Using Sarah Palin

I'm with Jonathan Chait. In fact, I'm one step further. If it is indeed true that the Obama administration is working for a Palin nomination, then they are not only playing with fire in terms of Obama's political chances. They are behaving reprehensibly, just as reprehensibly as McCain did in picking her for VP. In using her for her image, hoping to galvanize an admittedly annoyingly hard-to-please Left, they are risking her getting actual power. And then, even setting aside her radically right views, we will have a dangerously underinformed, emotionally unstable president. Anything that gets her any power other than TV puffery is an act that must be avoided. To do otherwise is a disgusting cynicism.


But how does one RSVP?

The "Tea Party" movement continues to fascinate me. I wonder if it's one of those cultural phenomena with staying power, like sugar-free gum or the Internet, or if it's destined to go the way of the Macarena and Lindsay Lohan's film career. My best guess is that their moment in the sun is fast passing, though the rhetoric and agita will probably flare up from time to time.

Part of the major impediment to there being any lasting "Tea Party" effect is the fundamental incoherence of the movement itself, if it can even be accurately described as one. Witness the brouhaha that ensued when they tried to have a convention. Another case in point is insurgent GOP candidate Marco Rubio, who is steadily demolishing Charlie Crist's Senate aspirations from the right.

Via TPM: (And yes, it seems today is my day to regurgitate stuff from TPM. Tomorrow I'm sure I'll steal take inspiration from a different source.)
In the midst of Sunday's heated Florida Republican Senate primary debate on Fox News Sunday, moderator Chris Wallace asked Marco Rubio a question that surprised many viewers up early on a Sunday to watch the festivities.

Wallace read Rubio a viewer email. "'Ask Marco Rubio why he refuses to be vetted by the Florida Tea Parties. I want to hear from Rubio or I will not vote for him,'" Wallace said. "We got this from a bunch of Tea Parties all over the state."


Pam Dahl, leader of the Tri-County Tea Party based in Florida's sprawling retirement community known as The Villages, told me about the problem. It was a complaint from Dahl's group that led to Wallace's question yesterday -- Dahl said she spoke with staff from Wallace's show after an email campaign she started among led to Wallace getting inundated with calls and emails begging him to ask Rubio why he wouldn't submit for candidate "vetting." (Wallace alluded to the source of the question during the debate. "At The Villages they're not happy with you, sir," he told Rubio.)

I image that this may prove frustrating for poor Mr. Rubio.
At the debate, Rubio said to he values his tea party support. "[I]f there's a formal vetting process, I've not been made aware of it. But I can tell you that I'm proud of my association with the Tea Party folks and the fact that we have attended multiple events across the state throughout my candidacy."

But Tea partiers said it was clear from Rubio's answer that he doesn't really get how the movement works.

"If Rubio believes that the Tea Party movement is not organized then he is mistaken," tea party activist Robin Stublen told me. "Locally these groups are highly organized...Just because we do not have a central figure to put on TV every night does not mean there is no organization. We have conference calls weekly and discuss issues and direction during those calls."

Yes, but how does Rubio get "vetted" by a loosely-associated collection of groups throughout the state? Who speaks for them? Does one group's imprimatur speak for the whole? Which group?

Further, it seems even the movement's shiniest, winking-est darling of a keynote speaker gets blow-back when she has the temerity to endorse her former running-mate in his run for re-election to the Senate. There appears to be no tolerance at all for anything other than absolute ideological purity and adherence to some yet-to-be-specified group of criteria.

In the end, the Tea Party hard-liners are going to have to learn the same lesson from the right that the Daily Kos crowd learned when the Ned Lamont campaign ended with a spectacular wah, wah, wah. It's all very well to demand pinky swears from your candidates of choice, but at the end of the day this is a centrist nation, and demanding they pretend otherwise will only mean that they're going to lose, and the relevance of your movement will fall further into question.

Today's dose of awesome

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!

Over to you, TPM:
California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (R) sent a letter to her supporters yesterday in honor of the first night of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which she described as a time where "we break bread and spend time with our families and friends."

Add this to the annals of unfortunate metaphors, since Passover is actually a time when most Jews abstain from eating any bread at all.

Now, obviously this is just an unfortunate choice of hackneyed phraseology. We all know what Fiorina meant by this, and the metaphor was ironic given the particulars of the holiday, but not otherwise inapt. However, considering that Fiorina's campaign is also responsible for the worst political ad of all time, it's looking more and more like a treasure trove of unintentional comedy.

Kind of like her tenure at Hewlett-Packard, come to think of it.


Ugh. Just... ugh.

I spend a reasonable amount of time grousing about the lamentable antics of various right-wing blowhards. Admittedly, this doesn't take a lot of intellectual effort, since your average fourth-grader could effectively deconstruct most of the rhetoric that spews forth from the likes of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. etc. etc. But it's fun.

In the interests of even-handedness, however, this time I'll turn my attention to smug left-wing prick extraordinaire Bill Maher.

First, though, a digression. I had a birthday shortly after the iPhone first came out, and my father gave me one as a gift. This is part of a long tradition of my father getting me some cool piece of technology, which I then proceed to tragically under-utilize. In this particular case, I have until very recently failed to add a single nifty app to the thing, despite all those neat ads in which people turn off lights in their house, give their kids movies to watch so they're not forced to read books on long flights, and frappe cold drinks, all with their iPhones. However, in a fit of technological zeal, I have added both the IMDB and the Huffington Post iPhone apps in the past week, all the better to see what else Emily Proctor starred in after The West Wing and what inane musings Hollywood has to share about politics.

On that latter note, I was treated to Mr. Maher's recent self-impressed post about DC from the comfort of my palm. It started relatively well:
New Rule: You can't use the statement "there will be no cooperation for the
rest of the year" as a threat if there was no cooperation in the first half of
the year.

Yes. I agree with this first sentence. It is side-splitting that the GOP has said it refuses to play along with the President in protest for health care reform's passage, after refusing to play along with the President for anything since he was sworn in. However, things get a bit off-kilter in sentence #2:
Here's a word the president should take out of his teleprompter: bipartisanship.
People only care about that in theory, not in practice. The best thing that's
happened this year is when President Obama finally realized this and said, "Kiss
my black ass, we're going it alone, George W. Bush style."
Oh, dear. The thing is, I actually do care about bipartisanship in practice. I just happen to think that in this case the failure of bipartisanship lies with the GOP, not the President, and that there are more important things than bipartisanship if it ends up being unattainable. Further, it is distasteful when a left-wing "commentator" thinks he can make racial jokes by virtue of his being left-wing, and thus "down" with black people. Just... don't.

Things go completely off the rails later on, when Maher writes that the unhinged, possessive and frankly violent sexual text messages of Tiger Woods are an apt metaphor for how Obama should treat the GOP from now on. The text he quotes (verbatim) is unseemly, and I won't reprint it here. You can click on the link above, if you're inclined. Maher's (edited) spin:
And this, I believe, perfectly represents the attitude Democrats should now
have in their dealings with the Republican Party: "Shut the [redacted] up while I slap
your face for making noise -- now pass a cap-and-trade law, you stupid [sexist slur],
and repeat after me: 'global warming is real!'"

Ha, ha! Sexual violence and imagery that degrades women! It's OK, though, because Maher is a liberal, and everyone knows that liberals are totally supportive of women, and thus get a pass to use language that would have everyone howling if Mitch McConnell said it.

Moving past the rank hypocrisy of the rhetoric, let's focus on the substance of what Maher recommends. Do I think Obama should quail in the face of Republican obstructionism? No, I do not. I think he should continue to push for his agenda and remember that he still has majorities in both the House and the Senate. (For now.) But I also think there continues to be value in trying to reach out to the other party. If the Republicans had been smart about it, they could probably have gotten some concessions I would have liked (like tort reform) in return for some bipartisan cover and the bill would have been better. But just because they decided to poke the rump end of their base for political gain doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying.

I voted for Obama in part because I want my party to be better than that. And I still do. Which is why Obama should ignore everything Bill Maher says. A man who writes this:
Democrats in America were put on earth to do one thing: drag the ignorant hillbilly half of this country into the next century, which in their case is the 19th

is just the kind of schmuck we're all better off ignoring.

2666: The Part About the Crimes, pages 513-564

Perhaps I've reached the appalling point where I'm inured to the nauseating violence of this book, but for some reason I felt ever-so-slightly less wearied by this section. Which, while nowhere close to actual enjoyment, is a bit of an uptick from where I've been. I was able to appreciate some of Bolaño's prose again (and he does have a remarkable facility for beautiful language), even as the body count rose and the misogyny, homophobia, indifference and ennui continued unabated. I suspect this is the best I can hope for until we finally leave the wretched Part About the Crimes behind us.

