike Castle for the seat the elder Biden held for 36 years. He cited a need to focus on prosecution of a high-profile child molestation case.

"I have a duty to fulfill as attorney general, and the immediate need to focus on a case of great consequence. And that is what I must do," Biden, 40, wrote. "Therefore I cannot and will not run for the United States Senate in 2010."

If one takes him at his word, then I suppose one might consider this an admirable decision. However, I'm a wee, tiny bit skeptical. Read on:
Biden's decision was a surprise, given that his father's confidant and former Senate chief of staff, Ted Kaufman, was appointed to the seat by Delaware's governor essentially to keep it warm for the son until he was able to run.

But then Castle, a former two-term governor and one of the most successful politicians in Delaware history, entered the race, dramatically increasing the likelihood of a competitive race.

Here the Democrats are, having gone to all the trouble to find the political equivalent of one of those tuxedo-clan nobodies hired to fill seats at the Oscars when the famous people nip out to the loo, and the GOP has the nerve to make the race competitive. Why, the Democrats might have to work! To defend a seat that was once held by a really, really famous elder statesman! That's theirs by rights! The gall!

Apparently aware that his party has recently proven incredibly bad at winning elections that they assumed would be theirs by default, Biden the Younger is taking a pass. Because apparently the sentiment that the Democrats are a bunch of spineless pantywaists needed a little bit of shoring up.

2666: pages 1-51

The collective online reading experience of 2666 has begun! I'm delighted to say that I've managed to stay on schedule for the first block, at least. [Pats self smugly on back.] For those of you who are interested in participating, the clearinghouse for the whole project can be found here, complete with schedule.

Thus far, I've found the book quite enjoyable and engaging. Bolano's prose is lyrical and fluid, and his wry sense of humor permeates through without being overbearing. The plot has revolved around the lives and associations between four European scholars, experts on the work of an obscure (fictional) German author, Benno von Archimboldi. The four scholars attend conferences, dine and drink and walk in various cities, and fall into bed with each other. Not a tremendously complicated story so far, but it's certainly engaging enough to hold my interest and make me want to read more.

One thing that has made me very, very happy is that Bolano doesn't seem to suffer from what I call "Pynchon derangement syndrome," named for its most famous contemporary sufferer. Any time I start a large-scale, critically acclaimed "literary novel," I fear I will encounter another example, but for the most part 2666 seems spared. This disorder is typified by the use of words, each of which can be defined and understood on its own, but when strung together by the author produce sentences, paragraphs and pages that cannot be understood to mean anything at all. If one speaks in this manner in a medical setting, it is called "word salad" and one's medications are titrated. If one writes in this manner, one wins the National Book Award. Again, 2666 seems largely free of this malady, though I would love it if someone could explain what is meant by "the briefest crystallized vomitings" (page 9).

My complaint at this point is that thus far the novel has essentially been character-driven, and I don't find the characters to be all that well-defined. (The exception is Liz Norton, whose description I found to be masterfully, brilliantly written.) Even after rereading the sections about Pelletier and Espinoza's early lives and careers, I have a hard time telling them apart, other than that the former lives in Paris and the latter in Madrid. Perhaps this could be interpreted to be Bolano playing with the malleability of national identity, and thus these two scholars from different countries are defined mainly by their shared academic passion rather than their national origins. (The contrast between their skills as lovers on page 45 is a witty exception.) I'm waiting to see where these four go, and to see if the contrasts between them become more clear.

Anyone else reading along? Any and all comments welcome.


On the Value of Video Games

So I've been meaning to write a post on how video games are really starting to come into their own. Games are no longer only managing to appeal to lonely adolescent males. The Wii and Rock Band/Guitar Hero games really are fun for all ages. They are complex, interesting, interactive, social games. Sometimes even instructive - I now have a much richer understanding of the game of golf, such as which club to use, the effect of wind, etc (whether that's valuable knowledge is, of course, another question, but it's nice to have something more of an appreciation of something so many people enjoy).

This purported take-down of Rock Band/Guitar Hero is just too silly. The first argument against it is that it glorifies classic rock. Not my favorite genre either, and I would love it if there were, say, a 1940s standards game, but I'm not holding my breath. But that doesn't seem a reason to dislike the game.
The player chooses a song from the game’s selections (or downloads one) and plays by fingering the colored buttons on one of the goofy, cheap-looking plastic instruments designed and marketed for the purpose. There’s a bit more to the games, and they are not all the same, but the main idea is to approximate the notes played on a recording. With success at that, the player progresses, and the avatar gets richer and more famous. Billy Idol/cousin Donny goes from playing in small clubs to concert halls to stadiums, amassing more and more of the material benefits of rock celebrity--first a van, then a tour bus, eventually a private jet … grander stage sets and bigger speakers, more dry ice and lasers, larger and more adulatory crowds of sexed-up kids….

Elementally, then, the games are concerned with the creation of identity, the mastery of rules, and the navigation of social systems as means of earning distinction and rewards. It fits that they would appeal to adolescents (and regressive adults) struggling to come to terms with the grown-up world. There is no harm in all this, though clear dangers lie in the consequences of success in these games’ schemes--that is, in their opulent glorification of ego-gratifying luxury, idolatry, and easy sex. Foremost among those hazards is the delusion that an ego adequate to achieving rock stardom can be gratified by any amount of anything...

What’s troubling about Guitar Hero and Rock Band is not the presence of competition in the context of music, but the terms of that competition: the values--or more accurately, the non-values--the games promote. The games measure performance almost entirely by two standards: speed and flash (accomplished by use of a whammy bar on the play guitars). The more notes you hit on the games’ buttons and the more rapidly you hit them, the higher your score, the richer you get, and the more girls who thrust their gargantuan digital breasts your way. The imaginative power of the notes or the chords underneath them matter little; what counts most is the notes’ quantity and speed. The music best suited to these games--the outrageously stupid big-hair arena metal that Spinal Tap first parodied twenty-five years ago--is and always has been blandly hyperactive and formulaic. It is music as grotesque as the games’ porny electronic girls in the indiscriminate robot frenzy they are programmed, like Rock Band players, to enact.
Hate to break it to you, but I really don't think this game is going to make much of a difference in terms of associating music with the acquisition of wealth and sex. That association has been there for a long, long time.