On that note, if it's particularly good analysis that you're looking for, I would redirect you here. David is a wonderful, insightful reader, and he beggars my attempts to add much to what he's already said. (I promise to do better if we all decide to read The Pale King collectively.)

That said, there are a couple of observations I would make. First of all, it was interesting to read the section about the various Maria Expositos. It brought Gabriel Garcia Marquez immediately to mind. (Or rather, Gabriel Garcia Marquez if he'd decided to make One Hundred Years of Solitude all about sexual violence.) It was my favorite bit of this section, and heightened the magical realist elements of the novel. Despite of the generations of rape upon rape, the women were self-sufficient and strong, though it was ironic that some of the only women thus depicted in the Part About the Crimes would also blend so thoroughly into each other.

And on that note, let's segue once again to misogyny, and those charming, charming Santa Teresa police officers. You know the ones -- the ones that are supposed to be protecting the women of the city and taking seriously the responsibility to investigate the murders of the vulnerable and helpless who had no-one to protect them? Yeah. Them.

You'd like it would be next to impossible to get a rise out of me after pages upon pages of despicable, gruesome violence against women. But pages 552-53 were genuinely revolting. It seems the very people charged with protecting the city's women are deeply misogynist themselves. (I suppose it should be no surprise that there are no women cops.) The "jokes" turned my stomach, and the men telling them made my skin crawl.

Here in the United States, we like to make a big joke about political correctness and lament identity politics. Even a leftist type like me rolls his eyes when he's forced, periodically, to participate in some kind of sensitivity exercise or complete some test about sexual harassment in the workplace. So kudos to you, Roberto Bolaño, for reminding me of why those tedious exercises are important, and for displaying so vividly what happens when nobody gives a good goddamn about how women are treated. I'd rather attend sensitivity training every week than live in a society like the one depicted in those pages. (Which is, I think, what Bolaño was genuinely striving for, so bravo for real.)

Anyhow, that's all I've got. The end of the Part About the Crimes is in sight, and I look forward to the final Part, which is where I've been told things fall into place a bit more. Here's hoping.


Dept. of Understatement

I'm not what you'd call a fan of TLC. Since they air neither Glee nor Project Runway, I don't have much cause to watch their content. Further, they are responsible for the fame of two of the lousiest human beings currently swirling around the commode of American fame.

This is not going to help.

Discovery Communications’ TLC cable channel has acquired “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” a documentary series about the former Alaska governor and her state.


The eight-episode travelogue will “reveal Alaska’s powerful beauty as it has never been filmed, and as told by one of the state’s proudest daughters,” Peter Liguori, Discovery’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.

The channel has not yet specified a premiere date for “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” in part because it has yet to start filming. The title could change.

First an observation, and then some programming advice.

1) Oh, Grey Lady. I appreciate your desire to be journalistically objective and even-handed. But this paragraph is almost silly, it's so bland:
Ms. Palin’s conservative politics captivate some viewers and alienate others, creating a risk for TLC. The prospect of seeing Ms. Palin tour Alaska’s wild habitats may rile some people who oppose her opinions about climate change. In recent months, she has condemned “the Obama administration’s environmental extremism” and asserted that “we can’t say with assurance that man’s activities cause weather changes.”

Well, I suppose that's one way of putting it. I would have said "Ms. Palin's conservative politics have some fans so devoted to her that you'd think she was Jesus in heels, and leave everyone else desperately hoping she never gets elected to anything else ever again." But I guess that's why you're the paper of record, and I'm not.

2) I note that you haven't actually started filming yet. Might I suggest that you change your mind before it's too late?

On the one hand, I would be delighted if Sarah Palin were to stay happily ensconced on television. Perhaps she's seen her polling numbers, and knows a good deal when she sees one. I see some value in that.

On the other hand, this woman really needs to return to obscurity as soon as possible. She is a disgrace to politics, and Alaska deserves a better spokesperson. She has decided that the best way to respond to the passage of health care reform legislation is to put gun sights over the locations of Democrats who supported it. There is no place for that kind of inflammatory symbolism in our civic discourse, particularly given that some members of the Democratic caucus are getting death threats. Please do not give her any more publicity than she has already managed to scrape together.

Update: The next thing you know, they'll be hiring Eric Cantor to give a documentary tour of Virgina.

Political prediction

I haven't posted too much on the health care bill, because I don't feel qualified. It's an extremely complex bill, and I have neither the policy expertise nor the time to research it all. I am personally very, very reassured because my son has one hell of a pre-existing condition, and we will need to switch insurance in 2-3 years. That was a serious worry, and I'm relieved I can check that off the list of Things That Might Go Horribly Wrong in My Middle Term Future. Whether it is in the country's best interest to give me such reassurance, I don't pretend to be sure.

That said, I'm going to make like the TV guys and cover up my lack of policy knowledge by making a gut-level political prediction. The health care bill won't matter much to the November elections. This prediction is based on the following beliefs, for which I have little to no actual evidence:

1) If a voter is apt to swing (mee-ow!), then she is less apt to respond to policy concerns than she is to respond to the candidates' personal strengths/weaknesses, and the current economic conditions.

2) Faits accomplis have a way of becoming part of the scenery, and certainly much less terrifying. I think there are very few people who are going to get worked up over it, who are not already worked up over it. And there are many people who are concerned about it who will become less so, just because the fact that the bill even got passed is an odd sort of psychological imprimateur. It will be interesting to see if this bounce holds.

3) Most people will experience no change in health coverage between now and November. If they experience any change (as I will), it will be a positive one.

4) Eight months is a political eternity. At this point in 2008, all the talk was about white working class voters, big states, and delegate math. There was a general perception that Obama had a glass jaw and was too effete yet unknowledgable to get anything done (no matter what you think of him, that was not the public perception of him right before November 2008, and even less so now). Think what happened to change political perceptions between then and November: Lehman Bros, Sarah Palin. The health care bill is unlikely to be foremost in most voters' minds.

Media and cultural studies - now in preschool!

So we're looking at preschools for September for my older son. One doesn't want to get hysterical about which preschool he attends, but it does matter. We've rejected Montessori as too discouraging of imaginative play. (The are some data, and my intuition tells me, that imaginative play is pretty damn important at 2-3 years old.) Academic-instruction-style preschools are a no-go.

The preschool I liked best turned out to be something called a Reggio Emilia preschool. Never heard of it before, but the philosophy seems up our alley - structured imaginative play, dress-up, paint, blocks, long-term projects, following the children's interests, problem-solving, story-telling, cooking, whatever. And the kids seemed especially happy.

But in the extremely expensive Reggio Emilia preschool in our area (not the one we've chosen), this was part of the description of the approach:
In the USA particularly, the experiences of the city of Reggio Emilia have been reified into the "Reggio Emilia Approach", a new curriculum model of excellence, which heavily reinforces existing instrumental developmentalist discourses of education. This 'branding' of Reggio Emilia, obscures the postmodern accent in the dialogues that the pedagogues of Reggio Emilia have attempted to establish. Critiques of the US 'Reggio Approach' which have targeted attempts to establish normative Reggio 'curricula' have largely been ignored. The work in Sweden by Gunilla Dahlberg, and her UK colleague, Peter Moss, provide unsettling counterpoints to the monolithic arguments of the proponents of the 'Reggio Approach'

All of a sudden, I'm back in undergrad in a cultural studies class. Reified? Discourses? Do we really need academese BS to talk about a frickin' preschool? The approach seems nice. There's a lot of art and play and socializing and the kids get to work on projects. That seems good for them. Can we cut the theorizing? It took me about four reads to figure out what the damn paragraph was even saying. I think it means that there shouldn't really be a set curriculum for Reggio Emilia, but that seems to have happened in the U.S. Reggio Emilia schools. I am of the opinion that there are simpler, less pretentious ways to say this. This kind of writing and thinking is exactly why I left film studies.

Oddly, the site never goes on to make the case that this particular (extremely expensive!) Reggio Emilia school has avoided the horrendous fate that seems to have beset other Reggio Emilia preschools. So the reader is left wondering if she is sending one's child to one of the bastard U.S. Reggio Emilia schools.


Telling jokes to the choir

I admire Lt. Dan Choi a lot. First of all, I have a general sense of admiration for people who choose to serve their country in the military. In Lt. Choi's case, it's clear he's doing so despite having other options for a career if he chose to pursue them. So, there's that.

But he's also willing to stand up and be a leader for civil rights for gays and lesbians. As an openly gay man challenging the antiquated and embarrassing Don't Ask, Don't Tell rule, he's formed an advocacy group, risked the career he's worked so hard for by coming out of the closet, and decided to go the civil disobedience route. Clearly, he's willing to take a stand for a cause he believes in. Again, a trait I admire.

I also admire his forthrightness about a problem common to advocacy groups in general, and the LGBT lobbying community in particular (via Andrew):
When did you decide to take this step, to go beyond talking and do something like chain yourself to the White House gate?
There are so many moments. When I first fell in love? When I was closeted while serving in Iraq? You know, the military puts the idea of sacrifice in your mind the very first day you join. We learned very quickly that someday we might be asked to sacrifice life, limb, comfort, and freedom. My soldier training has made me a better activist, and being a gay activist makes me a better soldier. I can use tactics of both to make both roles better.

Why now? Because you get tired of talking. [Over the past two years] I've done 50 live interviews, a hundred other interviews, how much more talk am I expected to produce? When I heard Kathy Griffin was going to be a spokeswoman for Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I wondered about that. I have great respect for her as an advocate. But if [the Human Rights Campaign] thinks that having a rally at Freedom Plaza with a comedienne is the right approach, I have to wonder. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is not a joking matter to me. To be at Freedom Plaza and not at the White House or Congress? Who are they trying to influence? I felt like they were just trying to speak to themselves. If that's the best the lobbying groups and HRC can do, then I don't know how these powerful groups are supposed to represent our community. Kathy Griffin and [HRC president] Joe Solmonese said they would march with me to the White House but didn’t. I feel so betrayed by them.

I think Kathy Griffin is pretty funny, though her humor is based more on dishy gossip than an especially witty or insightful viewpoint. (Also, a willingness to be obvious in desperate pursuit of attention.) But then, chances are I'd find Kathy Griffin amusing, since she falls all over herself to ingratiate herself with gay men. (We are, if nothing else, suckers for dishy gossip.) What I don't find Kathy Griffin is a convincing spokesperson for changing military policy.

I think it's an inarguable indication of the Human Rights Campaign's fundamental unseriousness that they would choose Kathy Griffin to be a public face for a controversial issue like DADT. First of all, she is famously willing to be confrontational for its own sake, which is not a great trait in a spokesperson. But what kind of authority does she have about military issues at all? Who is she going to convince?

This reminds of a huge rally I attended in DC, many years ago. It was in favor of reproductive rights for women, and I was there as part of a physician lobbying organization. As such, I got to go backstage and meet a bunch of famous people. (I missed Sheryl Crow, which still makes me disappointed. It was cool to meet Moby, though.) Various celebrities got up and made relatively meaningless speeches (Ani DiFranco thought that the best way of supporting women's reproductive freedoms was to sing not one, but TWO songs). Meanwhile, the head of a major labor union's time to speak was cut, and he got angry and left. Which of these people is more likely to get voters to the polls to elect leaders in support of this agenda -- Christine Lahti or the head of a major labor union? Guess which one got more time.

Don't get me wrong. I love to schmooze with famous people on those rare occasions when I get the chance. But let's not call that advocacy.

Typed with a very tight smile on my face

Hello, Bleakonomy readers. Thanks for stopping by, particularly those of you who feel like commenting. Nice to have you.

That being said, let's make one little thing clear. If you think I am an idiot or a charlatan or a heartless, dishonest socialist who seeks to make the world worse for coming generations (for some reason), you have several options to explore:

1) Keeping your opinion to yourself. You are certainly not required to do so, however. Which leads us to option...

2) Write a politely-worded comment correcting the error in my thinking. I have a pretty high tolerance for politely-worded comments that disagree with my opinions. Have at it.

3) Start your own blog, link to mine, and tell the readers that stop by what a laughable buffoon I am.

All of those choices are ones I would encourage. (Particularly option 3, because one of these days I hope to have a Technorati ranking. A boy can dream, right?) Here's what I'm not going to put up with, here at my own wee little blog -- I'm just really not game for being insulted. Don't call me stupid, as that is both rude and incorrect. Don't aver that I have some sort of moral failing, as you're conflating my politics with my virtues (or lack thereof). And don't be surprised if I start deleting your comments if you start acting like a craphead.

I have made a point of defending even those commenters whose opinions aren't popular with a lefty blog like this one. I have gone so far as to delete comments I found particularly insulting to other commenters, even when the sentiments expressed were largely consonant with mine. I expect, and will demand, similar courtesy. I try not to wade into spats between commenters, but I'll be damned if I'm going to be insulted in my own house, as it were.

If you find yourself unable to live with these very, very reasonable requests, you are welcome to find another corner of the Internet to inhabit.


Objective truth for the Left, too!

Good, lord, you crazy Leftists. You can have your cake and eat it, too. You can revel in the success of the health care bill, and at the same time believe that there is such a thing as objective truth!

Alas, some people are not aware of this. In an article on Fox News shrink Keith Ablow, David Roth writes:
In a profession that has valued gray areas since Sigmund Freud defined neurosis as “the inability to tolerate ambiguity,” Ablow--like any good conservative culture warrior--believes in the Truth, capital T. For Ablow, Truth is both his singular objective and the center of his personal brand. His 2007 self-help book is titled Living the Truth, as is the website for the online self-help community he created around it, and he uses the word with a frequency most people reserve for personal pronouns.

“People who think there is no such thing as objective Truth are just running from it,” Ablow says. It’s a line pulled straight out of Bill Bennett’s anti-relativist playbook.
Holy crap. What are we conceding to the Right here?

Guess what. Some things can big ambiguous or unknowable. That does not mean other things are not objectively true. I may not be as certain as blowhards like Ablow that I know what the capital-T truth is. Although I'm pretty damn sure (although not positive!) that there is a capital-T truth, even if I don't know exactly what it is.

I believe in a social safety net and gay rights. Yet I also think that while some cultures believed the earth was flat while our culture does not, those other cultures were wrong. I believe that cultures who don't sign on to germ theory are wrong. I believe that it is highly unlikely that vaccines cause autism, and that it is highly likely that we evolved through natural selection. I believe my mind can actually misrepresent the world, and I can therefore make mistakes.

These positions are not incompatible with being on the Left!

A surprising figure to admire

I am very, very pleased that the House has finally passed the health care reform bill. I will concede that it is far from perfect (I would really have liked to see a public option), but it is also far better than nothing. I am cautiously optimistic about the CBO's numbers, and I am hopeful that this will correct many of the worst excesses of the insurance industry. And I remain highly skeptical that this heralds an inevitable slide into communism. (If I end up being shipped to a reeducation camp in Alaska in the coming decades, I will revisit this question.)

The airwaves and Internet tubes are full of analyses this morning that talk about what a huge victory this is for President Obama. And it is. I admire his tenacity and his dedication to his cardinal campaign promise. But there's someone else I find myself admiring more.

I have never been a big Harry Reid fan. He's always struck me as a pusillanimous and ineffectual Senate Majority Leader. And damned if he didn't hold his caucus together to get this bill passed. [Editorial note: this assumes the Senate passes the House reconciliation bill as expected.] Moreover, he's probably going to lose his seat because of his support for health care reform. He did something unpopular because he believed it was right, and for that he has my sincere admiration.

I also don't think the Democrats are going to get spanked as badly as everyone predicts in November. They have eight months to sell this bill to the public and to tout its benefits, and they will be doing so from a position of victory. The GOP, on the other hand, has proven itself to be rankly obstructionist, prone to premature gloating, and all too willing to tolerate (and encourage) the very worst excesses of its supporters.

2666: pages 466-513

I suppose there is much one might admire about bullfighters. They are certainly brave, in a particular kind of way. From what I understand (never having seen a bullfight myself), especially skilled matadors dispatch the bull with grace and artistry. Doubtless bullfighting aficionados can list favorite bullfighters, and their various attributes and admirable qualities.

I do not, however, admire bullfighters. When one strips away all the pageantry and history and romance, what one is left with is the ritual torture and slaughter of an animal for the titillation of a bloodthirsty crowd.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I am going to end up hating this book. Not merely failure to enjoy or dislike, but outright hatred. For all I may admire about Bolaño's undeniable skill as a writer, for all his facility with prose and wry observation, I am coming to detest what I see emerging as the central theme.

I had a lengthy diatribe all composed in my head, and I've decided to shelve it for now. We are still only just past the halfway point, and I'll withhold my final opinion until the very end. All I will say is that I think Steve is probably right:
It appears to me that we are being presented with a particular vision of the nature of human existence by a man who takes pride in portraying the most troubling aspects of that existence with nary a flinch. That’s all. There is not a lick of redemption here nor is there held out the hope of any because that is the way he sees the truth of the matter.

If, at the end of the book, I have found nothing to dissuade me from this interpretation, then I'll say exactly what I think of this particular vision of humanity.