In general, one doesn't play a game to pretend that what is going on in the game is really happening. An example from my generation: I played Donkey Kong without supposing that I was an Italian painter jumping over barrels.

Even if that were the case that I was indeed supposing that, one may enjoy a fiction without wanting it to happen in real life. I have enjoyed murder mysteries and movies where buildings get blown up without wanting it to actually happen.

Besides, it's not like one tries to score high points in Rock Band (haven't played Guitar Hero) in order to get some sort of sexual gratification. There's some T & A, but the T & A actually belongs to band members - one is not given glimpses of T & A based on one's performance. And I seriously doubt it's much of a motivation to play the game. One can see more explicit sexual images in any music video.

I also seriously doubt that someone who was indifferent to fan adulation or money, would suddenly become wildly desirous of these on the basis of this game. One doesn't play a game so that one feels the gratification of what is fictionally granted in the game (what if the measure were points instead of money...would we suddenly be less motivated to play?). One's goal in getting money in the game is simply to achieve success in the game. Getting "health" points while paying a shoot-'em-up game doesn't seem to motivate players of such games to switch to whole grains and start exercising in real life.

And yes, it's not like playing real music. But it teaches you the beginnings of real music. It helps you focus on how music is put together. One attends to the different intsruments, one learns the basics of rhythm and pitch. (Actually, you can't even really see the T & A because you're so focused on getting the music right.) Someone who has never played an instrument can get a taste of how music is put together without actually going out and learning an instrument. My nephew has taken up drums because he enjoyed Rock Band so much, and I'm sure many other kids have, too.

The purported harms of Rock Band really don't seem very harmful. The benefits are, I think, quite real. And I have little patience with the notion that anything done "inauthentically" whatever that really means) is not worth doing. Indeed, pretense serves a hugely valuable psychological purpose.

Besides. The games are fun!

Two Weeks Late and Twenty Dollars Short

Okay, so, like, a MILLION YEARS AGO Dan held off on timely comments on this Jennifer Rubin horror show so that I might, as a Jew, be able to form the proper outrage against a piece that traffics in the most shopworn of anti-Semitic stereotypes. Alas, in the time it took me to get my act together, others got there.

All right. So I'm no longer going to respond with my Jew hat on (would that be a yarmulke?). I still feel the need to respond with another aspect of my identity: mom of the world's sweetest, smiliest, chubbiest-cheeked special needs kid.
Then there is the matter of the composition of her family. Outside the Orthodox community, where large families are increasingly the norm, having five children, as Palin does, is aberrant to American Jews. According to Smith’s study, Jews “have fewer brothers and sisters than any other ethnic/racial or religious group (2.4 vs. an average of 3.8)” and “the smallest current household size of any ethnic/racial or religious group (2.5 vs. an average of 2.9).”...And, of course, there is Palin’s youngest. Pro-life Americans saw Palin’s son Trig, born with Down syndrome in April 2008, as an affirmation of Palin’s deeply held beliefs, a rare instance in which a politician did more than mouth platitudes about a “culture of life.” But in affluent communities with large Jewish populations, Down-syndrome children are now largely absent due to the widespread use of diagnostic testing and “genetics counseling.” Trig was not a selling point with many Jewish women who couldn’t imagine making a similar choice—indeed, many have, in fact, made the opposite one.
On the first point made: Jews do have smaller families. It does not follow, of course, that they dislike people with large families. I grew up in a Jewish family and a neighborhood with tons of Jews. I have never in my life heard any animus against someone who has a large family. Maybe at most there's a "How do they manage?" comment. But it's not with disdain. My cousin has five kids, and I've never heard anyone in my family get on her case about this in any way (and my extended family, bless their hearts, rarely pass up an opportunity to get on someone's case).

Her second point alleged about Jewish attitudes toward families is not just ill-founded, however. It's disgusting.

I'm pretty familiar with the norms of "affluent communities with large Jewish populations." I have no doubt that, among Jews, abortion of fetuses with genetic disorders is widely considered permissible. That does not mean Jews consider it obligatory. And that does not mean that they are repelled by families who choose to have children with genetic disorders. Perhaps they consider it a misguided decision. But not an abhorrent decision.

The article is titled "Why Jews Hate Palin." Rubin is actually suggesting that the fact that many Jews consider a decision to have such a child as a reason to hate the mother. What a horrible, horrible caricature.

For the record: me and my son have experienced nothing but acceptance from the Jews I know. No one has asked why I had him. No one has avoided him. No one has avoided me, much less hated me for having him. The person who said "If I've learned one thing from all this, it's to get an amnio"? Not Jewish. The two who said, "If I were you, I'd totally be too afraid to have another baby"? Not Jewish. Okay, so one close Jewish family member did say, very cautiously, "Are you going to have an amnio the next time?" But that's the only thing I've heard on the topic from a Jew.

And while the whole experience has re-affirmed my atheism (while totally still respecting the theism of my fellow bloggers!), it has renewed my interest in getting involved in the Jewish community. Why? Because I know that, pace Rubin's nasty insinuations, my son will find loving acceptance there.

Tipping their hand

The Times has an interesting article on the role children of same-sex parents are playing in the fight for marriage equality.
While opponents of same-sex marriage worry that schools will teach that gay and straight relationships are equal, many supporters focus on a different, but still child-centered, issue: What about the children now being raised in families headed by gay men and lesbians? How does the lack of marriage benefits for their parents affect them?

In recent years, an increasing number of these children — ranging in age from 10 to nearly 40 — have taken active roles in campaigns organized by Colage (formerly known as Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), and civil rights groups like Lambda Legal and Glad (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders). Their involvement is helping to change the narrative of same-sex marriage to a story about families from one about couples.

I am of two minds about this strategy. As a counter to the "gay parents will destroy children!!" argument, I think it has merit. But as a primary justification for marriage equality, I think it's flawed. First, it excludes the many, many same-sex couples who choose not to parent. Second, I think it's very important that children not become props or pawns in a social movement they do not fully understand. For those who are old enough to assent to their own involvement, this is a lesser concern, but I think it's an important question to raise.

However, your friends and mine at the Family Research Council maybe need to tidy up their message a bit.
Mr. Pugno’s position is shared by others. “The real question is whether same-sex relationships benefit children to the same extent that living with a married mother and father does, and we believe they do not,” said Peter S. Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, the conservative Christian organization. “Children do best when raised by their own biological mother and father who are committed to one another in a lifelong marriage.”