As for this bit of the Part About the Crimes, I find myself weary of trying to find something about which to comment. The mutilations of the bodies have become more horrific, like something out of a remarkably gruesome Thomas Harris novel. We are treated to brief musings about the relative appeal of prison rape as compared to the rape and murder of women. Some crimes are solved, and more are not.

At this point, I almost feel as though I should apologize to the other people participating in the group read. I have a nagging feeling that my comments are going to become increasingly disapproving and uncomplimentary, at least until we're done with the crimes. I'll continue to post weekly comments, and I'm always glad to have people stop by to add their thoughts, but I fear I'm adding little to the conversation at this point.


To answer my fellow driver's question

Hey, fellow car driver in the greater Augusta area! I saw your bumper sticker today.

Ha, ha!!



Less than Machiavellian

So most of us on the Left (insofar as I am on the Left) think that Republicans are master Machiavellian strategists. We hold their political ability, if not their sanity, in extremely high regard. Perhaps this is unwarranted, given our control over the executive and legislative branches, but there you go.

I was chatting with someone today, who asked if I was always for Obama. I said yes, and she said she had been for Clinton. Then she shrugged, and immediately shifted to how horrifying Sarah Palin is.

This got me thinking. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a real rift in the Democratic party between Hillaryites and Obamatons. Things were actually quite tense at family gatherings! It was passionate and emotional. And the Republicans utterly, completely failed to capitalize on it in any way. Pretty much everyone who was for Clinton is now for Obama, or, at least, is not a Republican. They blew a serious opportunity, I think.

To my friends at Project Runway

Let's begin with the good stuff. This season is much, much better than the last one. That was Blahsville, from the mediocre contestants to the forgettable challenges (which I, quite literally, cannot even remember). Don't ever leave New York again, and never, ever go so long without Michael and Nina. This season's designers are generally much more talented and interesting, though the less said about this, the better.

However, there is one problem that is growing increasingly irritating. I don't know when PR became quite such a blatant shill for its sponsors, but it's getting genuinely embarrassing. Last week it was that smug looking stylist from Garnier Fructis introducing a challenge that had nothing to do with hair, spouting some claptrap about beauty and nature and ohmygodpleasemakeitstop. Last night, they dragged out Collier Strong from the L'Oreal Make-up salon to introduce a challenge that had nothing to do with make-up. Pretending the corporate stylists are there because they will be creating special hair/make-up looks for the challenge is risible, because they do that every week.

Seriously, I'm surprised Tim Gunn hasn't pitched himself off the roof of Atlas apartments by now, since he's the one who has to direct the models to the Garnier Fructis salon and the L'Oreal Paris make-up room and the Blue Fly accessories wall every damn week while trying to keep his dignity intact. We already have to sit through the commercials. Enough already.

What the hell happened to John McCain?

The more time goes by, the deeper my relief that John McCain lost the election. It was bad enough that he was willing to make Sarah Palin the vice-president. But now there is the Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010.

The word "fascist" is thrown around way, waaaaaay too much in the blogosphere. Most of the time I roll my eyes and dismiss the opinion of whoever has decided to use it. It's lazy and sloppy, and typically indicates an ignorance of what "fascism" actually means. But, as God is my witness, I cannot think of a more apt word for this:
An individual, including a citizen of the United States, determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3(c)(2) in a manner which satisfies Article 5 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners in which the individual has engaged, or which the individual has purposely and materially supported, consistent with the law of war and any authorization for the use of military force provided by Congress pertaining to such hostilities.

And whose civil liberties will suddenly be null and void?

CRITERIA FOR DESIGNATION OF INDIVIDUALS AS HIGH-VALUE DETAINEES- The regulations required by this subsection shall include criteria for designating an individual as a high-value detainee based on the following:

(A) The potential threat the individual poses for an attack on civilians or civilian facilities within the United States or upon United States citizens or United States civilian facilities abroad at the time of capture or when coming under the custody or control of the United States.

(B) The potential threat the individual poses to United States military personnel or United States military facilities at the time of capture or when coming under the custody or control of the United States.

(C) The potential intelligence value of the individual.

(D) Membership in al Qaeda or in a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda.

(E) Such other matters as the President considers appropriate. [emphasis added, here and above]

Got that? Anyone the President "considers appropriate" can be deemed a high-value "enemy belligerent," and held without charge or trial for "the duration of hostilities" against the United States or any of its coalition partners. Or, in other words, forever. This means, quite literally, you.

This anti-American disgrace, this consummate travesty of legislation has now found several co-sponsors, including the ghoul we all once knew as Joe Lieberman. The man who brought it forth unto the Senate is the man the GOP wanted to occupy the Oval Office. These people, who hold such power, have so palpable a disdain for the very Constitution they have sworn to uphold that it robs one of the power of speech.

Every American should oppose this bill. Every. Single. American. There is no defending it, and the people responsible for submitting and co-sponsoring it have proved themselves unworthy of sitting in the Senate.


I could be Liz Smith's assistant

Well, OK. Probably not. But it seems like he and I see eye to eye.

The subject of our agreement is one Sean Hayes, famous for playing Jack in the long-running minstrel show Will & Grace. Mr. Hayes has always demurred when asked about his own sexual orientation, which is a stance I find defensible, if a bit wishy-washy. It seems The Advocate finally dragged it out of him.
Suddenly everyone wanted to know if Hayes himself was gay and how he felt about playing a gay character. Faced with the very real prospect of jeopardizing his chance at landing straight roles down the road, he started reciting stock answers, variations on what he told the Detroit Free Press early on: “When I play a gay character I want to be as believable as possible. And when I’m playing a straight character I also want to be as believable as possible. So the less that people know about my personal life, the more believable I can be as a character.” And Hayes never pretended to be something he wasn’t; he never walked some pretty woman down the red carpet or faked a straight relationship.


Hayes’s sexuality had become an open secret in Hollywood, but he’d refused repeated offers to be inter­viewed by the magazine, and the then-editors of The Advocate felt entitled to the real story. Understandably, that didn’t sit well with Hayes. “Really? You’re gonna shoot the gay guy down? I never have had a problem saying who I am,” he states.

“I am who I am. I was never in, as they say. Never,” he insists.

Fair enough, I guess. Frankly, it's not his private life I care about. But then, there's this:
Finally, Hayes gets to his true point: “I feel like I’ve contributed monumentally to the success of the gay movement in America, and if anyone wants to argue that, I’m open to it. You’re welcome, Advocate.”

Bull. Shit.

Over to you, Denis. (Denis is Ms. Smith's assistant, in case you need me to connect those dots.)
"Mr. Hayes appeared for eight seasons on television playing an ignorant, insulting, stereotype of a gay man. The show itself revolved around two terribly disturbed people – Will and Grace – and their sick relationship. The show was popular with straight audiences precisely because "Will" (Eric McCormack) always seemed much more interested in "Grace" (Debra Messing) than in his infrequent boyfriends. "

And while Sean’s character, Jack, was supposedly cute and promiscuous, he was never shown ‘dating’ an attractive man. He was really much more fascinated with the bosoms of drug-addict/alcoholic "Karen Walker" (played by Megan Mullally). America could relax – there were no real homos here! Just a lot of ‘gay jokes.’ This garbage was continually lauded by the likes of GLAAD."

Bingo. (Well, fine. I don't agree that Will and Grace were "terribly disturbed." Just incredibly self-involved, shallow, insecure and increasingly boring as the series wheezed to a close.)

The character of Jack did nothing for real, live gay people. (You wanna know who did all the work Hayes is taking credit for? Ellen.) Instead, he perpetuated a stale, embarrassing stereotype, one that conformed to the worst expectations of the show's audience. Further, somehow he managed to be both promiscuous and totally non-threatening, so America got a view of gay men as sex-crazed without having to see the icky reality of a man actually behaving romantically with another man.

None of this really matters all that much to me, however. Will & Grace actually had some charm in its first season, before the writers (as is so often the case) took the characters' amusing quirks and cranked them to "11." I don't begrudge Hayes either his success or his privacy, and gay rights have moved on independently of him. But let's not kid ourselves that he deserves any credit.

If your n=1, it's not a study

Biostatistics was not my strongest suit in medical school. I'm better at some of the concepts than others. For example, I will happily explain sensitivity vs. specificity, and I'm aces on positive predictive value. On the other hand, when I try to understand the conversion from probability to odds, my eyes glaze over and I have a hard time staying vertical.

However, I can recognize when a study has no power. It's generally best not to come to conclusions too broad when your sample size is unimpressive.

On that note, I give you two writers who are generally smarter than this kind of thing. First up, the estimable E.D. Kain at True/Slant, discussing the appalling case of a couple who let their real infant starve to death while "raising" a virtual one on one of those Second-Life-like games:
[O]ne feels almost guilty participating in this virtual world when a story like this surfaces. What other ways could we be spending our time? How may we be neglecting those we love? The average high school student spends five and a half hours a day in front of a screen. This is increasingly true of all age demographics. It’s eerily reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – but in a sense, even more frightening for its lack of anything really sinister. Nobody is out burning books. We’re just creating a world in which they are increasingly irrelevant. And in which family, community, and even our children are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Then there's Rod Dreher on obesity, enraged by the case of a hugely fat woman who strives to gain yet more weight:
This revolting Donna Simpson person weighs 602 pounds, and is trying to get
to 1,000 pounds. Why? She makes her money with a website in which pervs (like
her kinky boyfriend) pay to watch her shove food in her mouth and jiggle around.

"I love eating and people love watching me eat," she says. "It makes
people happy, and I'm not harming anyone."


If... most everybody who is obese can't do anything about it, why is it
that obesity rates have skyrocketed over the course of a single generation? Look
at this map.
Obesity like this isn't something that just happened. We are
eating too much, we're eating the wrong kind of food, and we're not exercising.
Of course some of us will have a more difficult time than others controlling our
weight, owing to our genetic inheritance, or environmental factors (e.g., it may
be harder to exercise, or to access healthier food). But in the main, I simply
don't buy that obesity is something largely beyond the individual's ability to

First of all, I'm sure Elizabeth has plenty to say about the question of obesity and free will. But that's not really where I'm going here.

Every so often, someone will seize upon a particularly horrifying or eye-catching story and use it as a jumping-off point for a broader social commentary. However, the truth is, neither of these stories say anything meaningful about anything other than the particular people in it. Perhaps we spend too much time online, and obesity rates are problematic, whatever the cause. But the deeply disturbed people in these two cases are worthless as proxies for society at large.

Both Dreher and Kain doubtless had the opinions they expressed before they read about these people, and the stories were merely the impetus for posts that were already brewing in some murky sulcus or another. But it weakens what might otherwise be stronger commentaries to predicate them on such outliers.


Separated at birth

My two-year-old son was watching the movie Top Hat with me (yes, I do everything I can to make sure he will one day be mercilessly mocked by his peers). He pointed to Fred Astaire and said, "That's Obama?" And he does have a point...


It's funny because it's insulting!

I don't know Lane Kiffin from a hole in the ground. Apparently, he has something to do with the burly men in the tight pants who run into each other a lot, and people don't like him because he left a job coaching one group of tight-pant-wearing concussion-givers to take a better job doing the same thing elsewhere. I don't know, and don't really care.

But, I see (via HuffPo) that apparently Mr. Kiffin's detractors include the editorial staff at Esquire. How can I tell? Because they're calling him a woman!
Vote for the Sexiest Woman Alive!

(1) Natalie Gulbis [vs.] (16) Lane Kiffin


(For the record, I do think Mr. Kiffin is sexier than Ms. Gulbis [of whom I also know nothing], but somehow I suspect that's not the point.)

Oh, Esquire. You and your casually sexist monkeyshines. I'm sure Mr. Kiffin is terribly embarrassed, and Megan Fox is sweating the competition.

But you've already taken your ball and gone home!

Oooh, those Congressional Republicans. They're hopping mad! They've gone to all that trouble to obstruct progress on health care reform, and now the Democrats have found a way to circumvent them. What's particularly galling is that those wily Democrats are using the exact same tactics the Republicans used before. The nerve!

What's an obstructionist opposition to do?
Republicans are threatening to make life difficult for Democrats if they try to push health care reform through the Senate using the budget reconciliation process.

The response from Democrats: What else is new?

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told POLITICO on Monday that it will be “much, much harder” to reach bipartisan consensus on anything if Democrats push ahead with reconciliation.

Harder than what? What bipartisan consensus? When have we had that since Obama was sworn in? Because, from where I sit, the Democrats have as much reason to hope that the GOP will ever work with them on anything as they do to hope that the ghost of FDR will appear and give each of them three wishes.

So, what do they really mean by "bipartisan consensus"? It looks like they mean "get anything done at all."
And Republicans are vowing more hardball tactics of their own if Democrats go the reconciliation route on health care reform. “This is unprecedented — that means the response is going to be unprecedented,” said a senior GOP aide.

Some Senate insiders expect the GOP to begin objecting to routine motions to speed the day’s business, for example, by forcing Senate clerks to read aloud the text of bills and amendments — a move that would effectively grind Senate business to a halt.

See the link in the first paragraph for my thoughts on "unprecedented." Anyhow, it looks like the Republicans are essentially willing to shut down Congress if health care reform passes. Because that turned out so well in 1995. (At least this time federal employees would still get paid.)

The trouble, of course, is that the GOP has already made it clear that it's going to stymie major pieces of legislation as a rule. I don't really know how they intend to be less bipartisan. The only thing they have remaining is to refuse to do anything, which I can't imagine is a winning strategy in the long run.

Passing health care

William Saletan has an article up that makes some good points against politicians' relying on polls to inform their health care vote. Since the public is against health care, the thinking goes, we should not pass it.

Saletan discusses some of the problems with relying on polls to dictate policy (e.g., fickleness, expressing what is really ambivalence with a forced answer at a given moment). I'd like to add that polling is hardly an exact science. For that matter, it is not clear how we could make it such. Remember the New Hampshire primary? Relying on Gallup to dictate policy is not only wrong-headed in a representative democracy, it could well be inaccurate.

Using the Massachusetts vote as an indicator of popular will suffers from being a poll of that makes up a small percentage of our entire country, whose residents have guaranteed health care.

There is a reason we don't put out every piece of legislation as a referendum. No person whose job doesn't involve policy can be informed enough about policy to make the right decision. Legislators are supposed to have expertise in policy, greater expertise than the majority of their constituents. There is nothing condescending to the great and good American people to admit they have not had time to learn the ins and outs of health care and its potential ramifications for their interests. There is nothing condescending in asking anyone to put greater weight on expert opinion in a host of professions: doctors, professors, mechanics, landscapers, scientists. (Greater weight is, of course, not the entire weight.)

And Saletan ends with a point that has completely dumbfounded me recently - why no one is talking about the morality of the legislators' votes.
Maybe passing the health care bill will bring on a Republican tsunami. Maybe it will create a generation of Democrats who revere Obama the way their great-grandparents revered FDR. Maybe you'll be back in Congress next year. Maybe you won't. Either way, this is too big a vote to cast on the basis of politics. Every so often, a bill comes along that's bigger than anything your predecessor got to touch. You're the lucky bastard who had your seat in 2010, when that bill reached the floor. And here you are, worrying about your career, when the purpose of your career is staring you in the face.
I have heard everyone - left, right, pundits, other legislators - talk very cooly about whether or not it is in the career interest of certain legislators to vote one way or another. Almost none then follow up with a comment about how one person's career path should not decide the fate of millions! Lives are in their hands, and we talk as if it is okay for them to be dithering about re-election. Not only is one person's job small potatoes in this context, most legislators are perfectly capable of getting private sector jobs when voted out of office. With legislation as potentially impactful as this, one tends to have a strong opinion on whether it should or should not be done. And the impact of it will be so broad that it must outweigh the value of any single person's career. Anytime the idea of voting in one's career interest is brought up, it should immediately be followed by a mention of just how slimy that would be. Perhaps in some corner of their black shriveled hearts where once was some moral dimension to their public service, a legislator might respond.


This woman is a member of Congress

I refer, of course, to Michele Bachmann. A rare combination of lunacy, unalloyed partisanship and monumental stupidity, she gives me pause when I consider that she is a member of one of the most powerful legislative bodies in the world.

What sparked this latest round of forehead-slapping? Behold!
At a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on Saturday, Bachmann declared illegitimate the potential route that House Democrats could take to pass the health care bill. She was specifically railing against a parliamentary tactic by which the House could skip voting on the Senate bill by declaring it passed as part of the reconciliation bill. Bachmann pronounced this to be taxation without representation. "They have just started a revolution -- and they did it," said Bachmann.

"But mark my words, the American people aren't gonna take this lying down," Bachmann later said. "We aren't gonna play their game, we're not gonna pay their taxes. They want us to pay for this? Because we don't have to. We don't have to. We don't have to follow a bill that isn't law. That's not the American way, and that's not what we're going to do."

Bachmann continued. "Because it's one-party rule now in Washington, D.C. Their Chicago tactics, their Chicago friends, twisting Democrats' arms, threatening their own team members with ethics charges and a submission. This handful of people thinks (sic) they can enforce their will on 300 million Americans? They're not gonna do that. This is dictatorial, what they are doing. We are not compelled to follow a non-law just because Obama and Pelosi tells us we have to.