As for the lifelong marriage question, at least one has to give the FRC credit for being consistent with an unpopular message. If the anti-equality types want to strengthen heterosexual marriage by banning divorce, then I suppose I would have to at least admire their coherence, which is otherwise rather lacking.

However, whoops-a-daisy with that word "biological." Hear that, heterosexual adoptive parents? It turns out that you, too, are also inferior. Welcome to the club!

Considering that the FRC also stridently opposes abortion rights, one supposes that their ideal solution to the ugly reality that sometimes people who aren't married have sex (*clutches pearls; swoons*) is to force those with unintended pregnancies into lifelong, loveless marriages. Because nothing says "Jesus loves you" like social pressure to live a life of resentment and stifled hopes. Good luck with that.


Time will tell

Massachusetts has itself a shiny, new Republican Senator. As I watch the Democrats running for the hills and the prospects for meaningful health reform dwindle, perhaps I can console myself that at least Scott Brown will do his part to make the Senate GOP caucus a little easier on the eyes. Not much, but I'll take whatever silver lining I can get.

And now, of course, we have to wonder what kind of Senator he will be. Jonathan Bernstein (of whom I had never until Sully linked to him) explores the question:
Brown could serve out his two-plus years and then lose; he could win reelection and have a longer Senate career (Schaller suggests Dorgan as a model, but I think a better comp for that would be Al D'Amato); or he could emerge as a national contender. In addition, this very useful post by Boris Shor places Brown just to the left of Olympia Snowe, based mainly on his votes in the Massachusetts legislature.

For my purposes, I'm going to dispense with option #3. While a rapid rise from the state to the national Senate to a national candidacy has recent precedent, there's already a supposedly moderate Republican from Massachusetts gunning for that spot, and his name rhymes with Nitt Pomney. He's already done the work of shredding his moderate record and already has the campaign infrastructure in place for another run. America doesn't need two blandly handsome Massachusetts Republicans, thanks.

So, that leaves choices 1 and 2.

If it's possibility #2 (try to have a Senate career), then Brown has the almost impossible task of keeping his voting record moderate enough to appear acceptable to the people who just voted for him yesterday, but conservative enough that his core supporters stick with him. Conservatives, eager to give Obama a black eye and get a 41st Republican in the Senate, were willing to overlook any signs of moderation, and Brown was able to oblige them by offering vague conservative rhetoric (it helped that he didn't have an opponent able to pin him down on anything). Now, he'll have a voting record. For a while, his giant-killer status will shield him from normal conservative wrath, but it's anyone' s guess if it's possible to walk that tightrope for long.

That leaves possibility #1, one-and-out. My guess is that this is where he ends up. He winds up around where Judd Gregg is: on the left edge of the mainstream conservatives. He won't be caucusing with Nelson, Lieberman, Snowe and Collins to form a five-Senator bloc to negotiate for "moderate" things; instead, he'll vote with the Republicans against 60 or 61 vote coalitions, but he'll sometimes join Democrats as the 63rd, 64th, or 65th vote. And then barring another fluke he'll go down to defeat in 2012, and if he's lucky and the Republicans win the White House, he'll get to be Secretary of One of the Many Departments Republicans Don't Care About. Or maybe he gets a show on MSNBC (he'd be too unreliable for Fox). In my reading of his campaign platform plus his voting record, that (Judd Gregg's voting record, not MSNBC) is probably where he's most comfortable.

Over at the Gents', E.D. Kain is sanguine:
I may be wrong about Brown – he may not be the reformer many of us dissidents would like, but he’s such a change in tone and style it’s been a relief seeing him actually succeed, defying not only all the odds, but also the current Republican strategy. Whether he is a mindless Bush Republican as Sullivan has labeled him, or whether he is actually going to change things for the better in the GOP is hard to say – but the stylistic shift he represents is substantial and may be in and of itself a significant step forward for conservatives.

And yes, even though it may cause healthcare reform to die in its tracks, I still think that the right person won in Massachusetts. I also think that there are ways the Democrats could scale back reform and get some conservatives on board with a much more modest, more market-friendly reform that still helps a lot of people who need help.

For my part, I don't really know Scott Brown from a hole in the wall. (And, unless you live in Massachusetts and happen to follow politics very closely, neither do you.) Clearly his opponent was too complacent and inept to win a spot in the Senate with every possible advantage, so it's probably for the best that she's not going. Lord knows, we have plenty of complacent and inept people there as it is. And I've said in the past that I would be thrilled if there could be a return to sanity in the GOP, as there is a genuine value to conservatism as part of the political discourse.

So, if Brown actually tries to hew to a moderate model, and actually brings about some real reform to his party, then more power to him. I am a deep shade of skeptical, and I don't think the GOP is particularly interested in making any changes at this point. I fully expect Brown to add his voice to the chorus singing "Obstruct!!" at the top of its lungs. But I would love to be wrong.

Because it makes me smile

It's been awhile since the last time I posted a video for the sake of its own loveliness. And thus, because most of us could use some cheering up about now, I will share a video I came across a few days ago.

*wiping tears of mirth from my eyes*

Oh, thank heaven for the joys of teh Internets. They do much to soothe a troubled, post-Coakley-flameout soul.

Speaking of flameouts (see what I did there?), there is this sentence fragment, which still has me giggling softly to myself:
He won't confirm his homosexuality

The "he" in question is Johnny Weir, and the quote is from this review of his new reality show. The article also contains the following video of Weir at most-officially-unconfirmed gayest:

Oh, sweet Judy Garland! That is some serious gayness there, friends. I'm surprised that the entire arena didn't burst spontaneously into a fuchsia inferno. You could toast marshmallows with the video alone.

Weir not "confirming" his gayness is like Gloria Steinem playing coy about her lack of a Y chromosome. Now, I don't really have a nickel in this particular dime, so Weir can be a cagey as he wants to be for all I care. But I think it's hiiiiiiiiiiiiilarious that someone so ostentatiously, unmistakably gay would refuse to acknowledge it. Perhaps he's just a very private person. A very loud-mouthed private person with his own reality show.


Dear losers

By which, of course, I mean Democrats.

Strong work! It appears that your signature piece of domestic legislation is going to the scrap heap because you did such a bang-up job selling it to your constituents! Bravo!