"If they pass the bill legitimately, then yes, we have to follow the law -- until we repeal it. But if they pass it illegitimately, then the bill is illegitimate, and we don't have to lay down for this. It's not difficult to figure out. So if for some reason they're able to get their votes this week and pass this 2,700-page Senate bill -- if they get it, trillions of dollars is what it's gonna cost, when we didn't vote on it, we need to tell them a message: That if they get away with this, they will be able to get away with anything -- with anything. And you can't say you voted on a bill when you didn't, because it's fraud. But we are not helpless here. We are not helpless, there are things that we can do."

First of all, I think it is hilllllllllllllarious that Bachmann is still trotting out that "phony ethics violation" line about the Democrats and Eric Massa. Honey, when even Glenn Beck has backed away from the crazy, you're on a pretty shaky limb. But then, Michele Bachmann could no more do without crazy than she could do without oxygen.

But that's nothing compared to the heaping pile of crazy that makes up the bulk of her comments. There are two equally distressing possibilities here. One is that she sincerely does not think that having the House pass the Senate version of the health care reform bill then smoothing over budgetary differences in the reconciliation process is a legitimate process. Despite the fact that, not only is it perfectly legitimate, but it has been done plenty of times before. The other is that she knows the reconciliation process is totally legitimate, but she is telling people to break the law for the sake of being inflammatory. (I'm sure she will pony up the cash to spring people when they're arrested for tax evasion.)

On the one hand -- idiot. On the other hand -- liar. In either case -- depressing.

Update: Further details here, with this being the money quote:
"We're looking at a couple of different ways to get the bill to the floor and any path we take will obviously require a majority House vote," Slaughter spokesman Vincent Morris told me today. "And it's worth pointing out that whatever we do will be built upon the precedents of the house and familiar to Republicans from when they held the majority."

In any case, whatever the result, it will be the law, even if the voices in Michele Bachmann's head don't think so.

2666: The Part About the Crimes, pages 404-464

First of all, David Winn over at the spanking new Blog about 2666 says in his post what I was trying to say in my past one much, much better than I did. It's always humbling to read a better version of what one is trying to write, but it's worth reading for interested parties.

We're waist-deep in the Crimes by now, and there still seems little one can say about them in and of themselves. By the end of this section, they seem to be occurring at a sickening, accelerating rate, and it finally seems that there is some awareness of them in the city at large. But the murders themselves still defy understanding.

With that in mind, all I really have is a bunch of unrelated observations about the things that happen in and around the Crimes. At this point, I'm beginning to think it's the best I can really hope for.

1) I don't know if it's intentional or not, but the seer Florita's ramblings reminded me a great deal of Barry Seaman. Midway through her exposition on the various forms of divination, I sighed internally and assumed we were in for another lengthy passage full of meaningless heaps of words. And then the vision of Santa Teresa came, and suddenly there was something meaningful. Is Florita a real seer? What are we to make of this? Does this mean I should go back to the Part About Fate and see if there's something to Seaman's sermon?

2) I can only assume that it's intentional on Bolaño's part that the only two people thus far to put themselves in any kind of danger for the sake of Santa Teresa's women were American. First Oscar Fate nearly gets himself killed rescuing Rosa Amalfitano, and then (presumably dead) Harry Magaña gets himself in all kind of trouble investigating the death of the young woman from Huntsville. Why Bolaño makes these the only two who care enough to do something meaningful (if futile, in the latter case) is another thing to ponder.

3) The gender role reversal in the sterile romance between the police officer and the asylum director is an enjoyable side plot. He longs for romance, and she keeps things abrupt, private and primarily sexual. This inversion of sexual norms was an amusing little fillip.

4) I nearly threw in the towel at page 414, on which we learn of Harry Magaña. It started promisingly. Bolaño paints a masterful picture of Magaña as an outsider by subtly describing his use of language, for example his inability to understand puns. It was shaping up to be one of my favorite passages. And then there it was, sitting like a pile of dog crap in the middle of the page.

I have had it. Up to here. With "faggot." I was willing to chalk it up to the vagaries of character and culture in the Part About Amalfitano. With gritted teeth, I was willing to move past it when Oscar Fate randomly considered the man on the Springeresque talk show and concluded that he must be a "faggot" (for some reason). But for the life of me, I have no clue as to why Magaña is described as a "self-sucking faggot" by the narrator. None. This opinion is ascribed to no character, and is simply laid out there as casually as the color of his hair or the kind of shoes he wears. That he ends up being a brave, dedicated man (if dismayingly willing to physically abuse a prostitute to get the information he wants) only makes this incongruous slur more infuriating.

I'm not going to go so far as calling Bolaño a homophobe. I did not know him, and am reluctant to draw a broad conclusion about him as a person from a flaw in his writing. But his persistent and unjustified use of a deeply offensive slur mars his writing, and he does not get a pass from me because he is such a respected artist, or because of his culture of origin.


The self-righteousness of Andrew Sullivan

I mostly enjoy Andrew Sullivan's writing most of the time. The Daily Dish (on our blog roll over yonder) is a good source of interesting material from around the Web, and he occasionally serves an invaluable service by collecting and distributing information of urgent importance, such as during the protests in Iran. But for the love of little green apples, the man has an ego that could qualify for its own zip code.

His "Dissent of the Day" and response this morning are particularly galling. A reader writes:
I am a capital habeas lawyer. I spend my days looking at crime scene videos and autopsy photos, and learning about the details of my clients' trauma-filled lives. I have experienced some of what the secondary trauma literature refers to as "numbing"--a dampened ability to react to photos/videos/facts that would horrify most people. But when I happened upon the photo of the dead and buried Palestinian girl, I was shocked and disturbed.

When someone in our office sends a disturbing photograph to be printed at a communal photocopier, he/she sends an email to the office warning others, who may happen upon the copy machine, that disturbing images are being printed. I wish you would do the same for your readers. Why not put the photo of the dead girl below the jump, and include a warning above the jump?

I appreciate the need to inform people about important events, and sometimes that information comes in the form of photographs. But some readers, for whatever reason, may feel they cannot handle such a photo, and those people deserve a warning. I do not think I am being unreasonably alarmist when I say that you may be subjecting readers to trauma from which some will have a very difficult time recovering.

I think this is a totally reasonable request. Readers who appreciate Sullivan's writing, and may even appreciate his dedication to disseminating the disturbing facts of the world may not necessarily want to see Nick Berg's decapitated corpse. To give readers a warning of graphic content is simple, basic human decency.

Sullivan's reply:
I appreciate that some readers do not want to see these images and I am sorry if they suffer trauma from it. But it is nothing like the trauma that the parents of that child felt, whose death was partly funded by US military aid. If you do not want to see these graphic images, please stop reading the Dish.

Of all the self-congratulatory claptrap. As though Sullivan is incapable of making his point without confronting us with the photographic evidence. I don't doubt that some readers will eventually make the choice not to read the Dish any longer and the ones who remain are likely to be the kind who already agree with Sullivan's worldview. In other words, by refusing to accomodate the reasonable concerns of a reasonable reader because of his own pride in the mission he feels he is serving, he renders himself less persuasive in the long run.

Also, it makes him look like a read prick.


There are a lot of subjects I don't follow with much enthusiasm or interest. Sports, by and large. American Idol. Anything on MTV since the B-52s were in heavy rotation. You get the idea.

To that list you can add "the Japanese monarchy." Without disputing its rich and intriguing history, I've never paid much attention to the lives of those around the Chrysanthemum Throne. However, noodling through the Times this morning, this article about the Crown Prince and his family caught my eye:

When an official at the Imperial Household Agency suddenly announced
last week
that 8-year-old Princess Aiko was refusing to go to school because of bullying, he did more than just disclose a mundane problem facing a member of Japan’s ancient and secretive monarchy.

He also added a new twist to one of the most riveting but mysterious dramas in Japan, the seven-year depression and seclusion of Aiko’s mother, Crown Princess Masako, the Harvard-trained former diplomat. Aiko is the only child of Princess Masako and her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito, and is widely known to be one of the few sources of joy for the troubled crown princess.

Frankly, I suspect Princess Masako has a pretty damn crappy life. I can't imagine that the secluded, tightly monitored life of a member of a royal family in a highly traditional culture holds much opportunity for joy of any kind for a woman who went to the trouble of becoming a Harvard-educated diplomat in the first place. It's the sort of life certain women went to a lot of trouble to leave.

But the next paragraph leaves me completely baffled:

The episode has once again put Princess Masako’s unhappy story into the harsh glare of Japan’s tabloid press. The news media here portrayed her 1993 wedding as the fairy-tale marriage of a commoner to a prince but then grew increasingly critical of her inability to bear a male heir for the Chrysanthemum Throne. The mounting pressure is widely seen as contributing to what appears to have been a breakdown. [emphasis added]

I will leave aside the questions about the value of heredity monarchies in modern democratic societies or the baffling insistence that only bearers of Y chromosomes are fit to ascend the throne. (One might note that some countries ended up doing quite well when women took over.) But can I really believe my eyes? Is the press in a highly-educated, scientifically-advanced society like Japan actually blaming a woman (any woman) for her "inability to bear a male heir"? Seriously?!?!?!?

Because, as even the most basic genetics textbook will tell you, women are not responsible for the gender of their children. The X or Y chromosome comes from the father. One may as well blame Princess Masako for inclement weather as for whether she bears girls or boys. If the Japanese press is somehow ignorant of this long-established bit of science then it is shockingly incompetent, and has no business offering commentary on the subject.

I know next to nothing about Japanese society, so perhaps there is some nuance I am missing. But to compound the misery of an unhappy woman by blaming her for something utterly out of control seems to say something very, very ugly about the country.

The eraser

God, I love John McWhorter. Not only is he a descriptive rather than prescriptive grammarian (sorry, dear friend, co-blogger, and prescriptive grammarian!), one rarely sees work on such a thorny subject (race) written with such nuance, such honesty, and totally without fear or cant. I don't always agree with him, and many times I don't know enough to agree or disagree. But he is always worthwhile to read.

Anyhow, he has a fascinating piece (have you noticed how frequently people at TNR, excluding McWhorter, use the words "fascinating" and "piece" to mean an article?) up about the figures influencing black history (not all of them black) that he'd like to erase. Part of what is interesting to me is how many scholars and writers are on the list. McWhorter doesn't just go for the cultural icons, but traces the source some of the cultural ideas that motivate the black community and that he wishes did not. You should totally read it.

Someone in the comments attempted a similar list of Jews. However, he seemed to miss the point of McWhorter's fascinating piece and merely listed Jews who embarrass all Jews who might be tarnished with their brush (e.g., Bernie Madoff, that gonif, that putz, may he grow like an onion with his head in the ground). But it got me thinking: there are certainly ideas that shape the Jewish community that I wish do not. I don't always know the source, and am not sure if there is a single source for some of them. But here they are:

1) That building West Bank settlements is a right, an obligation, or a reasonable response to terrorism.

2) The defensive crouch in response to criticism of Israel. Is Israel criticized unfairly for responding to attacks? Absolutely! Is some criticism of Israel veiled anti-Semitism? Absolutely! Are some people who take on the mantle of Very Brave to Criticize the Israel Lobby, Because You Know How the Jews Get, and Just Watch and See If I Lose My Job Now for Saying What Needs to Be Said trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes? Absolutely! Is Israel above reproach? Absolutely not! Has Israel ever acted in bad faith? Absolutely! When we can distinguish valid criticism from invalid (at which Israelis seem much better than American Jews), we do not give proper grist to the Very Brave folks' mills.

3) That intermarriage is the second Holocaust, and that it will be the death of Judaism. Imagine if we had welcomed the non-Jewish spouses of Jews instead of shunning them. Not only would there be a hell of a lot more Jews now, not only would Reform and Conservative Jews be less outnumbered by ultra-orthodox, so many families would have been saved from so much heartache.

4) The movement in reform Judiasm that agitated for being more like church, and therefore less chit-chat and more standing quietly at attention. Boo-oo-ring. Also, I like more Hebrew!

5) The self-deprecating jokes. That Jews can't fix things, are bad athletes, are over-doting mothers, etc. Because most of these jokes have a subtext: we are smarter than they are and care more about our kids. And jokes about the goyim - jokes about how different is goyische culture, jokes about drinking, about supposed emotional coldness. (A common joke among both Jews and Italians is that Jews and Italians are the same, except Italians have better food. I heard a different, and more pernicious version: "Italians are just like us, except they hit their kids and don't believe in higher education.") It's hard sometimes to separate ethnic pride from ethnic feelings of superiority, and I wish more of an effort were made.


Cue Hallelujah Chorus

Please, please, please let this be true:
A prominent friend and supporter of James Dobson believes Dobson was pushed aside by the new leadership of Focus on the Family, who want the powerhouse evangelical ministry to project a softer image on issues ranging from abortion to gay marriage to relations with President Obama.


[L]ate last month he delivered his last daily Focus radio broadcast, which is reportedly heard by 1.5 million Americans each day. Dobson last year stepped down as chairman of the Colorado Springs-based group's board of directors, after relinquishing his longtime role as president in 2003.

First Maine's penny-ante version of Dobson, and now Dobson himself. Could this really mean what I hope it means? Could evangelicals really be trying to move away from their scorched-earth tactics on social issues?

I have nothing particularly kind to say about spanking enthusiast Dobson, so I will wrap this up before I descend into unseemly gloating. Suffice it to say that I am... pleased.

Jersey Shore

I grew up in a majority Italian-American community (we Jews were a somewhat distant second). Italians were so prevalent, I didn't even really recognize them as a distinct ethnic group. Names like Romano and Scala were, to me, like Smith and Jones.

So it was a total surprise to me, on becoming an adult and on gaining an New Jersey Italian husband (who did spend summers "down the shore") and gaining an Italian name and moving out of a majority Italian area, just how much trafficking in silly stereotypes about Italians there is. (Almost none of which, incidentally, apply to my husband. Trying to picture him as boisterous and boomingly affectionate, or full of joie de vivre and love of simple pleasures, or gelling his hair and buffing his Camaro, or uneducated, or blowing his stack every two minutes, or connected to organized crime in some way, is a rather a challenge to the imagination. He is, however, a very good cook.)

Not only is this silly stereotyping common, it's thought to be innocuous. People say things to Italians about Italians that they would NEVER say to a Jew about Jews.

Which brings me to the show Jersey Shore. The whole point of the show is to follow some twenty-somethings around and laugh at them as the fit every negative Italian-American stereotype. They are deliberately choosing people and moments that suit that very purpose and editing it together. I frankly can't imagine a reality show about Jews whose very point was to deliberately showcase, say, pushiness or graspingness. Or a reality show about blacks which sought to hold up examples of every white's worst stereotype.

Italian-Americans have protested, mostly about the use of the word "guido" (which I think is a non-issue, but that's beside the point). But I've read plenty of people who think that because the Italian-Americans depicted are allowing themselves to be filmed, this is all okay. It's just a depiction of "reality." Case in point. The author, apparently at least 1/4 Italian herself, says:
This isn't "The Sopranos," where a screenwriter and a director sat down and decided they wanted to portray Italian-Americans as marauding morons who pray to the holy trinity of spaghetti, strippers and silencers...We Italian-Americans ought to be thanking the network for shining a spotlight on a small but real subset of the culture. One that we should recoil from - and raise our kids to be nothing like.
Actually, I think this is much worse than the Sopranos, which is my favorite TV show of all time. That show was complex and nuanced and psychologically rich. Jersey Shore is, to put it mildly, not.

Just because Italians agree to let themselves be filmed this way seems an odd sort of imprimatur of ethnic sensitivity, as if the presence of Stepin Fetchit made his depictions not racist.

I don't want to be a humorless but-won't-anyone-think-of-the-children type. But can anyone tell me why this should be different from other ethnic depictions?

Tips for successful closet-dwelling

I cannot watch Curb Your Enthusiasm. Such is my sense of vicarious embarrassment that every time something horrible happens to Larry David (not that he doesn't have it coming), I feel it in my gut. It is viscerally unpleasant, literally.

I experienced the same kind of "punched in the solar plexus" queasiness when I read this, from former Congressman and current train wreck Eric Massa:

Former New York Congressman Eric Massa told FOX's Glenn Beck that he groped a staffer but denied it was sexual. Massa referred to his interaction with a male staffer as a tickle-fight.

"I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me," said Massa. "It was my 50th birthday. It was kill the old guy."

This makes me want to hurl.

Friends, Massa was saying all of this in an attempt to defuse allegations of sexual harassment. This was meant to be taken as a reasonable explanation, as thought it would makes sense to us as normal behavior.

Eric Massa thinks that straight men have tickle fights with each other.

I am a gay man. Maybe not the gayest man out there, but firmly and unapologetically on the Judy Garland end of the Kinsey scale. And I know, beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt, that straight men do not get into tickle fights with each other. (Tickle-fighting straight men, please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)

Also, there's this:
Massa then blamed himself for getting too close to his staff. He showed photos from his days in the Navy, essentially saying that the sort of horseplay he exhibited with his staff stemmed from his days in the military.