It really does make me wonder why I bother. Admittedly, I think the GOP is worse, but "better than the GOP" is one piss-poor campaign slogan, no? We're left to choose between one party of idiots and religious fanatics and another of lily-livered vacillators so politically inept that they can't convince voters in Massachusetts, where there's already universal health care, that universal health care is something worth supporting. After a year of controlling both houses of Congress, during which time most of you have already cast unpopular votes that you'll have to justify the next time you run for re-election, you seem prepared to chuck it all. (Though some of you seem to be showing signs of life again.)

So, let's hope you learn a little lesson here. May I suggest that you refrain from trying to divvy up blame, and simply face the fact that all of you own this? Fix your message. Get some party discipline, and pass the legislation you want without trying to get a token Republican to give you the fig leaf of "bipartisanship." (If you haven't learned by now that not even Olympia Snowe is out to help you, then you're past teaching.) And do the country a favor, and get rid of the filibuster -- it's ridiculous that either party essentially needs a supermajority in the Senate to get any business done.

Do. Better.

Update: And I see we're cashing in our chips. Splendid.


Megan McArdle really isn't all that smart

Once, back in the day, I had some respect for Megan McArdle. (I can't be bothered to hunt through my archives to find it. Trust me on this. It's not like I'm bragging.) I no longer recall why it is I thought she was smart. I actually think she's kind of an idiot now.

Hell, If I were Blanche Lincoln, anyone in the leadership who wanted to get me to the floor for a health care vote would have to pry me out of the darkened room where they'd find me huddled in the corner, rocking back and forth and crying. Maybe Cohn's right and the thing's too far gone to save, so you might as well vote for it anyway. But that's not exactly soothing, is it?

Oh, honey. Sweety-darling. You poor, addled thing.

Blanche Lincoln, along with the rest of her colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus, has already voted on health care. That would be Jonathan Cohn's entire point.

Lincoln is already on the hook for her health care vote, pass or fail. It would be worse for the Democrats if they managed to get the bill through both the House and the Senate, with all the attendant costs, only to have it fail because Martha Coakley ran a laughably poor campaign for what should have been a safe seat. Since the strategy Cohn (and others) have laid out would be to have the House swallow hard and pass the Senate version, thus by-passing the need for another vote in the Senate, and pray that the unpalatable bits get ironed out in the reconciliation process, after which a simple majority could pass the final result. Yes, Lincoln would probably be expected to show up for that vote, but since she's already voted for the health care reform bill, it would be ridiculous for her to vote against it in the future.

One would have assumed that McArdle would make an effort to understand what she was commenting about before posting something. Pity that's apparently not the case.

Oh, thank GOD

Today is a depressing day to be a left-y Democrat. I am in need of reassurance of some sort. Internet!! Comfort me!

Christian Siriano continues to make Project Runway proud on his way to becoming an American designer of note. Take that, America's Next Top Model!

Apparently PETA thinks porn star Sasha Grey should be spayed. Who am I to argue?

While there's still time for the Democrats to screw things up, it appears that the vast majority of Americans really don't want Sarah Palin to run for president. I think we can all feel good about that.

I feel better already!

Whither health care

First off, Josh Marshall wants to know what we're thinking:
Whatever happens [today] in Massachusetts, this is a critical gut-check moment for Health Care Reform and the state of the Obama presidency. There's a lot of irony and painfully unforced errors that went into this current moment. And there's also quite a lot on the line.

Tell me how you're seeing it.

Well, I'm seeing it as a gigantic [obscene phrase for tightly-grouped copulation] of epic proportions, is how I'm seeing it. I'm seeing it as a ringing slap across the face of Democratic complacency.

Now, what happens next? Jonathan Cohn remains cautiously optimistic.
Pelosi is one of the two big reasons I believe health care reform has a decent (not good) shot of passing, even if Scott Brown wins today. The other is President Obama. Both understand that enacting health care reform is in their personal, and their parties', long-term interest. More important, both believe health care reform is the right thing to do--and aren't about to give up on it, this close to success, because their party's majority in the Senate is "only" nine seats instead of ten. The fact that so many Beltway know-it-all's insist surrender is necessary will, I suspect, only stiffen the pair's resolve.

We'll see. One thing I will say for the GOP, they know how to enforce party discipline. No matter how much resolve Pelosi and Obama may have, I question the notion that either will be able to corral their spooked fellows on the Hill if Brown wins. I think Cohn et al have good reasoning behind their speculation, but I don't know how much of a part reason will play in the coming political recalibrations.

I still think the health care bill currently under consideration is the best we're gonna get. [Confidential to GJ -- please feel free to tell me what better plan you would pass, and how you would guarantee passage of said plan with the current make-up of the Senate.] Whether we get it now is anyone's guess.


True, up to a point

Well, if I were a betting man, I'd put my dime on a Martha Coakley loss tomorrow. And, while I'm not willing to totally walk back my assertion that the Massachusetts special election is a one-off, I think there's a broad narrative that needs to be considered.

First of all, for all the people yelling about Democratic hubris in trying to pass an unpopular health care package, I'd like to ask what the hell you expected? Did you sleep through 2008? It should come as precisely zero surprise that Obama would try to pass a health care reform package, in that doing so was one of his signature campaign themes. It should also not be surprising that any bill that could emerge from the rat's nest of blowhards and idiots that we call the Senate (and there are enough of each on both sides of the aisle that no party should be too terribly boastful) would be flawed, and probably contain a lot that was not to everyone's liking. I firmly believe that the health care reform bill that eventually emerges from Congress will be the best that is possible at this time, and maybe ever.

I am thus somewhat baffled that independents in Massachussets would vote for Brown out of pique over health care reform, as some kind of referendum on the issue. Again, what were they expecting? Obviously, most of them voted for Obama, and so voting for a man whose entire platform amounts to a retread of Bush's domestic policies as a way to block passage of his signature campaign promise and piece of domestic policy makes no sense to me.

On that note, I have a couple of quotes to share. From Sully:

But it seems pretty clear to me that [Brown] will win, which means that the FNC/RNC machine has succeeded in perpetuating the meme that somehow Obama is a communist elitist out of touch with real Americans who want their government slashed, while they want no cuts at all in any entitlements, who want the budget balanced without any tax hikes or spending cuts, who demand access to unrestricted healthcare for ever, but refuse to support ways to reduce soaring costs. They want an end to crippling occupations overseas, but they also don't want to retreat or surrender to terrorists. They want to restore America's moral standing but retain the torture camp at Gitmo. And when told they cannot have all this, they vote for someone else who can promise it, however utopian their plans are.

And from E. J. Dionne at TNR:
Obama sympathizers counter that the president's approval ratings are quite healthy in light of an unemployment rate that's gone over 10 percent and a nearly unprecedented destruction of personal wealth.

The conservatives' focus on ideology, they say, is an opportunistic way of distracting attention from the mistakes of the Bush years and the role conservative policies played in bringing us to this point. To cite ideology rather than the economy in explaining the poll numbers is like analyzing the causes of Civil War without any reference to slavery or the rise of the New Deal without mention of the Great Depression.

Both Sullivan and Dionne go on to say that Obama has a lesson that he has to learn from this. He has to change his political tactics and learn a more populist message. All of which is true enough.

But, as someone who wants to see this health care reform package passed out of a Liebniz-lite belief that it is the best of all possible efforts to reform a deeply broken system, I think the Democrats have failed in a particularly dumb way. Just as nobody should be surprised that Obama has fixated on health care reform, nobody should see the antics of either the GOP or Fox News and its merry band of idiots and be surprised. I could have told the President that they would do everything they could to block every single thing he did, strictly out of partisan rancor and a desire to return to power ASAP, and I'm not one of his highly-paid political advisors. Nobody should have left any election to chance, relying lazily on the reputation of the voters as liberals and banking on machine tactics to carry the day, and nobody should have been blind-sided by the Brown campaign. Considering the incredible importance of this particular moment in America's political life, the shambles that has been the Coakley campaign is a disgrace.

At this point, I'm braced for a Brown victory. I certainly hope the Democrats are figuring out how to get health care reform passed without Coakley's vote. (Memo to Reid, et al -- I wouldn't waste your time on Olympia Snowe.) But let's hope everyone learns from this experience, so we don't see another display of electoral incompetence during crucial junctures in the future.

Calling my bluff

From time to time last summer I mentioned the Infinite Summer collective reading experience. Participants read David Foster Wallace's masterpiece Infinite Jest, and various bloggers posted thoughts about it as the project progressed. Having reread IJ not that long ago and foolhardily decided to read Ulysses (with a new baby at home) instead, I didn't read or blog along, but simply followed the discussion on the various blogs.

It was in this matter that I happened upon fellow blogger/David Foster Wallace devotee/parent of a small person over at Naptimewriting. It's always a delight to make new friends, virtual or otherwise, and I've been particularly grateful for her post on ambivalent parenting, which was great comfort to me on those nights when the Critter seemed impossible to soothe without protracted sessions of high-velocity bouncing on the exercise ball.

Anyhow, the same people that brought us Infinite Summer have planned for a similar online collective reading experience centered around Roberto Bolano's much-lauded 2666. (Thus far I have not seen a schedule for reading and posting comments, but I'll keep checking in.) The Naptimewriter expressed some diffidence about participating, and I told her that I'd do it if she did.

And lo, it seems I will be a participating blog in the 2666 reading experience. I have hastily finished (the superlative) Sacred Games, and will put aside Changing My Mind (with a sigh) for another day. Anyone who would like to read along, I would be thrilled to have your comments and thoughts as I dive head-first into another gigantic literary work.

And, of course, I plan to continue with regular helpings of political snark, meaningless celebrity musings, and other blog-related flotsam.

Update: Ah, ha! A schedule has been located. Off we go, I suppose.


"If the Dems lose next Tuesday, they will deserve to."

Sully (or whichever of his minions penned the post) said it, but I don't think any savvy political observer would argue to the contrary. (At least, those who aren't wholly committed to a partisan cause.) By all accounts, the Democrats have dropped the ball in a big way in Massachusetts. Coakley seems to be mediocre candidate who has run a lackluster campaign, and if she wins (which seems like a longer and longer shot as time goes by) it will be with a deeply unenthusiastic base of support.

As someone who generally favors most of the Democrats' agenda in Washington, one would think this would bother me more than it does. I certainly don't think Brown is any prize (no matter what Cosmo readers think). But, if there's one thing I expect the nation's leaders to be, it's competent. And if the Democrats are simply too inept to field a winning campaign in Massachusetts, then they deserve to lose. Nobody with an ounce of sense should have allowed a crucial special election of this importance, at such a crucial juncture in Congress's work on health care reform, to have been handled so lackadaisically. Yes, the Democrats are suffering by being in power during an exceptionally difficult time, and so that accounts for some of their trouble right now. But there's no excuse for this kind of piss poor performance.

For all his loose association with the Tea Party set, Brown may yet be the kind of moderate Republican that used to roam the Northeast before being hunted to near extinction by Grover Norquist and Karl Rove. (I'm not holding my breath.) But if Martha Coakley loses, then she didn't deserve to get to the Senate.

They're onto us!!

It's been fascinating to watch the Proposition 8 trial in California unfold. ("Watch" in a very loose sense. Thanks, Supreme Court!) I must say, I didn't quite expect the other side to descend quite so obviously into self-parody. Shows what I know, I suppose. From the Times:
After a defense cross-examination of Professor George Chauncey emphasizing the increased social acceptance of gay men and lesbians, the legal team for the plaintiffs tried to refocus the case on the prevalence of discrimination.

They introduced extensive video footage from the deposition of Hak-Shing William Tam, a voluntary defendant in the Proposition 8 case who is also a central figure in the controversy over whether video coverage of the trial can be done for YouTube.

It was the first time that the court was shown an image of Mr. Tam, who attempted to withdraw from the case late last week — when it seemed that YouTube coverage was likely — citing concerns for his safety.

“In the past I have received threats on my life, had my property vandalized and am recognized on the streets due to my association with Proposition 8,” he wrote in a motion filed last Friday. The Supreme Court granted a stay on YouTube coverage, but it expires Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Tam is expected to testify later in the trial.

Mr. Tam spoke in the deposition of his efforts to organize rallies around the Bay Area in support of Proposition 8. He also discussed his literature that he had published in both English and Chinese on the subject.

Mr. Tam said that exposure to the concept of gay marriage in schools has a negative effect on children and added that, though a Google search, he had found evidence of an official “gay agenda” established in the 1970s.