"I never should have allowed myself to be as familiar with my staff as I was," said Massa. "I never translated from my days in the Navy" to Congress.

Oh, good GOD. First of all, using the Navy to burnish your heterosexual cred is an iffy strategy. While I'm sure that the vast majority of history's sailors have been straight, there is a persistent whiff of gayness to that particular branch of the armed forces. (Everyone, sing along!)

Secondly, it's probably best to avoid drawing parallels to your days on the open seas when said days are equally problematic.

So, here's a hint or two to all you closeted Congressional types.

Don't try to get your jollies with the staff. It never ends well.

If you have crossed that line and are facing investigation, do not under any circumstances draw attention to yourself. Do not become a cause celebre and attempt to take on the White House Chief of Staff. Do not create a phony scandal. Do not go on Fox News. In other words, STFU.

And for the love of all that is holy, do not use the words "tickle fight" to describe what you hope will be mistaken for heterosexual male behavior.

On the other hand, this whole sorry affair has yielded an experience I never thought I would have. For the first time in my life, I have some fellow-feeling for Glenn Beck:
Beck seemed frustrated by Massa throughout the interview. When Massa spoke of Washington corruption, Beck repeatedly asked for specific details.

He ended the show by saying about the Glenn Beck-Eric Massa interview: "America, I'm gonna shoot straight with you. I think I've wasted your time. I think this is the first time I've wasted your time."

Update: I have been informed by a reliable source, complete with photographic evidence, that straight men do occasionally get into tickle fights. To which I reply, that is really, really gay.


I dreamed a dream

The death of Corey Haim (alav hashalom) is an example not only of another child star died young and broke and miserable. And also not only of the perils of addiction. He also spent his adult life trying to break back into acting or music or entertainment, and was unsuccessful.

During these most recent Oscars, winners felt compelled to send a message, the same message they send every year. The winner, clutching his statuette, having thanked his agent and his lawyer and his director and so on, says, "I had a dream, and now I'm standing here. And let this [wielding Oscar vigorously] show you that you should never give up on your dreams. All of you people out there who want to do something creative, don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. You dream that dream!" Or something like that.

Most people, however, really should not dream that dream. And maybe Haim isn't the best example, because his situation is indeed complicated by the success he once had attained and by addiction. But we should not, in good conscience, be telling people to pursue a career in the creative arts despite discouragement. Anyone who happens to succeed in the creative arts may well have some combination of looks or talent, but there are many many more who are good-looking or talented who have not succeeded. If one is a success, one has had a considerable amount of luck. The vast majority of people who attempt a career in the arts are failures. We have to stop romanticizing it. If they have not planned a back-up career, they could be forever robbed, not only of financial security, but success in some other endeavor. I know too many people who have kept trying and trying to break into a creative field, only to end up broke and rootless and laboring under the belief that any other career option is a sell-out or not worth doing. It isn't pretty.

If one watches any reality TV whatsoever, one realizes that there is a slew of talentless people out there who have taken this Oscar message to heart. They refuse to acknowledge any criticism of their work. When they are kicked off, they look steadily at the camera, chin quivering, and say, "I won't let this discourage me. I'm going to keep going. And you'll see my stuff out there!" Our culture practically dictates that line for them. And, of course, we never have seen their stuff. Because the people criticizing them were right.

Of course, one shouldn't take one or two nasty comments amiss. But prima facie people should be discouraged from such a career, and they should indeed realized that if they are repeatedly told they have no talent or are no good for this career, that probably is the case.


An open letter to warring parents

I don't think I've posted this particular lament before, but if I have then I apologize for the repetition. That said, some things bear repeating.

To all divorced/separated/estranged parents:

Your children are not appropriate proxies for your war against each other. There is no context or situation in which it is appropriate for you to use your child as a vector to enact revenge against your former spouse/partner. This is true as a general rule (exceptions to which I cannot conceive) and in the particular case of medical care. When one of you uses the plan I have made for your child with the other to frustrate him or her by refusing to administer medication (one common example), you are failing your child and wasting my time.

In cases where the medication is clearly indicated, your objection is moot. I will not stop treating objective medical findings because you have not observed them yourself. In cases where you refuse to administer treatments you do not like because you were not present for the visit where they were prescribed, I will simply document this decision and may contact child protective authorities if the condition is appropriately severe. Even if I do not deem it necessary to inform the state, I will gladly provide said documentation for consideration in future custody disputes. Thankfully, most of you seem to grasp the importance of treatment in these circumstances, and so this kind of meddling is rare.

For the care of vaguer, more subjective diagnoses, it is easier for you to get away with this kind of nonsense. Many parents in good faith have qualms with giving their children medication for such things as anxiety or ADHD. You may be motivated to large degree by such qualms, which are not objectionable per se. However, if your former spouse/partner disagrees with you, it is contingent upon the two of you to do right by your child and work that out before the appointment has been made. This is part of being grown-up, and by doing so you demonstrate to your child that your love for him/her is more important than your hatred for each other. If you absolutely, positively cannot come to an agreement before the appointment has been made, then you should both come in for the visit and explain your observations, concerns and objections. I will do my part by allotting sufficient time for the visit, and by listening seriously to both of you. I will do my best to create a plan that best approximates an acceptable compromise for all involved.

If you find out about a decision to which you object ex post facto, I understand your frustration if you did not know about the appointment in advance. (The corollary here is that you have an obligation to each other to be in appropriate communication with each other, no matter how much you may hate the sound of each other's voice. This is why God gave us e-mail and text messaging.) However, as much as it may chafe that you were not involved in this decision, calling my office (or having your legal representative do so) is a step I would urge you to avoid. As vague and subjective as the diagnosis of ADHD (a typical area of contention) may be, it is a diagnosis I have made upon review of as much information I can collect. I would not have agreed to start a medication if I had not decided it was indicated based upon my own best judgement. No matter how valid the point you may be making about your prerogatives in this situation, you are also quite likely depriving your child of a treatment that could genuinely help with his or her ability to function in school.

Regardless of how you and your ex choose to make decisions, I cannot and will not function as an arbiter between the two of you. If it is clear the two of you are stuck at an impasse, and neither of you is willing to budge for the sake of your child, it leaves me with nothing to do but wash my hands of the situation. (Again, in cases where treatment is clearly necessary, I will not bow to your objection and will proceed with whatever is medically indicated. You can explain to a judge why you would like a court order blocking me.) It makes no sense to try to manage a patient's care when one parent countermands the decisions of the other, and I won't waste my time. You are free to schedule an appointment when the two of you have decided that your petty squabbles aren't worth the well-being of your child any longer.

Ever striving to be fair and balanced

I have, of late, been somewhat critical of various state-level Republican office-holders. In my ongoing pursuit of even-handedness (just like our friends at Fox News), it is my singular pleasure to introduce you to erstwhile New York state senator Hiram Monserrate. Over to you, TPM:
When Hiram Monserrate was expelled from the New York State Senate last month over a conviction for assaulting his girlfriend, Gov. David Paterson called a special election to fill his seat. Now, Monserrate (D) is running to get his seat back and, allegedly, painting one of his opponents as a gay crusader out to dismantle family values.

His supporters have allegedly been handing out flyers at churches in Queens suggesting one of Monserrate's opponents, fellow Democrat Jose Peralta, is out to "destroy our way of life" by supporting gay rights.

The flyer, obtained by Elizabeth Benjamin at the Daily News, says Peralta is beholden to a group of "mega rich gay fanatics dedicated to destroying our way of life and creating same sex marriage." The group, called the Gill Foundation in the flyer, may refer to activist Tim Gill's Fight Back New York PAC, which has sent out mailings calling Monserrate a criminal.


Monserrate was expelled from the state senate in February over a misdemeanor assault conviction. In December 2008, Monserrate was arresting for cutting his girlfriend in the face with broken glass, then dragging her through a lobby in order to drive her to the hospital. He allegedly chose a hospital that he thought was outside city limits so he wouldn't be recognized. His girlfriend has publicly said the incident was an accident and the two are still together.

Well, I for one am relieved that the girlfriend has cleared the whole thing up. After all, abused women never, ever cover up for their abusive partners. I'm sure Monserrate is a real treat to live with.

However, in the off chance that Monserrate actually did cut his girlfriend's face with broken glass, perhaps he's not the very best advocate for the traditional way of life we all cherish. (Well, you people. Me and my mega rich chums prefer to worship Baal and exhibit Robert Mapplethorpe prints in local schools.)

I have no idea if he's got any chance of winning the special election next week. Lord knows, I certainly hope not. If social conservatives hate gays enough to return a consummate creep like Monserrate to Albany then their priorities are even more deranged than I thought.