Let us dispense quickly with what ought not to need saying -- it is grossly unacceptable that anyone, no matter how objectionable we might find their opinion, be subject to harrassment or to having their property vandalized. (As far as simply being recognized, I regret to say that I don't have so much sympathy.) Mr. Tam may be a lunatic and a bigot, but he has a right to air his opinion without fear of violence. I expect better of our side.

That being said, how did he get ahold of our official agenda? Ye gods!! Someone must have let slip that he should listen to "It's Raining Men" backwards! Now that our agenda (aka "The Protocols of the Elders of West Hollywood") has been discovered, how will we destroy the American family? I must alert our leaders (Carson Kressley, k.d. lang and the reanimated corpse of Danny Kaye) and see if we can draft a revision.

OK, seriously now, this man contributed "extensive footage"? This is the kind of "argument" we are forced to try to take seriously? This?!??! On Google he supposedly found the "official gay agenda"? Really?

As frustrating and infuriating as all of this is, there's no denying that it's also hilarious. Tragic, but hilarious. I can only hope the non-idiotic side wins.


Helping in Haiti

Haiti is the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, and the first to end slavery. It's a proud country with a history of independence, as well as a history of mismanaged foreign aid and dictatorships.

In the wake of Tuesday's devastating earthquake, here are a few suggestions of good organizations that have a long relationship with
Haiti and are accepting online donations:

Grassroots International has been working with local organizations in Haiti for over two decades -- groups critical for Haiti's long-term recovery. While all sorts of aid will be needed right now, a long-term dependence on foreign food aid can further destabilize communities, leading to the kind of shanty-towns, deforestation, and lack of accountable local government (such as agencies which enforce building codes) that made this terrible earthquake even worse. You can donate online by clicking here, or going to grassrootsonline.org

Partners in Health is an excellent Boston-based organization that has been providing medical care in Haiti for a number of years.

A number of religious organizations are sending aid to Haiti, including the Episcopal Church -- the Diocese of Haiti is one of the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church, and runs a number of schools and health clinics. Episcopal Relief and Development
, www.er-d.org, is committing both to immediate emergency aid as well as long-term support and development in Haiti.

I also thought readers might find useful this piece from Australian Michael Grose on talking with children about natural disasters:

As adults we all want our children to live carefree lives and keep them from the pain and even horror of tragedies such as natural disasters. In reality we can’t do this. So what is a parent, teacher, or other caring adult to do when the natural disasters fills the airwaves and the consciousness of society? Here are some ideas:
  1. Reassure children that they are safe. The consistency of the images can be frightening for young children who don’t understand the notion of distance and have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fiction. Let them know that while this event is indeed happening it will not affect them directly.
  2. Be available. Let kids know that it is okay to talk about the unpleasant events. Listen to what they think and feel. By listening, you can find out if they have misunderstandings, and you can learn more about the support that they need. You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions.
  3. Help children process what they see and hear, particularly through television. Children are good observers but can be poor interpreters of events that are out of their level of understanding.
  4. Support children’s concerns for others. They may have genuine concerns for the suffering that will occur and they may need an outlet for those concerns. It is heart- warming to see this empathy in children for the concerns of others.
  5. Let them explore feelings beyond fear. Many children may feel sad or even angry with these events so let them express the full range of emotions. They may feel sadder for the loss of wildlife, than for loss of human life, which is impersonal for them.
  6. Help children and young people find a legitimate course of action if they wish. Action is a great antidote to stress and anxiety so finding simple ways to help, including donating some pocket money can assist kids to cope and teaches them to contribute.
  7. Avoid keeping the television on all the time. The visual nature of the media means that images are repeated over and over, which can be both distressing to some and desensitizing to others.
  8. Be aware of your own actions. Children will take their cues from you and if they see you focusing on it in an unhealthy way then they will focus on it too. Let them know that it is happening but it should not dominate their lives.Take action yourself. Children who know their parents, teachers, or other significant caregivers are working to make a difference feel hope. They feel safer and more positive about the future. So do something. It will make you feel more hopeful, too. And hope is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children and ourselves.
Children’s worlds can be affected in ways that we can’t even conceive of so adults need to be both sensitive to children’s needs and mindful of what they say and how they act in front of children. In difficult times, it is worth remembering what adults and children need most are each other.

A lingering question

Jay Leno seems like a nice enough guy. Maybe it's that his schtick is built on his affability (as opposed to the more prickly mien of David Letterman), but he's always seemed like kind of a decent fellow. I have no beef with the guy.

But for the life of me, I have no idea how it is that he was able to be a success as a talk show host, much less one as legendary and influential as The Tonight Show. The man is not funny. At all. There are supposedly funny people I don't find personally amusing, but I get why others do. Not Leno. It is mystifying to me that he was such as hit as the host of The Tonight Show, particularly when you consider the titan of showbiz who was his predecessor.

On the other hand, Conan O'Brien is funny. I can understand why his humor may not appeal to everyone, but he's orders of magnitude more amusing than Jay Leno. (As is Letterman, for what's it's worth.) As the whole late-night brouhaha at NBC plays out, I find myself baffled that the man so much worse at the job has been offered the spot currently occupied by someone so much better. Particularly when much of the lost ratings are due to his lousy, lousy prime-time lead-in show.

Any Leno fans out there? Anyone want to explain his appeal to me?

Early contender for the Worst Person of the Year

Ladies and gentlement, Pat Robertson:
Pat Robertson, a Christian televangelist, speaking today about the devastating earthquake in Haiti, said Haitians had collectively "sworn a pact to the devil," which brought on the country's extreme poverty and the earthquake.

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. So the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.'"

"Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another," Robertson said, referring to the country's poverty.

Just when I think my opinion of fundamentalist Christianity couldn't get any worse, someone from their camp pipes up with something that makes me want to convert to Shintoism.

As the world watches in horror and sympathy while one of its poorest countries suffers a devastating natural disaster, this despicable person decides to add a bracing cocktail of bigotry, superstition and historical ignorance. Charming.

For those of you interested in channeling your rage into support for a (purely secular) organization renowned for its good works in disasters such as this, please go here.

Update: Hold the phone. We have a runner-up.

Update the second: For those of you who would like to remind yourself why Pat Robertson is so horrible, no single year is really adequate to fully accommodate his loathsomeness, the following run-down of his Greatest Hits (via the Gents) is helpful. I particularly like his comments about gays and churches.


No, it's a loss

Politico asks a question:
Is a close call a GOP victory?

To which I answer -- no.

The race in question is, of course, the special election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy's vacant seat. Since the Bay State is considered as blue as blue can get, a close race could be spun as a "win" for the GOP and a harbinger of doom for the Democrats.

There are two reasons I think the answer to the question is "no." First of all, there is the simple, common sense fact that a loss is a loss is a loss, and everything else is just spin. We "No on 1" types could attempt consolation by telling ourselves that we didn't get trounced too badly, but at the end of the day I still can't get married in Maine. No matter how close the margin, if Coakley beats Brown then she gets to be a Senator and he doesn't, and nothing else really matters.

For a more nuanced reason, let's check in with Marc Ambinder.
Five Lessons From The Massachusetts Senate Race


1. Nothing at all. The race is unique. A six-week general election sprint, a winter election day that people aren't used to, the burden of replacing Sen. Ted Kennedy, a generally poor atmosphere for Democrats -- it's hard to transfer any lessons from this particular race to any other. It was easy for Scott Brown to rack up support while no one paid attention to the race.

Now, Ambinder goes on to lay out some important things for the Democrats to learn, and a close victory would increase the urgency of the lesson. (Hopefully the Dems aren't so obtuse that they're unaware that they need to get a better national security message out, or that the health care reform package is poorly understood and unpopular, however.) But this election is atypical for a lot of different reasons, all of which make it difficult to draw general conclusions.

I think Coakley will win, and I won't really be all that interested in her margins. Conversely, however, if she loses then I think it's a big, gigantic loss for the Democrats, and they should probably prepare to get their collective backsides handed to them later this year.

Between a rock and a spineless place

James Kirchick (about whom my opinion is decidedly mixed) has a cover story in The Advocate about the impatience gays and lesbians are feeling with the national Democratic Party. He starts by describing the national party's relative inaction on the "No on 1" campaign here in Maine, and continues:
In the wake of the Maine defeat, a coterie of liberal bloggers and activists called for a temporary moratorium on DNC donations. The fledgling movement, which has adopted the motto “Don’t Ask, Don’t Give” and has attracted the likes of legendary gay rights activist David Mixner, hopes to discourage donations to the party until the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of both “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act. In so doing, these activists are hoping to reshape—if not completely upset—the relationship between gays and the Democratic Party.

The article goes on to describe the frustration and anger many gays (including Your Humble Blogger) are feeling toward the national party, and our feeling that our support (particularly financial) has been taken for granted. It's all stuff that I've written about before.
But while able and willing to recite a litany of arguments against the party and why gays should withhold their support, DNC critics are less clear about tangible goals. “Goals? Good question,” Aravosis replies when asked what he hopes to achieve with the boycott. He gestures toward an answer when he says gay activists should adopt the same attitude regarding Democrats as they have with Republicans—and stop being so deferential out of some presumed understanding that one party is better than the other on gay issues. “The damage to the party brand has been significant” over the past year, he says, and the Democrats’ reputation as the benevolent crusader for gay rights no longer holds sway in the minds of as many gays as it once did. But when I offer the explanation that the gay campaign against the DNC may have the effect of a “death by a thousand cuts,” irreparably damaging the decades-long ties between the Democratic Party and the gay rights movement, Aravosis delights at the analogy. “We’re just saying we’re going to take you down with us,” he says. “We’re going to blow this up and it’s going to hurt you too.”

OK, that might be a wee bit on the dramatic side. (Gays? Overly dramatic? Perish the thought.) I think we need to keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, let's not kid ourselves that withholding our dinero is going to blow anything up. As a skeptical LGBT supporter of the Democrats notes elsewhere in the article, I don't think anyone at the DNC is losing that much sleep over the lost money from our community. C'mon, people. We're just not that big or influential a donor pool. Also, I don't think anyone can plausibly argue that the GOP isn't much, much worse on gay issues than the Democrats. If I have to choose between the two parties, chances are slim I'm going to be supporting the Republicans anytime soon.

But that's just the thing. I don't have to choose between supporting the two parties. When I got that call asking me for $200 bucks a little while ago, and I denied the request, I refrained from making what I considered a lousy investment. Sure, giving to the GOP would be even more lousy, but there are other choices. I can give the money directly to a candidate I know will go to bat for my community, like Chellie Pingree. I can give it to a candidate I suspect will be much better on the issues than the Republican incumbent, like my friend Tommy. I can give it to the state party, which is full of courageous lawmakers who actually took a risk in supporting marriage equality here in Maine. Or, I can spend it on some really nice pants.

Basically, I don't trust the DNC to use my money well. For all I know, they'll blow it on trying to get some social conservative elected in a deep red district, whom they'll then have to dragoon into supporting any socially progressive legislation should he actually get elected. I'd rather just give it directly to candidates and causes I know I support.


A marriage made in purgatory

Well! Who on earth could have seen this coming?
It was inevitable. Fox News confirms to the New York Times today that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will become a regular contributor to the cable news channel.
In a multi-year deal, Palin will appear on the channel regularly. A source told the Times that while she will not have her own regular show, she will host an occasional series.

I'm going to play devil's advocate here for just one minute. Maybe Palin will take this opportunity to impress her detractors (minority religion and otherwise) with her skillful analysis of the issues. Perhaps she will use the forum Fox News is giving her to air a well-thought-out viewpoint, and will declaim on policy (domestic and foreign) with such insight and competence that those of us who were inclined to dismiss her will be forced to re-examine our opinions.

Or she could use the mindless echo chamber that is Fox News to become the distaff Glenn Beck, and confirm our worst feelings about her. Anyone wanna guess where I'm putting my dime?

A triumph of conservative thought

I have commented in the past on the value of conservatism as an intellectual tradition, stance and framework. Indeed, one of the greatest tragedies of contemporary politics is the wholesale failure on the part of the GOP to represent actual conservatism. (Another recent tragedy of contemporary politics? Rod Blagojevich.) There are valid arguments going unvoiced because Republicans have abdicated their role as a genuinely conservative party.

On that note, I am delighted to see a genuinely conservative argument for something that matters tremendously to me -- marriage equality. Ted Olson, a bona fide conservative, is arguing in favor of marriage equality in federal court, and has written an excellent defense of his position for Newsweek (via Andrew):
Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage. This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one's own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.

The entire piece is worth reading in its entirety. He both makes an affirmative case and debunks the usual arguments trotted out against equality. Another favorite passage of mine:
Another argument, vaguer and even less persuasive, is that gay marriage somehow does harm to heterosexual marriage. I have yet to meet anyone who can explain to me what this means. In what way would allowing same-sex partners to marry diminish the marriages of heterosexual couples? Tellingly, when the judge in our case asked our opponent to identify the ways in which same-sex marriage would harm heterosexual marriage, to his credit he answered honestly: he could not think of any.

Of course he couldn't, because there are none. (What still confounds me is how many people turned out the overturn marriage equality in Maine, despite the fact that doing so did nothing to improve their lives, but merely made mine worse.) The man whose job it is to make the case against marriage equality could think of no harms to heterosexual marriage. The argument is bankrupt.

Please, take the time to read the whole piece. It's masterful, and I can think of nothing I would have wanted added or subtracted. (Why, even carpet-bagging political opportunists seem to have been convinced!) Why, if the GOP demonstrated this kind of intellectual integrity, I mean even consider voting for them again!

Well, that didn't take long

It appears that the Tea Party Movement has already started forming its circular firing squad. (Someone should explain to them that, if they keep this up, people will start mistaking them for Democrats.) While one would usually expect a movement to actually go to the trouble of losing an election before turning on itself, given the movement in question this is no big surpise.

From TPM:
In the latest sign of rancor in Tea Party circles, a convention billed as an effort to bring together conservative activists from across the country is being attacked by some leading Tea Partiers as inauthentic, too tied to the GOP, and -- at $549 per head -- too expensive for the working Americans the movement aspires to represent.


Tea Party Patriots, which helped put together a September rally that drew tens of thousands to Washington, view the confab -- which is being held at Nashville's swank Opryland Gaylord hotel -- as the "usurpation of a grassroots movement," according to Mark Meckler, a leader of the group. "Most people in our movement can't afford anything like that," Meckler told TPMmuckraker, referring to the price tag. "So it's really not aimed at the average grassroots person."


The convention's prime organizer, Nashville criminal defense lawyer Judson Phillips, founded Tea Party Nation, a for-profit company that runs a networking site for activists. Phillips, a former local prosecutor, didn't respond to several requests for comment, but he told Politico that the convention was intended to make a profit so that Tea Party Nation can "funnel money back into conservative causes" through a 527 group it plans to set up.


Lurking beneath the concerns about the price-tag are vaguer fears. First, that Phillips and his allies are using the convention to boost their group's resources and its profile within the movement.

"The tea party movement is a grass-roots movement; it's not a business," one skeptical Tennesee Tea Partier declared to Politico.

"Who are they and what do they stand for?" another conservative activist asked TPMmuckraker, describing Phillips as "someone who is trying to make a grab."

If I were a better person, I would not find this so delightful. But here I am, chortling and clapping my hands. (Draw your own conclusions.) Someone ought to write a song.

There has, of course, always been "rancor in Tea Party circles." The entire movement is built on rancor. That's its raison d' etre. It certainly doesn't have a positive agenda or any coherent ideas for how the goverment should be run. (Which is why Palin is an obvious choice to lead them.) All they know is what they're agin, with a constant "us vs. them" refrain. It was only a matter of time before this loosely-organized rabble decided to draw "us" and "them" borders within itself.

I don't know if political movements need conventions to succeed. (Probably not would be my guess, but I suspect that the successful movements know what the hell they're trying to accomplish as a starting point.) I don't know what they would do at the convention, anyway. If it's really important that they get support for they're convention, and it's really important for Sarah Palin to support the movement so clearly consistent with her own political philosophy, maybe she'll be willing to show up without a fee, out of the goodness of her heart and a commitment to her principles.

Let me know how that pans out.


Like sands through the hourglass

RIP, The Plank

A saying about birds and feathers springs to mind

I came across a fascinating little column yesterday by way of The Atlantic's politics page. It's all about why Jews hate Sarah Palin. (My guess? Because she's an idiot. The same reason everyone else hates her.) I've punted it over to Elizabeth, and am hoping I can goad her into responding at length. However, there was one little point Jennifer Rubin made near the beginning of the piece that I think I'll use as a starting point. She writes:
[Palin's] association with Buchanan consisted solely of her attendance at a speech during a 1999 visit to Alaska by the candidate at which she wore a Buchanan button, “out of politeness,” she later explained.

Well, then that makes it OK, right? Just because the man has odious views that are anathema to not just Jews but a whole mess of other people, that's no reason not to politely wear a campaign button. Sure, people might assume that you support that particular candidate, since typically that's what's meant by wearing a candidate's campaign button at a campaign event. But who can argue with the "politeness" defense?

Now, of course, Palin is slated to headline the newly-minted Tea Party Convention. That she is choosing to associate herself with that lunatic rabble comes as absolutely no surprise to me. And it's fascinating to see (via Andrew) who else will be making the most of the nascent political movement:
I was surprised that Sarah Palin, who has twice passed on chances to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, agreed to keynote the National Tea Party Convention. Undoubtedly the Tea Party event has more to offer her financially–tickets for her speech, as I reported last month, are selling for $349. But while CPAC is a well-established event with a filter for extremism, the Tea Party event is an unknown quantity. And right on cue, the conspiracy-minded site WorldNetDaily is joining the program, with Editor-in-Chief Joseph Farah getting a plum Friday night
speaking slot.

First of all, I think this makes it plain why the GOP establishment should (and almost certainly will) do all it can to kill any possibility that she lands the nomination for president in 2012. (*shudder*) She has no interest at all in working with the national party. All she wants to do is promote herself. The Republican Party leadership does not comprise a bunch of morons, and so they are doubtless perfectly aware of this. My guess is that Palin has no chance at the nomination, and if she gets it it will be in spite of the party leaders, not because of them.

Just as importantly, though, I think this should also put to rest any notion that Palin is anything other than a joke as a political leader. WorldNetDaily is a... fascinating source of political "thought." At one point they had a column that told readers what a "real Christian" believes (I don't qualify, it seems), but I got too nauseated searching their site to find it. Suffice it to say, no politician who could come within a country mile of the Oval Office has any business appearing at the same convention as the maniacs behind WorldNetDaily.

Naturally, Palin will be there.